June eButterflyer of the Month: Roy Pilcher

Roy PilcherWith a bias toward the physical sciences, Roy Pilcher’s primary, secondary and university studies did not contain a single life science course. By way of compensation Roy’s youth was happily expended on a Rhodesian farm while his boarding school environs in both Rhodesia and South Africa were gloriously isolated and remotely located.

Collecting birds’ eggs (now deposited in the Birds of Vermont Museum) in his youth while at boarding school in Rhodesia and South Africa was his introduction into the natural world of birds, to the rigor of documentation and to the skill of interpreting bird behavior all the while vulnerable to the personal and physical harm of accessing nests and their eggs! Egg collecting evolved into bird watching, photographing and documentation propelled mainly for personal gratification.

The winds of political change gathered up Roy’s family carrying them across the Atlantic destined fortuitously for Vermont. Roy says, “It has been my privilege for the past five decades to have been associated with an amazing community of amateur citizen/science field naturalists in Vermont, [not forgetting the professionals], as they collectively and joyfully seek to better understand the land and its wonderfully diverse, dependent and naturally occurring living communities.”

On arriving in Vermont from Africa in 1965 he continued with his passion for bird photography and documentation with the challenge of operating within a completely new environment and with unfamiliar bird species. A new element soon became apparent when his solitary endeavors took a fortuitous turn from a personal passion to one of shared and collective enjoyment in the company of other enthusiasts. The first and second Atlases of the Breeding Birds of Vermont provided Roy the opportunity to give purpose and direction to his enjoyment within a context of a collective and dedicated community of similarly motivated naturalists comprising not only amateurs but professionally trained biologists.

From birds his interest expanded to flowers. The logical next step was the opportunity to dedicate over five years to a completely new group, namely butterflies during Vermont’s first state-wide butterfly atlas from 2002-2007. Roy reported over 2,500 butterfly records during the atlas. “The opportunity to identify, to photograph and to document Vermont’s butterflies for the first time was too good an opportunity to miss and now many of the disciplines and skills that I had acquired throughout the years as an amateur naturalist could be dedicated to a cause beyond my own personal gratification,” says Roy.

“Over the past seven decades I have filled a dozen or more field notebooks and gathered thousands of perishable images some already lost or missing as those documenting individual bird’s eggs, but now with digital photography and web sites such as e-Butterfly the documentation and the preservation of butterfly images may well persist into future decades if not centuries for the enjoyment and interpretation of those who follow and hopefully may contribute to the preservation and sustainability of butterflies themselves,” says Roy.

Roy has received several awards for his citizen science achievements in Vermont. In 2009 the Vermont Center for Ecostudies awarded him the Julie Nicholson Citizen Science Award. The award honors an individual who exemplifies Julie’s commitment to the cause of citizen science and conservation. Roy was also awarded the Audubon Vermont Steve Young Award.

Taking off from his big numbers during the Vermont butterfly atlas, Roy now leads Vermont e-Butterflyers with nearly 300 checklists comprised of 73 species and 530 photos submitted already. Thank you so much Roy for all of your hard work and inspiration!