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eBird and the BBS

June 4, 2012

This weekend I ran my Mini Breeding Bird Survey. Or, at least, I tried to (more on that in a bit).  The MBBS is the brainchild of a former ornithology professor at UNC in which birders in Orange, Durham, and Chatham counties run smaller, shorter versions of the venerable, and effective, Breeding Bird Survey.  The protocol for the MBBS is identical to that of BBSs, only the mini counts are 9.5 miles instead of 24.5, and can usually be ripped out in a morning before the rest of the world even has their coffee.  The data isn’t warehoused in a USGS database, but kept for local use and mostly for personal interest, though lately the administrator has been interested in getting the data into eBird, which I think we can all agree is a very good thing.

The question of how to most effectively do this, however, is still up in the air.  This is my first year participating, and I came into a system of data entry to eBird that seems unorthodox.  Instead of entering data for the individual stops, the entire checklist is entered for the entire route, placed on a spot somewhere in the middle of the 9.5 miles.  Because the magic of eBird relies of site specificity, this seems like it’s less than ideal.

Don’t get me wrong, having the data, especially good, complete data like this, is always better than not having the data.  But on a lark, I decided to make a separate checklist for all 20 stops on my route to see how something like that would work.  I ended up with a map like this:

It was mostly easy to get the checklists submitted.  Fortunately, I like the monotony of entering data and the checklist for a 3 minute point count is hardly an imposition.  I had between 5 and 14 species for every stop.  The question now is how to best convince my fellow MBBSers, who may be older and certainly not as obsessive about properly entering data into eBird as I am, that this is the right way to go about it.

The answer is probably to create a spreadsheet that can be distributed to the counters, who can then fill in the species seen and the lat/long of the stops (easy enough to remind people to do) and use eBird’s fabulous bulk upload file importer.  And the genius is, once the initial spots are entered one never has to worry about it again.  Now, this doesn’t entirely apply to those who do the traditional BBS, which has a data entry system already in place, but there are, undoubtedly, serious eBirders out there who BBS, and I’d be curious to know how they put the data in for their own records.  So let me know in the comments if you’re one of those people.

And I mentioned earlier that I had only “tried” to run my route.  Turns out I got the start location wrong (I started at Hwy 86 instead of OLD Hwy 86 – thanks a lot NC Department of Transportation), cutting off the first 2 miles of my route and going two miles too far on the other end, so I’ll have to rerun the route next week.  Fortunately, thanks to eBird, all my locations are ready to go (at least all but the last 3).  So there’s that.  Let’s just call this one a warm-up run.

  1. June 4, 2012 12:25 pm

    Brilliant use of eBird to house these data, but the monotony of entering a bazillion short checklists can be a non-starter for all those except the most devout. But I’ve found using the Bird’sEye BirdLog app on my smartphone (iPhone, if you’re keeping score) makes this more than easy. It’s what it was developed to do — I’ve been entering more checklists from more specific spots since I started using it. Bonus: I don’t sit on checklists and upload them weeks or months later, they’re entered as soon as I get back to the car (or house, for yard lists).

    So, how to get a smartphone into the hands of all the volunteers? Or how to pair them up with an app-savvy teen-ager who can act as scribe in the field?

    I would love to see transects like yours start to line the continent!

    • Nate permalink*
      June 4, 2012 9:44 pm

      I’ve also picked up BirdLog and I like it a lot, but I hate having my eyes on my phone when I’m out in the field and have reverted to using my plain old notepad and pen when I’m actively birding. I will say that I do enter far more incidental counts when I’m standing around and hearing birds now that I have it, which is a good thing I imagine.

      • June 8, 2012 11:16 am

        I should have mentioned I now only bird by ear — I never look around anymore.

        Obviously, that’s not true, and I do find myself starting at my phone more than I’d like. But I think I’ve balanced it reasonably well (at least, I’m satisfied for the time being) where the trade off between some additional “down-looking” time vs. “bird searching” time produces more lists, more often, and submitted more promptly. I would love to see a test that compares how complete the lists made by the two methods compare: are there more missed birds on the phone list vs. the notebook? Or are they compatible?

        I have no idea how to perform that test, but it would be interesting.

  2. June 11, 2012 10:26 am

    I was thinking about entering all 50 of my regular BBS route stops. Googling brought me back here (though you are also in my feed reader). I’m leaning towards doing it but I wondered what eBird’s official opinion would be (if they have one). I’m also a BirdLog user (obviously not while on the BBS route). I recently walked into a curb while birding. I wonder what I miss when I’m not looking up but every birding trip becomes more like an official count when I’m using the app. I love it. Cheers – J.B. Churchill, Frostburg, MD

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