John Chamberlain presented the Silver Feather award by OCAS President Barbara Otsuka

The Silver Feather Award is granted every year to an Addison County resident in honor of notable devotion, dedication, and untiring effort on behalf of the preservation and enjoyment of the natural communities of Addison County.

A conservationist in Addison County for over 30 years, John Chamberlain is known as a committed birder and naturalist, an energetic community member, and as a farmer producing a diverse array of fruits and vegetables on his land in Weybridge. In addition to the Otter Creek Audubon Society, he has been involved with the Weybridge Conservation Commission, Middlebury Area Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, Acorn, and the local organization, Small is Beautiful.  The list of people who have served as mentors and colleagues is virtually a “who’s-who” in the conservation and birding community of Vermont:  Abbott Fenn, Col. Joseph Whitehorn, Alan Coulter, Warren King, Judy Peterson, Ted Murin, Alan Pistorius, Jim Andrews, and, of course, his wife Barbara Brosnan.

John grew up in Maine and graduated from Dartmouth with a major in biology, but, the twists and turns of life led him to embark on the study of accounting at UVM.  He worked in the Burlington area as a CPA, and then moved to Middlebury and opened a firm in Middlebury in 1980.

John loves to talk about the life-changing experience that turned him into a birder.  One day in the fall of 1976, when he was sitting in a deer blind, a tiny bird stopped by to visit.  John was as fascinated by the bird as it seemed to be of him.  He reports that he headed home and immediately researched what species of bird had visited – a Golden-crowned Kinglet.  By 1979 he began a birding life list, recording all the birds he saw.  John introduced his wife to be, Barbara Brosnan, to birding when they met in 1981.  Since then, they have birded extensively throughout Vermont, and they have also taken trips to points afar such as Point Reyes, Trinidad, Tobago, the Dry Tortugas, and Arizona.

John’s first involvement with Audubon was while still in Burlington when he joined the Green Mountain Audubon Society and became their treasurer.  He joined Otter Creek Audubon when he moved to Addison County, and he served in all officer roles for over 30 years until his retirement from the board in 2010.

John and Barbara have participated in many bird monitoring projects over the years.  They do two Christmas bird counts, one in Ferrisburgh and one in Middlebury, the latter of which John helped found with Abbott Fenn and Jim Andrews.  They surveyed birds in three blocks for the Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas and have conducted birdathons for Otter Creek Audubon since 1981.  Recently, they did “green” birdathons without a car, using only their canoes, bikes, and feet for transportation.

Those who know John Chamberlain best report that John’s heart is in the land.  He talks about living a life style with as small a footprint on the land as humanly possible.  He reports that he uses models such as those used by shade grown coffee planters and advocates for local markets and economies.  Evidence of his dedication to these beliefs are his own organic growing practices as well as the design of their entire acreage to support wildlife and the natural ecosystem.  This relatively small landholding includes a wetland, an open field, experimental American Chestnut trees, a pond, hedgerows, woods, and corridors for wildlife.  Future plans are for an orchard, chickens, and John wants to return to beekeeping.  The length of the bird species list for John and Barbara’s property in Weybridge – an impressive 145 species – is further evidence of the success of their management strategies.  John walks the talk.  He is living with the land, and his deepest wish is for more of his fellow human beings to join with him.

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