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