[Noozhawk’s note: Fourth in a series of articles highlighting Santa Barbara’s Man and Woman of the Year awards. The nomination period for 2013 honors is now open.]

Jared Dawson

Jared Dawson is a devoted and determined participant in the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird count. “Birding has changed my life,” he says. (Dawson family photo)

Jared Dawson: Citizen Scientist

Jared Dawson’s professional life was in cartography, which combines science, aesthetics and technique in the development and production of maps. When he retired, he applied these skills to becoming a volunteer and a citizen scientist.

Dawson has lived for more than 50 years in Southern California but he fell in love with birding on an Audubon Society walk in San Francisco. He attended Joan Lentz’s Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education class on beginning birding and was soon invited to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the local chapter of the Audubon Society. His holiday season has not been the same since. He is now one of three leading organizers of the event, known as compilers, along with Rebecca Coulter and Joan Murdoch.

The Christmas Count brings together volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, in good weather and bad. They start at dawn (or at midnight if they are counting owls) and carefully record what species and how many of each they spot.

The data that is gathered helps to assess the diversity of the bird species as well as the health of our local environment. Dawson is one of six tabulators and he uses his scientific and data management skills to help compile and verify the results: 213 species and 41,801 birds in one 24-hour period this year! He talks with enthusiasm about participating in something with broad benefits. He draws inspiration from the knowledge that the data from citizen scientists across the globe is collected and analyzed to learn more about bird populations, animal behavior and ecosystem health.

On several occasions, Dawson has enjoyed sharing his enthusiasm with young children, taking them out with scopes and watching their delight as they see their first hawk.

“Birding has changed my life,” he said, explaining how it has taught him to be more observant of nature — wherever he is, in a city or in the country.

When he is not birding, Dawson gives back in other ways. He is a member of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, where he serves on the Worship Committee, edits a newsletter and helps to arrange interfaith services. He joins other Unitarians in supporting care for homeless people by providing meals, a bed and some medical attention on cold and rainy nights, which has become a strong interfaith program.

“We are very proud of our efforts,” he explained. “We have saved lives.”

Also an avid biker and member of the Goleta Valley Cycling Club, he is proud of the club’s efforts to train kids to be bike-safe.

Whether he is counting birds or helping others, Dawson enjoys giving his time to projects that bring people together. He is already looking forward to the holiday season.

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Volunteers enrich all our lives.

Do you know a volunteer who has made a significant impact on the Santa Barbara community? You can nominate that person to be the next Man or Woman of the Year! Click here to fill out a simple online nomination form. Sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation, Noozhawk and KDB, nominations are open until Aug. 30.

— Suzanne Farwell represents the Santa Barbara Foundation.