Karen A McKinley, February eBirder of the month

By Team eBird March 22, 2018

Please join us in congratulating Karen A McKinley of Phoenix, Arizona, winner of the February 2018 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Karen’s name was drawn randomly from the 3,015 eBirders who submitted at least 15 eligible checklists in February that were shared with other eBirders. Karen will receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular for her eBirding efforts. Read Karen’s full story below.

I discovered birding in late 2013 despite a multi-decade career in natural resource management. Out for a walk in the snowy seminary woods on the shore of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, I met a couple ladies who were in the midst of a Christmas Bird Count. Their enthusiasm and dedication were contagious. I tagged along for the morning and got hooked! Lucky for me eBird was already well established and available to guide my adventure into birding.

It was rather daunting at first to try to identify the wide variety of birds along Lake Michigan. Looking at a field guide I thought “how could I ever learn all those ducks? Let alone all those other birds?!” Then there are the differences in sex, age, and seasonal plumage! So, on the advice of other birders I met in the field (great way to make new friends), I established an eBird account and used it to identify the most common birds in my area by selecting hotspots to bird. The lists provided by eBird, Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website, recommendations from other birders, my field guides, and those binoculars (on my 3rd pair – but that’s another story) have provided a fruitful foundation for seeking, tracking, and identifying what is now a 400 species life list!

I bird on a daily basis rain or shine – even if for a few short lists – it gets me outside. This may sound obvious but I’ve learned that if you’re outside, you can find all sorts of birds, common and rare, even in your own urban neighborhood. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of finding new birds but also watching the more common ones over time.

Greater Roadrunner by Karen McKinley/Macaulay Library

I also love to travel so when I’m going to bird a new area, I use all the tools provided by eBird and Cornell Lab to do a little “birding CSI” – what can I expect to see there? Setting up rarities and needs alert lists that are currently being seen in that area; reviewing habitat and behavior information; and selecting/maintaining the tools of the trade to be successful out there – binoculars, scope, and camera. I’m a bit old school and still use a notebook in the field, and transfer my lists and upload media soon after birding.

One of the side benefits to being a rather avid birder is that you meet other birders when you’re out and about. Like the two ladies I met that fateful day in 2013, I’ve received the best guidance from other birders – a good pair of birding binoculars is a must; directions to those special spots for unique observations; how not to freeze when birding in inclement weather; and best of all – simply enjoy the adventure of discovery!

I really was surprised to be the February eBirder of the Month. Absolutely made my day! I enjoy the challenges and look forward to each one – they stretch my birding skills and use of eBird in so many ways. Last month’s was really challenging because I do so much birding by myself. Being relatively new to the Phoenix area, I reached out to a local birding acquaintance to join me. Lucky for me she agreed and we spent several days birding the Valley of the Sun and sharing checklists. The result? Some great days in the field, a new friendship, and being eBirder of the month! Many thanks to eBird, Cornell Lab, and Carl Zeiss Sports Optics for sponsoring these monthly challenges – they really are quite fun!