Date: 1/11/18 1:16 pm
From: Jon King <jonking271...>
Subject: Documenting unusual records in eBird
Hello all,

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.

Jon King
Lawrence, KS

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