Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season is upon us again! This is a great time to join others and cooperate in a massive effort across the Western Hemisphere to take a snapshot of bird occurrence around the holidays. For three weeks each year (14 December to 5 January) tens of thousands of birders head out to conduct the CBC. These counts are cooperative efforts to get the best count of birds in a single 15-mile diameter circle. They depend upon the efforts of multiple parties of observers each checking different parts of the count circle. Compilers add the efforts of the various teams together and assemble a final count total, which can be compared to totals for the past 114 years to understand changes in bird populations. eBird collects data at a finer scale and from single parties of birders. We invite each group to submit their single-party lists to eBird. Read on for guidance on best practices for submitting your CBC to eBird.
[Updated 11 Dec 2013] Snowy Owls are staging an incredible invasion and reports continue to roll in to eBird. Most are coming from Atlantic Canada, the Northeast U.S., and Great Lakes, with several as far south as North Carolina and a pioneering one out to sea on Bermuda! These invasions are thought to occur because of variations in cyclical prey and predator populations in the Arctic, but the exact dynamics still leave many questions. eBird records observations from birdwatchers worldwide and is poised to track this invasion with unparalleled precision. This provides a great opportunity to really understand the dynamics of these poorly understood movements. If you have been lucky enough to see a Snowy Owl this year (or in the past), please submit your sightings to eBird. Suggest that your birding friends do the same! Be sure to treat these birds with respect, and don’t approach too close.
There is no better month to find a Little Gull in much of North America than November. This fall has produced one of the stronger showings for this species in recent years with birds appearing from the Front Range of Colorado to southern Illinois and Tennessee. Coastal sightings stretch from Newfoundland to Virginia. Lake Erie and Lake Ontario have also had strong showings for the species this year, including at the species’ North American stronghold along the Niagara River, where dozens of Little Gulls can sometimes be found among the tens of thousands of Bonaparte’s. Three at Chequamegon Bay, Lake Superior, Wisconsin on 25 November were a great count so far west. As we head into a long Thanksgiving weekend, try checking open water near you for Little Gull. Bring your camera!
It’s late November. The temperature is dropping. Where should you go birding?
How about a grocery store parking lot? Last week, Team eBird converged for meetings in Ithaca, New York. In between meetings they managed to find an Audubon’s Warbler in just a narrow strip of shrubs and trees next to Wegman’s (home of the best bagels in Ithaca)! This subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler is annual in the Northeast, but still quite rare, with only a handful of records this year. Check out the eBird map and read on to get our take on some of the hottest November birding.
eBird is developing better ways to bring in rich media (photographs, video, and audio), and we are now hiring two software engineers to build these tools. These developers will work closely with eBird, the Macaulay Library, and other groups at the Cornell Lab. If you are a software engineer, or know a software engineer who is looking to spend more time working with the project you love (eBird!), read or share the following position. To apply for the position, please refer to Jobs at Cornell. For more information contact Sue Taggart.
There are many ways to find out about recent sightings using eBird. This story highlights one of our favorite ways to access eBird data outside of the eBird application — BirdTrax. With BirdTrax, you can quickly browse recent observations, rarities, and checklists in your area, county, or state. Do you want to see all recent checklists near where you live? Do you want to see all recent sightings? Or perhaps you want to simply see nearby rarities? BirdTrax provides all of these. You can select you region or regions of interest and customize BirdTrax for what you want. For more information visit BirdTrax. For those of you who were using iGoogle, you can use BirdTrax with Google Sites to return similar information. If you are interested in creating a Google Site, here is a quick link on how to create a site and fill it with customized information from BirdTrax. Totally confused and don’t understand what any of this means? Take a look here to see BirdTrax in action on a Google Site.
Changes will be happening over the next week with how eBird users report Rock Pigeons. Most checklists will now contain Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) as an option. Since eBird is a global system it needs to be consistent throughout the world. In the Old World, where Rock Pigeon is native, most observers draw distinctions between Feral Pigeons (city pigeons, typically with non-wild plumage phenotypes) and ‘wild type’ Rock Pigeons. The latter have become quite rare in many areas, so reporting them as “Rock Pigeon (Wild type)” is of interest. In most of the world, however, Rock Pigeons are derived from captive stock and should be reported as “Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)” to make this distinction. This includes all Rock Pigeons in the Americas, Australia, sub-Saharan Africa, many islands, and many other areas where Rock Pigeons are restricted to urban and agrarian areas and where Wild type Rock Pigeons do not occur.
A picture is worth a thousand words. So too are audio recordings. Videos may be worth even more. But until now, there has been no easy way to explore the checklists that have rich media of a given species. We have updated our eBird point maps to allow you to filter the map to only show locations with photos, audio and video, by checking the box that says “Explore Rich Media”. The map will then show markers to indicate if there is a video, photo or audio. Selecting that icon will then bring up all the checklists and you can see which checklists have video, photos and audio. To get started, check out the map of Yellow-headed Blackbird. Or for something farther afield, check out Plains-wanderer, which only has a single location — but we think you will enjoy the video of this bizarre species — it is the only member of the family Pedionomidae (males are smaller than females and do the work of raising the young — similar to phalaropes).
The taxonomic update for 2013 is now complete in eBird. The names and sequence have been changed and eBird records have been updated in cases of splits and lumps. This update includes updates since August 2012 to the North American Classification Committee and South American Classification Committee, including several splits detailed below. In the United States and Canada the most significant change was the split of Sage Sparrow into Bell’s Sparrow and Sagebrush Sparrow. In Central and South America, Immaculate Antbird was split into Zeledon’s Antbird and Blue-lored Antbird. In addition, there were some changes to scientific names and sequence of shorebirds, Mimidae (mockingbirds and thrashers), and several other groups of birds. Elsewhere in the world, a large number of taxa were split in Southeast and South Asia (especially India), along with a few in Africa, Europe, and Australasia.
In early August we met Dave Pavlik aboard a Shearwater Journeys pelagic trip out of Monterey Bay. Dave is more than half-way through a photographic big year. But this big year is quite different from most. Dave’s goal is to raise money to support bird conservation in Hawaii by asking supporters to pledge a dollar amount for every bird he can photograph this year. We asked Dave to tell us more about his big year, as we thought it would be highly interesting to the eBird audience. As luck would have it, Dave got a great new year bird on that trip–a Hawaiian Petrel (see photo)!