This year VCE honors Marv and Sue Elliott with the Julie Nicholson Citizen Science Award. This brings the award full circle, as Marv and Sue credit its namesake for their introduction to citizen science and its first recipient, Roy Pilcher, for inspiring their interest in birding.
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 who exemplifies Julie’s dedication to the cause of citizen science and conservation.
Marv and Sue grew up in New York, Marv on a Hudson Valley dairy farm where he enjoyed hunt- ing and fishing. Sue’s suburban childhood was spent playing outside with the neighborhood kids, chasing the ice cream truck, and generally staying out of her mother’s hair until dinnertime.
Marv studied Agricultural Economics at Cornell, which led to a job as a bank’s farm representative and a career in commercial lending and branch banking. Sue studied English Literature at Susquehanna College and made her career in banking as well. Banking brought them to Vermont in the 1990s when Marv came to work for Marble Bank in Rutland. Not long after arriving, they attended a Rutland County Audubon bird walk led by Roy Pilcher and were instantly hooked. After skipping a second walk due to bad weather, they found out the group went anyway and saw great things (lesson learned).
Friendships developed as they shared observations and joined outings with others in the birding community. “We always joke that the only people we know in Vermont are birders,” Sue remarked, “but the people we’ve met here, the variety of things we’ve seen, and the laughs and knowledge we’ve shared with others are a huge part of our lives.”
Marv and Sue name Roy as their “greatest birding and citizen science inspiration.” Sue recalled a windy, cold, and rainy May day at Kent Pond in Killington when she and Marv spotted a Pacific Loon. “I called Roy to tell him but was so excited I had to put Marv on the phone to describe the bird. Twenty minutes later, Roy came racing up in a cloud of dust, followed immediately by Sue Wetmore whom we had also called.”
As they became more involved in the birding community, Sue’s postings on the VTBIRD listserv caught Julie Nicholson’s eye. Julie invited Sue to submit her sightings quarterly to the Record of Vermont Birds, and this became a springboard for Sue’s participation in Vermont eBird, iNaturalist, e-Butterfly, the Breeding Bird Survey, and a host of other citizen science projects. “Vermont is the perfect place for citizen science projects, with its small size and environmental ethic,” said Sue, “and with so many birders and naturalists all over the state, there are endless opportunities for learning new things.”
As Marv’s passion for birds developed, so did his commitment to preserving their habitat. His efforts with Rutland County Audubon have included working to preserve 55 acres at West Rutland Marsh. “The [citizen science] projects undertaken by VCE are impor- tant because the more information we acquire, the better we can be at conservation,” he observed.
Whether participating in the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, the Breeding Bird Atlas, eBird, LoonWatch, or even as Plant Conservation Volunteers for the New England Wildflower Society, Marv and Sue enrich and enliven the citizen science community in Vermont with their tireless efforts on behalf of wildlife conservation. All of us at VCE thank them for everything they do!