Juliet Berger, April eBirder of the Month

By Team eBird June 24, 2016

Juliet in the field; photo by Scott Huizenga

Please join us in congratulating Juliet Berger of Ann Arbor, MI, winner of the April 2016 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Our April winner was drawn from among those who submitted submit 15 or more complete no-X checklists in April as stationary counts or traveling counts of two kilometers (1.25 miles) or less and five hours or less. Juliet’s name was drawn randomly from the 2,675 eBirders who achieved the April challenge threshold. Juliet will receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular for her eBirding efforts. We asked Juliet to tell us a little more about herself, her use of eBird, and her love of birds – read on for more!

Hi I’m Juliet Berger. eBird is now so integral to me, my life, and my work that it is hard to know where to begin. I live, work, and bird in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area with my husband and our two teens. I am the Ornithologist for Natural Area Preservation (NAP), a division of Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation. I work with a great crew of biologists, biological inventory specialists, botanists, volunteer and outreach coordinators, and conservation specialists. Our mission at NAP is to protect and restore Ann Arbor’s natural areas and to foster an environmental ethic among its citizens. My role in that mission is to recruit, train, and support volunteers to conduct breeding bird surveys in our parks, conduct my own surveys at various natural areas and city managed sites, lead bird walks and educational events about birds, and answer bird related questions for the City. All of this activity generates a lot of bird lists, and every list created gets entered into eBird, including all of our volunteers’ breeding bird survey data. In 2013-14 our recently retired Ornithologist, Dea Armstrong, along with her intern, Chris McCreedy, entered all of our City of Ann Arbor breeding bird survey archives into the eBird database. Now, anyone in the world can find out what is happening with the birds in our parks!

As a lifelong birder, eBird helps me to address one nagging regret. I have a life list of birds that is extensive, but most of these birds are just a check mark in the back of my old Golden Field Guide to the Birds of North America. I have neither the location nor the dates these birds were seen, and no observational details, no photos, no anecdotes, no field notes. My father, who was my birding mentor, remembered everything, and when he passed away unexpectedly, all I had were the X’s in my book, and the memories of our birding adventures together when I was a teenager. No memory of where we saw the Whimbrel, nor the Least Bittern, nor the Wilson’s Phalarope, nor the Golden-winged Warbler.

I began eBirding in earnest in 2012 when I started teaching a birding class at my children’s elementary school with a group of other dedicated parents, called Feathered Friends. Since there was need to document what we were seeing as a class, I began eBirding our data, and became focused on this citizen science project. Now eBird keeps my life list, my field notes and my memories of the birds I have seen both by myself and in groups. The eBird “Explore Data” features let me see where I am ranked in the Top 100 in my county and state as well, which I pay more attention to than I probably should. I receive “Rare Bird Alerts” and “Year Needs Alerts” regularly. And, you can bet I am working on recapturing all the mystery life birds from my bygone list!

Juliet leading a group at Wheeler Service Center; photo by David Amamoto.

Juliet leading a group at Ann Arbor Landfill/Wheeler Service Center; photo by David Amamoto.

As my children grew older and I had more time to bird, I joined Washtenaw Audubon Society (WAS), our local county chapter. In 2014 I was asked to serve as president of WAS, an office I still hold today. The WAS Board is an impressive group of birders who donate their time to make decisions about and for Washtenaw Audubon Society, and to influence birding across the county and region. We offer many field trips and bird-related programs throughout the year, and work on other issues, such as making building windows more bird-friendly, and preserving Chimney Swift roosts in our urban areas. Many of my closest friends are WAS birders and we bird together often.

Within the last year, we all put eBird Mobile onto our smartphones and began sharing our eBird checklists for each group birding trip. So whether it is a WAS-sponsored field trip, or just a birding excursion with friends, we always appoint one of the group to make the bird list, we review it at the end of our adventure, and we share it with each individual in the group who uses eBird. eBird’s checklist sharing feature makes this easy. We generally have several skilled photographers in our group, and they agree to populate the checklist with their great shots. Now that eBird has made adding media a snap, we all get to see these photos in our personal lists. Here’s a good example of one of our shared eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S29317409

When I’m birding in a group in one of our parks and natural areas, I am especially attentive to breeding behavior, since breeding birds in Ann Arbor parks is my purview as Ornithologist. So, after I receive or generate the shared checklist, I add observation details and breeding codes. Eventually the checklist looks something like this.

Birding is now part of the rhythm and fabric of my life. So much so, that later this summer, my husband and I will celebrate our 19th anniversary with a Kirtland’s Warbler Tour in Northern Michigan’s jack pine barrens. If I’m lucky enough to see, or at least hear one of these rare songbirds, you’ll be sure to find I’ve listed it on eBird. Thanks to all the folks at Cornell and eBird, as well as Zeiss Optics, for allowing me to share how I use eBird personally and professionally, and for selecting me as the April 2016 eBirder of the Month. As always, I am for the birds….