Date: 1/12/18 2:21 pm
From: Paul Lehman <lehman.paul...> [SanDiegoRegionBirding] <SanDiegoRegionBirding-noreply...>
Subject: [SanDiegoRegionBirding] Are Regional/County Listservs Still Relevant? [a bit long]
It is pretty obvious that over the past few years that many of the
local/county/regional/state listservs have become less and less relevant
to a large number of birders, as many of these people have voted with
their feet….er, fingertips….and moved over to other sites such as eBird.
Not only that, but bird information dissemination appears to have become
MORE fragmented as time goes on, rather than less fragmented. We now
have the local listservs, eBird, WhatsApp/GroupMe text messaging groups,
Facebook individual and group sites, personal Flickr sites, personal and
private-group text messaging, and even a handful of old-school folks who
actually still call their friends on the phone! Some of these services
are SUPPPOSED to complement each other, e.g., a text-message group that
is supposed to be used for immediate dissemination of high-end rarity
information only, and folks are supposed to post to it AND to the local
listserv in a timely manner, but instead the former is used almost
exclusively and often for more standard bird fare, so the general
listserv gets only some scraps, if anything.

Using my home-county listserv here in San Diego as an example, the
number of local birders who now rarely if ever post to
SanDiegoRegionBirding has grown steadily. Most of these folks still
happily get information from such sources, but rarely, if ever, post to
it. But a good number of these people do submit eBird reports on a
regular basis instead.Why only to one? Is it the ease of eBird
submissions? Is it the instantaneous reporting from the field? (But that
is also easy to do to a local listserv with any smartphone.) Is it that
they can easily attach their photos to their eBird reports? Is there a
widespread belief that posting rarity news only to eBird is “enough”?Or
for some, are they timid to post publicly, or just lazy, or simply don’t
care to give back to a listserv from which they got information allowing
them to see a rare bird? Whatever the reason, recent checks on many days
since mid-December of the number of posts to the San Diego listserv
versus the number of county “rarity” alerts coming through eBird is
something on the magnitude of 1 to 20 or 30 (albeit somewhat skewed by
the numbers of out-of-town Nazca Booby viewers and local-birder 2018
“big year” kickoffs, and by the potential for multiple rarities
mentioned per a single listserv post but only one species per eBird
alert). A little of this dichotomy can be explained by the fact that
some birds such as a semi-tame, multi-year-staying Greater White-fronted
Goose at a local lake still appears daily on the eBird rare-bird
alert—given that it is a flagged species—but that virtually nobody would
dream of posting its continued existence on a regular basis on the
county listserv. Or, over the past few weeks, the continued presence of
Nazca Boobies, a wintering Red-throated Pipit, and many other regional
and state-level rarities locally, has drawn an especially large number
of California birders from out of town as well as many out-of-state
birders—few of whom have posting privileges to the San Diego listserv,
but almost all of them can post to eBird.

In most areas, eBird has become the best way to keep track, on an almost
daily basis, of the continued presence of existing rarities. (With the
caveat that some such reports are erroneous, as they are through any
source, and folks should be careful following up on some such reports,
especially when made many days after anyone else has reported seeing the
bird. Even when some folks are chasing known birds at known locations,
they can mess it up. Posted photos of misidentified stakeouts are not
overly rare, and the number of such erroneous reports without photos are
likely even greater. Just recently, for example, a friend of mine from
out-of-state, after seeing Nazca Booby here, drove up to Santa Maria to
see the tame Garganey. He was greeted there by a birding couple, also
from out of state and chasing the same birds, who proudly pointed out
the bird to him: a female Northern Pintail. He quickly showed them the
real Garganey. But, the bottom line is, don’t underestimate the ability
of some observers to misidentify even known stakeouts.But I digress…)

Are eBird reports also good at giving the needed background information
on how to FIND these stakeout rarities? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. A
dropped pin at a hotspot may or may not signify a specific spot or may
just denote the location of a large park or marsh where the bird is.
Some observers add in exact lat/long information, but many do not. Also,
because many human beings (including many birders) are geographically
challenged, many locations they give in their eBird submissions are
MIS-STATED or MIS-PLOTTED, which is one potentially serious problem with
using eBird data in a number of ways in general. But even if the general
location is indeed correct, the included comments (if any) may say
little about the specific tree(s) a bird is frequenting, or the best
time of day it might be seen there, origin questionable issues, or
information about possible legal access issues, etc. These specifics,
which can be very important, are often best imparted through posts to
the local listservs. Just in the past couple weeks, such was the case
here in San Diego County with a couple good posts to the listserv
dealing with private property issues and homeowner and birder behavior
involving the Ramona Harris’s Hawk.

Does one need to post an update on every continuing rarity every single
day on a local listserv? No, although regular updates on high-end and
just-recently-found rarities are very helpful, and then periodic
(weekly?) updates that such-and-such long-staying or returning rarity is
still present is also helpful to other birders. But few local birders
supply that information. Recently here in San Diego, there have been
MULTIPLE DAILY eBird updates on Nazca Booby, Red-throated Pipit, Greater
Pewee, Thick-billed Kingbird and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Harris’s
Hawk, Tricolored Herons, Nestor Park birds, etc. etc. etc., and almost
nothing on these birds for well over a week or more on
SanDiegoRegionBirding. Nothing. The question then becomes: “Does it matter?”

Looking at the broad birding community, some birders spend almost their
entire birding lives chasing stakeouts found by other people. If that’s
what they like doing, then great. Some (but far fewer) birders hate
chasing “other people’s birds,” very rarely do it, but spend almost all
their time doing “their own” birding. That’s great, too!And most of us
birders are at some point in the continuum between these two extremes.
But the bottom line is, a relatively small number of birders find a
relatively large percentage of the rare birds. And many birders do spend
much of their birding time chasing previously found birds. So, what can
this large group of chasers contribute? Perhaps rarity-status update
information (BOTH positive and negative) if they see that such updates
have not been made in “a reasonable time period,” or perhaps any news on
changes in a bird’s preferred exact site or timing of appearance during
the day. Maybe include a bit more information than the standard
"continuing bird"? Include maybe where and when the continuing bird was
seen if possibly different from “usual.” And if the report substantially
extends the date-span, then ideally including some comment about how it
was identified, or a photo.  Some eBird reviewers avoid confirming late
reports of continuing rarities without at least some documentation,
given that some birds are reported long after they actually departed.

If folks use only eBird for their rare-bird chasing bird info, and then
submit only to eBird, then fine. If they do likewise only via some
texting or Facebook group, fine! But if they routinely use a local
listserv to get their “chase” information, see the bird, and then rarely
or never return the favor to birders following behind them—be it for
reasons of laziness, cluelessness, or simply self-centeredness—then this
does seem just a wee bit galling to those birders who are finding and

Perhaps most birders are perfectly happy with the quality and speed
(i.e., efficiency) of the rare-bird information they receive and think
that my concerns are unfounded and mostly merely tilting at windmills.
Others may sympathize fully. In any case, at least I got to vent!

--Paul Lehman,San Diego

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