Jean Hall would be thrilled if her example inspires others to do what she’s done and get involved in bettering the world as a volunteer. Doing exactly that since the early 2010s has provided the Winding Cypress resident with great satisfaction as she’s lent her time and talents to conserving the environment.
“I’m just deeply in love with all things natural,” she explained. “I feel there’s an urgency and I want to make a difference before I’m off the planet.”
Step one on that journey was joining the volunteers who monitor and protect Marco Island’s burrowing owl nests. Next she became a certified Florida Master Naturalist, before becoming a seabird and shorebird steward for Audubon of the Western Everglades and a volunteer for Audubon Florida. Since then, Hall has begun volunteering at the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin and Hog Island Audubon Camp, both in Maine, and the Delaware Shorebird Project, operated by that state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
An award-winning nature photographer who specializes in avian creatures, Hall provides her work to Audubon projects free of charge. On several occasions, she’s had the satisfaction of seeing them play a key role in generating governmental action to protect bird populations in this area, around the state and beyond.
Combined, those experiences amounted to an epiphany regarding each person’s power to make a difference, once a passion and a cause have been identified.
“Mainly as a shorebird volunteer, I learned that just by sending a report or speaking out on something, you as one individual can truly change things,” observed Hall. “You can make things better. I didn’t know that for the first 55 years of my life and you truly can, in all things.”
Her passion and effectiveness as a conservation volunteer have received recognition, both in Southwest Florida and nationally. In 2015, she was named Audubon Florida’s Volunteer of the Year and in 2018, she was awarded the Ted Below Environmental Stewardship Award, the highest environmental award offered by Audubon of the Western Everglades. Her photographic skills led to her image of a Roseate Spoonbill was included in the 2016 Audubon Photography Awards Top 100.
While gratified by such awards, Hall is adamant about attention and self-promotion, including from news stories, being of no interest, unless it helps further the causes of environmental conservation and influencing others to become volunteers, especially where natural is concerned.
“If this will inspire others to do good in the world then this is all worth it. I definitely don’t need any praise or anything. I’m just happy that as a volunteer; I can help change a few things.”
Her love of nature is rooted in her childhood in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the influence of her parents, especially her father, who was an avid outdoorsman.
“When I was little,” said Hall, “he was always putting things into my hand—a lizard, a small snake. So, I was never one of those girls who said ‘eek’ if something natural ran in front of them. I think it was brilliant for my dad to have done that with a young girl.”
Her interest in photography began with her ex-husband, who was a performing arts photographer in Manhattan. He also enjoyed using his camera to document nature. When Hall was in her mid-20’s, she had a chance to realize a long-held dream of traveling to Africa to view the continent’s diverse wildlife. Her husband insisted she go and that she take a camera.
With that trip, an avocation was born.
Megafauna, like giraffes and elephants, were an initial fascination for Hall, who’s traveled to Africa three times, the Galapagos Islands twice; camera in hand. She’s also journeyed to the Arctic twice to photograph polar bears. Her current focus on bird photography began about 10 years ago, activated by, as she puts it, “the many amazing birds down here in Southwest Florida.”
It was that interest that led to Hall becoming a conservation volunteer.
Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge – Marsh Trail and Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, both in Naples, were her go-to spots for bird photography. In early 2012, she encountered someone on the Corkscrew boardwalk who encouraged her to “get down to Marco Island and take pictures of the burrowing owls.”
She took that advice and became smitten with the tiny ground dwellers. When she wasn’t working, she could often be found taking photos of one particular owl that liked to perch in the same spot each day. Hall eventually created a book of the photos and although they hadn’t met, Hall left a copy at the office of Nancy Richie, the City of Marco Island’s former environmental specialist.
At that time, she was still employed as an American Airlines flight attendant, working there for 38 years before retiring in 2013. Hall’s professional career also includes being a freelance production assistant for NBC Sports for equestrian and skating events at five Olympics, garnering two Emmys along the way
The photo book prompted a lunch invitation from Richie; a first meeting that ended up being a momentous one for Hall. “That was the beginning of it all when she said, ‘Do you want to volunteer for me,’” Hall recalled. “I owe a lot to Nancy for the path my volunteerism took.”
She also credited the mentorship of Adam DiNuovo, Audubon Florida’s Southwest Florida Shorebird Project Manager since 2015, with being invaluable in developing her knowledge about the avian creatures. It was DiNuovo who convinced Hall to volunteer at Project Puffin, which is dedicated to restoring them and other seabirds to their historic nesting islands in the Gulf of Maine.
“He’s definitely a force of nature,” said Hall. “Even though I’d been a shorebird steward for three years by the time he got here, I have learned 100% of what I know about shorebirds and seabirds from him.”
She discussed her experiences as a bird photographer and an environmental volunteer during a recent edition of Hog Island Audubon Camp’s weekly “Making Bird Connections” online, video-conferencing series. Entitled “Volunteering through the Lens,” the edition also featured Sabine Meyer, photography director for the National Audubon Society.
As a prelude to the close of her remarks, Hall employed a quote from the renowned anthropologist, author and speaker, the late Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Hall concluded with a coda to Mead’s observation.
“I believe in the human spirit. Just make a little difference. You don’t have to be a volunteer. I hope you are. But just make a little difference. Make your patch a little bit better.”