Date: 3/18/21 10:13 am
From: Gary Bletsch <garybletsch...>
Subject: [Tweeters] timely alerts of rare birds
Dear Tweeters,
Thanks to Dennis, and to one and all who followed up on his Tweeters message, regarding the timely announcement of rare birds. 
Here is my take on all of this.
1. Yes, please do post the sighting to Tweeters! That should be step one, assuming that one has a mobile phone and a means to access the Internet.
2. In so doing, give clear directions as to where the bird is! As has been said many times before on Tweeters, reporting that "the Palau Bush Warbler is now being seen behind the strawberry patch" does not cut it. 
2 and a half. It is a good idea to use existing eBird hotspots when posting about a rarity to Tweeters. That said, please make sure that you know what that hotspot is. To give a Snohomish County example, Edmonds Marsh and Edmonds Waterfront are not the same; Shell Creek at Edmonds Waterfront is not the same as either of those. Even within the hotspot, it is good to use addresses, descriptions of outbuildings or distinctive trees, and other landmarks to specify the bird's location. A friend of mine gave me the number that was engraved on a metal stamp placed on a telephone pole recently; that helped me relocate a shy Harris's Sparrow. Get creative!
On the other hand, I almost missed a rarity a few months ago; the sighting was put on eBird, but the birder used an eBird hotspot that was half a mile away from another eBird hotspot. The birds were not at the hotspot where they were said to have been on that eBird post. The only reason I was able to find the birds was because I happened to recognize a rock in the background of the photo! Those birds were gone within an hour of my seeing them, and no one else got to see them. The original eBird post still has the birds at the "wrong" hotspot, months later.
I carry a roll of surveyor's tape; sometimes I flag a bush or a limb when there is a rarity in a woodsy spot, but no obvious landmarks to follow. I write the bird's band code right on the tape, along with the date. That might ruffle some aesthetic feathers--but most places where I go birding these days are already so festooned.
3. The relative scarcity of a given species is usually accurate on eBird, but sometimes there are species that show up as rare, but which are not as rare as eBird makes them out to be. The reverse is true; sometimes a species that is very hard to find will end up on the main eBird checklist, and not show up as rare. Then there is the question of location. The eBird reviewers seem to use a county-wide strategy for marking species as rare or not. An American Coot would not show up as rare on a checklist for the Mount Hardy gravel area, way up in the Cascades--but that species will probably never show up there. Coots are common enough elsewhere in the county, but not up there. 
Here is an example of the imperfection of eBird's rarity codes. Last year I saw exactly one Sanderling in Skagit County, during an intense, year-long Big Year. I hardly ever left Skagit for a year, and saw one lonely Sanderling. Meanwhile, that same year, I saw both the Pacific Golden Plover and the Solitary Sandpiper 3 times each, and the Chestnut-sided Warbler 2 different times, in two different places. The first two would appear to be rarer than the Sanderling, and the last would definitely be so.
So--if in any doubt whatsoever as to whether the bird is rare, post it to Tweeters! At the worst, the gentle Tweeters will smile at your enthusiasm over a robin.
4. After posting to Tweeters, the next step is to put it on eBird. Even if you just put down one species, with accurate location information, and skip the "complete checklist," you are helping out your fellow birders. I myself almost never use eBird in the field, preferring to use a notebook, and do the toilsome data entry at home on a keyboard, where my typing skills can be put to use. The exception is the rare bird. Even if it is a "maybe," it can be a good idea to post it, and then let somebody else sort it out. For example, I had grave doubts about the ID of a gull that I saw in Burlington a month or so ago. It looked superficially like a Glaucous Gull, but now I am certain that it was not. It was just a leucistic gull of questionable parentage. Even so, I put it on eBird and Tweeters as a Glaucous Gull right away, so that others could try for it. I was hoping that someone would get a good photo and give me a year bird!
5. Of course, all of the above must be tempered by awareness of birder-unfriendly people who happen to live where the bird is, or inconvenient "no-trespassing" signs and the like.
6. It must also of course be tempered by awareness of sensitive species, especially now that everybody's second cousin has a huge camera and a thirst for photos of owls, raptors, and other charismatic species.
Okay, sorry if this all sounds pecksniffian--I plead the after-effects of my second Pfizer shot!
Yours truly,
Gary Bletsch
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