Date: 8/24/17 12:51 pm
From: Jeff Bray <jbray4913...> [OrangeCountyBirding] <OrangeCountyBirding-noreply...>
Subject: [OrangeCountyBirding] Fwd: [LACoBirds] eBird issues this Fall
Sharing this with Kimball's permission

A great post regarding local eBird issues. Please take the time to read if
you're an eBird user.

Jeff Bray
Irvine, CA

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Kimball Garrett <kgarrett...> [LACoBirds] <
Date: Thu, Aug 24, 2017 at 12:24 PM
Subject: [LACoBirds] eBird issues this Fall
To: "<LACoBirds...>" <LACoBirds...>


Fall migration is in full swing. The rate of use of eBird by Los Angeles
County birders continues to skyrocket, with the obvious benefit of much
denser information about our avifauna, but also with the drawbacks of
continuing and even accelerating issues with data quality. So here’s
another in a series of occasional messages intended to improve the eBird
database for our area. If you know eBird users who are not on this list
serve, always feel free to share these messages with them. This mini-rant
will cover three issues: (1) Adding descriptions; (2) dealing with
subspecies options; and (3) improving metadata in the “Comments” section.


This could be subtitled “There is a happy medium between Curtis Marantz and
the average eBird user.” We all know it is now easy (and desirable) to
upload photos and audio files to one’s eBird checklist. But when you are
asked to document a flagged record, PLEASE keep in mind that such evidence
is only part of the documentation that should support unusual records. I
am constantly amazed at how many eBirders will attach a photo (or 2 or 3…)
to their checklist to document a rarity and will not write a single word
about the sighting. In many cases the photos are less than ideal, and
might not even help support the identification; so we rely on the added
value of a written description. This is where Curtis comes in….. you
don’t have to write a Marantzian tome of 4000 words to document a rarity
(though such detail is helpful). But please add information about the
circumstances of the sighting and any characters (e.g. size and structure,
movements, other behaviors, plumage, voice, etc.) that are not evident from
the photos as well as amplification of what is shown in the photos. And
indicate how similar species were considered and eliminated. I fear that
the simple art of writing a good description of a bird to document a
sighting and confirm its identification is disappearing from our birding
culture. I largely blame the apparent need for instant gratification
through smartphones and apps – why not jot notes down in the field (they
have these things called pens, pencils and notebooks) and then add a
thoughtful and detailed description based on these notes when you’re home
sitting at your computer? Yes, it takes time. But the alternative is
having what might be a perfectly good record questioned or even invalidated
by a reviewer. And as I have mentioned before (let’s call this section
“Sandwiches I have Eaten While Birding”), concentrate on relevant points in
your description and leave the irrelevant things out.


I strongly urge eBirders to enter data ONLY at the level of species, except
in the few cases where well-marked subspecies are (usually) readily
identifiable in the field; species with field-identifiable subspecies or
subspecies groups in L. A. County include but are not limited to:
Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, Green-winged Teal, Red-tailed
Hawk, Merlin, Northern Flicker (and intergrades), Bell’s Vireo, Hermit
Thrush, White Wagtail, Red Crossbill (call types), Bell’s Sparrow, Savannah
Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco. In some of these cases only one
subspecies (or none) occurs regularly. In some other cases, observers with
extensive experience and good studies of the bird in question can also
reasonably determine subspecies (e.g. Orange-crowned Warbler, Marsh Wren,
Song Sparrow, Canada Goose, Cackling Goose, Leach’s Storm-Petrel,
Red-breasted Sapsucker). There is nothing to be gained by indicating a
subspecies based ONLY on your locality – so it’s preferable to enter
“Osprey” rather than “Osprey (carolinensis)” even if you can be 99.9%
certain that a local Osprey is of the North American carolinensis
subspecies. An exception would be if you were able to study the bird well
enough to rule out the other Osprey subspecies based on actual characters
rather than locality. A lot of the subspecies entry issues seem to arise
from the use of smartphone apps, so when entering data via such an app be
sure to select the full species rather than a particular subspecies (unless
you can document the subspecies). To the novice birder, some of the
subspecies names might seem completely appropriate, even though they’re
not. A recent example is a birder who entered “Willow Flycatcher
(Southwestern)” on the assumption that a Willow Flycatcher in the
“southwest” should be that subspecies. In fact, of course, the
“Southwestern” Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) is known from
Los Angeles County in recent years only by a very few possible breeding
pairs, with essentially no documented records of migrants. So 99.9% of
Willow Flycatchers in L. A. County will be what eBird calls “Willow
Flycatcher (Northwestern) (Empidonax traillii brewsteri/adastus), even
though Los Angeles County is hardly “northwestern.” Why not just enter as
“Willow Flycatcher”?


When you enter an eBird checklist you can make comments about that birding
event in the Comments section on the second screen (“Date and Effort”). It
is unfortunate that eBird does not require users to enter information about
conditions, but until they institute that capability, you can use the
“Comments” section to add information on, for example, sky conditions, wind
conditions, precipitation, temperature, tide, and other physical
environmental conditions that can greatly impact your bird list. Indicate
how you covered the area (route, areas of concentration, etc.). Also a
description of the habitat, any disturbances or other conditions that might
impact your bird list, names of birding companions (these show up
automatically only if the list is “shared” with them), condition of
vegetation and food crop, and anything else that seems relevant. Sure, you
could even mention what kind of sandwich you had for lunch.

All of the above must seem like “work,” but I suspect a large number of you
use eBird for the common good as a thorough avifaunal record rather than
simply for an accounting of your sport-listing accomplishments. Joseph
Grinnell and other “early” naturalists in California might have spent hours
writing in their journals about each of their field outings, and that
information is invaluable to researchers today. Can’t we, at least in some
small part, try to do the same?


Kimball L. Garrett

Ornithology Collections Manager

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

900 Exposition Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90007 USA

(213) 763-3368


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