eBird Focus--South Dakota

By Team eBird July 26, 2013
Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow, Charles Mix County, SD, June. Photo by Kelly Preheim.

South Dakota is an amazing state for birds. An avian crossroads where East meets West and a region traversed by millions of birds during migration, South Dakota is without a doubt a critical part of North America’s landscape, and a crucial piece of the puzzle when trying to understand bird distribution and abundance. South Dakota is emblematic of the northern Great Plains: wide open country, lots of birds, few birders. In recent years, a few key players in South Dakota have helped bring eBird to prominence there, and in the process have helped us achieve a better understanding of birds in the region. Ultimately, this improved understanding will lead to more complete modeling of the region’s avifauna, and improved conservation application of eBird data on the ground. In the feature we’d like to recognize the eBird leaders in South Dakota. By taking a “practice what you preach” approach to eBird, this group is rapidly changing the birding landscape in South Dakota.

Three people have made a big difference for eBird over the last several years in South Dakota: Chris Anderson, Scott Stolz, and Dick Latuchie. These birders have all blazed an eBird trail across South Dakota, submitting data from every corner of the state, leaving no bird uncounted. A quick look at the eBird Top 100 for 2013 reveals their effort. Not only are they reporting a diverse array of species, but they are submitting a remarkable number of “complete checklists”, and these are key in our ability to model birds properly in the region. Moreover, all three have volunteered as eBird Regional Editors in their local areas. This has resulted in higher data quality for the state, and an ever-improving process of developing the checklists and regional filters that operate behind the scenes in the state.

Scott Stolz birding in typical South Dakota habitat. Photo by Kelly Preheim.

Scott Stolz birding in typical South Dakota habitat. Photo by Kelly Preheim.

Two other factors are contributing to the growth of eBird in South Dakota.  In 2012, at least four birders did a state big year, and two, Lynn Barber, and Scott Stolz, used eBird to record all their observations.  This has really added to the value of the eBird data in the state, and that in turn has encouraged others to get involved.  Lynn is doing a Pennington County Big Year (actually two Big Years – read her blog to get more info), further adding to the database.

Lastly, the South Dakota team, including Jeffrey Palmer, from Dakota State University are collaborating on a software utility that enables South Dakota Ornithologist’s Union (SDOU) members who record their observations in eBird to automatically feed their data to the SDOU database without manually entering the data.  They believe this will result in more people contributing to both databases.  The SDOU database has been a source of valuable quarterly compilations of all species seen in the state.

Perhaps most importantly is the ability for these people to affect the behavior of their birding peers, and to increase use of eBird in the state. Kelly Preheim was a new birder just a few years ago, but thanks in large part to the mentoring of Scott Stolz, she has become an avid eBirder. This importance of this mentoring process cannot be overstated. Below Kelly writes about her experience with Scott and with finding eBird over the past few years.

“I have loved nature since I was child and I have always been interested in birds, but not like I am now!  I went to my first South Dakota Birding Festival two years ago and I was surprised by all of the interesting birds that were in my area that I was unaware of.   From that time on I have been hooked on birding!

I soon joined the South Dakota Ornithologists’ Union.  They are some of the nicest people I know and they have been helpful to me.  However, there is one person who took me “under his wing” to teach me about birds and birding.  Scott Stolz is an amazing birder who takes birding quite seriously.  He has taken the time to teach me about birds and answer my many questions.

He took the time to teach me about birding during his “South Dakota Big Year” in 2012 where he and his buddy, Ricky D. Olson, tied for the most birds seen in the state at 352 birds.  Ricky has also been very helpful to me these last two years.

Scott has taught me how to bird and he’s encouraged me to bird wherever I go.   He got me started on keeping track of the birds I’ve seen.  I give him a lot of credit for helping me become a good birder and for getting me started on eBird.   Scott is also one of several people that review eBird information for the state.  He is willing to help others with their birding ventures and he is very knowledgeable about the birds and their habitats in our state.

We both like that eBird keeps track of our county, state, and life lists.  It is helpful to see which birds to target next.   Also when traveling through a different part of the state, it encourages us to add on to those county lists.  I do love that I am helping with citizen science and contributing information on birds in our area.  We encourage other South Dakota birders to also use eBird, as it is a wonderful tool to enhance your birding experience.

I wanted Scott Stolz to be recognized for mentoring me on birds and birding.   I have noticed that it really has a ripple effect, as I am a teacher and what I’ve learned about birds from Scott, I’ve passed down to my students and they pass on what they’ve learned on to their family and friends.  I encourage others to take the time to teach someone – especially a child about birds and get them out birding.  Children are very capable of identifying birds, they are quite perceptive at spotting them and they really enjoy birding!  Birding is a lifetime hobby that you can do anytime and everywhere you go!

A big thank you to Scott Stolz and the eBird team at Cornell Lab of Ornithology for their hard work and dedication!”

Kelly Preheim banding birds. Photo by Roger Dietrich.

Kelly Preheim banding birds. Photo by Roger Dietrich.