eBird Avicaching

Geocaching is a global outdoor activity where people go to specific sites around the world searching for small treasures. Avicaching is eBird + Geocaching: searching out specific locations to locate as many birds as possible. With Avicaching, the birds are the treasures.

Are you ready to see some lovely trails, and explore the offroad birding potential in an Ithacan fall? The goal of Avicaching in Fall 2016 is to investigate questions surrounding roadside bias in eBird data from forested habitats—similar to this spring’s question, but for the migration season!

Roadside bias is loosely defined as the differences in detectability for certain species as a function of your distance from a road. For example, a Scarlet Tanager is more likely to be encountered in the middle of the forest, and a Gray Catbird is going to be most often found at the edge of a field or in other non-forested habitats. When modeling distribution of bird species, you can greatly improve model results by thoroughly accounting for roadside bias. By collecting data at offroad birding spots for Avicaching, we will be gathering data that will allow us to address these questions in a comprehensive manner.

There are 105 different “trail segments” in Schuyler, Tompkins, and Cortland counties that will be used in this project. There are 35 trail segments per county, and each segment consists of 5 locations: one on the road, and four more at ~200, 400, 600, and 800 meters down the trail. The total number of locations is 514—since some starting locations are shared between segments, where a trail crosses the road. The starting point for each trail segment has an “a” at the end of the name.

Every location that you visit helps us better understand roadside bias in birds. By contributing your observations to the Avicaching project, you are directly improving researchers’ ability to use eBird data  for science more than ever before!

eBirding from Avicache locations will award points that contribute to your Avicaching score. Every location is in a forested habitat, or is adjacent to forest. You should do the best that you can to submit sightings from the precise location on the map, whether this is calculated by tracking the distance walked along the trail, or a phone, or a GPS. The locations are along state property, Sapsucker Woods at the Cornell Lab, and the Finger Lakes Trail—with special thanks to the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC) for providing their trail information. If you’re looking for maps of the trail that contains many of these Avicaching locations, we suggest checking out the FLTC mapping resources.

Note: These trail segments may be on terrain that is rough and rugged, and the access roads may be only seasonally maintained. Some of these have not been ground-truthed, but have been created based on information provided by the NY Department of Environmental Conservation or the FLTC. Forests may often be beautiful, and views potentially enjoyable. Please let us know at ebird@cornell.edu if you have any concerns about a particular trail or location that you’ve visited.

The participant with the highest score at the end of the competition will run the best chance at winning free eBird gear! Initially limited to the local area, this is a project that we hope to eventually extend globally. These Avicaching games are the first implementation of this idea, so welcome to life as an eBird pioneer!

How do you play?

Earn points by going to any Avicache and submitting a complete checklist using the stationary protocol that is between 5-60 minutes duration.

Navigating to Avicaches

One of the important parts of Avicaching is location specificity—making sure that sightings are being collected from locations as close to the point as possible. This doesn’t mean that you have to be exactly on the GPS coordinates to the inch, but that trying to get within 5-10 meters of the location (standard mobile GPS accuracy) is very much recommended. The best way to navigate to these locations is by viewing the Avicaching Google Map in your phone.

Just open up this website on your phone, click on the Avicaching Google Map link, and it’ll then open the map in the Google Maps app on your phone, displaying your GPS location in relation to all of the Avicaches. Your GPS location on the map can be used even when you’re in a location without cell reception—all you need is to have opened the map in the app when you had data access.

Scoring

You will earn points from each location on the map, so visiting a full trail segment (5 locations), will earn you points for each of those five locations. Some trail segments share their on-road locations; those still only count as one location for scoring. You can earn points from a specific Avicache once per hour, by submitting a complete, stationary checklist of 5-60 minutes duration. An Avicache week runs from Thursday-Wednesday, with the first week being Sept 1-7. Each Avicache visited is worth a variable number of points, and upon submitting an eligible list you will be awarded the number of points associated with that location for that week. You are encouraged to bird the location as much as possible, to add more data and increase your Avicache species total, but you can only earn the points once per hour, per location. There are five locations per Avicaching trail segment. The hour spacing needed is between the end time of one checklist and the start time of the next.  Maximum points are earned by visiting as many different Avicaches in a day and week as possible!

The point values for locations reflect the number of historical checklists recorded at that location – following a generalized rule that if there are more historical lists, a location is worth fewer points. This gives you an extra point reward for visiting locations that still are in need of additional data collection!

Prizes and Rankings

There will be five winners drawn from among every person that submits at least one point-earning checklist from an Avicache location during this period. However, the more points that you earn during the course of the competition, the higher the chances of winning. Each point enters your name once into a random drawing for a prize. For example, if you have 100 points, your name is entered 100 times; 1000 points, 1000 times. Each of the five prizewinners will have the choice of a free eBird t-shirt or ballcap.

In addition to the points going towards the prizes, there is also a ranking for the most species seen in Avicache locations: a Top 100 for the cumulative Avicache list. This second category that you can compete in, the total species reported from Avicache locations, is as simple as it sounds. The eBirder who reports the highest species list from all Avicaches cumulatively through the end the Avicaching period will win in the species category. As of right now there is no prize for this category aside from seeing the most species.