The Birding Aboard project is comprised of a global oceangoing observer network—people whose love of boating is complemented with an interest in birds. Volunteers across the world keep track of the birds that they see, reporting offshore sightings (at least two miles from shore), and often documenting these observations with photos. This includes people cruising along the eastern seaboard of North America; boaters cruising through the high arctic; and sailors circumnavigating the world. Featured here is an press release overview of the Birding Aboard project, including some of the highlights that people have seen from every corner of the world’s oceans. It’ll make you want to get on a boat and head for a blue horizon.
St. Augustine, FL (August 4, 2015) — Word is getting out among sailors worldwide to help report back on the birds they see at sea—and they are spotting some unusual birds, from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean to the Arctic’s Northwest Passage.
The “SeaBC” is a citizen science project coordinated by long-distance birdwatching sailors from around the world (www.birdingaboard.org). Reports are contributed to Cornell University’s eBird database (www.ebird.org), so boaters’ sightings become a resource for scientists and conservationists worldwide. Participation is designed to be simple for non-birders juggling navigation and boat-handling. They are simply asked to photograph any birds seen at least two miles from shore, followed by a snapshot of their navigation display’s coordinates if their camera is not geo-tagged.
“The reports and photographs that are starting to come in are phenomenal,” says founder Diana Doyle. “Inexpensive portable zoom cameras let scientists tap into the sightings of recreational boats as they transit seldom-birded waters. They can be our eyes on the water.”
Because there is so little coverage of pelagic areas, the odds are high for a “birder aboard” to contribute a notable sighting. Here are a few examples:
Although the majority of SeaBC reports are not flagged as eBird rarities, the regular sightings hold equal value. Because boaters pass by inaccessible island nesting sites, many reports have notably high counts of common species. Reports of tropicbirds, boobies, noddies, gulls, terns, auks, puffins, fulmars—along with photographs of difficult-to-identify shearwaters and albatrosses—make up the bulk of the Birding Aboard project. These include reports such as Black-footed Albatrosses off the Alaska coast, summer breeding flocks of Dovekies in Arctic waters, Iceland Gulls in winter off New England, migrating Phalaropes off Newfoundland, Yellow-nosed Albatross off South Africa, Cory’s Shearwater off Morocco, and Fea’s Petrel off Cape Verdes. All these reports help fill in distribution and abundance data in underbirded areas.
There are also reports of hitchhiking land birds, such as Bobolink, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Barn Swallow, Mangrove Swallow, Caribbean Martin, Northern Flicker, and Blackpoll Warbler. These sightings reinforce recent tracking evidence that tiny songbirds are able to migrate long distances over the ocean and are not all “storm waifs.”
A handful of organized pelagic birding trips out of a few select ports can’t compete with the potential coverage of thousands of coast-running and ocean-crossing private boats. Michael Schrimpf, eBird reviewer for pelagic reports who confirms the more difficult SeaBC identifications, says of the project: “The response we’ve gotten from boaters is phenomenal—it’s great to get reports from spots on the map with very low coverage.” When asked about SeaBC’s use of photographs, he added: “The photographs are invaluable. Most importantly, they let us assist in identifying the bird. The main goal of these photos is documentation—folks shouldn’t worry about getting a ‘professional-looking’ picture.”
Going forward, the project is anticipating exciting reports from Blue Planet Odyssey vessels sailing to Tokelau and Vanuatu, another season of attempts through the Arctic’s Northwest Passage, a sailboat cruising the Scandinavian Arctic, and OceansWatch Donna Lange’s solo circumnavigation. And of course there will be even more sightings from the rest of us boaters, just enjoying the wildlife out on the water.
The SeaBC is a Clean Wake Project of the Seven Seas Cruising Association, an Environmental Programme of the Ocean Cruising Club, and a Project of the Blue Planet Odyssey. For further media information, including high-resolution images, contact Diana Doyle, email@example.com.