Two Mountain Birdwatchers Receive the 2016 Julie Nicholson Citizen Scientist Award

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Mike Zimmerman and Steve Chorvas are the 2016 Julie Nicholson Citizen Scientists of the Year.

The Julie Nicholson Citizen Scientist Award honors Julie Nicholson’s extraordinary passion and commitment to birds and wildlife conservation through her many years of tireless work as a citizen scientist. It is given annually to an individual or individuals who exemplify Julie’s dedication to the cause of citizen science and conservation.

As one of VCE’s signature volunteer projects, Mountain Birdwatch (MBW) is definitely not for the faint of heart. Designed to track breeding songbird populations in montane forests across the Northeast, MBW demands extensive hiking, ungodly hours, and tolerance of tough conditions. This year’s citizen science awardees, Mike Zimmerman and Steve Chorvas, have more than earned their “keep” in the VCE pantheon of deserving volunteers. Combined, Mike and Steve have conducted a total of 69 MBW surveys on 16 different routes over a total of 27 years—that’s a truly impressive commitment of time and effort—not to mention countless miles of hiking!

VCE sends sincere congratulations and thanks to both Mike and Steve for their perseverance, dedication, and significant contributions in support of montane bird conservation.

Meet the Awardees

Old Moose says it’s this way! Mike Zimmerman enjoys the great outdoors, even in the coldest months.

Old Moose says it’s this way! Mike Zimmerman enjoys the great outdoors, even in the coldest months.

Mike Zimmerman grew up in Buffalo, NY, but “moved to Maine a long time ago,” where he and his wife Barbara live in the woods on a tidal cove and are continually immersed in nature. A retired rural letter-carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, Mike began hiking and mountain climbing with Barbara and their two kids, Rob and Emily (Emily also does MBW surveys), in the 1990s.

After Mike section-hiked the Appalachian Trail in Maine in 2006, he began looking for other ways to get out and enjoy the woods. That’s when he found MBW. “I’m not a birder,” Mike says, “rather more of an amateur naturalist; it’s important to understand what is out there, whether it be fungi, insects, animals, topography, geology, etc.” Mike finds MBW surveys interesting “because the bird counts are supplemented with counts of predators (red squirrels) and conifer cones, which tie together the ecology of high-elevation forests. It also gets you out to some really remote places.”

In addition to MBW, Mike volunteers as a trail maintainer for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club. When he’s not working part-time at Porter Memorial Library in Machias, Mike spends a lot of time hiking, backpacking, and searching for traces of the original A.T. route in Maine. Of this last activity, Mike quips, “it involves a lot of bushwhacking and tromping through muddy places, which hones the skills one needs to get to some MBW routes.” It’s no wonder that Mike has completed 37 MBW surveys over the last 11 years!

Steve Chorvas enjoys a butterfly walk at Esopus Bend Nature Preserve in Saugerties.

Steve Chorvas enjoys a butterfly walk at Esopus Bend Nature Preserve in Saugerties.

Steve Chorvas was interested in nature from a very early age—and it shows. An accomplished amateur naturalist, Steve says that a chance encounter with “an old National Audubon Society field guide to birds, combined with a strong interest and many hours of field observation,” catalyzed his self-taught approach. Steve still lives just outside of his hometown of Saugerties, NY, and feels “fortunate to live and have grown up in an area so rich in flora and fauna.”

Steve got involved with MBW in 2001—its second year of existence. “I was compelled to participate by my concerns for what I was seeing on Catskill Mountain summits related to the effects of acid rain and climate change,” Steve recalls. Over the last 16 years, he has conducted MBW surveys on two Catskill peaks every year without fail. Thinking back, Steve says, “Every MBW survey produced memorable moments, but one that stands out was encountering an Early Hairstreak butterfly while descending through a stand of American Beech. It was my first and only sighting of this rare and elusive species outside of Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts.”

In addition to MBW, Steve is a board member of the John Burroughs Natural History Society and chair of its Avian Records Committee. He participates in Christmas Bird Counts, Breeding Bird Surveys, New York State January Waterfowl Counts, and Fourth-of-July Butterfly Counts. Steve also chairs the Esopus Creek Conservancy’s Stewardship and Land Management Committee, which oversees the operation of a 160-acre nature preserve in Saugerties.

Steve’s current passion is butterflies, and he spends much free time creating a pollinator habitat on his property, which he describes as a work in progress. “I’m not sure ‘enjoy’ is the right word for my butterfly gardening efforts,” he laments, “I have come to the conclusion there is nothing White-tailed Deer will not eat, if just out of spite!”

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Comments (1)

  1. Julie Hart says:

    Congrats, Mike and Steve! I still remember working with these dedicated volunteers from 2006-2009. Thanks for all your hard work!

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