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 the 2018 award to Elinor Osborn.
“My parents said my first word was ‘bird.’ So I guess that’s when I got into birding.”
Elinor Osborn somehow manages a commanding presence with nary a word. She might be the most capable birder in a group, but you won’t know it unless you’re listening. Hers is a knowledge borne of experience, a quiet confidence without an ounce of hubris. One gets the impression that she has nothing to prove, but so very much to offer.
An accomplished professional photographer, Elinor’s knowledge comes from direct observation, followed by careful study. “Photography teaches me a lot because after I photograph something, I have to check out the field guides, web, etc., to find out what it was.”
In 1967, Elinor and her husband George bought a house in Penfield, NY adjacent to a 100-acre wetland. “I spent 11 years there on the Penfield Conservation Board learning how wetlands work—how areas downstream flood when wetlands are filled or drained; how wetlands hold back enormous amounts of water in rainy periods and then release it slowly; how they are important habitats for wildlife.” She served as a volunteer site monitor for the Genesee Land Trust’s part of the wetland, and participated in Scarlet Tanager and Birds in Forested Landscapes projects for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the same wetland. She donated photography to the Genesee Land Trust and the local chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
In upstate New York, Elinor worked as a music teacher and George as a trombonist in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. After retiring, she had the good fortune to follow the Trumpeter Swan Migration Project, photographing and writing a children’s book about it. Elinor and George started coming to Vermont to ski at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center about 1980, and moved to the area when they retired. Soon after, Elinor began photographing loons and participating in VCE projects.
“Elinor has covered Great Hosmer Pond as an adopt-a-lake volunteer since the late 1990s,” says Eric Hanson, VCE’s loon biologist and leader of VCE’s Vermont Loon Conservation Project. “She and George spent many nights helping me with loon banding efforts and nighttime rescues. They kayaked lakes all over the Northeast Kingdom to monitor loons for VCE.”
Before George passed away in 2016, he joined Elinor on some of her adventures. She recalls one night vividly—canoeing in the dark amid lurking stumps, watching Eric spotlight and eventually capture a loon. Back on shore, she watched as Eric banded the loon and collected blood and feather samples. “On the same night on another lake, before another capture, we saw clouds of bats darting and shining silver in the spotlight, just above the water. That loon was entangled in fishing line. While I held the loon’s beak just enough to keep it from opening, Eric surgically removed the line, then returned the loon to the water. Then we tumbled into our motel beds at 4am after a wonderful night with loons.” These adventures and others led Elinor to write and photograph an article on loon conservation in Vermont for Vermont Life Magazine in 2003.
These days, Elinor walks a half mile down the road to check on the nesting loon pair at the south end of Great Hosmer Pond several times a week each summer. Or when she has a chance to kayak, she checks on the whole of Great Hosmer Pond as well as Little Hosmer Pond for loon activity.
In addition to Elinor’s meaningful work with Vermont’s loons (you will frequently see her loon photos in VCE materials), she has also contributed significantly to The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont, the Vermont Butterfly Survey, and the Vermont Bumble Bee Atlas. For her many contributions to advancing wildlife conservation as a volunteer citizen scientist, the staff and board of VCE are proud to present Elinor with the 2018 Julie Nicholson Citizen Scientist Award.