Date: 1/11/18 1:16 pm From: Jon King <jonking271...> Subject: Documenting unusual records in eBird
I'm writing to you on behalf of the Kansas eBird reviewers. If you don't use eBird, you can press delete at this time. In the new year, we request that eBird users make an effort to be thorough in documenting unusual bird sightings. Some eBird users do a good job of this already, whereas others have some room for improvement. Photographic documentation is obviously the best in most cases, and more and more people are getting photos, which is great. However, photos are not always possible, meaning written descriptions are then necessary. When composing written descriptions please be thorough in describing that rarity for example, or defining the methodology you used to arrive at that high count. The more information you provide us, the better. For a great many of the many lower level rarities, unseasonal records, and unusually high counts, the documentation submitted to eBird is all the documentation there ever will be. Thorough documentation enables users (e.g. researchers, field ornithologists, birders) from in-state or out-of-state, who are not familiar with the local birding scene to decide for themselves what sightings are credible and which ones aren't. When for example, someone wants to study the growing winter distribution of the Sedge Wren in the plains, or the growing summer distribution of the Mississippi Kite in Kansas, in depth descriptions lend credibility to your records, and help to illustrate changing distributional patterns. In depth descriptions also make the job of reviewers easier. In the absence of a decent description reviewers often have to make educated guesses about the validity of a record, taking into consideration known patterns of occurrence, as well as our limited perceptions of user skill. This is especially problematic when we don't even know you! Sometimes the reviewers will contact you for more information, but keep in mind that our activities are voluntary and that our time is limited. For those of you wondering what "good" documentation is, I recommend you visit the following links. Keep in mind that what I wrote above does not apply to previously documented rarities. In such cases you can simply write "continuing" in your notes, or nothing at all.
Another item worth discussing is filter limits. As many of you know data are filtered through an automated system that specifies what amount of a given species is allowed at any given time of the year, in any given region of the state. If a species violates these specified limits, then the observation is flagged (e.g. "eBird balked at my report of ..."). Currently there are ~35 different filters in place, each covering a different part of the state. Creating these filters was an extremely time consuming task, and updating them takes a great deal of time and attention as well. Unfortunately for the reviewers, the changing climate necessitates that we make periodic updates. For those of you in the eastern counties (Flint Hills, Osage Plains, Glaciated Plains) I'm in the process of creating a climate adapted filtering system this year ... A report of 100 Double-crested Cormorants, 100 American White Pelicans, and 50 Bonaparte's Gulls during January at John Redmond Reservoir is no longer news. In the coming year please be patient as re-do all of the eastern Kansas filters. If something is flagged that you don't believe should have been, feel free to say so in the comments section. Keep in mind however, that there are many cases where people think something should not have been flagged, but if they were to take some time to dig around within the data and understand the patterns of status and distribution at play, they would realize their sighting was actually noteworthy ... They just didn't know it. After spending many hours with Kansas' eBird data I can tell you there are many subtle patterns of status and distribution within that have never been talked about in print. When for example, your Sep 7th Clay-colored Sparrow gets flagged at the Baker Wetlands, do realize this is actually early despite the dates given in some references. Arrival is around 10+ days earlier on average at Kansas' western border than on Kansas' eastern border. You're unlikely to find a Clay-colored Sparrow around Lawrence before Sep 15th in my experience. In eastern Colorado they start showing up at the end of August. If anyone has questions about filters or suggestions for improvement you are welcome to contact us. In some cases we may respond to your inquiries publicly on the listserv if the issue is something that others should know about too.