Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What are the problem IDs?


We recently published a news item highlighting the issue that many birders have identifying crows and ravens:

We plan to do more pieces like this in the future, mostly focused on the challenges of identifying common birds. The Carpodacus finches is another group that springs to mind. Many birders over-report Purple Finches in places where House Finches are common. The idea is to draw attention to some of the most frequently misidentified groups of birds in eBird, and help beginning birders get a better grasp on range, seasonality, voice.

Rare and unusual birds are easy for eBird editors to handle, as they are always flagged for review. But the real problem lies in the misidentification of species pairs where both are common in a region. 

What other groups of birds do you think we should highlight in this way? Accipiters are a no-brainer for inclusion!

Team eBird

Thursday, February 17, 2011

To share or not to share, that is the question

We' like to take an informal poll here, since you all are some of our most active and thoughtful eBirders.

A couple years back we released "Checklist Sharing" with some fanfare. this was something we wanted for a long time an allowed to friends (or 20 friends) to go birding together, to have one volunteer to do the data entry, and then to copy the checklist automatically to their friend's account. The others that received copies could still edit the checklist and eBird would be able to track the changes and still store a master copy that was essentially the sum of all the lists, and all are linked together in our database. Checklist sharing has been a huge success, and is a great way to expose new people to eBird, especially since you can share a checklist with someone who doesn't have an eBird account yet by just entering their email address.

However, we are wondering whether we picked the right term to describe the process. Checklist sharing might suggest that you just want to let someone know what you saw, whether or not they were there. In fact, this has been a problem, since some people have clicked "share" and entered a listserv address in the sharing field. I'm sure you all have seen this at least once on the listserv. And the problem is that anyone who clicks the link then gets a copy of the list in their eBird account, implying that they actually saw the bird. We have the "email" link to allow people to post their lists to listservs, and checklist sharing was obviously intended for another purpose. It is clear, that the term "Share" does not instantly convey what is going on.

So our questions for you all are as follows:

1) Is there a better term or way to describe this process that would make it clearer what is happening. We are considering an "Add people to this checklist" after data entry as an alternative. Of course, we'd need to have short links (on the "Checklist Edit" page and the "Manage My Observations") too, and those currently read "Share". Would "Add others" be better?

2) Is the term "checklist sharing" already too ingrained in the eBird lexicon that changing it now would just make things even more confusing. We of course need to cater to our long-term users, our occasional users, and first-time users we hope to attract tomorrow.

Any and all thoughts are welcome. Please just comment below, let us know what you think, an why. We aren't sure what direction we'll go, and your feedback will help. Thanks!

More occurrence maps being published

We haven't posted much here recently, and are sorry for this. The winter doldrums have been a time where we have been working hard on several things at eBird, and we'll be sharing these with you here soon.

One of these has been gearing up for publishing lots more occurrence maps. Since the last post 15 December we have posted 16 new maps (involving 17 species!). Over the next month we plan to put up a lot more, so please check in to the Occurrence Maps page regularly and watch for the *NEW* ones!

As always, we welcome comments on the maps here. New species since 15 Dec include:

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrranus forficatus)
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)
Harris's Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula)
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)
Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus)
Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)
Pacific/Winter Wren (Troglodytes pacificus/hiemelis)
White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus)
Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)
Black-throated Gray Warbler (Dendroica nigrescens)
Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica)
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) [not animated -- fine scale]
Kentucky Warbler (Oporornis formosus)
Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus) [not animated]
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)
Dusky Flycatcher (Empidonax oberholseri)

eBirders have provided some great questions and comments about the strengths and weaknesses of these maps. These really help us to refine them in the future. We look forward to more feedback!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Five more dyamic migration maps


We have posted five more dynamic migration maps on the "Occurrence Map" page. The new species are:

Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Blackpoll Warbler
White-throated Sparrow
Western Meadowlark

As before, comments are welcome below. Thanks to all for the comments on the first round of maps.

Marshall Iliff

Monday, December 6, 2010

eBird animated occurrence maps -- first batch


Spoiler alert: if you like quizzes, and want to figure out this map quiz before seeign a list of potential answers, go to our homepage story before reading on.

We are excited to announce our new "Occurrence Maps" feature, which you can find under the About eBird tab or through links from the new story on the homepage. We have released a few of these in the past, but thanks to a grant from TeraGrid and several years of research, we are finally able to start sharing more of these maps. These maps are really the heart and soul of eBird, since they showcase how your daily eBird submissions are being put to use for science. We are excited about the possibilities that these models hold and will continue to share results and news related to how these are being used.

Starting this week, we will be publishing these maps on the new eBird "Occurrence Maps" feature. Here we provide a short analysis of the patterns you can see, along with an invitation to comment on this blog. If you notice interesting things, have comments on our analysis, or have anything else to share, please post a message below!

This first batch includes ten species, and we will continue to publish five new ones each week. The following species are the ones in our first run:

Northern Cardinal
American Pipit
Brown-headed Nuthatch (not animated)
Red-headed Woodpecker
Western Tanager
Wood Thrush
Swainson's Hawk
Grasshopper Sparrow
Olive-sided Flycatcher

All of us at eBird think these maps are one of the coolest things we have seen in the bird world in a long time. Not all of them ae perfect, but some are very hard to find any fault with. We are confident that with more eBird data and continued research, these will continue to get more and more accurate.

Again, we invite your comments on these maps so please let us know what you think below!

Marshall Iliff for Team eBird

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sneak peek at new eBird data entry


We are working at the moment on a redesign of the online data entry forms. These pages have changed little since 2002, and we've found that a growing number of you want more flexibility in how to record the birds you see. The old process left little room for building in more options, so we're moving the whole process into a new and better (hopefully!) format.

One of the biggest visual changes will be moving from a three column format to a single column format. Internet research shows that it's tough for people to scan across the three column design, and that it's easier for folks to use the checklist if it's just in a single column. This will also improve eBird's usability on mobile devices.

In addition to this change, we're building in the ability to customize the checklist page with user defined preferences. These will include the ability to display comments boxes, age-sex info, breeding codes (a new addition), and a show/hide subspecies option. We feel strongly that the core processes of eBird need to remain simple for everyday birders, but that customization for experts is required. By building in this kind of flexibility, it paves the way for us to add increased data recording options in the future (e.g., heard only, count/don't count this bird, etc.).

So we're excited about this new development, and we're just now in the process of internally testing the new functionality. We would like to test the new data entry on a group of hardcore eBirders, as well as some beginners, to ensure we're on the right track. We hope to start that process sometime in December, or early in the new year.


Team eBird

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Summer" Bird Movements

We have recently had an interesting discussion of summer bird movements on our local birding list. People have noticed a number of birds showing up in their yards and birding patches. I thought this may have some interest to eBirders since eBird, and the eBird Site Survey in particular, provide a great way to gain insight into summer bird movements. Movements and discussion is focused on Tompkins County, New York, but are broadly applicable. Enjoy.

Many species move in significant numbers at this time of year -- far more than the modest level of birding activity suggests. While shorebirds are well known for July movements, many landbirds are also moving. By late July, many of these birds are southbound migrants (Least Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow Warbler) and others are likely birds moving shorter distances to molt or gain mass prior to migration. Surprisingly little is known about these late summer movements. For me, they have become one of the most interesting aspects of bird distribution.

I've mentioned on cayugabirds and Chip Notes that I have been taking part in the eBird Site Survey where I try to do the same counts as often as I can. This means that I watch from my yard most mornings for thirty minutes and have spent most evenings on the deck. I also do a couple loops through Monkey Run at least once a week.

Here are some of the more interesting birds that Jessie and I have found at Monkey Run doing our eBird site surveys in the last couple of weeks. The list below includes species that we had not seen since the first week of June (along with the first date this "fall" that we detected them). This list does include a couple species that we had seen in another part of Monkey Run, but which we are sure these are "new" individuals (adults only).

Hooded Merganser (13 July)
Black-billed Cuckoo (14 July)
Solitary Sandpiper (15 July)
Chimney Swift (19 July)
Least Flycatcher (18 July)
Eastern Kingbird (18 July)
Blue-headed Vireo (18 July)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (27 July)
Yellow Warbler (15 July -- date first obvious new individual arrived)
Myrtle Warbler (24 July)
Louisiana Waterthrush (15 July)
Black-throated Green Warbler (27 July)
Blackburnian Warbler (28 July)
Canada Warbler (24 July)
Eastern Towhee (28 July)
Savannah Sparrow (27 July) -- probably detection issue at an area I don't check too often
Indigo Bunting (27 July)
Bobolink (15 July)

I also must mention the numbers of House Finches that have been flying over each morning since about five days ago--yesterday I had a flock of nine, but each morning there have been singles, and small flocks. Before that, we hadn't seen or heard one in the yard since early June.

The intent here is not to point out how great Monkey Run is, but to showcase how many interesting things we can find, literally in our own backyards by looking closely and taking note. There are some great natural areas that receive very little attention throughout the Americas. I'm certain that many of these would turn up equally interesting patterns (and rarities) with a similar level of effort.

It's amazing to think what we could learn if all every birder would pick a different spot and try to walk through there once a week (or more if you want). Then enter it in eBird, where everyone has access to the data and where there are a variety of tools to facilitate our ability to see these patterns, look at arrival dates and high counts--even at a very local level.

Find out more about the eBird Site Survey here:

Chris Wood

eBird & Neotropical Birds Project Leader
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York