Archive for February, 2016

I have been spending a decent amount of my birding time, recently, going to local spots near my house and seeing what is flying and hopping around there. In so doing, I have been thinking a lot about how much time it takes to really know a place.

While looking at eBird, the worldwide birding database run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I found that it has some really interesting and fun ways of depicting the data that birders have entered. One such was are the bar charts that eBird will generate for any birding site. If you do so, you will see that eBird lists what species have been seen at a particular location (Yellow-rumped Warbler, Swainson’s Hawk, etc.) and also the frequency that this species is encountered (every list submitted has Yellow-rumped Warbler, but only a quarter of the list submitted include Swainson’s Hawk, etc.). By looking over this type of data you can get a sense of when birds show up and how often they do so. You would be able to see that at some of the sites near me in West Sacramento, CA, that there are a lot of Yellow-rumped Warblers that are seen very frequently in the non-breeding season, but that they leave in the breeding season. You would notice that in the breeding season there are Swainson’s Hawks around, but not as many individuals as Yellow-rumped Warblers, and that the Swainson’s Hawks leave in the non-breeding season.

Having all this information at our fingertips is pretty awesome! But, when you start to look at what it takes to get this data, you will notice that it is a lot of work! You will also notice how many holes there still are in these datasets.

Picture, if you will, a favorite birding spot. Some place that you go to often and feel that you know quite well. Hold that favorite spot in your mind as we go forward. EBird organizes a lot if its data by week. So there are four weeks in each month. That means that to create a compete record of birds with a full set of data points on the chart for your special spot, you will need to go once per week for a year, or 52 times. And even that will only give you one observation for each of those weeks. To really get a sense of the bird community at your favorite birding spot, you should probably go more than once. So, if you want a more realistic picture of the birds at your favorite birding spot, you will need to go something like 100 times! And that is just to a single location. How many birding spots out three have you visited 100 times? I have a few, but not many.

To really know a place requires a significant effort. Sure, after a visit or two, you may have a pretty good idea of the kinds of birds you might find there, but in any detail. That does not come easily. That requires time and energy. But it is so eminently worth the time and energy! If you know a place in all its seasons, in all its moods, you will develop a special bond with that piece of land. You will have a better understanding of that particular corner of the world than any other. And that is no small accomplishment!

So go out to your local, special, favorite birding spots, and go often. Forge your bonds!

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The Great Backyard Bird Count is fast approaching! Every year, birders take to their yards and have a look around. This is the essence of the Great Backyard Bird Count, or GBBC as it is sometimes referred to. The idea is that, like a Christmas bird count or breeding bird survey, individuals can all contribute to a snapshot of bird activity over a large geographic area. This year, the dates are between February 12th and 15th. By comparing these snapshots over time, a lot of amazing observations can be made.

One of the great things about the GBBC is that it is so easy to participate in. You do not need to drive far, there is no difficult terrain to overcome, you don’t even have to get in touch with an organizer in advance and tell them you are coming! All you need to do is go to your backyard and count birds for as long or short a period of time as you like, and then post the list of what you saw online. That’s it!

One of things that makes the GBBC special is its place in the history of birding. In 1988, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society got together and launched a project where individual birders could individually count birds and then put them online. Now remember, in 1988 birding was not very digital. This was actually the first time that a nation wide attempt like this had ever been made! It was a huge success, and the GBBC took off. Even larger efforts like eBird may not have happened if not the pioneering idea of the GBBC. The rise of citizen science was likewise fueled by the success of the GBBC.

This year, the GBBC has a theme: Take someone birding! The idea this year is to share birding with someone else. Maybe it is someone who has never birded before. Maybe it is someone how birds, but does not add sighting to online databases. Maybe it is someone how is a serious birder who you simply don’t go birding with very often. Whatever the case may be, this year (starting tomorrow) go out and bird with someone!

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