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Invaluable eBird

May 27, 2011
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If it isn’t clear by now, I’m a huge fan of eBird.  The citizen science initiative and listing tool created by Cornell is, without a doubt, the single biggest birding innovation of the last decade.  And I say that knowing that eBird is not even ten years old.

It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come.  Back in the day all you had was the phone number of a few friends and taking on a Big Year was a testimony to connections and personal experience.  The listserv revolution changed that, expanding the circle of contacts and changing birding in as big a way as the invention of the field guide.  Now a Big Year birder could cast a wider net with an ear to their email.    Now there’s eBird, an online, practically real time record of the birds in the area.  For a Big Year birder, it is nothing short of crucial.

Folks still get left behind though.  I know birders in the area that just don’t like to post sightings to the listserv and whose great birds only find their way into the public record only in the quarterly journal.  EBird suffers from this gap to some extent too, all new things do, but even if the best birders in the state are still holding out, there’s enough information there to make it an essential, maybe THE essential, tool for following local big years.  I certainly use it regularly in addition to religiously entering my own checklists, and I’m fortunate that some of the busiest birders in the area are active users too.  Without them, this Big Year game in the triangle would be dead on arrival.  So thanks to Thierry Bresancon, Robert Meehan, Mark Kosiewski, Matt Daw, and Ali Iyoob for their dedicated eBirding this year.  They’re enormous helps, even if half of them don’t know it.

How, then, do I use this wonderful website to accomplish my goals?  I’ll show you.

First, I’m constantly checking the 2011 bar charts for the four counties I’m covering.  This is easy enough to set up through the “View and Explore Data” tab.  My attention is generally focused on the right-most bar, essentially what is being seen right now.

When I find a bird I need for the year, I click on the link and I’m taken to a map showing where these sightings are being reported. Bright yellow stickpins indicate the birds have been seen in the last month and are, naturally, hottt.

Take, for instance, the local map for the object of my current frustration, Kentucky Warbler.  Looks like Thierry had a cool 2/3 of a half dozen of them down on Hope Valley Road.  I’d better go check that out!*

*I did.  And came back busted.

But how, you’re now asking, do I find my way to this place where Kentucky Warblers drip from the trees and assault visiting birders with their incessant churrying?  For that, I pull out my trusty BirdsEye app.  I haven’t written much specifically about it this year, but I should point out that it’s the single most useful birding app there is, and that includes the Sibley eGuide.

The composite below shows the steps.  First, I find my Kentucky Warbler in the list of birds seen near Chapel Hill recently.  Next, I chose the bird, at which point I’m taken to a map similar to the one above where the recent sightings are shown.  Clicking on the sighting creates a map from my house, to the spot where the Kentucky Warblers be singing*.

*Except they weren’t when I went to go look for them last week.

This is the magic of the interwebs, such that I guy like me with not an enormous amount of specialized information can find the exact birds I’m looking for. Most of the time.

Of course, the system is only as good as the data entered.  I already put most of my sightings on eBird now, and I’m happy to tell you that the new incarnation of eBird (that I’ve been using for a month now) is even more user friendly.

Now, don’t you want to get your reports on eBird now?  If for no other reason than to help a brother out?

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8 Comments
  1. May 27, 2011 9:03 am

    I love eBird, too. i’m still entering records from years ago, trip reports, et. etc. Somedays I think I’ll never catch up. But I still love it.

  2. May 27, 2011 9:09 am

    Good stuff Nate! Do you ever use the “arrivals” tool in eBird to see what has most recently come to your county?

  3. May 27, 2011 9:47 am

    The demo installation of the new ebird also has county-level email alerts now as well (in case you didn’t know).

  4. May 27, 2011 2:12 pm

    I’ve found it useful for tracking down birds in my county too since most of the people who bird here don’t post their sightings to the state email list.

  5. June 1, 2011 1:52 pm

    In my county, I think we recently reached “the tipping point” where most birders now feel they need to enter their sightings into ebird, if only to get information about where to see the bird they missed. We now have 3 times as many bird lists this spring than we did last year for the same period!

    As a consequence, I am sorry to say that you are not part of the top 100 of washtenaw county (michigan) anymore….I take it as good news!

  6. June 3, 2011 11:22 am

    I’ll be honest. I declined a lot more sightings in eBird as an eBird reviewer than I actually logged myself. In the last few months, I’m definitely a convert. I love it and wish I had used it more as opposed to AviSys. I am fully converted over and mildly addicted. I also like looking up specific species (more unusual ones) in the map view to see where they’ve been seen in the past in my county. Interesting stuff.

  7. Nate permalink*
    June 7, 2011 10:42 am

    @Carolyn – Entering all my old checklists and records was definitely time consuming. But sooo worth it. I’m working on entering old records from the state ornithological journal now. It will take a while, but I can’t wait till it’s done.

    @Robert- I don’t! But I totally should.

    @jmj – I didn’t know that, thanks! I’ll have to check it out.

    @John- Yes, it’s funny how the eBird community and the greater birding community don’t always overlap.

    @Laurent- Say it ain’t so! My 30 or so birds didn’t cut it!

    @Patrick- Yeah, I do the same. It’s a fantastic resource.

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