Date: 6/7/19 6:47 pm
From: <clearwater...>
Subject: [obol] Re: Rare bird alerts
Jack Maynard's suggestion of a daily posting of statewide eBird rare-bird-alerts ("eRBAs") is quite sensible.

So sensible, that in fact a few years back, the person who manages OBOL for Oregon Birding Association set things up to do exactly that. My recollection is that she got push-back on that idea, from a variety of directions.

One argument for not doing this, as Mike Patterson has mentioned, is that a certain percentage of eRBAs turn out to be mistaken identifications, or "off-by-one-line" errors for people who tick the wrong species. The flock of Great White Pelicans reported recently in Wasco County were a spectacular example of the latter kind of error. Sometimes these can be funny, but in less preposterous cases there's a risk that birders will take them seriously.

For the four counties that I monitor regularly for reports of interest for the local field notes, I'd estimate that percentage is around 10% (if you take just the first eRBA for a given species). Usually the county reviewers clean these up but it may take days or weeks. While that happens, the reports will be flagged as "Unconfirmed" but so will many legitimate reports.

There's no automated mechanism for reporting if and when a report has been "validated" by the local county reviewer, or when the person reporting a rarity has gone back and changed their checklist. For field-notes purposes, I save the links for suspect reports, and re-check their status at the time that I'm compiling the column. Sometimes early Swainson's Thrushes get changed to Hermit Thrushes, sometimes they just disappear with no explanation, or sometimes they persist with no further documentation (though possibly might not show up on range maps).

All of this can be summed up as, "Let the buyer beware." Or perhaps, since there's no charge, "You get what you pay for." But so long as OBOL consumers of this information are reminded of these caveats, I don't see any harm in forwarding the daily list of eRBAs.

The second issue, also noted by Mike P., is the volume of eRBAs that are "me-too" reports. I've lost count of the number of eRBAs generated recently by the Wandering Tattlers at the Philomath sewage ponds (not sure if they're finally gone or if it's just that everyone who "needed" that species for their county list has twitched them by now). Yes, as David Bailey points out, you can set the frequency of eRBAs to daily, but that would sometimes mean a very long daily posting to OBOL. Some filtering of repetitive eRBAs to yield a shorter daily digest would be helpful.

A third issue seems to be that a certain segment of eBird enthusiasts believe that everyone should be using eBird as their main method for exchanging bird reports. Forwarding eRBAs to "old-fashioned" e-mail lists is seen as subverting that goal. I've gotten flamed for this more than a few times, when I've forwarded eRBAs of local interest to the local birding e-mail list. My understanding is that this type of reaction also played a role in ending the brief experiment with forwarding daily statewide eBird RBAs to OBOL.

Joel Geier
Camp Adair area north of Corvallis

Join us on Facebook!