June 8, 2017 – Otis pass away yesterday around 2:20 p.m. with his son Mark Swisher at his side. No details yet if the family will be doing any type of a memorial service.
Otis was instrumental in the formation of our chapter–the Rogue Valley Audubon Society–in the early 1970’s. He led or assisted others on many field trips especially throughout the 70’s around the Rogue Valley, the Klamath Basin, the coast and I remember him as a leader once when I visited the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Otis documented his sightings meticulously and had records dating back prior to our Rogue Valley chapter’s formation. He served as Field Notes Editor and his bird sightings were regularly included in the Field Notes section of our newsletter.
He banded hundreds of birds along Bear Creek and our region and took photos of many of those birds for educational purposes prior to their release. Many of Otis’ slides with date, species and location of where the bird was observed or banded are now in the hands of Dr. Stewart Janes, SOU biology professor, and Dr. John Alexander, head of the Klamath Bird Observatory.
I’ve known Otis Swisher since 1971 when I first met him on a Southern Oregon College (now SOU) field trip going to the northern California and southern Oregon coast. The bird class was part of a Natural History of Oregon three term offering taught by Dr. Ron Lamb. Later, in the early 1980’s, Dr. Lamb secured a contract through the U.S. Forest Service out of Yreka, California for Spotted Owl monitoring primarily in the Klamath River drainage. Otis and I were part of a small crew included in this contract. To this day, it is one of the highlights of my bird adventures with Otis Swisher.
Otis wrote articles appearing in the Medford Mail Tribune from 1968 – 1972 recently compiled by my good friends Bob and Bettina Arrigoni along with Bettina’s pictures. Audubon members assisted in the organizing and printing of the book which highlighted 34 of Otis’ articles. It was presented to him at a September Audubon meeting not long ago–the same meeting where Otis showed slides of some of his most memorable sightings and trips, such as Alaska. He mentioned several local birders during his program, most of them Audubon members locally, and had many fond memories of those who provided bird sightings and other information to him throughout the years.
Otis’ knowledge of birds and his gentle manner of teaching his bird-skills to young and old is what set him apart for me and undoubtedly others who had the opportunity to know him and join him in the field. He enjoyed sharing his knowledge with others. I personally have many memories of field trips and bird outings with Otis, discussing sightings, sharing pictures with him and marveling at certain birds or events (such as the 50 Traill’s Flycatchers, now named the Willow Flycatcher, captured in mist nests while Otis was banding birds along Bear Creek on September. 6, 1971).
Those who knew him throughout the years will miss Otis Swisher.
By Vince Zauskey