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 2019 award to Sue Wetmore.
In the realm of Vermont birding and bird conservation, no one radiates more enthusiasm and pitches in with more energy than Susanne (Sue) Wetmore. From reviewing rarity reports on the Vermont Bird Records Committee, to confirming nesting gnatcatchers and wrens on both of Vermont’s Breeding Bird Atlases, to counting Whip-poor-wills under moonlit skies, Sue has done it all. Selecting her as our 2019 Julie Nicholson Citizen Scientist was a hands-down decision for all of us at VCE.
In Sue’s own words: “I grew up in Rhode Island and came to Vermont in 1960, as a teenager. Spending time outdoors with my dad—hunting, fishing, and observing nature—kindled a love for being out in the natural world. My deeper interest in birding and conservation started as an adult, when I innocently put up a bird feeder one winter to entertain our two young sons. Birds that were familiar, and some that weren’t, quickly piqued my interest. I soon bought a field guide, then binoculars.”
As a longtime resident of Brandon, Sue joins fellow Rutland County residents Roy Pilcher (2009) and Marv and Sue Elliott (2014) (pictured here), plus nearby Bennington resident Ruth Stewart (2010), in the pantheon of Julie Nicholson Citizen Science awardees from southwestern Vermont. In fact, her birding trajectory received a transformative early boost from Roy Pilcher himself. As Sue recounts, “One day I saw an ad in the local newspaper offering a 7:00 am bird walk with Roy Pilcher. I dutifully appeared—the only person to show up—and said ‘I guess you won’t be doing the walk now.’ Well, Roy being Roy, he of course exclaimed, ‘Oh yes, we will.’ That first encounter with an expert birder (and teacher) completely hooked me. As they say, the rest is history.”
That history now spans more than four decades as a birder, citizen scientist, naturalist-teacher, and conservation advocate. Sue recently retired after 38 years as a volunteer coordinator and classroom presenter at Neshobe School in Brandon, first for the ELF Nature Program, then for Four Winds Nature Institute. She has been closely involved with Rutland County Audubon for nearly as long as she’s been birding and is an active board member. Her numerous citizen science immersions include hands-on field work on both the first (1976–1981) and second (2003–2007) Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont, running a USGS Breeding Bird Survey route, conducting surveys for shrubland birds in power line right-of-ways, censusing loons on three ponds for VCE’s annual mid-summer Loonwatch, and surveying at all hours of the night for Eastern Whip-poor-wills. Add to those her dedication to eBird (a devoted user since 2005, with 2,625 checklists in Rutland County alone!) and iNaturalist, and her participation as a member of the Vermont Bird Records Committee—it’s hard to imagine Sue’s days leave any hours for “normal” activities!
Sue and her husband George have adopted a migratory lifestyle in recent years. They now overwinter, with Bachman’s Sparrows and Florida Scrub Jays, in Christmas, Florida, where Sue turns her exuberance to the birds and natural history of a different landscape. In addition to spending time with their 4 year-old granddaughter (they also have a 15 year-old, 6’5” football-playing grandson in Hinesburg, Vermont with a fondness for loons), Sue and George love to explore in their mobile camper, birding and photographing as they go. Sue is hardly slowing down—life offers far too many opportunities for that. Her energy and outgoing personality are embodied in these words: “While a passion for birds opened my eyes to the need to protect all of Vermont’s flora and fauna, by far, the greatest reward of being a birder is meeting people and sharing field experiences.” Congratulations, Sue, and thanks from all of us for sharing your passion so enthusiastically!