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Ken Burton, May eBirder of the Month

Please join us in congratulating Ken Burton of Klamath, California, winner of the May 2017 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Our May winner was drawn from eBirders who submitted 3 or more eligible checklists on 13 May—Global Big Day. Ken’s name was drawn randomly from the 5,684 eligible eBirders who achieved the May challenge threshold. Ken will receive new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binoculars for his eBirding efforts. Read more to see Ken’s full story.

I have been birding actively since about 1980. I began eBirding in earnest about five years ago and now consider myself mildly addicted; I’m on eBird virtually every day for one reason or another and usually submit about four complete checklists a week. Unfortunately, my records weren’t good enough before mid-1987 to enter anything into eBird, so about 20% of my life list still isn’t there. [Team eBird note: learn how to enter your life list here]  If only eBird had existed back then – splits would have been so much easier to deal with!

I usually don’t make much of an effort to qualify for the eBirder of the Month challenges, but this one meshed so well with my existing birding plans that I couldn’t resist. Obviously, that decision paid off! Global Big Day happened to coincide with the date my team, The Wandering Talliers, had selected for its annual birdathon effort to benefit two local conservation organizations. I tallied 141 species that day, all within Humboldt County, California, and raised $1270 for the cause along the way. If your Audubon chapter or bird club has never tried a birdathon as a fundraiser, I highly recommend it!

eBird certainly has helped me become a more observant birder and definitely a better record-keeper. I live in an area (northwest California) with a huge eBirding community, which is a good motivator to keep getting out. I especially like submitting lists for seldom-visited hotspots and finding places that deserve to be designated as new hotspots. 

I have used eBird data extensively for various purposes, including three publications. David Fix, Leslie Anderson, and I wrote Common Birds of the Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary, published by Friends of the Arcata Marsh, and I used eBird data to select the species to include and to generate occurrence graphs. That book was so well received that Leslie and I expanded it to Common Birds of Northwest California, published by Redwood Region Audubon Society and now in its second edition. eBird was really helpful for visualizing seasonal distributions for that book. Just this year, I used eBird data to update the Checklist of the Birds of Marin County, California, published by Marin Audubon Society.

Short-eared Owl in Humboldt County by Ken Burton/Macaulay Library.

I’m currently working on a birding guide to Humboldt County, based largely on eBird. It will offer 25 driving and walking routes linking eBird hotspots together and calling out noteworthy species along the way based mostly on eBird reports. Some people say that eBird has made birding guides obsolete, but I believe that a birding guide based on eBird can only be good for eBird. We’ll see, I guess! What I would love to see is for eBird to evolve into its own birding guide, with hotspots linked to write-ups with access information, birding advice, and maybe maps, all contributed by eBirders, Wiki-style. [Team eBird note: stay tuned in the coming years for something along these lines!]

I work as a wildlife biologist for the Yurok Tribe in California and am currently managing a new bird inventory project associated with prairie fragments, using point counts. I hope to be able to contribute our data to eBird at some point; there’s precious little information out there on the birdlife of the lower Klamath River.

I’m stunned and thrilled to have been selected as eBirder of the Month! In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge fan of eBird, and it’s been great seeing it get even better over the years. There are still a lot of things I wish it (and the app) could do and I’m not shy about suggesting them; at the risk of overwhelming the already overburdened eBird staff, I encourage all eBirders to do so, because that’s what will tell eBird what’s most wanted by the eBird community.