Date: 1/13/18 5:25 pm
From: Adam James Searcy <serpophaga...> [CALBIRDS] <CALBIRDS-noreply...>
Subject: Re: [CALBIRDS] Are Regional/County Listservs Still Relevant? [a bit long]

Personal locations for rarities that are plotted by observers are often
inaccurate, and one ends up with a cluster of observations that are not
*more* accurate, but less accurate than a single hotspot would be. A mild
example (as most are plotted very close to the yard) is the Broad-billed
Hummingbird currently in a backyard in Santa Barbara. This bird rarely
strays from one lemon tree/feeder in this very small yard, yet the personal
locations are out front, across the street, etc. (some of this might be due
to poor GPS accuracy). On a scale this small, it doesn't matter that these
aren't perfectly accurate. I've seen other examples with rarities in
Ventura Co. of birds that were known to have never strayed far and the
personal locations are, forgive me, all over the map. If one wants to look
at the record in eBird and see the date range and documentation in the
mapping feature, then one would have to click each and every personal
location (which can be challenging if not impossible when you have 10, 20,
75 personal locations in a giant cluster). It is simpler and very often
more accurate in such cases to have a hotspot that all users submit to.

If the rarity in question is moving more widely, e.g., the Ross's Gull in
San Mateo and many other examples, then I agree-- a wide scattering of
personal locations may be more appropriate than a couple of artificially
exact hotspots. Additionally note that many eBird observations aren't
accurate point localities and nor is that the intention--we're more often
submitting traveling counts where almost none of the observations are
plotted exactly.

Adam Searcy

On Sat, Jan 13, 2018 at 7:46 AM, Ken Burton <shrikethree...>
[CALBIRDS] <CALBIRDS-noreply...> wrote:

> Paul,
> You raise some good points (thanks for venting). Your eBird analysis
> raises a slightly off-topic issue with eBird that bothers me and this seems
> like a reasonable opportunity to share it.
> As you point out, eBird hotspots can be quite large. eBird reviewers,
> following eBird instructions, ask people who submit rarities at
> more-precise personal locations to move their observations to the hotspots
> or they create new "stakeout" hotspots for them and ask observers to move
> them there. For some reason, there's a desire within eBird to consolidate
> rarity sightings. I feel this consolidation often masks location precision
> that can elucidate valuable movement patterns of these birds, and I
> generally resist these requests (unless the existing hotspot is extremely
> small or my sighting was extremely close to its plotted location), at least
> until the bird is gone.
> Perhaps someone can explain why having rarity sightings clumped into
> single locations is worth erasing the precision of personal locations
> plotted exactly where sightings are made, which is especially easy and
> accurate to do on mobile devices.
> Thanks.
> Ken Burton
> Crescent City
> On Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 2:18 PM, Paul Lehman <lehman.paul...>
> [CALBIRDS] <CALBIRDS-noreply...> wrote:
>> 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 sharing.
>> 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

Adam Searcy
Camarillo, CA

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