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recurring eBird ID problems

9:44 am

There are a number of recurring eBird ID issues that us reviewers regularly must deal with, so here’s a listing to hopefully help contributors try to reduce that number:
SCAUP:  Greater Scaup continue to be over-reported (mis-identified) at a fair number of sites, but continue to be under-reported on San Diego Bay where they can be quite numerous on the middle of South San Diego Bay. But many folks continue to report photographed Lesser Scaup as Greaters because of perceived head shape (not safe when birds in diving mode) or head gloss (never safe) issues.
DOWITCHERS:  in winter, Short-billed is largely restricted to the larger tidal mudflat sites of San Diego Bay and Mission Bay/San Diego River mouth, and adjoining roost sites. Reports from anywhere else in the county at this season need to be very well documented.
CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHER:  this species continues to be reported from inappropriate habitat at inappropriate sites, or birders are visiting multiple nearby sites and just lumping them into one site. These reports involve Blue-grays. This seems to be particularly a problem involving visiting out-of-town birders who come to San Diego and Southern California as a whole wanting very much to see a California Gnatcatcher–so they do! Heck, they are in California, so it must be! A couple locations where folks incorrectly report Cal Gnats on a fairly regular basis are at the Bird & Butterfly Garden and Dairy Mart.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH:  this species is much less numerous and FAR more localized than many birders realize, and again is especially an issue for out-of-town birders who just ASSUME that this species is widespread. It is not rare for us reviewers to see reports from areas where this species is scarce that includes only American or more Americans than Lessers. We still have yet to “thin out” many questionable American Goldfinch reports from the database, but that day will come…. Observers can assist this laborious process by removing some of their own past American reports for which they are not certain.
SAGEBRUSH/BELL’S SPARROW:  both local and out-of-town birders are eager to see one or both species. It does appear that both species are in our desert, though relative numbers are still somewhat uncertain. BUT plenty of birders continue to mis-interpret the important fieldmarks. The common errors involve the malar stripe and the back streaking. Bell’s Sparrow has a fairly dark gray malar that is somewhat thick toward the base, but it TOTALLY DISAPPEARS toward the upper end, yet many observers say that the bird was thus a Sagebrush because it simply had an “incomplete” malar. And plenty of birders mention that the bird had distinct back streaking and was thus a Sagebrush, but they failed to note, or the photo angle fails to show, the CENTER of the back, where the presence or absence of distinct streaking truly matters.
TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD:  over-reported near the coast, where now very rare! Like for the California Gnatcatchers–especially by visiting out-of-state birders very much wanting to see this species.
BREWER’S BLACKBIRD:  given the major declines in this species in major parts of the county (due at least in part to bumble-foot disease/mites), it is likely that they are now over-reported in regards to numbers. What may be happening is that there are mixed flocks of blackbirds/starlings that contain some Brewer’s, but that the overall number of Brewer’s in the flock is substantially over-stated.
–Paul Lehman and other eBird reviewers, San Diego