On April 1, 2012 the ABA announced the winners of the 2012 Young Birder of the Year Contest. Sixteen-year-old Marie McGee, from Clinton Township, Michigan, and eleven-year-old Zachary Marchuk, from Neebing, Ontario, took top honors and will receive the grand prize of a pair of Leica Trinovid 8 x 42 binoculars.

By Jennie Duberstein

On April 1, 2012 the ABA announced the winners of the 2012 Young Birder of the Year Contest. Sixteen-year-old Marie McGee, from Clinton Township, Michigan, and eleven-year-old Zachary Marchuk, from Neebing, Ontario, took top honors and will receive the grand prize of a pair of Leica Trinovid 8 x 42 binoculars. 

The week after the announcement I had the pleasure of talking with both of these remarkable young birders about their experience. Yesterday on the ABA Young Birder Blog you heard from Marie McGee, in her own words. Today we meet Zachary Marchuk, winner of the 10-13 year-old category.

Zach at hawk ridge
In speaking with Zachary, the first thing that I noticed was how at ease he was being interviewed. He was intelligent, well-spoken, and relaxed (at least, he seemed that way to me!) When I asked him how old he was when he started birding, he gave a short chuckle and told me that when he was two he could name every owl in North America. He has just always been interested in nature he remarked, “from astronomy to biology to whatever.” 

But biology has always been Zachary’s favorite. He began keeping a field journal when he was five and has continued to do so ever since. His drawings and notes really improved over the course of the contest, in large part, he says, as a result of the excellent field journaling manual that was provided as part of the registration materials (the Birder’s Field Notebook Manual, published by the ABA). 

Zachary M Field 2011 9Zachary's field journal.

Zachary “devours books,” reading field guides, science books, and whatever he can get his hands on that catches his interest.

He participated in the illustration, field notebook, and photography modules. Although he had been keeping a field notebook for a number of years, along with accompanying illustrations, he wasn’t much of a photographer until fairly recently.

Zachary, the oldest of five children found out about the Young Birder of the Year contest from some family friends with children about Zach’s age who are also interested in science and nature. The younger of the two children was interested in the contest but too young to enter (“watch for another entry from Ontario in 2013,” I was forewarned), and they passed the information on to Zachary and his family.

Zachary sent in his registration right at the very end of the application period, so he got the materials in late May 2011, more than a full month past the contest start in April. Since he already kept a field journal, he was able to transcribe a few earlier field observations from that into the official YBY field notebook, and from that point on began keeping it regularly. 

Zachary M Field 2011 7Zachary's field journal.

Although he’d been keeping a field journal for several years, participating in the YBY contest really improved Zachary’s skills. At first he said he was a little intense about everything, worrying about how his entry would be judged and wondering if he was doing something wrong. He finally realized, “Who cares!” and became a lot easier has he just started to enjoy the process for its own sake, rather than for the sake of a prize or title.

Toward the end of the contest Zach found that he was behind on the photography module and didn’t have sufficient photos of a good enough quality to enter. He began to think of just not sending in his entry and “just bailing” on the contest. His mom convinced that he’d done all of this work and should really keep pushing to finish. Fortunately, Zach took her advice and sent his package of materials in on the last day it could be sent.

And in late March, he received a very important phone call from ABA President Jeffrey Gordon and Young Birder Program Coordinator Bill Stewart, who called to give him the news that he’d won the 10-13 year-old category. “That was a pretty important phone call,” he recalled. But eleven-year-old Zachary didn’t let something like a phone call with the President of the ABA shake his calm. His mom later told him, “I can’t believe you won; you looked so calm when you were on the phone!”

As a result of his participation in the Young Birder of the Year Contest, Zachary finds that he takes much more careful field notes. He did a fair bit of drawing before the contest, but rarely took his journal out in the field with him. Instead, he’d journal afterwards, from memory. Now, he says, he takes his journal with him in the field, capturing sketches and notes as he observes things, which has greatly improved his skills. 

Zachary M Field 2011 2Zachary's field journal.

Of course, from the perspective of a winner, this might be easier to say, but even if he hadn’t won, Zachary says it still was a great experience. He was inspired to take more photos, take better, more comprehensive field notes, and really spend time looking closely at what he was observing in the field rather than just going home and looking through the field guide.

When I asked if he had any words of advice for participants in the 2013 Young Birder of the Year contest, based on his own experiences, Zachary thought about it for a minute before saying, “Don’t get too frustrated by the time constraints and just relax.” When he finally decided he was going to enjoy the process, regardless of the outcome, things went a lot more smoothly.

He also warns participants to keep careful track of the paperwork! Luckily he didn’t lose any critical forms or instructions, but he did lose the paperwork that told him what the prizes were going to be! (Zach—you’ll be receiving a fantastic Leica 8×42 Trinovid binocular, just in case you are still wondering!)

Stay tuned for more from Zachary: although he won’t be eligible for the overall prize again, he plans to participate in the Young Birder of the Year Contest again in 2013!

Registration for the 2013 Young Birder of the Year Contest is now open!

IMG_0916About the author: Jennie Duberstein is the ABA Young Birder Program Liaison and Blog Manager for the Young Birder Blog. She has been involved with young birder programs for the ABA and other organizations since 1997. This summer you can find her co-leading ABA's Camp Colorado, VENT's Camp Chiricahua, and coordinating the new ABA/Leica Young Birder Track at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. In her "other" life, Jennie works as the education and outreach coordinator for the Sonoran Joint Venture, an organization that works to conserve the unique birds and habitats of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.