By Debbie Beer, Natural Lands Trust Engagement Manager
I recently had the pleasure of serving as a judge of Pennsylvania’s 2015 Junior Duck Stamp contest on Thursday, March 19th.
Before I say more about my experience, here’s a little background about the program:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced the Junior Duck Stamp Program 20 years ago to encourage children to investigate what is fun, unique and mysterious about waterfowl and wetlands in North America–particularly those within the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Junior Duck Stamp curriculum stresses wildlife observation, nature journaling, photography, and enjoying and exploring the outside world. It culminates in an opportunity for students to use their nature observation skills– the Junior Duck Stamp Design Contest. Students who participate in the Junior Duck Stamp education program are invited to submit a drawing, painting, or sketch of an eligible North American waterfowl species (they don’t have to be ducks) for a chance to have their artwork featured on the following year’s Junior Duck Stamp. Proceeds from Junior Duck postage stamps go to state environmental and conservation programs.
The state-level competition in Pennsylvania is held each year at the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, which is a part of the National Wildlife Refuge system, is the largest urban refuge in the nation (1000 acres!), and contains the largest freshwater marsh in the state.
Located near the Philadelphia International Airport, Heinz Refuge is a great place to go birding (Bald Eagles are nesting there currently), and I have volunteered there as an event organizer and leader (including the Duck Stamp Contest, but never before as a judge!) and member of the Friends of Heinz Refuge for about 12 years.
I was one of a five-member panel, with many fine organizations represented alongside Natural Lands Trust, that were (from left to right) Ned Connelly of Friends of Heinz Refuge, Bert Myers of the PA Game Commission, Ms. Ryan Grech of Audubon PA, and Richie Perello of Student Conservation Association.
Together we reviewed 138 impressive entries submitted from youth all around the state. The students’ skills in painting ducks in their native habitats, sometimes depicted in pairs or with ducklings, were truly impressive–we were amazed!
It was not an easy task to choose winning artworks from such talented young artists, but we awarded three 1st, three 2nd, and three 3rd place prizes in each of 4 different age categories .
Bradly Diamond, age 17, of Myerstown, Pa. won “Best of Show” for his stunning painting of a pair of Blue-winged Teal, above.
We were proud that Bradly’s painting will represent Pennsylvania in the national contest level, where only one painting is chosen to be depicted on the next official “Junior Duck Stamp.” Bradly was mentored by teacher Wayne Hagy, of the Lebanon County Career and Technology Center, in Lebanon PA.
The judges also enjoyed the inspiring conservation messages submitted by students, including,“Conservation is a simple action with a complex reaction” by Benjamin Ortolani, age 14, of North Wales.
Many thanks to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge for serving as State Coordinators for the Junior Duck Stamp initiative, and inviting Natural Lands Trust to participate in the judging process. It was a great experience to connect with others who share our passion for preserving resources that waterfowl and other wildlife need to thrive.
The winner of the national 2015 Junior Duck Stamp contest will be announced on Friday, April 17th. Be sure to check the Junior Duck Stamp webpage then to find out who won and to view more absolutely beautiful entries from kids across the country–and wish Bradly luck!