Date: 9/1/17 10:02 pm
From: Phil Davis <pdavis...>
Subject: [MDBirding] Cross-posted message re eBird documentation
Hi MD/DC Birders:

The following cross-post is from Birdchat of an original message about
eBird documentation that was first posted to the Los Angeles County
(CA) listserver from respected birder, author, and ornithologist,
Kimball Garrett.

I spend a great deal of time "mining" eBird checklists for
documentation of MD/DC Records Committee reviewable observations, so I
feel Kimball's pain and thought I would share his message with our
regional community in an effort to help improve the quality of our
rarity documentation. By no means is this a "rant"from me ... merely
an small step to help improve our local documentation best practices.
My committee interests mostly have to do with the "Description"
section of Kimball's message.



Date: Fri, 1 Sep 2017 20:49:23 -0700
From: Daniel Edelstein <danieledelstein...>
Subject: [BIRDCHAT] Important Message About eBird From Kimball
Garrett (Below), Ornithology Collections Manager, Natural History
Museum of Los Angeles County

Birders, Below I'm sharing a message from Kimball Garrett,
Ornithology Collections Manager Natural History Museum of Los
Angeles County.

It was posted recently at the Los Angeles County listserv.

Dan Singer, an excellent ornithologist/birder/eBird reviewer for
San Francisco, Marin Co. Sonoma Co. and beyond shared Kimball's
message recently at the North Bay Bird listserv….and Dan notes
Kimball is one of the finest field ornithologists in California
and, for that matter, North America. All the issues addressed in
Kimball's message below pertain to eBird users everywhere. Some of
the specific examples Kimball may not apply to our area (e.g.
Southwestern Willow Flycatcher), but the broader concepts
do.Regards, Daniel Edelstein, Novato, CA & Ellison Bay, WI

Date: 8/24/17 12:24 pm
From: Kimball Garrett <kgarrett...>
Subject: [LACoBirds] eBird issues this Fall

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

Phil Davis, Secretary
MD/DC Records Committee
2549 Vale Court
Davidsonville, Maryland 21035 USA

MD/DCRC Web site:

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