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FW: [LACoBirds] Some Birding Suggestions for the New Year (long)

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Date: 1/1/24 3:05 pm
From: Kimball Garrett <cyanolyca818…>
Subject: [LACoBirds] Some Birding Suggestions for the New Year (long)

Some birding suggestions (resolutions?) for the new year

*Reporting Rarities and Other Bird Sightings*

It seems that every few months there is a new social media “app” that

promises to facilitate communication of bird sightings and other bird

information in California. I’m fine with Discord, the latest “app de jour,”

as a new birding communication tool and hope it serves its intended

purposes. I realize that growing legions of birders thrive on instantaneous

information about rarity sightings so they can get there for the twitch as

soon as possible. I would hate to think that somebody would be deprived of

the pleasure of joining 50 other birders to tick a rarity because they

found out about it a few nanoseconds too late.

But for those of us who try to glean and summarize bird sighting

information for local or county avifauna work and for *North American Birds*

regional reports, it is daunting that there are so many different places

where sighting information resides. May I please make a couple of


First, please make certain that birds that are reported in Discord (or

WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.) are also entered into eBird (with, of course, the

appropriate level of documentation). If the bird(s) in question are seen

only by somebody who does not use eBird, then please send details directly

to the *North American Birds* county coordinators (listed in Guy McCaskie’s

quarterly requests for reports posted to many listservs).

Second, please take the time to post details about sightings to the

appropriate listserv(s). In California these are usually county-level

listservs, but postings to the statewide listserv are sometimes also called

for. Sadly, the rush to WhatsApp/Discord/Facebook/etc. communication has

been something of a death-knell for what used to be informative and

well-trafficked county and regional listservs. Many county listservs have

seen no postings for days or even weeks on end. At the other extreme, I

would point to the San Diego County listserv as an example of a thriving

communication network, with daily postings of interesting sightings,

summaries of developing trends, etc. A handful of other areas also have

successful and informative listservs. PLEASE take advantage of this and

get information onto the appropriate local or statewide listservs as soon

as possible after the initial Discord/WhatsApp/etc. messages.

Bottom line, any innovation that allows quick broadcasting of rare bird

information is sure to be welcomed by many birders, and Discord sounds like

an efficient way to do that. But please don’t let such apps take the place

of the listservs that have served us so well for many years, and please

make certain that bird records get into the curated ornithological

databases such as eBird and the North American Birds regional reports.

*The Only List That Matters*

Year listing is a motivating pursuit (some might say a disease) that

infects more and more birders every year. The bottom line is that it is

desirable (and educational) to spend maximal time in the field, and chasing

rarities for one’s year list is one way to ensure that. But year-listing

steers birders toward birds that have already been discovered, and only a

small minority of listers provide useful details about the rarities they

chase (beyond the obligatory eBird comment “continuing”). It’s true the

additional media vagrant-chasers provide can often be useful in analyzing

age, sex, etc., but rarely are there helpful written details.

I’ve gotten grief for this suggestion in the past, but (being a masochist)

I’ll make it again. The list birders should work on for the year is the

“Birds Found” list – not stakeouts they chased, but birds they found on

their own. What if the five Dickcissels you chased and saw last year didn’t

“count,” but the one you happened to find yourself did? That changes to

motivation equation. How much gas will be burned as birders head out in

early January to see the same staked-out vagrants they saw late in 2023

just because they now “need” them for their 2024 year list? You’ll have a

whole year to find your own new one.

Yes, we all “chase” super-rarities, life birds, new county birds, etc. But

our parboiled planet pleads for restraint in chasing birds just because

it’s a new year. The growing interest in 5-mile-radius birding has placed a

premium on staying closer to home, and, combined with “Birds Found”

listing, has the concomitant advantage of a lower carbon footprint.

*Better eBirding *

Los Angeles County continues to be a leader in the quantity and quality of

eBird data, and everybody’s contributions are much appreciated. But I do

have a few suggestions.

First, provide details!!! Many eBirders seem to take the filters literally

and provide no details for sightings unless they are flagged, no matter how

unusual they may be. Remember that Los Angeles County is complex and

diverse, and it is impossible to develop accurate eBird filters for every

part of the county. This is improving as we develop filters for

finer-scale polygons within the county, but this will take some time and

will still have annoying quirks. Conversely, some get annoyed when

“expected birds” get flagged for details – again, a legacy of the county’s

complex geography.

And remember, of course, that the details you provide should describe the

bird’s characteristics (plumage, structure, voice, behavior, etc.) and how

potential confusion species were eliminated. It is almost comical how

often the provided “details” treat only features unrelated to the bird’s

identification (e.g., “seen well” or “visiting backyard feeder” or

“identified by Merlin”).

If you are reporting a staked-out bird, or newly reporting a bird on a

shared checklist, please indicate who the original finder was – this is

important for the record but often hard to glean from eBird reports.

Please consider using your real name instead of “Anonymous” or some social

media handle. Bird records require, at minimum, a date, locality, and

observer name. Sightings without a real name associated with them don’t

meet these minimum requirements.

Use “Checklist Comments” routinely and liberally – this is the place to

provide information on weather/conditions, other observers, details of

coverage, habitat features, etc. Only a small fraction of eBirders enter

these comments, which is a huge loss of potentially useful information. You

can go to your settings to keep checklist comments private, but I strongly

encourage eBirders to make them publicly visible.

Use Breeding codes – these provide useful data and getting into the habit

is good practice for the upcoming second Los Angeles County Bird Atlas.

Spend time this year filling in temporal gaps in hotspots. Check the bar

graphs for hotspots in areas where you frequently bird and see which weeks

are shaded gray, meaning that no eBird data exist for that period. Make a

point of visiting those hotspots during those “unbirded” weeks. Also, look

at the map of hotspots in Los Angeles County and look for geographical

“holes” in the map and consider finding and establishing new hotspots in

those areas.

But, mostly, have a happy 2024…. and see (and report/document) lots of good


Kimball Garrett

Juniper Hills, CA

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