Rob Swindell

Former student and wildlife enthusiast helps establish a tower to track birds in Lorain County

Published on June 07, 2024
Ashland University

Attending the 2020 Ohio Bluebird Conference in Ashland turned out to be a very good decision for Rob Swindell.

He not only visited his former college, but also discovered the Motus Wildlife Tracking System.

“I got the chance to see the campus and reminisce,” said Swindell, who played baseball at Ashland in the 1980s when it was Ashland College. “I drove around and looked at the new facilities, the baseball field. If the conference had been held somewhere else, I am not sure I would have attended.

“When I heard the presentation about Motus, I was captivated by this wonderful technology,” added the wildlife enthusiast, “but also somewhat in disbelief that we didn’t have a tower in Lorain County.”

The Lorain County resident helped change that recently with the installation of a Motus tower at Avon Lake Library. A second one is planned for later this summer at Lorain Library.

Swindell wrote in one of his recent “birding” columns in the Chronicle-Telegram of Elyria, Lorain County, that the Motus system uses small transmitters attached to birds, which “ping” off Motus towers — antenna structures strategically placed along bird routes — which then relays the information back to researchers.

While the second tower is only expected to take a few months, the first one took several years.

“I have joked with friends that law school was easier,” said Swindell, who earned a juris doctor degree from Concord Law School. “But it has been very satisfying.

“It is a challenge for volunteer organizations to do long projects as people come and go,” added the president of the Black River Audubon Society, the volunteer organization that spearheaded the Motus project with help from other organizations and individuals. “That was our situation, in addition to COVID, an effort to save a park from development and a personal cancer diagnosis, it was really an accomplishment of perseverance.”

In addition to COVID shutting everything done shortly after the February 2020 Ohio Bluebird Conference, saving an important bird area in Lorain from development consumed the Black River Audubon Society once the world began to recover from COVID in early 2022, putting many of its projects, including Motus, on hold. Then Swindell’s cancer surgery in late 2022 and yearlong treatment toward remission in 2023 delayed progress on the Motus tower even more.

With the tower now in place and another soon to follow, the long wait was well worth it, Swindell said.

“Motus is such a great collaboration, providing valuable information for conservation management, monitoring diversity, climate change research and public awareness and education,” he said. “The information is available to everyone, from students and individuals to professional researchers and institutions.”

Motus Wildlife Tracking System tower at the Avon Lake Library in Lorain County


Growing up on a small farm, Swindell said he always loved animals.

While he eventually graduated from college with a degree in environmental science, he started off majoring in math at Ashland, which gave him a scholarship to play baseball.

“Even though I was a math major, I took a variety of classes and spent a lot of time in the library trying to figure out what I really wanted to do,” said Swindell, who added that he also enjoyed meeting students from so many different places and developing relationships with his roommates and teammates at Ashland.

Some of that math knowledge he learned at Ashland comes in handy now in his full-time job in the auditor’s office in the City of Lorain.

Because he also was a racquetball player and another Ohio college had one of the best racquetball programs in the country at the time, he left Ashland to become the top-ranked collegiate racquetball players in the state and eventually played semi-professionally, Swindell said.

“Ashland was both a special time in my life and also a missed opportunity,” Swindell said.

That’s why he enjoyed the 2020 Ohio Bluebird Conference so much — it gave him a chance to return to the Ashland campus.

“It was very exciting; I had not been back for a while,” Swindell said. “I kept trying to get back for a football game to see Jack Miller Stadium and other facilities. When I attended Ashland, they played their football games at the high school. The athletic facilities have come a long way. We once held baseball practice in a field next to the bowling alley.

“It brought back a lot of memories,” he added about that 2020 visit to Ashland University.