News & Features

2016 eBirder of the Year Martin Butterfield

Martin Butterfield, 2016 eBird Australia Annual Challenge eBirder of the Year, here observes birds in the recently burnt area near his home.

Please join us in congratulating Martin Butterfield, who was recently chosen as the 2016 eBird Australia Annual Challenge prize winner. The measures of the Annual Challenge reveal that Martin is commendably prolific, consistent, adventurous, faithful, and dedicated in submitting his bird lists to eBird Australia. We asked Martin to tell us a little about himself, his interest in birds, and how  eBird enriches his birding.


My first memories of birds are, as a small child, looking at them on our snow-covered bird table in a village in Essex, UK.  As I became older, and able to travel a bit by bike I spent a lot of weekend time at Bradwell Bird Observatory, particularly watching the wildfowl and migrants arriving across the North Sea in hard Winters.

There was a bit of a pause in birding as I went to uni and then migrated myself to the warmer climes of Adelaide in South Australia.  While I kept a general interest in birds my enthusiasm really fired up again during a year living in Colorado.  We found that looking at birds would draw our attention into the landscape more generally.  Unfortunately I wasn’t into recording my observations at that time.

Martin has been following this family of Tawny Frogmouths, which nest above his lawn, since 2008.

Returning to Australia we did a small altitudinal migration to Canberra where I joined the Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG) and soon became involved in the ACT Bird Atlas project.  This linked very easily to my work with the Australian Bureau of Statistics in compiling, and more interestingly analysing, quantitative information.  In these early days “recording” was applying graphite to dead trees and allowing others to convert those observations to more useful electronic  formats.

Going forward quite a few years, I spent periods working, birding and contributing to bird- Atlas projects in places such as Ottawa, Tanzania, and New York.  My wife also worked out that if she wished to go to visit places, finding a good swamp or jungle nearby soon had me booking flights.

I was introduced to eBird following the merger of that system with Eremaea.  My first ‘proper’ checklists date from early 2014 and have so far exclusively been Australian. One notable eBird list includes the nesting of Whiskered Terns — the first such event in the general area since 1963.

The most obvious benefit of eBird is allowing me to record my observations in the field so that I can keep a decent record of what I have seen.  EBird is also priceless for recording the monthly walks I lead for COG.  Not only do I easily compile the trip-list for the group, but it lets the list be easily shared with others on the walk.  However that is only part of the picture.

The second most important personal use I make of eBird is in extracting lists for areas we intend to visit when travelling around Australia.  The third-party eBird polygon tool, which was developed by eBirder David Ellsworth a few years ago, is brilliant when used to select a custom area around a town we intend to visit.  It would be really good if that became a tool integrated within the body of eBird.

Finally I like compiling reports on birding for publication through COG and various other mechanisms.  Accessing the eBird database really gives an excellent overview of birds’ distribution across Australia (or where appropriate the world).  Providing excellent maps – and subject to a little administrative details – sets of unit records, eBird really adds many dimensions to my analysis.

Thanks to eBird – and of course the deities of random choice – for this award.