Date: 7/16/17 10:01 pm
From: Deepa Mohan <mohandeepa...>
Subject: Re: Reporting accurately on eBird
This discussion has been extremely interesting to a regular user of eBird
halfway across the world...and I have shared some of the emails with my
birding community in Bangalore.

In the past decade, in India (as you probably are all aware, Indians are
good writers of software) we have experimented with many kinds of software
to document bird-related data...from the simple keeping of bird-sighting
lists, to the complex data analysis that is made possible when the database
is strong. eBird is emerging as probably the most user-friendly
birding-data site which has the huge further value of being used across the

Oh yes, from the time one first starts using eBird, questions arise like a
flock of disturbed quail! The many people who work for eBird do strive to
answer them, too. I am very lucky to know several people who are very
knowledgeable about eBird...and I get a face-to-face (or email) explanation
that is very helpful. This underscores Edge's point...many of us like
solitary birding, but there is great value to birding in a group. Being
initially inhibited about talking to people, I did a lot of solitary
birding in St.Louis. But when I joined the beginner birding walks that
Forest Park Forever organizes, I benefited so much! So many people share
their knowledge on these walks, and having got to know more birders, I was
also able to bird in areas which are only accessible by cars, thanks to
their generously giving me rides. I am a great believer in group birding
now, in any country I am in....when it's possible.

To get back to eBird: as a user and a friend of many other "ordinary"
birders who use it, I find the following concerns.

1. As a birder, I am not, initially, used to counting numbers and observing
other details about the birds I see. I then worry about how to mention
numbers on eBird, especially with waterfowl. Suhel Qader, who heads eBird
India, explained why mentioning an approximate number is important: X could
be anything from 0 to infinity; an approximate narrows the number down to
much nearer what was seen.

2. When I see an unusual bird, as a beginner birder, I may not even be
aware that the bird is a rare one for the region! So if I immediately come
up against a "rare" filter, my usual diffidence may (does!) result in my
not reporting the bird at all, under the assumption that I must have been
mistaken. Recently, I saw what I thought was the Malabar Lark, but eBird
did not have the species listed for the area. I was not certain about my
sighting, and so changed the bird name to that of the Tawny Lark, which is
found in the region. I was the most "experienced" birder in my group, so I
could not ask anyone else. I did have photos of the bird...but even the
experts I showed them to, could not tell for sure, which bird it was.

3. The re-setting of filters give rise to queries after a period of time
which one is not always answer satisfactorily. Recently, the acceptable
numbers for some birds were re-set in what was an accepted
record earlier was suddenly queried again. Now, personally, I keep bird
lists mainly because I cannot rely on my erratic memory! So asking me if I
am sure if I saw X numbers, or Y bird, in 2013 ---results in my
responding that I cannot be sure. The sighting, earlier validated, is now
invalidated because I cannot provide an acceptable response. Certainly, I
don't feel good about this, though I accept this. Eg. Certain kinds of
ducks were seen in thousands in the lakes around my city (Bangalore, in
south India). Now, hundreds are considered good numbers; so the filter is
re-set, and I am queried.

4.Most eBird volunteers who ask for information are very polite and couch
their queries in terms that do not give offence, but there is the odd query
which takes a less-than-civil tone. I had one query which demanded (yes!) a
photograph. Certainly, everyone knows that not all the birds one sees can
be photographed (or even properly observed, sometimes...we make ids on the
basis of the "jizz" of the bird) . My feedback about this was taken very
seriously by the eBird India team, and volunteers have been given
guidelines about how to query a sighting. Unfortunately I still find that
many people are not happy about such queries. This leads to point 5.

5. I am increasingly, finding some birders not reporting unusual sightings,
rather than face queries...even when they are sure about the bird they have
seen. To me, this is one of the major drawbacks of the system of querying
sightings. "Oh, some eBird volunteer will be 'after me' to prove what I
saw," said someone recently. "So I just don't put it in the list." This, to
me, negates the very reason for the existence of eBird, because if people
cannot feel comfortable about recording what they saw, we are looking at
data that will not be accurate.

6. Sometimes a very unusual bird sighting is not accepted until photographs
are provided. Some of my birder friends are upset, for example, that a bird
called the Racket-tailed Drongo, not usually found in the Bangalore area,
was seen by them; but it was only after photographic evidence was provided,
more than a year later, that eBird accepted that this bird is now a
resident in a particular birding hotspot (Valley School area) in the
outskirts of our city. These people feel that their knowledge was
questioned and they do not want to use eBird any more...and since they are
experienced birders, this is a loss to eBird. In the recent past, we have
had many unusual/vagrant birds visiting areas they have been seen in
before...their being rare or unusual does not mean that they are not

I do understand that some of query and validation is definitely needed on
eBird, but it is still a tough tightrope to walk between trying to get
information and giving offence!

Cheers, Deepa.

I am attaching a photo of two Racket-tailed Drongos in the rain..... one
with its lovely 'musical note' tail developed, and the other with it still
growing out. This was taken in a place called Top Slip, in the neighbouring
state of Tamil Nadu.

In this place, I am thankful that they are Expected Birds and I will not
get a query from eBird!...and this feeling of mine sums up the difficulty
that both users and the team working for eBird face, with regard to queries!

On Sun, Jul 16, 2017 at 10:37 PM, Edge Wade <edgew...> wrote:

> In this era of "politically correctness" and using neutral sounding words
> to reduce negative impact (such as "issue" instead of "problem") as we try
> to be less offensive, we may have the opposite effect without even knowing
> it.
> I'm not trying to pour oil on a fire to rile things up, or on troubled
> waters--which would have the soothing effect Brad seeks in his explanation
> of the eBird review process, I'm just offering some comment and suggestion
> actions.
> I'm referring to these statements in Brad's email,
> "In fact, rejected is a word that is not used in the eBird review process."
> "At no point in time are the data that you enter rejected or deleted by
> eBird. Your data will always be accessible by your self. and you can make
> it available to someone if you want. Data that the reviewers consider
> invalid will not go into the science database but will always be in your
> personal checklists."
> The word "rejected" may not be used, and the data may remain in one's "my
> eBird" account lists, but that is not is not the same as being accepted.
> I accept that my (or anyone's) records may be rejected. It is the same
> issue (used not as a euphemism for "problem", but as a synonym for
> "matter") as with bird record committee submissions.
> The problem often comes for record committees or eBird submissions when
> the birder takes the rejection personally, and/or when the rejection is
> without sufficient explanation, or is of "one size fits all" nature without
> context (time is especially a tough one).
> Brad's story about Arizona illustrates this point. His records were not
> published until the reviewers got to know him. We all know that our skills
> are not equal, and most (probably all of us) accept that as fact and work
> to improve. The rub comes when birders PERCEIVE that their or some others'
> records are not accepted when those from birders known to reviewers are
> accepted.
> This is human nature.
> There are two steps any birder can take to lessen the frequency of
> rejection of records:
> 1. Learn the process of really good bird (field marks/behavior)
> description, take field notes and put them with submissions (in the
> comments in eBird)
> 2. Associate with other birders--not just online by looking at eBird
> records or social media, but meet other birders, bird with them and join
> and participate in birding organizations. Your local Audubon chapter or
> bird club and the independent Audubon Society of Missouri are good examples
> of where to find other birders, share your passion, learn better skills,
> and become a known quantity within the birding community.
> Bodacious birding--and, Lisa, I'll get that Greene Co. nighthawk record
> out of there--it's a screwy date and I can't determine the correct one.
> And folks, that's a positive point about the review process. None of us is
> exempt from input error; reviewers backstop our wild pitches.
> Edge Wade
> Columbia, MO
> <edgew...>
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Robert Jacobs" <robertbjacobs...>
> To: <MOBIRDS-L...>
> Sent: Sunday, July 16, 2017 10:17:37 AM
> Subject: Re: Reporting accurately on eBird
> Hi Dave and MOBirders,
> Bird observation data from years ago are extremely valuable, probably more
> than many eBird users know and even eBird reviewers have thought about
> enough to formulate a good response to folks like Dave Starrett. Dave, I
> have met you a couple of times and haven't welcomed you properly as you
> moved from Cape Girardeau to Columbia. I hope we can do some more birding
> together. Bill Eddleman told me about your move before it happened. Welcome
> and thanks for your eBird efforts.
> I don't intend to throw anyone under the train because they "rejected" my
> checklist or just one of my observation. In fact, rejected is a word that
> is not used in the eBird review process. (
> 1055676-understanding-the-ebird-review-and-data-quality-process?b_id=1928)
> The eBird help button has an answer for just about any question that might
> think of. As records are flagged (you know you have been flagged if you
> can't get your app to send the checklist until you do something) and the
> checklist submitted, the flagged species will be seen on a separate list
> for the eBird reviewers and are marked "not-valid" or unreviewed" on the
> spreadsheet of flagged data records.Once a reviewer acts on the record it
> will will be considered reviewed. Reviewers can make the record as
> confirmed or unconfirmed. Unconfirmed may mean they will send an email to
> the observe with additional questions.
> Reviewers have access to the filters of which there are 20 plus in Missouri
> and will likely be more information is supplied by observers. The comment
> sections by each flagged species is the observer's opportunity to help the
> reviewers with local information that is more accurate than the initial
> filter setting. This spring was a nightmare with shorebirds and ducks in
> abundance. I hope that some of the filters will reflect the new abundances
> for the Boone County filter. Yes, Boone County has its own filter and we
> all need to help the reviewers set it to the right level. A number of
> species will be set at Zero (0) as there is a need to learn more about the
> species, it may be a hard to identify species or just a casual visitor to
> the county.
> With entering data from another person who has deceased, the eBird
> requirement of being able to speak to the observer kicks in. If the data
> were entered as traveling or stationary it wouldn't matter, without a live
> observer to talk to, one needs to enter data under Historical. Historical
> data often is missing some of the other requirements such as starting time,
> duration, and/or area or miles covered.
> This URL will lead you to the Help files that talk more about entering
> historic data.
> 973960-entering-historic-data
> Historical data is extremely valuable and should be enter in a way that
> everyone know how to use it. I have been given a pile of field notes from
> several eastern Missouri counties from the 30s and 40s that I hope someone
> can enter. I still have many boxes of data from three continents that I
> need to enter. Fortunately I kept a journal that has most of the
> information needed for traveling or stationary and I am still around. But,
> I will have to enter under Historical for those data that are lacking all
> the required data such as duration, area or miles surveyed. It is very easy
> to change each checklist to Historical by going to My Checklists and
> clicking on the Edit Date and Effort and change to Historical.
> At no point in time are the data that you enter rejected or deleted by
> eBird. Your data will always be accessible by your self. and you can make
> it available to someone if you want. Data that the reviewers consider
> invalid will not go into the science database but will always be in your
> personal checklists.
> I hope this helps a little to get the cogs moving toward making the
> observer-reviewer interface work more smoothly. Having been a reviewer many
> years ago with the Great Backyard Bird Count. It was a massive job and
> often meant checking every record for house and purple finch errors, Pine
> Siskins and female purple finches, and many, many common mistakes made
> especially by birders in their first few years of observation.
> Take photos help immensely in getting a record through the review process,
> especially when know one know your skill levels. I birded for three years
> in Arizona and submitted records for one of the statewide birding club
> newsletters. I don't think I ever saw one of my records appear in the
> newsletter until after I got a call one day asking me to lead a field trip
> in my area, which was remote from much of the rest of Arizona. It was a
> great time for me being able to meet about 25 of the top birders in the
> state that needed some new lifers that I had been reporting over the the
> three years. Fortunately, I was able to get four lifers within a half a
> square mile for most of the the people on the field trip. Harris's Sparrow,
> Black-capped Chickadee, Northern Shrike and American Tree Sparrow.
> The next issue began posting the records I and a few others were
> submitting. I need to start entering my data from NE Arizona. But first I
> will figure out how to contact the reviewer for that region, Eric Hough,
> who apparently lives in western Missouri now.
> Brad Jacobs
> On Sat, Jul 15, 2017 at 1:18 AM, David Starrett <StarrettDA...>
> wrote:
> > So this brings up another issue with eBird. I have had this conversation
> > with a number of ebird reviewers and none could satisfy me. My concern
> > goes like this.
> >
> >
> > At some point, data started being submitted to eBird. Everything was
> > "accepted". As the data filled up at some point a filter was turned on.
> > New data that didn't match/fit was rejected or required proof. So, any
> > data that went in originally was assumed accurate, but later data was
> > filtered. There is no inherent reason the first data is any more
> accurate
> > than latter, it is just the order of entry. I am oversimplifying, but to
> > make a point.
> >
> >
> > I have had this manifest itself more than once. My father had detailed
> > records of 8,600 sightings spread out over 50 years on all seven
> > continents. He passed away 10 years ago. I painstakingly uploaded all
> his
> > sightings to eBird. My dad was a field biologist. He knew how to take
> > accurate and detailed notes. I trust his sightings to be more accurate
> > than mine. I received dozens and dozens of ebird reviewer flags. They
> > asked questions I couldn't answer since he saw the bird not me. So they
> > rejected the submissions. Many times they were asking about data 20-40
> > years old. They were using current range maps and counts. When I asked
> if
> > it was possible that when he saw the bird back then the range was
> different
> > or the population density was higher, etc. 100% of the time the answer
> was
> > no.
> >
> >
> > The classic case for me was Florida scrub jay. He had a sighting from
> > 1945. It was not in the current range, but not far from it. And in
> eBird,
> > a couple of the older sightings were at the edge of the range near my
> > father's sighting. Submission was rejected. When I suggested to the
> > reviewer that rather than assume my dad's sighting as in error consider
> > that he might have just provided valuable historical data about the Jay's
> > range. We had a back and forth about this and eventually the reviewer,
> > somewhat rudely even, dismissed the submission as unreliable and let me
> > keep it on my dad's list, but out of the actual eBird data. I am sure of
> > the sighting and location. eBird has rejected data that could support a
> > changing range. That sighting is 70 years old. We know bird ranges
> > change, they are changing now. Why is the assumption the data is invalid
> > rather than valuable.
> >
> >
> > I am bothered by this first in data closes the door behind them approach.
> > I realize there is much more to it than this and I am oversimplifying,
> but
> > it does seem that maybe the method of validating data has some flaws to
> it.
> >
> >
> > Dave
> >
> >
> >
> > ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
> > David Starrett
> > Columbia, MO
> > ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
> >
> >
> > ------------------------------
> > *From:* Missouri Wild Bird Forum <MOBIRDS-L...> on behalf
> of
> > Kathleen Anderson <andersonka...>
> > *Sent:* Friday, July 14, 2017 6:21 PM
> > *To:* <MOBIRDS-L...>
> > *Subject:* Re: Reporting accurately on eBird
> >
> > I went to Eagle Bluffs this morning determined to count every Indigo
> > Bunting, Dickcissel and Common Yellowthroat. I ended up with 38 Indigo
> > Buntings, 15 Dickcissels and 17 Common Yellowthroats. I'm sure I missed
> > some, sometimes the brain just tunes out or several sing at once to
> confuse
> > the brain, my brain at least.
> > And about 3/4 way through the refuge I noticed I only had 1 hr left
> before
> > I had to leave and I hadn't been to Pool 14 or 15 yet, so I had to quit
> > stopping to tally every one of those. My point is, I think there are
> > many reasons why the counts are not perfectly accurate, but we do the
> best
> > we can.
> > Kathleen Anderson, Columbia
> >
> > ------------------------------
> > *The Audubon Society of Missouri's Wild Bird Discussion Forum*
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> >
> > ASM Fall Meeting: September 22-24, 2017 at Lake of the Ozarks Details and
> > Online Registration <>
> >
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> ------------------------------------------------------------
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