From Anisoptera to Zonotrichia: A Legacy of Science and Conservation

The Julie Nicholson Citizen Science 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 presented annually to an individual who exemplifies Julie’s dedication to the cause of citizen science and conservation. We’re proud to present this year’s award to Bryan Pfeiffer. 

More than 30 years ago, a new birder on the scene in Vermont, Bryan Pfeiffer, “made the pilgrimage” to meet Sally Laughlin, the executive director of the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Woodstock. At about that time, Sally hired VINS’s first research director, Chris Rimmer, who would go on to become a founder and executive director of VCE.

Ever since, Bryan and Chris and VCE have been partners in science and conservation.

For the past three decades, Bryan and every member of the VCE staff have collaborated on a huge range of projects—from the reintroduction of Peregrine Falcons in the 1980s to the launch of a damselfly and dragonfly atlas just this year. With that legacy in mind, VCE has selected Bryan Pfeiffer for the 2017 Julie Nicholson Citizen Science award.

“There are few who have done more to share their passion and knowledge of Vermont’s natural history—with such flair and artistry—than Bryan,” says Rimmer. “His keen eye, richly articulate voice, solid understanding of science, and deep commitment to conservation have touched legions of people. Bryan’s contributions to science-based conservation run deep and across all levels of society.”

Bryan brings an unusual slate of skills to VCE. He’s a writer, editor, educator, birder, photographer, entomologist and all-around naturalist. Sharing nature with people—in the field or with the force of the written word—is in Bryan’s DNA.

Bryan doesn’t give it all away for free. He’s been a VCE contract employee, most recently helping with VCE’s outreach and communications. (Bryan, for example, conceived of Outdoor Radio, VCE’s successful collaboration with Vermont Public Radio, and he supervised the overhaul of our website.)

As a volunteer, Bryan’s contributions are older than VCE itself. He has surveyed our Forest Bird Monitoring route at Bear Swamp for 27 consecutive years; worked on the Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas, both outdoors and indoors, including co-authoring the chapter on avian conservation; completed several Mountain Birdwatch routes; and curates dragonfly, damselfly, and butterfly records on the Vermont Atlas of Life iNaturalist project. This year he took the lead with me on the Vermont Damselfly and Dragonfly Atlas, a natural project for Bryan, who had already collaborated with Mike Blust to publish a major journal article on the distribution of these insects in Vermont. And Bryan continues to be a volunteer advisor to VCE on communications and general strategic thinking.

Insects now occupy most of Bryan’s time in the field. Having made big contributions to birding in Vermont, Bryan has stepped away a bit from birds, yielding to a new generation of birders, in order to bring more attention to invertebrate discovery and conservation in the state. That means you’re more likely to get outside with Bryan with a net in pursuit of butterflies or dragonflies.

“So much of what we love about birds—flight, color, grace, and beauty—we also find in flying insects,” Bryan says.

And unlike insects, there will be no diapause for Bryan this winter. On his agenda is a field guide to Vermont tiger beetles, along with more work on the Vermont Damselfly and Dragonfly Atlas.

We’ve learned that there is indeed one thing that can slow this guy down: a heart attack. Bryan had one while out on the trail in August, only days after we informed him of this award. But he’s up and around, recovering, and even out swinging a net in his backyard garden at home in Montpelier and a bit farther afield. “I can’t let a heart attack keep me from tagging Monarchs this fall,” said Bryan, who’s had four of his tagged Monarchs recovered in Mexico.

Although Bryan’s passion for the natural world is often centered in Vermont, his impact reaches far afield.

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Comments (2)

  1. jerryspass says:

    Congrats. to Bryan.

  2. Glm3glm3 says:

    Congratulations to Bryan! Hope you have fully recovered and you are back on track!

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