Irvin W. Ailes


Retired Wildlife Biologist Irvin W. Ailes, 72, passed away October 29, 2016, a victim of dementia.

Born in Buena Vista, Indiana, Irvin was one of 7 children living in a one-bedroom home without running water. He attended a one-room school where the first assignment each morning was to chop wood for the stove. He followed the example of his older brother, Ken Ailes, joining the Air Force upon graduation from high school. He served four years, mostly at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where he was with the Air Police.

Upon discharge, he married Marilyn Stevens and moved north. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Biology from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. He followed this with his Master’s degree in the same field from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.

His first summer job was as a janitor in the post office at Anchorage. The second was doing research on shorebirds of the Arctic tundra within sight of the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay. Based with the oil exploration camp, he spent his days alone on the tundra with the bears, wolves, and other wildlife, and with the shorebirds he learned to love. His master’s thesis followed up on this love with a study of the Upland Sandpiper. His first permanent job was with the Bureau of Land Management in Utah at St. George and at Escalante. Here he backpacked for weeks into the wilderness to analyze forage in the high country, herded cattle by horseback, monitored cliff-dwelling raptors by hanging out the door of a helicopter, and led a team of firefighters on a wilderness wildfire in Zion National Park.

In 1977 he joined the Fish & Wildlife Service. He was at Back Bay on the Virginia/North Carolina line for two years before moving to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, where he remained until he retired in 2004. Here he worked with Delmarva fox squirrels, piping plovers, the famous horses, Phragmites weed invasion, migrant and resident raptors, bark beetles, etc. For three years he served with the waterfowl survey to determine duck breeding success in the prairie pothole country. This involved flying low over the prairies of the United States and Canada, counting birds from a small, low-flying fixed-wing aircraft. The results are used to determine hunting limits throughout the United States. He also surveyed sea birds from Florida to Canada by small aircraft.

As a volunteer, Irvin organized the Wachapreague Christmas Bird Count for several decades, and with his wife ran the breeding bird censuses both on the refuge and through northern Accomack County. He was also a member of the Eastern Shore Bird Club, Community Tennis Association of Chincoteague, Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, Wastewatchers of the Eastern Shore (A Keep America Beautiful Affiliate), the Accomack CommUnity Band, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay.

For recreation, Irvin enjoyed camping and traveling with his family, Marilyn (wife), Charsa (now Raymond) (daughter), and Clinton Ailes (son). He and Marilyn traveled each year across the country with the kids to visit family in Indiana and California, exploring our country in the process, including camping in all 50 states and many of Canada’s provinces (even camping at -40°F). He enjoyed exploring foreign countries, staying in youth hostels and doing lots of hiking. At home, he enjoyed bike riding and jogging on the Refuge, working in the woods around his home, and especially going places with his family.

His many years of hard work to preserve the beauty of the country in general and the Eastern Shore in particular have left this world a better place for his passage. May the same be said of each of us.