From 10 years of age, I have held an abiding passion for natural history, especially birds. Much of my youth was spent roving woodlands, wetlands, moorlands, and coastlines observing wildlife and enjoying the constant surprises and delights nature has to offer. My education allowed my hobby to morph into what was to become my profession––ecology and the environmental sciences. This led to my conducting research on aquatic habitats and environmental management and joining international organizations where I observed the world’s natural wonders and, sadly, their degradation. At the same time, I was presented with unique opportunities to apply my knowledge to conserving natural habitats and their biodiversity.
While in the Philippines, I co-authored Birds of the Philippines and later The Philippines: A Natural History. Few places are richer in biological diversity, but none so endangered. My work allowed me to understand the threats and organize attempts to staunch the alarming loss of the archipelago’s spectacular ecosystems and flora and fauna through the creation of protected areas.
Since retirement, I have been supporting efforts in Maryland to conserve bird populations and their habitats––frequently working with state and national bird conservation organizations. An interest in tracking the seasons led to my co-authoring a book Birds of a Feather: Seasonal Change of Both Sides of the Atlantic based in part to my observations at the Jug Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on the Patuxent River––a feed to the mighty Chesapeake Bay. Satisfying though this was, I felt the need to explore the progress of the seasons for all wildlife in a particular location, including their varying fortunes as climate change asserts its twists and turns. This desire led to Nature's Calendar: A Year in the Life of a Wildlife Sanctuary.
My familiarity with the Sanctuary made it an obvious choice for it provided me with a living laboratory. It houses unique natural habitats and has been at the crossroads of history, both ancient and modern. Its wetlands are among the best studied in the country and are used by research scientists from many organizations and disciplines. Such studies are pertinent to addressing the problems faced in managing natural habitats throughout North America and I was able to introduce the findings in the book, and I express the hope that such efforts will be sufficient to retain the Sanctuary's ecological integrity and protect natural assets that should belong to Maryland's future generations.
While researching my book, what surprised me was how the early naturalists ably recorded the passing seasons. They spent more time away from their desks, possessed advanced observational powers and expressed their findings in compelling narratives and insights. These provided insights and helped me chart a narrative for the text. However, while this produced sharpened expectations and gave direction, I also found myself on a steep learning curve updating my knowledge across the entire spectrum of the natural sciences.
In writing Nature's Calendar, my hope is that the reader will find a renewed interest in nature, enchanting distractions in this fast-moving world and solace in the unhurried rhythms of nature, the changing colors of the seasons, and the wonder of it all.
Colin Rees is a former global biodiversity specialist with the World Bank and faculty member in the Zoology Department at the University of Maryland. A lifelong birder and environmentalist, Rees serves as the steering committee chair of the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership. He is the author of Nature's Calendar: A Year in the Life of a Wildlife Sanctuary.