A once-in-a-lifetime bird

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It was a beach date that would transform Chris Michaud, though the memorable parts were neither the beach nor the date but what he saw that day. Both in their early 30s, summer of 2017, Chris had met Gemma recently, swiping on Bumble. They decided to head to the New Hampshire coast, not far from where they both lived in Portsmouth. Before arriving at the beach, Gemma suggested they do a little birding.

In a marsh, they spotted egrets, a glossy ibis, and “some other cool stuff.” Later, they went to the beach, as promised, but Chris just kept thinking about the birds. This moment, in birding lingo, is called the “spark,” when a person sees something that inspires them to be a birder for life. (Nearly everyone I talked to for this story had a spark and volunteered their story whether I asked for it or not.)

Since then, Chris has been an avid birder and, like many avid birders, is a frequent user of an app called eBird. Naturally, bird watching today involves going out into the world, encountering something wonderful, strange, perhaps even profound, or moving, and then logging it on your phone.

Along with Merlin, which helps people identify species of birds, eBird lets people keep track of the ones they’ve seen and, in doing so, become part of a crowdsourced, citizen-science mission. Whether users care or not, the millions of birds being observed tell scientists about huge patterns in climate change.

For Chris, though, using eBird is about the thrill of adding every new species he encounters. When we first speak, he immediately summons the exact number of different birds he’d seen: “315 species — pretty cool, right?”





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