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Tracking block progress and completion with Explore a Region tables

By Nick Anich September 13, 2017
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius

How are your blocks or the blocks near you doing? Are they “complete” yet? We consider a block complete when it has received an adequate amount of effort so that most of the species breeding in the block have been detected and many have been confirmed. We will only succeed in this effort if we can complete the 1,283 priority and specialty blocks by August 2019!

The atlas handbook details the guidelines for completion. These are just guidelines, and depending on the habitat diversity, access, and your birding skill level, your results may differ slightly. However, paying attention to these guidelines is important, because by meeting these metrics, we will ensure our efforts are sufficient for detecting most birds, and reasonably standardized both across blocks and among past and future atlases.

Here, we will walk you through using the Explore a Region block summary page to track the progress of your block and see if it’s ready to be marked complete. Note that these metrics apply to the cumulative effort of yourself and others in a block. (Check the interactive map if you’d like to see where each block is).

First, go to the Explore a Region Page, and enter the block name you’re interested in (or enter the county to see all the blocks in a county):

A table will pop up with the stats you need to help you decide when a block is complete:

A block is complete when:

  1. At least 20 hours are spent in a block, actively surveying, spread over multiple visits. Atlas work in other areas has shown that over 85% of the breeding species present in a block can be found in about 20 hours by checking all the major habitat types in the block (depending on how diverse your block is). Spending too much time in a block usually results in diminishing returns, and 100% of the species present may not be found even if hundreds of hours are spent in a block. If you haven’t added new species or confirmed new species in several trips, your time will probably better spent by turning your attention to another block. Hours counting towards the 20 can occur in a single year or spread over multiple years. As a general rule, it is not helpful to spend more than 50 hours in a single block — that effort can be better spent in other Priority and Specialty Blocks. If you have spent more than 50 hours in your block and it is not net finished, talk with your County Coordinator about getting some help to finish it up.*** Important Bug to note: Currently if you share a checklist with someone, the hours for that checklist will count double in the block total. This is okay, you should still use the share function when you are atlasing in the same group with someone, just remember this bug when calculating your hours. Hopefully it will be fixed soon!
  2. At least 80% of the species found in the block during the first Atlas are detected. The number of species found in a block will vary depending on the diversity of habitats present and its location in the state — for most blocks, the total number of species from Atlas I should still be a good number for which to strive. If your block appeared to get poor coverage during the first Atlas, look to neighboring CE blocks for a general estimate. In most cases, it is not too hard to reach 80%; this can be accomplished most easily during early mornings June. The more bird songs you know, the easier it is!
  3. At least 50% of the species detected are confirmed as breeding. For example, if you have 60 species on your block list for WBBA II , then strive to achieve Confirmed status for at least 30 of them (Note that the Total Species count in eBird automatically excludes species with the highest code as Observed). This can be more difficult in some blocks (e.g., deep woods throughout block) than others (e.g., shrubland, agriculture settings), depending on location, habitat, and species composition. This is generally the most difficult of the confirmation criteria to achieve, and by the time you reach 50% confirmed (and you’ve reached 80% of Atlas I species), you can be sure your block has been worked reasonably well. Often you will be at 30 or 35% confirmed and have to grind during July and early August for the last few species — see some tips on getting confirmations here and here. If you are stuck at 45% complete with lots of hours in there, we can close out the block, but we are hesitant to close out any blocks under 40% confirmed.
  4. All habitat types within the block have been visited (if access was available). Every acre of the block does not need to be examined, but thorough coverage of all available habitats is vitally important. Obviously, a block with uniform habitat will take considerably less time to cover adequately than one with a diversity of habitats. While roads are convenient access points, in nearly all cases attempts should be made to also survey birds off-road in interior habitats. In some areas of the state, securing access to private lands will be necessary, see the bottom of this page for resources, or ask your County Coordinator to help.
  5. Surveys were completed at different times of year. Although most of the breeding species can be found in June and July, earlier visits are necessary to detect some species. Refer to the Breeding Guideline Bar Chart for general guidance about when to visit. A suggested schedule is: March to check for early nesters and get familiar with the terrain and ownerships; late April or early May for early nesters; late May or early June to build a species list and note where males are singing (beware of migrants); mid-June to re-check on the singing males and add more species; early July and early August to get more species into the Confirmed category; and include some night-time hours in either early morning or late evening in both spring and summer.
  6. At least 2 night visits have occurred. Species like owls and nightjars are rarely detected on daytime visits, so night visits are required to have a better chance of finding these species. Please make sure you enter separate checklists for daytime and nighttime observations, as the eBird system that tracks effort within a block keeps track of nocturnal and diurnal checklists separately. Currently the eBird system marks a checklist as nocturnal if it occurs 40 minutes before sunrise or 20 minutes after sunset. Read about how to enter night checklists here, and see our Nocturnal Atlasing Tips here: 1, 2, 3, 4

Don’t forget to check the species list on the block page!

Did you forget to code any species? Skim down the list to make sure everything is in order and no species that deserve codes are missing codes. You can click the “Breeding Evidence” header to sort by category and see which species might still be listed as only Observed.

Oops! The above species at those dates should probably get at least an H.


If your block is complete, notify your County Coordinator, and check out the remaining unclaimed blocks to discover an interesting place to explore in 2018!