I have been birding since I was a kid back in the mid-1940’s. Birding has brought me great joy, has introduced me to many of my best friends and has taken me to strange and wonderful places, some known only to the “brotherhood” of birders. Although the mechanics of birding over that time period have progressed markedly, I see a few events as being extraordinary.
The first big addition to the birding world was the advent of the field guide; a book small enough yet inclusive enough to be of use actually in the field. I still treasure my 1947 edition of “Peterson” (with penciled-in life list of 69 birds!).
The second dramatic advance co-evolved with the advent and popularization of the computer. Only with the aid of computers could the design of the clear, brilliant and affordable optics that we use today be possible. In addition, the computer brought digital bird guides, lists, listserves and cameras. All of these innovations have been huge advances in finding, identifying and documenting birds.
And now there is eBird: http://ebird.org/content/ebird. The prior milestones in birding dealt with advances that primarily give to us, the birders. EBird, which I consider to be the greatest advance in birding in my lifetime, and probably in the past 100 years, not only gives a huge birding tool to us, but it is our chance to give back to the avocation that we so love!!
Why is it so special?
1) Bird guides, even the most comprehensive, even those on-line, like the great resource of Birds of North America ( http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/ ) become obsolete even before they are published. EBird is NOW; with about 3-5 million entries per month.
2) Go to Explore Data and find bar-graphs, all the way down to the county level, that show seasons for any year or years that you wish; great for local birding and essential for travel.
3) Also in Explore Data see maps of Birding Hotspots, a great way to plan a birding trip and helpful when you move to a new town and want find where to bird.
4) If you are a bird-lister and are looking for “life-birds”, go to those same data maps: type in a species, the month/year parameters that you wish and an area of interest. You then have detail Google maps of exactly where the species is being seen (and what else was seen at the same location on that day).
5) In addition, it will automatically keep a county, state and North America list for you.
6) Or you can visit “My eBird” and see all of your prior reports to see what you saw and where and when.
7) Even shows where the birds are when they are not in your area. For example, you can see where birds are in the winter in the South and Central Americas.
8) Data can be entered at any time; immediate is good, but it can be entered retroactively; a good “rainy-day project”. (A few years ago I went through my notes from when I lived in a remote county in Utah and entered data that likely would never otherwise have been part of science.)
9) EBird is here to stay, but it is also evolving. Its leadership is responsive to the needs of the system and to keeping it user-friendly.
BUT ... the value of eBird is proportionate to the input! The input to the system now represents about 80,000 birders. This is estimated to be only about 25 percent of the “birders”! Yet hundreds of thousands of people use the data output created in the system. If you are one of the 75 percent who do not input data to eBird, please VISIT THE SITE, EXPLORE THE DATA, and most important,TRY A REPORT OR TWO. Do not be afraid of it; It is easy and intuitive. All of that data in your dusty little notebooks could be part of living science and available to all.
By MCAS Member Alan Schmierer, Patagonia, AZaaschmierer@yahoo.com