Please join us in congratulating Brian Tinker of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, winner of the January 2018 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Brian’s name was drawn randomly from the 5,112 eBirders who submitted at least 31 eligible checklists in January. Brian will receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular for his eBirding efforts. Read Brian’s full story below.
I’ve had a passing interest in birds for most of my life. As a kid, I would watch the birds feeding outside my grandma’s dining room window, and flip through her Peterson field guide, looking for any notes she had written about new sightings. Years later I even bought the same (outdated) edition, just so I could have my own copy. But it wasn’t until I finally got a pair of binoculars in 2016 that I realized the incredible variety of birds all around me, and began learning to identify them. I quickly found eBird and other birding groups, and this side hobby turned into an obsession.
Starting in 2017, I decided to try for an informal county Big Year – seeing how many species I could find within my own county. With a full-time job, my birding time is limited, so a county Big Year seemed like a perfect fit for my schedule. eBird proved to be an invaluable resource throughout the entire year. Besides setting up alert for rare birds and year needs, I also scoured species maps, trying to predict where a bird might show up. I even monitored every checklist submitted by others, so I would know what is or isn’t being seen in a given spot. By the end of the year, I had found many more species than I ever expected, including nearly 100 lifers.
During fall migration, I temporarily put my Big Year efforts on hold – at least on the weekends. I began volunteering with Cleveland’s Lights Out program, rescuing migratory birds that collided with skyscrapers and glass buildings. This meant waking up before 4 a.m., driving 40 minutes up to Cleveland, and spending the next several hours walking laps around downtown – putting in close to 10 miles each morning. Any survivors were taken to the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center for rehabilitation, and the rest were added to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s collection. Although I wasn’t in birding mode at the time, I still recorded my sightings in eBird, as it helped fill in data in an under-birded area. How else would we know about the resident Barred Owl hanging out in the middle of downtown at 5 a.m.? Or the huge number of American Woodcocks pushing south one night in early November? All this data was gathered before most birders start their day. I also used these eBird checklists as a way to spread local awareness about the Lights Out program.
I would like to thank eBird and Carl Zeiss Sports Optics for sponsoring these monthly challenges. In the past I would actively try to complete the challenge each month, but now it’s just second nature to get out there and bird anytime and anywhere I can – and track it all in eBird.