Mark Stevenson, June eBirder of the Month

By Team eBird July 28, 2015

Williamson's Sapsucker

Please join us in congratulating Mark Stevenson of Tucson, AZ, winner of the June 2015 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optic. Our June winner was drawn from among those who submitted at least 20 complete checklists containing one or more breeding codes during June. Mark’s name was drawn randomly from the 588 eBirders who achieved the June challenge threshold. Mark will receive new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binoculars for his eBirding efforts. We asked Mark to tell us a little more about himself, his use of eBird, and his love of birds – read on for more!

My name is Mark Stevenson. In the 1980s I moved to Tucson, Arizona and shortly after bought my first pair of binoculars under the influence of new friends who were also birders. Twenty-some years and many birding trips and lists later I started to hear more about this thing called “eBird” where interesting Arizona bird sightings were appearing. By that time my recreational birding interests had led me to compiling and writing bird reports for Arizona Field Ornithologists and “North American Birds”, so I wanted to find out more about this eBird thing. It was clear that this program had great potential to bring in, store and make available lots of distributional data on birds that might otherwise never be available.

During my early eBird experience, I helped the Arizona eBird reviewers split some of the review filters up into smaller regions so that they would be more finely tuned and accurate. By 2009, the checklist entry process had advanced enough that even someone with my limited tech abilities could enter checklists fairly easily. And so I began entering new checklists and eventually went back and wrangled 20 years of old checklists into eBird. It was a plenty of work, but a fun nostalgia trip to revisit my original notes and memories. It was something of a relief to know that all of the data I had collected in notebooks and AviSys would not simply disappear at some future time, but could persist and maybe even have some value for researchers.

I have a lot of fun with eBird. It’s ever easier to use and provides a wider variety of information more quickly than ever. I use eBird Alerts for my own listing goals, to collect observations for my Arizona reports and as an armchair birder to follow what’s being seen around the country. The Patch and Yard Totals are fun to participate in and have turned me into more of a local patch birder. My girlfriend Molly Pollock and I have several nearby patches that we are pretty dedicated to visiting weekly so that all the spaces on their eBird bar charts get filled. While visiting nearby sites, even in June and July when we might otherwise avoid them due to the searing heat, we’ve learned more about the distribution, movements, and breeding of local birds. Adding something new to a location list is always a treat and I’ve found some rare or unexpected birds like a Painted Redstart along a dry desert wash and all four species of sapsuckers in an obscure park that I might otherwise have missed.

The where and when of birds in a region have fascinated me since the days when I first scoured “Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona” to find my way to new ticks for my lists. With time my interest expanded more toward the changing status and distribution of Arizona birds. The eBird “Explore Data” page links to a treasure trove of that sort of information. The bar charts and range maps which are great for seeing what’s been where when. I’ll admit that I enjoy the regional Top 100s and the Top 10s for hotspots too. It’s a spur to get out there and collect more checklists and maybe a new species for the location list.

Mark birding Cardiac Gap above Tucson

Mark birding Cardiac Gap above Tucson

I enjoy the monthly eBird challenges and try to meet each challenge, for the fun of it. I’ve been accumulating breeding information on birds ever since participating in the Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas, so the June challenge was a natural fit and prompted me to include even more code information during the breeding season. It takes more time to enter the codes in checklists but seems worth it, particularly since this information could help track changes in species behavior patterns over time. It paid off too. I feel fortunate in having my name drawn as eBirder of the month and for the prize of an excellent new pair of binoculars!

Gee, when I read this, it seems like I spend a lot of time with eBird. It’s true! Every time I go birding, I go eBirding too.