ALBANY — The Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) recently announced Elinor Osborn of Albany as the recipient of the 2018 Julie Nicholson Citizen Science Award.
Established in 2009, the annual Julie Nicholson Citizen Science Award honors volunteer Julie Nicholson’s extraordinary passion and commitment to birds and wildlife conservation through her many years of tireless work as a citizen scientist.
Elinor Osborn was chosen as the 2018 awardee as she exemplifies this same spirit and dedication to conservation and citizen science.
So, what is a citizen scientist? A citizen scientist is an individual who voluntarily contributes their time, effort, and resources to collect or analyze data in collaboration with professional scientists.
A science background is not necessary to participate—just enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.
Elinor’s commitment to citizen science and wildlife conservation spans decades—and includes contributions to the Vermont Loon Conservation Project, the Second Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont, the Vermont Butterfly Survey, and the Vermont Bumble Bee Atlas.
An accomplished professional photographer, Elinor has donated many stunning photographs for use in VCE’s and other conservation nonprofit’s outreach materials.
Before coming to Vermont, Elinor and her husband George lived in upstate New York—she working 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,” Osborn recalls. “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 4:00 a.m. 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.
You can learn more about the Julie Nicholson Citizen Science Award and citizen science opportunities at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies website: https://vtecostudies.org.