This is the third of the VABBA2 data entry tutorials. If you missed the first two, check them out here:
Tutorial 1: Recording incidental checklists
Tutorial 2: Submitting complete checklists
In this article, we will focus on location precision. The main messages are:
The first VA Breeding Bird Atlas (VABBA1) reported all bird species at the block level, so all of the data from VABBA1 is linked to the center point of a given block. For example, if we use the USGS BBA Explorer tool (click here: USGS BBA Explorer), we find that Pine Warblers bred in the Bon Air SE block in the late 1980s.
But what if we are interested in learning more about those Pine Warblers, to study or protect the nesting habitat? From these data, we don’t know where they were breeding. In this particular instance, we don’t even know if the Pine Warbler nested in Chesterfield county or Richmond City (Figure 1).
For checklist purposes, it would be much more informative to use the park or property (e.g. golf course) where the species nested.
This is similar to how locations and hotspots are parsed out in general for eBird — we tend to think only about making points for locations that we visit again and again — but in this case, you should think about dividing up your atlas block into discrete units you will likely visit repeatedly.
Special reminder: PLEASE BE CAREFUL IF USING EXISTING HOTSPOTS AS ATLAS LOCATIONS! HOTSPOTS OFTEN CROSS BLOCK LINES.
When locations are plotted with greater precision, the information becomes much more valuable for data users, such as land managers and scientists. Researchers are often looking to use eBird data to make predictions about landscape-level bird use. If you report a Blue Grosbeak on a checklist with a large forest location instead of farmland where you saw it, this could reduce the accuracy and usefulness of these models.
The Virginia Society of Ornithology’s seasonal summaries in Virginia Birds do a great job of reporting bird records by county and region. Making sure your birds are plotting out to the right county can assist in maintaining consistent bird records. eBird also aggregates data by county in several places, including the general Explore Data tools, county and block summaries for the Atlas, and also on your personal lists on the My eBird tab.
Obviously we’re looking to strike a balance between providing locations that are useful, yet keeping your data entry manageable. It will likely vary by block, based on the habitat types, properties, and access within a block, plus different people might do it in different ways.
Here’s one way you might divide up points (Figure 2). Notice some of these sub-locations are based on habitat type and others are just a general midpoint of a road or a large forested area. Sometimes, points may be based on land ownership and property boundaries.
If you’re curious, you can’t find the above map in a single location. I used the Google Earth Block layer (available as a kml file on the Atlas maps page) and added labeled points for survey locations. Anyone can download Google Earth to their computer or smartphone and us this Block layer map to explore their block(s).
If you have a fairly uniform block with regard to both habitats and properties, you might use fewer points. You could just divide your block up into 4 quarters, or select major roads as center points for your routes. Here is an example of a block with relatively similar habitat and only a few roads into it:
Navigating your block!
To assist you as you explore your blocks and figure out where to go and how to divide those checklists, we have several handy tools on the atlas website.
The simplest are downloadable PDF maps for each atlas block, which identify your block boundaries and roads. These can be downloaded from the VABBA2 Block Explorer tool.
A phone app called Avenza PDF Maps can be downloaded on to most smartphone platforms and used to navigate around your block. After recent changes, you can download up to 3 maps for free or pay an annual subscription for unlimited maps. (It worked to well, so they started charging!)
Steps for using AVENZA Maps:
Your phones built-in GPS will allow you to navigate around your block(s), even when you have no cell service.
Check out the PDF Maps help page for further help with setting this up on your phone.
As always, remember to seek out advice on these topics from your regional coordinators or the VA Atlas Coordinator (contact info here).
[This tutorial has been modified with permission from those created by WI Coordinator Nicholas Anich for the WBBAII and we thank him and our sister Atlas for generously sharing these resources with the VABBA2!]