Ken Burdick, June 2014 eBirder of the Month

By Team eBird July 23, 2014
Ken Burdick

Please join us in congratulating Ken Burdick of Skaneateles, NY, USA, winner of the June 2014 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optic. We were thrilled to find that 4665 eBirders submitted 31,185 checklists with at least one breeding code (out of 188,907 checklists in June 2014; 17%). We are currently working on improving eBird output to better record breeding codes and to start displaying them on a map. This big push in June will help tremendously. Please continue to report breeding codes where relevant and we hope southern hemisphere birders will submit some breeding codes this coming summer (the boreal winter) as well! Ken’s name was drawn randomly from among everyone who breeding codes this past month. We loved Ken’s response when we notified him of the win: “Wow, I didn’t ever expect to win one of the eBird contests, and am still somewhat dumb-struck. I am certainly delighted to be selected for this prize.”

Although the Ithaca, NY, area is probably the most heavily eBirded area on the planet, Skaneateles Lake, just to the east, is comparatively poorly covered. It has been great for us to meet Ken and learn of his dedicated eBirding in that area, especially since it allows for some neat comparisons to what we see around the next lake to the east.

Ken submitted breeding codes on many of his June 2014 lists. Here are a couple nice examples:

19 June 2014 – Owasco Lake Inlet–West Side, Cayuga County

2 Jun 2014 – Montezuma (NMWMA)–Carncross Rd., Wayne County

We asked Ken to tell us a bit more about his eBirding. Here is what Ken wrote:

“It is truly an unexpected pleasure to receive such a wonderful bonus for doing something that I enjoy and would do anyway! Just like canoes, one can never have too many optics or books, so this is great! I really appreciate and thank Carl Zeiss Sports Optics and Princeton University Press for the support that they are providing to the eBird initiative.

I have taken great pleasure in observing outdoor nature since childhood, and have spent many happy hours studying flowering plants and herpetiles over the years as an amateur. With this, I had a desire to share observations on a scientific level, but there were limited opportunities for citizen science field study in these disciplines. It wasn’t until 2005 when we found Fish Crows breeding in the neighborhood that I learned of birding as an opportunity for the would-be citizen scientist – through the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas, and not long after that, through eBird and Christmas Bird Counts. I was soon hooked and reeled in! eBird was a perfect fit.

As a beginner in my new field of study, eBird was of immense value as a learning tool. It provided a way to check the probability and significance of each new sighting, and nicely complemented the reports from the local list serves. It continues to be very helpful for this, especially when I travel to unfamiliar locations.

We live in upstate New York on the fringe of the Cayuga Lake – Montezuma Swamp flyway. This provides for some good local birding along with the opportunity to add some data to a somewhat under-birded area. While much of my birding is just for the fun of it, it is always extra rewarding when the data can also be used to benefit declining species like the Rusty Blackbird. For example, a few years ago, we witnessed first hand a massive botulism kill-off of Common Loons on Lake Ontario. Thinking it might benefit the species, experiencing this prompted an effort to count loons during spring migration on Skaneateles Lake, and also to the realization that few things beat the serenity of a pre-dawn lake watch on a quiet day. This list from the lake had some unusual birds on one of those nice mornings:

In addition to concentrated birding in certain locations, I also like to bird wherever I happen to be. This has resulted in a rather large collection of personal locations, so it is no coincidence that the included photo of myself was taken at an eBird location. The recent addition of BirdLog has made it even easier to capture the occasional list, and entering the two-letter breeding codes into the phone’s keyboard shortcuts has made it painless to capture the breeding status in the field, as long as I went back and edited those lists later. On the phone, I try to flag any  checklists that need further editing with a “TBD”, and use the phone’s shortcut tool to expand my personal shorthand nomenclature to human-readable text, like “FL”to “fledglings” and “utc” to “under tail coverts. Once I return home, I edit the lists to add breeding codes, where relevant.” 

— Ken Burdick