• A Community-minded Ornithologist and Birder: George Clark Receives VCE’s 2021 Julie Nicholson Community Science Award

    The Julie Nicholson Community Science Award honors Julie Nicholson’s extraordinary passion and commitment to birds and wildlife conservation through her many years of tireless work as a volunteer community scientist. This lifetime achievement award is presented annually to an individual who exemplifies Julie’s dedication to the important role that community science plays in wildlife conservation. We’re proud to present the 2021 award to George Clark.

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    George Clark, a dedicated community scientist and enthusiastic, knowledgeable birder. © Doug Hardy

    George Clark’s soft-spoken demeanor belies a remarkable vitality and enthusiasm, not only for birds and their habits, but for inspiring others to care about them. While his contributions as a professional ornithologist and teacher are innumerable, George has embodied the notion of volunteerism since retiring and moving to Vermont in 1997—giving abundantly of his time and energy as a community scientist, never seeking anything tangible in return.

    George’s passion for birds took root during his childhood in New Jersey. “My maternal grandfather was a professional entomologist and all-around naturalist,” he says, “and a strong early influence on my interest in birds. He lived in Cape May County, which was a fantastic area for seeing a diversity of birds and witnessing their spectacular migrations.” After earning his bachelor’s degree from Amherst College, where he “discovered that it was possible to focus on birds professionally,” and a PhD from Yale in 1964, George spent two years at the University of Washington in Seattle before moving to the University of Connecticut, where he spent 32 years as a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (now Emeritus), and was appointed as State Ornithologist.

    A lifelong teacher with extraordinary patience and curiosity, George is in his element when introducing people to birds and the natural world. His extensive knowledge has made him a much sought-after leader for birding expeditions all over the globe (including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Greenland!), although his recent efforts have been more local. He frequently leads community birding walks in the Upper Valley, where he has served on the Norwich Trails Committee, the Milton Frye Nature Area Committee, the Norwich Conservation Commission, and the steering committee of New Hampshire Audubon’s Mascoma chapter.

    VCE and the Vermont birding community have been fortunate beneficiaries of George’s expertise and dedication as a community scientist. His contributions during the second Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas alone were nothing short of heroic. During that multi-year project, George served as volunteer coordinator for northern Windsor County, where he organized scores of amateur birders to beat the bushes for nesting birds, logged 450 hours in the field himself, and wrote 22 of the 209 species accounts for the Atlas book published in 2013! Further, he served 11 years on the Vermont Bird Records Committee and has actively participated in VCE’s Upper Valley Grassland Ambassador project. Last, but far from least, George’s contributions as an inveterate Vermont eBirder can hardly be ignored—he ranks ninth on the state’s all-time list of checklists submitted with >6,500 and #1 in his home Windsor County, where he has submitted nearly 6,400 of those!

    In typically modest, understated fashion, George’s perspective is all about what he has gained rather than given: “Over the years, I’ve truly appreciated my involvements and friendships generated through interactions with the Vermont birding community at large—very satisfying!” We are all better off, thanks to this unassuming, community-minded ornithologist and birder. George’s fond memories of birding with Julie Nicholson herself underscore to all of us at VCE that there could not be a more deserving recipient of our 2021 Julie Nicholson Community Scientist Award.

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