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One Year in eBirding

July 16, 2010
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With the entry yesterday morning of a list of birds into eBird that I found on a quick walk around the campus of the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, I have finally completed one of my long-term bird projects, a complete list of birds from a single hotspot.  147 checklists later, an average of just over 2 a week, I’ve finally filled in the last gap to complete the account of a year of birds at the museum where I work.

This graphical representation of the birds present is one of the coolest things about eBird.  Previously, graphs of abundance were the province of wildlife refuges and other publicly accessible birding locales. They obviously take a lot of time and a lot of work to do manually, but eBird’s software takes the burden off, allowing a regular birder such as myself the means to have this information at my disposal simply by entering my sightings on a regular basis.  Beyond that, it’s just cool to look at.  Feel free to click the picture to access the entire list.

There are some interesting things to take from the chart.  104 of the 105 species were seen by me (the missing bird was an Ovenbird seen by someone this spring.  Not surprising, but still one I expected to turn up myself).  6 species were seen every single week of the year: Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Northern Cardinal and American Goldfinch, and 5 more that were seen 51 out of the 52 weeks (Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Towhee, Tufted Titmouse, and Mourning Dove).  If I had to pick 11 species to be my most constant, those would have probably been the ones.

There were some surprises, like the flyover Great Egret late last summer and the Merlin this spring, and the thrush bonanza that added Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked on a single fall morning following a strong weather system.  I managed 22 species of warbler over the year, from common Yellow-rumps and Pines to one-day wonders like Worm-eating and Blue-winged and several other notable migrants like Orioles, Grosbeaks, and Buntings.

As expected, the wetlands provided a fair bit of variety.  Great Blue Heron and Belted Kingfisher were evident most weeks, though absent during the late spring and early summer when I presume they were breeding elsewhere.  A pair of Pied-billed Grebes made the fall exciting and Hooded Mergansers were present nearly the entire winter except for the weeks when the wetland was iced over.  Canada Geese attempted to nest again and Wood Duck was a rare visitor that I half expected to show up more often.  Maybe next year.

The museum site may be fairly pedestrian when compared to other similar places in the triangle as far as potential for a wide variety of species, but it is a great indication of what you could expect during a regular year in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Working towards its completion has encouraged me to get out more often then I might otherwise.  Now that every week is accounted for I can afford to be less anal about it, but there are still some gaps that need to be filled and more data is always better.

I do work there after all, it’s not as if I’ll lack opportunities.

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6 Comments
  1. July 16, 2010 8:57 am

    eBird is waaaaaay too much fun.

    I’m surprised that of the swallows you only have Northern Rough-winged. No Trees or Barns?

    And it’s nice that you don’t have a plague of Black-throated Brown Warblers…

  2. Nate permalink*
    July 16, 2010 10:42 am

    @Corey- Agreed. There are just too many cool ways the data can be manipulated into something useful. It’s the future, and any public science organization that has any interest at all in bird population studies risks becoming an anachronism if they ignore it.

    On swallows, I think the neighborhood in which the museum is located is too forested to attract Trees or Barns. And there are no obvious places for them to nest in the area. They may well fly over from time to time, but they don’t linger so I’m unlikely to find them unless I’m out there 8 hours a day. The RWs hang around the wetland for a few days at a time so I’m liable to find them. And House Sparrows are decidedly scarce around here, which is weird because one block east there’s a shopping center that’s crawling with them.

  3. July 16, 2010 3:10 pm

    Congrats on completing a year’s worth of checklists for the museum. I’ve only completed it for two sites so far. Unfortunately I’ve gotten a bit less diligent at both of them since completing the bar chart.

  4. July 16, 2010 9:58 pm

    Way cool. I’ve been playing with the bar charts from the places I bird regularly quite a bit, especially my home, which is the most fun ’cause I’m the only contributor. (Unless my wife has an eBird account; mental note: check on that.) Of course, the two extremes are the the most eye catching: what’s the most rare and what are the most common, but there’s a lot of interesting things I’ve been pulling out of the middle. The window when we can expect Ruby-crowned Kinglets and White-crowned Sparrows to pass through, when the White-throateds typically depart and the breeding warblers arrive, when local breeders finish nesting and disperse, with only sporadic sightings until they’re gone for the winter. And possibly the most interesting and likely most importantly, how the trends are changing over time. I have yet to spend the time to really look at my data, but I’m hoping it’ll be pretty interesting: I have over 1,400 checklists for my place from the past seven years, with an average of 30 per each week of the year (that’s total, not 30 each month). This year I’ve been trying to conduct 5-minute point counts at a series of sites on my drive to work, which will probably entice me to keep that up as long as I can (I hope I never have to punch a clock at work).

    But why am I writing all this here — I should really start my own blog – oh, to congratulate you on the accomplishment, and more importantly for highlighting it here! I hope it inspires more and more folks to explore eBird’s “data out” functionality, and especially to contribute their own observations.
    -Mike

  5. Nate permalink*
    July 17, 2010 11:37 am

    @John- Thanks! I think because I don’t have to go out of my way to any great extent to add to this list I’ll be able to keep it up for as long as I stay at the museum. Which is nice because there are some trendlines that look choppy to me and I’d like to smooth out the lines.

    @Mike- I also love the smooth transitions between seasons. I was so impressed to see the Catbirds taper out into the fall and the Yellow-rumps into the spring. As a visual learner and a real junkie for graphs, it impresses the information as to when I can expect species in a way that a date on a list never could. There’s a part of me that feels jealous when I see other people putting data on there too, like it’s my list, but making the information more publicly available, and perhaps encouraging visitors to pay attention to that stuff is ultimately what I want to do.

    As Corey said, it’s way too much fun.

  6. July 20, 2010 8:05 am

    Congrats for your work!!!! I am an ebird fan too!

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