The PIBO Board
Margaret Atwood, Honorary Chair, is one of Canada’s best-known and most respected authors, winner of numerous awards, including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Franz Kafka International Literary Prize, and the Mann-Booker Prize. She and her long-time partner, the late Graeme Gibson, co-founded PIBO in 2003, and Margaret has been closely associated with the observatory ever since. She and Graeme were honorary co-chairs of Birdlife International’s Rare Bird Club, and Margaret is a staunch advocate for bird habitat and bird protection.
Merilyn Simonds, Chair, is author of 20 books, both fiction (The Lion in the Room Next Door, The Holding, Refuge) and nonfiction (The Convict Lover, Gutenberg’s Fingerprint). Her most recent book is Woman, Watching, a biography and memoir of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence, an important Canadian mid-century amateur ornithologist and nature writer. An avid birder since the age of seven, Merilyn worked with Wayne to develop the Prismáticos Project, launched in 2021 to bring binoculars to Mexican schools and conservationists.
Deborah Egan, Interim Treasurer, is an experienced executive in the health-system and not-for-profit sectors, known for her innovative approach to improving systems to better serve the community. In a recent Ministry of Health engagement, she joined a team that played a pivotal role in developing recommendations for transforming home and community care delivery in Ontario. Deb is a strategic thinker with an ability to succeed in challenging situations, fuelled by her perseverance and ability to garner broad stakeholder support. Outside of her professional endeavours, Deb has dedicated her time as a volunteer, serving in various board and committee positions, including Chair of the Toronto Waldorf School, Chair of the Quality Committee for a mental health supportive housing provider, and Board Chair in a condominium townhouse development. Additionally, she has actively contributed to United Way as a member of its Campaign Cabinet, and spearheaded successful fundraising efforts for service projects in Nepal. She says that joining the PIBO Board provides her with an exciting opportunity to amplify her deep connection to nature and commitment to conservation, and to demonstrate the transformative power of not-for-profit community action.
Matthew Gibson is an advisor and board member with a number of tech firms in Toronto, and is also president, CEO and co-founder of Syngrafii Inc., a firm specializing in e-signatures and remote signing. He has worked in corporate development for over 35 years, and as an inventor has 45 granted and 8 pending patents to his name. Matthew brings to PIBO his extensive negotiation experience and lateral thought processes, and excels in the identification, contact, and management of strategic partnerships.
Ian Davidson’s professional journey as an ecologist started when he was researching migratory shorebirds in subarctic James Bay, and he gradually moved southward, tracking mammal populations in the boreal forest. In Nicaragua, he worked with the Sandinista government to protect the remaining vestiges of Caribbean rainforests, and helped establish the Rio Indio Maíz Biological Reserve. With a degree in Wildlife Management from the University of Guelph, he has held leadership positions in wildlife, nature, and bird conservation organizations throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. For over a decade, he led BirdLife International projects in Ecuador, Patagonia, the Galapagos, and the Amazon basin. In 2007, he joined Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood on an Adventure Canada expedition and fell in love with the High Arctic. In 2021, he became BirdLife International’s Regional Director of the Americas. Ian is crazy about birds (but is not a twitcher), loves to travel, and embraces the many cultures that make up the Americas.
David Young is a Toronto playwright best known for Glenn and Inexpressible Island. He is an ardent naturalist and lover of the wilds – particularly big weather in remote places. He learned his birding skills from Graeme Gibson. David has been active in the literary arts for fifty years – serving on the editorial board of the Coach House Press for several decades and as a founding trustee of both The Writers’ Trust and The Griffin Poetry Prize. Outside his life in the theatre, he has written extensively for film and television – most notably, as a staff writer with Fraggle Rock, where he wrote many award-winning shows on themes of environmental interdependence for young audiences around the world. In recent years, David has spent many seasons in Africa as a board member and volunteer for Dignitas International, a Canadian medical/humanitarian NGO, founded by Dr. James Orbinski, that pioneered a new model of care for HIV/AIDS in Malawi, the poorest country in the world.
Suzanne Friemann, Executive Director, holds degrees in anthropology, education and sociology from the University of Windsor. She joined the PIBO team in 2015, and as ED is responsible for administration, public relations, program coordination, education and fundraising programs. She writes the grants that sustain the organization and hires the part-time and volunteer staff that conduct vital research and outreach program. “The thread that ties them all together,” she says, “is my passion for environmental change, social justice and a vibrant arts community.”
Sumiko Onishi, Field Supervisor, Bander in Charge, joined the PIBO staff full-time in 2011, following a summer of working on Pelee as a volunteer. Sumiko is PIBO’s chief bander; she also logs the daily bird census reports, monitors nesting sites, and conducts species counts. Even after more than 5,000 hours in the field, Sumiko remains enthusiastic: “My passion to see the phenomenal bird activity on the island,” she says, “is still strong.”
Assistant Field Co-ordinators
In 2022, PIBO is employing two seasonal Assistant Field Coordinators to assist our Field Supervisor, Sumiko Onishi, with research, fieldwork, data management, volunteer supervision, and Pelee Island education programs. During the field season, the assistants live on Pelee Island at the PIBO staff cottage.
The job requires that an assistant be an experienced field birder, able to identify 75-95% of the majority of species found in the Great Lakes region by sight and sound. Ideally, they have previous bird-banding experience, with more than 5,000 birds banded, and familiarity with the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, the Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program, and the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS).
It isn’t an easy job! An assistant field coordinator has to be able to spend long periods of time standing and walking over uneven terrain, be comfortable interacting with the public, easy to live with, and willing to work hard—sometimes ten-hour days for up to 70 days in a row without a day off, in both cold and hot, humid, buggy conditions. Sound tough? Maybe so, but these positions never go unfilled!
Assistant Field Biologist
Gill holds an MSc in Environmental and Life Sciences from Trent University, and comes to PIBO with 11 years of field experience in migration monitoring behind them, including work with the James Bay Shorebird Project, the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory, and the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory. They have also worked for Owl Moon Environmental Inc., in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Last year they worked as a WildTrax Acoustic Contractor with Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, analyzing audio files for bird song, frog calls, and mammal activity in a range of habitats across central Canada. Gill begins their duties with PIBO on August 27, and will work with Sumilo as our Assistant Field Biologist.
This summer’s student volunteer at PIBO is Avery Hewson-Dunbar. Avery has a background in environmental biology and nature interpretation and has handled birds and butterflies as a volunteer for Bird Safe Guelph and at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory, and has gained an extensive knowledge of southern Ontario terrain while conducting integrated pest management surveys.
Avery will assist Sumiko and assistant bander Gill Holmes at PIBO’s banding station. She notes that she is “comfortable working outdoors in various weather conditions for long periods of time.” She has been hired thanks to a grant from Canada Summer Jobs. Welcome to the PIBO team, Avery!
Martha Ramirez Cruz
PIBO is delighted to welcome Martha Ramirez Cruz as our first International Intern. Martha comes to Pelee Island from the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, where she has a Masters in Environmental Education from the University of Guadalajara, specializing in habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss. She most recently worked at the Rancho Santa Elena, in Hidalgo, where she helped prepare the ranch’s application for ecotourist certification, and also guided bird tours (in the process, relocating poisonous snakes!) and gave talks on environmental issues.
This pilot International Intern program brings one candidate each year from Mexico, Cuba, or Central/South America, to serve as a volunteer at our banding station on Pelee Island. The intention is to foster awareness of the work being done at the grass-roots level in countries along the birds’ migration routes, and to exchange expertise and experience among those living in the wintering grounds of the birds that migrate over Pelee Island.
Martha began her duties at PIBO on August 21, and will spend six weeks assisting Field Supervisor Sumiko Onishi at the banding station and with the morning bird census.