Please join us in congratulating Karen Marshall of Prince George, British Columbia, winner of the June 2016 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Our June winner was drawn from among those who submitted at least 20 complete checklists containing at least one breeding code during June. Karen’s name was drawn randomly from the 794 eBirders who achieved the June challenge threshold. Karen will receive new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binoculars for her eBirding efforts. We asked Karen to tell us a little more about herself, her use of eBird, and her love of birds – read on for more!
I blame it all on the dog. I have always felt most at home in nature, but was never too keen to name birds other than the robins and chickadees I saw regularly. But my husband and I had a dog, and she needed to be walked. Twice a day. Every day. So, it was while walking, or rather, being walked, by my 80lb Husky mutt one day in a small town in the Northwest Territories that I hurtled around the corner of a trail and came face to face with my spark bird. An impossibly tiny burst of sunshine in yellow, grey, black, and white. Right at eye level. Not 10 feet away from me. How could such a tropical looking bird be so far north, just above the 60th parallel? I had no idea what it was but held the image in my mind until I could rush home with the dog and look it up in my bird guide. It was a Magnolia Warbler, and I was hooked.
My husband and I both love being in nature and, once we discovered it, took to birding like swallows to the wing. We began to plan holidays around birding hotspots, bought our first pair of binoculars, and pored over field guides. Our wandering lives allowed us to live above the Arctic Circle and see Willow Ptarmigan burrowing into snowbanks right in town. We saw flocks of Lapland Longspurs in Yukon Territory, watched hundreds of migrating Sandhill Cranes over the mountains in British Columbia. We now live in Prince George, BC, where I bird while I garden, while I walk the dog, while I tend my chickens – pretty much any time I’m outside. When I’m inside, working at the library, at home reading a book, I’m always listening out an open window or becoming distracted by a winged streak across the sky.
When I was notified that I was eBirder of the Month for June I was thrilled. I started using eBird in 2005, not long after I saw that Magnolia Warbler. My relationship with the citizen science project at first was casual, entering data when I saw something unusual or when I’d been on a trip and seen birds I don’t see at home. But in 2009 things started to get serious. Thanks to many articles in birding magazines and online I began to realize that my checklists could add to the knowledge base of bird movement and behaviour. Picture me standing heroically at the edge of a sewage pond, clothespin on nose, dull green bucket hat on head, cape fluttering behind me but only from the waist down because my binocular harness keeps it close to my back. I hope this is how every birder who has discovered eBird feels because we are all contributing; we are all bird data information heroes. I am not a serious lister but love the dual benefit of contributing to the knowledge base while having a way to keep a personal list. eBird staff at Cornell have continually been improving the site to make it so easy to enter information, so even a non-lister like me is excited to enter data.
The monthly challenges have spurred me on to note everything I see and hear. I have begun to take more notice not only of birds, but also of mammals, insects, plants, everything around me. Though I never expected to win a monthly challenge, I enjoyed the push to observe and report. Spring is always an exciting time for birders and these challenges have kept me going on days when I wanted to be a bad birder and sleep in, just once. Remembering the challenge, I would drag myself from bed, grab the dog, and hit the trail. Once out the door I was engulfed in the sights and sounds of spring and couldn’t believe I’d almost missed this glorious morning. So thank you, eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the dog, for getting me out the door into the best part of the day.