2018 Checklist-a-day Challenge winners

By Team eBird January 29, 2019
Southern Cassowary Casuarius casuarius

At the start of 2018, we challenged the eBird community to elevate their eBirding to the next level: an average of one checklist a day, all year. To our delight, 3,869 eBirders met the threshold of 365 eligible checklists during 2018. Out of those nearly 4,000 contenders, three eBirders were chosen at random. Each of the 2018 Checklist-a-day Challenge winners received a pair of Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 42 binoculars for their eBirding! Thank you to Carl Zeiss Sports Optics for making this fun challenge possible.

The Checklist-a-day Challenge is on again this year—take part in 2019’s version to have your own chance at free Zeiss bins, and have your name be in this post next year! Read on to see the stories of this year’s three winners, and congrats to Frank, Barb, and Chris!

Frank Antram
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia

I have been a keen birder and naturalist for most of my life, although I didn’t get into the hobby until my late teens. I blame the Eurasian Linnet! It must have been in the late 60s/early 70s when I truly ‘noticed’ a bird for the first time. It piqued my interest sufficiently for me to get a field guide and work out what it was – a male Eurasian Linnet in breeding plumage. That got me hooked, and I now have over 40 years’ birding experience and have birded in many different countries.

For years my records remained in notebooks and were only occasionally contributed to local ornithological groups but, with the advent of online databases, I was keen to move my records into a database that allowed worldwide observations. Initially, this was an Australian database, Eremaea, until this joined with eBird a few years ago. The biggest way that eBird has changed my birding habits is that I now record every species I see or hear, not just the more interesting ones! Going back through my old notes, it is so frustrating to see how often I failed to note the common species.

I have always been primarily a ‘local patch’ birder – that’s what gives me most pleasure – to record what turns up at a particular site over the seasons and years, and to document the changes. Recording numbers, rather than just presence, is also important, and eBird encourages this, especially with the ease of using the app.

My local patch or patches these days are sites around Goulburn, New South Wales, in particular the Goulburn Wetlands where I am also a regular Landcare (native revegetation) volunteer. And, also, the Goulburn Maturation Ponds (no access without Council permission) – sewage settlement ponds that are due to be decommissioned and which I am encouraging the local Council to turn into a bird reserve.

I am not averse to ‘twitching’ the occasional rarity, although I limit myself to New South Wales and sometimes other parts of eastern Australia, and I also enjoy overseas birding trips. My favourite list in 2018 is one from Gujarat, India mainly due to the great views I had of several species of raptor.

I am an eBird reviewer for New South Wales. This is a very time-consuming task and can be both rewarding and frustrating! The rewarding part is helping to ensure the integrity of the data in eBird, and the helpful and appreciative responses from the majority of observers that I need to query. The frustrating part is how many observers do not seem to understand what sort of information is required to document properly an unusual sighting.

Finally, here are some of my favourite photos from 2018. Whilst I am not really much of a photographer, as I find that trying to obtain photos detracts from bird-watching, I do carry a small camera (Nikon Coolpix B700), especially when I’m travelling.

And, not from 2018, but what I regard as possibly the best photo I’ve ever taken – a Blue-faced Honeyeater at the Australian National University in Canberra in 2006:

Many thanks to the eBird team at Cornell and to Zeiss for my prize of binoculars – just for doing something I love doing every day of the year!

Barb Bassett
Cape May Point, New Jersey, US

My interest in birds began in childhood when I was introduced to backyard birds by my mother who was always feeding the birds (and still does today). Even though I had been going to Cape May, NJ since I was a child and even worked several summers there, the true birding bug did not hit me until I also became a mom. My daughter and son started asking “what’s that bird?” and I became hooked. Soon I began keeping records in small notebooks, so eBird was a natural fit when I started using it in 2012.

There are so many uses for eBird. I use the eBird Mobile app whenever in the field, which is a lot now that I am semi-retired. Submitting a list is so easy! In each of the last three years, I’ve submitted over 1000 lists. I use it whether walking the dog, on a field trip with Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC) or Gloucester County Nature Club, as a volunteer associate naturalist for NJ Audubon and Cape May Bird Observatory, as a leader for NJ Audubon Young Birders Club or working as a naturalist aboard the Osprey Birding by Boat. The ability to share lists helps the leaders and allows the participants to concentrate on the birds. For the CBCs in which I participate, I break down our effort into as many lists as possible. It is a great reference for routes from year to year. I also enjoy conducting stationary counts. My favorite is as a volunteer at the Spring Watch migration count, Coral Ave, Cape May Point, NJ. Here is an example.

The yard and patch list feature make keeping track of local areas easy and fun. Whenever I travel to a new birding location, whether in the US or internationally, I check out the eBird data ahead of time. I had a checklist streak of 725 until I went to Australia in October, and lost a day crossing the international dateline. It was worth it! Check out one of my Australia lists which has my most sought after species.

I’ve seen many improvements to eBird over the years. I started with the paid app and now it is free. Breeding codes are now part of the app, the smart sort is helpful, and the tracking feature is a valuable tool for bird surveys such as raptors and Ipswich sparrows. It is so easy now to add photos to your lists. I recently imported my photos that were linked through Flickr which brought back some good memories. Here’s an example of a list where I added photos to help participants recall the birds that they saw on the walk. With the lists having direct links to species details, it especially helps to sort through photos of unfamiliar birds and I’m currently doing this with my Australian photos.

My New Year’s resolution is to add my older records. I started a few years ago by adding some local rarities. It was fun to see who else saw the same birds and interesting to find that some people were there that I didn’t know then but I do now. As a parting thought, I think birding and eBirding (especially with numbers not Xs) help keep your mind active and is great for your memory.

Thank you Cornell and thank you Zeiss for supporting so many of the birding programs.

Chris Davis
Ft. Worth, Texas, US

I have always been fascinated with birds, but as a young child I never met anyone that had any knowledge or interest in them. I struggled unsuccessfully to learn to identify most of the local birds. Some were easy such as Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, and a few others. Most seemed impossible and I basically just gave up on everything except the raptors which held my imagination due to their dramatic appearance and lifestyle.

By my late teens I had become fairly competent in raptor identification and more importantly, their behaviors, nesting habits, and habitat preferences. The path to other birds was mostly wanting to know what did that Merlin just catch, what kind of duck is that Peregrine Falcon eating and what kind of blackbirds are swirling like clouds of smoke at the approach of a Cooper’s Hawk. Later I worked with a man that was an avid birdwatcher. He invited me to participate in a Christmas Bird Count. I was reluctant due to my inexperience, but he assured me that it wouldn’t matter and that my raptor skills would be helpful. Sure enough we got a Merlin, Prairie Falcon, two Golden Eagles, and a Barn Owl – four new species for this area count. It felt pretty good to be able to contribute among this group of birders that had so much more experience than myself. My gain was much greater. They showed me how to find and identify many species that were previously elusive to me. Birding was still mostly just a fun diversion but it was beginning to take hold.

I took a graduate course in Ornithology at the University of Texas at Arlington under Dr, Robert Neill. Dr Neill’s love of birds was infectious and I was hooked. Another pivotal moment came when I was volunteering to trap and radio track Ocelots at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. One of their biologist asked if I would be willing to come back and help band birds during the Spring migration. I jumped at the opportunity and continued to return for a few days each Spring for the next five years. I continued to participate in many field projects and started surveying nesting raptors in my area on a massive scale but was doing nothing with all that information. It was self indulgent and fun, but not especially constructive. A friend told me that knowledge not shared is worthless. When you die it dies with you. Harsh, but true.

So here I was spending countless hours in the field and having a great time to no avail. There didn’t seem to be an avenue open to me where I could share what I was doing in any meaningful way. Then I discovered eBird. Here was a place where I could share my experiences in a usable context. I have become a rabid contributor because now what I see has real value especially when combined with the thousands of contributions from other like minded individuals.

My emphasis is on checklists from under served areas to fill in the gaps. I also enjoy going to well known places but even then I like to go at times that most others don’t. I like to keep the area searched as small as possible to maintain a degree of accuracy on where my birds were located. I use eBird to track birds that interest me and to preview what I’m likely to see when traveling. I have become obsessed with photographing as many birds as possible. This is mostly documentation photography with some occasional artistic shots. This can be very humbling as I have incorrectly identified some birds and the photos tell the truth. These are caught by the regional reviewers and corrections are made. This is good. I scrutinize what I see to a greater degree and keep learning. My thanks to the reviewers that keep us on track.

I sincerely hope that many young people will use and benefit from eBird. Information compiled on an unprecedented scale such as this has the power to change the way we think about our world and hopefully the way we care for it. It is a powerful tool for policy makers and researchers.

Thanks to Carl Zeiss Optics for their support of eBird and to all those that have made this possible.