MOUNT VERNON — Outside his Mount Vernon home Tuesday morning, longtime Skagit Audubon Society member Tim Manns saw a towhee, a bird common in the western United States.
Meanwhile, inside his home sits a framed Washington state personalized license plate donning the name “TOWHEE” that serves as Audubon Washington’s Helen Engle Volunteer of the Year Award.
“It’s definitely an honor. I’m really touched,” Manns said.
Audubon Washington Vice President and Executive Director Deborah Jensen said Manns’ eligibility for the award started with a nomination from his local chapter.
“I had no idea what was going on behind my back,” Manns said with a laugh.
Manns is the first Skagit Audubon member to earn the Helen Engle award.
Engle was active at the local, state and national levels of the Audubon Society. She received the National Audubon Society’s highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2013.
Since then, Audubon Washington has recognized one volunteer a year from a local chapter by passing along Engle’s retired license plate that is inscribed with the name of her favorite bird.
“It’s a fun tradition; kind of quirky,” Jensen said.
Manns said he is flattered to receive an award named for Engle, who died in 2019 and is remembered for accomplishments that include forming an Audubon chapter in southwest Washington, serving on the National Audubon Society Board for 20 years, and helping to establish preservation areas.
“It’s just incredible how much she accomplished,” he said of Engle, who he met briefly at annual Audubon Council of Washington meetings. “Audubon people look up to her.”
Skagit Audubon President Jeff Osmundson said the chapter is proud to see Manns receive the award.
Over the past 15 years, Manns has served in a variety of roles on the local chapter’s board, including four years as president. Osmundson said Manns still leads Skagit Audubon events or field trips “in his spare time.”
Being so invested in the local chapter, as well as with other conservation organizations and volunteer science programs, is what earned him the award.
“We’re looking for outstanding service ... That they are involved very intensively in one project or extensively across multiple projects,” Jensen said of how the award recipient is selected. “And we want them to be involved in growing a community of people that care about birds and conservation.”
Manns’ efforts includes work with the Skagit Land Trust and Padilla Bay Foundation, and participation in surveys of wildlife from coastal birds to mountain butterflies.
With the Skagit Land Trust, Manns has counted nests at the largest great blue heron rookery on the West Coast and stewarded Barney Lake habitat that helps support the largest wintering trumpeter swan population in the lower 48 states.
From those large birds to small songbirds such as the towhee in his yard, Manns said all birds are worth paying attention to.
“Every bird if you see it well, like through binoculars — they are exquisitely beautiful,” he said.
Simply observing birds can inspire conservation, Manns said.
“Birds are all around us and they remind us of the other-than-human world,” he said. “This planet isn’t just ours; it’s home to so many other creatures.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Manns was back at his volunteer work, gathering data for ongoing bird surveys at the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve.