Archive for February, 2019

Hey so I’ve been thinking about joining eBird…

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Reasons why you should get an eBird account:

It’s amazingly good. I’ve been building database-backed websites since the beginning of those. It’s easy to disappoint me and hard to impress me, and I’m very impressed by eBird.

It works hard to meet you wherever you as a user happen to be. If you want to use it as an online list-keeping tool that keeps track of all your data and lets you slice and dice it different ways, but you want to pretend no one else on the site exists and not let them see your data, it does that. If you want to do that but also make your information public it does that too, with a very full set of features to hide or show as much or as little of your information to the public as you want.

If you want to know what birds have been seen at a particular place and when they’ve been seen there, it’s awesome. If you want to know where you might be able to see a particular species, it’s awesome. If you want to set a personal goal to see as many species as possible within a given geographic region, it’s awesome.

All of the above refers to the website. The eBird app is also awesome, but differently. It’s a fantastic tool for entering your data in the field. And it continues to improve in significant ways at a steady pace. The recent update that lets you edit a checklist in the app after submitting it is fantastic, for example.

In terms of identification apps, I have all of them, but my favorite is the Sibley app. (Unsurprising, since I’ve been a Sibley fan since his field guide first came out.) It’s not as good as having the book with you, but it’s a lot easier to carry (since I always have my phone with me). I probably refer to it once or twice on most outings, and also use it occasionally for playback (though I’m ethically opposed to using playback myself in most situations).

If I were starting out I’d definitely use Merlin. The latest version, as you say, is very impressive. (One of the things that makes it so impressive is that it uses the distribution and abundance data from eBird to rank the identifications it offers you, so I guess this is another reason to use eBird: because the data you contribute is helping all the Merlin users.) Merlin isn’t directly useful for me currently, because I’m birding in areas I know so well that I have that information in my head already. If I’m having an ID challenge it’s because I’m dealing with a rarity or a relatively fine-grained distinction, and Merlin isn’t as helpful for that. But if I were traveling somewhere else I would definitely use it.

Final reason for joining eBird: if you do that and choose to make a public profile I can see where you’ve been birdwatching and vicariously enjoy your outings. 🙂

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blackjayx: Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)  ♂ #1 (#329)I’ve…

Thursday, February 21st, 2019


Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) 


#1 (#329)

I’ve mentioned (in tag screeds, so you might have missed it) that my level of birdy obsessiveness has crept down a notch since the end of 2018. I’m still birdwatching every day (eBird checklist streak at 429 days), but I’m not actively trying for the top spot in the eBird year rankings in the county. (Well. Not much.) (I’m currently in second at 189.) (But it’s not like I’m keeping track or anything.) (Mark’s ahead by 10 species.)

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the fun, and I thought instead of keeping track of the county year list (which obviously is ticking up relatively quickly in these early months) I could instead talk about my county life list.

The male Tufted Duck that I (barely) saw at Lauro Reservoir on January 6 was my first county life bird of 2019. The bird was hanging out with some Lesser Scaups, floating along with his head tucked in, which made it tricky to get a good view. But at one point his tuft stuck up a little and I was able to snap some very distant shots through a chain link fence:

So, not the most satisfying view, but the strong black-and-white pattern was enough to ID him even without the cowlick. And I had Curtis Marantz (one of the more intimidatingly awesome birders I’ve been lucky enough to see in action) standing next to me confirming, so there was no doubt.

The Tufted Duck was #329 in my Santa Barbara County life list, and he was a legitimate life bird overall for me, too, at least in eBird, and I think probably in reality. (I threw away my lists when I quit birding in my late teens, so I’m going by memory. But I’m pretty sure I never saw a Tufted Duck back then, and these days I just treat eBird, which I started using in 2004, as my canonical source.)

Fun fact: There are 18 Santa Barbara County birders who are listed on the county birders’ “400 Club” web page. There are only 6 eBird users with more than 400 species in the county in their eBird lists, and 3 of them haven’t bothered to include themselves in the 400 Club listings; a bunch of other birders who are in the 400 Club are also in eBird, but with fewer than 400 birds there. So there’s some messiness, with a lot of long-time birders having birds from older lists they haven’t bothered to import into eBird even if they’re using it, and other birders with big lists (whether or not they’re in eBird) that they haven’t bothered to send in to the people maintaining the 400 Club listing.

But it’s a game, and for game purposes I’m just going to look at eBird. I’m currently ranked #20 in the Santa Barbara County all-time rankings there, but Conor is only one bird behind me and likely to pass me at any time; he’s a great birder and quite active.

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