Many congratulations to Larry Schwitters, a volunteer with Pilchuck Audubon, who won the National Audubon Society William Dutcher Award last month during the National Audubon Leadership Conference held in Estes Park, Colorado.
The William Dutcher Award recognizes outstanding Audubon volunteers who exemplify the standard established by William Dutcher, the first chairman of the National Association of Audubon Societies in 1905. A birder, researcher, and scholar, Dutcher promoted the idea of bird sanctuaries, conservation education, and bird photography. He encouraged President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside Pelican Island, the first federal wildlife refuge, and fought for early wildlife laws. Recognizing the need for effective local organizations, Dutcher helped create the first Audubon chapters and oversaw Audubon’s growth from a loose-knit federation to a powerful society.
Larry Schwitters coordinates the monitoring of Vaux’s Swift roosts across the Pacific Flyway, an effort known as Vaux’s Happening.
Vaux’s Happening began in 2008, and in the ensuing years Larry helped expand the number of known Vaux’s Swift chimneys not only in Washington, but along the Pacific Flyway, even searching south of the border to find Vaux’s Swift roosting sites in Mexico. With each new chimney, he put a new migratory stopover on the map, and while he didn’t personally find all of the chimneys, he actively facilitated by connecting the right people.
Finding the chimneys is just the start. Larry’s goal is to document as many swifts as we can to better understand their population. To collect and manage roost surveys, he set up the website for Vaux’s Happening with a data entry form in both English and Spanish. Swift counters from along the West Coast submit their observations through his website. He then compiles that data, and after each migration season ends, he uploads the raw data for each roost to the website.
Larry counts swifts at both the Monroe and Selleck chimneys each spring and fall. He installed cameras on the Monroe chimney that livestream the swift’s activities. As the collector of data, Larry takes it upon himself to share his results with all surveyors on the West Coast. This entails sending weekly emails to his swift email list with updates during the migration and keeping all volunteers at different roosts informed of the program’s happenings. Larry also digs into the data to discover how each year compares to previous years. Larry stays up to date on technological advances, such as MOTUS, that could improve our ability to monitor swifts long-term.
Besides the science and program coordination, Larry also presents outreach programs throughout the year such as the Monroe Swifts Night Out event each fall.
Larry continues to make major contributions to our understanding of the Vaux’s Swift population and migration pathway, while educating the public and coordinating community science across the flyway.