Sheila Hale, October eBirder of the Month

By Team eBird November 11, 2016

Sheila birding in Tanzania

Please join us in congratulating Sheila Hale of Spruce Grove, Alberta, winner of the October 2016 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Our October winner was drawn from eBirders who submitted at least 15 eligible eBird checklists in October using eBird Mobile. Sheila name was drawn randomly from the 2,348 eBirders who achieved the October challenge threshold. Sheila will receive new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binoculars for her eBirding efforts. We asked Sheila to tell us a little more about herself, her use of eBird, and her love of birds – read on for more.

I have always been a nature nut who loves to be outdoors. We have always had a bird feeders and a birdbath. If I saw an unknown bird I would get the bird book out to identify it but that was it. Birds were an interest but no more so than mushrooms or insects. My first exposure to rabid (oops that is avid) birders was when my husband and I took our first nature tour to Cuba. We enjoyed all the birds but basically thought the birders were a little nuts.  Over the years we travelled to many countries and have seen some amazing birds. From most of those trips I have lists of birds that we saw but no numbers, times or exact locations.

Things started to change with the discovery of eBird in January of 2014.   With my background in computing I immediately understood the concept of how any bit of data I could contribute to the database would be useful to science. Initially I started keeping track of the birds that showed up in the yard and at our feeders over the winter. With the arrival of summer and my more limited knowledge of many of the summer birds my contributions dropped off.

When I retired last year I resolved to extend my knowledge of birds to include more of the summer birds and all their calls. They say learning a new language is a great way to keep the mind sharp. I figure bird calls are a language or many languages.  As we live adjacent to an environmental reserve on the banks of the North Saskatchewan river it is easy to step out on one of the many trails. The monthly challenges spurred me on to get out and start discovering. I started taking daily hikes/snowshoe trips down the valley with my camera and binoculars. The addition of a spotting scope to my kit has made heading to the local pond a much more productive activity as well.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker by Sheila Hale/Macaulay Library

I have started recording the birds I see almost everywhere we go. The eBird Mobile app is a great asset for keeping track of my observations.  I usually start it as soon as I head out and periodically update my sightings as I go.  My species and number counts are much more accurate this way.  After I am home if I was able to take any half decent pictures I will add them to the checklist.  This is an example from a couple of weeks ago. https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32099586 .

I find the eBird app is most useful when we are on  tours in locations where the area and the birds are unknown.  On the spot I start a checklist to record the time and location, ensuring I have the correct location recorded as I might not be able to pinpoint it later.  I will record any birds that I do know but I will leave the checklist unsubmitted.  Later I will compare any photos and notes that I have taken to my bird book to see if I am able to add to the list of identifiable birds. Once those are entered I will submit the list.

Contributing to science was a big motivator to getting me started using eBird but I truly enjoy being having a convenient way to review my bird sightings as well.     

Recording my yard birds is still a passion which my husband refers to as “taking roll call”.  16 species is my record for best birding day without leaving the house came last December.  https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S26162340 . I believe that everyone is able to contribute in an important way even if it is only what you see from your window or on your walk to work.

Ruffed Grouse out the window of the house! Photo by

Ruffed Grouse out the window of the house! Photo by Sheila Hale/Macaulay Library.

I am thrilled to have won the birder of the month challenge.  Since I have myself joined the ranks of “rabid” birders the new binoculars will be put to good use.  Now if I had just discovered eBird much sooner so that I could have recorded the specific dates that I saw that Bee Hummingbird and my first ostrich and all those other birds we have seen in our travels… Guess we will have to go back!