Monday, June 23, 2008

"Make your checklists more meaningful!"

This is the tag line to a recent post on the eBird site which is aimed helping users (and non-users for that matter) understand why it is important to make your sightings data more robust for analysis by giving information on the distance or amount of area you covered in your walk/trip. Most people probably enter (as I did at first) as having done a "Casual Observation." Where as, by signifying that you have conducted a "Traveling Count", "Stationary Count" or "Area Count" (and entering the appropriate required information) you are allowing for more utilization of the data collected. All four of these eBird used terms are explained on the site and why they are more useful to the eBird team.

Many of you looking at this section of the site may notice that I pretty much always include my step count and approximate number of miles walked in my data. For one, I wear a pedometer almost religiously, which allows me to accurately (the manufacturer of the pedometer claims 99+% accuracy) account for both my steps taken and miles walked. On a side note, you should be prepared to be amazed at how little a person can actually walk in a day. I am a relatively active person, but having a desk job significantly reduces the number of steps taken a day, this is no surprise. But, when you compare the 4-6000 steps that can be taken on a busier day working in the Northwood Center, to the 10,000 minimum that is recommended, it can be a bit of a shock. This is one advantage to taking a morning bird walk. Usually in just a short jaunt around Higbee or the State Park, I tally almost as much as I may walk in a day at work. But I am getting off topic.

My point is that using a simple device such as a pedometer not only helps you personally but will allow you to make the data you submit to eBird more robust for the researchers using these numbers. So what do you do if you do not have or want to use a pedometer? Or, if you are on a trip (not in a car where you can use the odometer), say a pelagic, to track the distance traveled or the area covered? Well, the ebird folks have recommended two different web sites that will help you with this matter, and the Gmap-pedometer. Basically they both use Google Map type features (Gmap is Google by the way, running map is associated with Yahoo) to allow you to pick pretty much any location on earth and track the distance you may have traveled. See the sample map I created on of a route around the first couple field and tower fields at Higbee.

So, while eBird may be a "personal" listing program for many, with the added bonus to allowing your sightings to help birds more, by making just a small bit more effort you can make your data more "research friendly". Just by taking a few moments to indicate the amount of effort. Like I said, the eBird folks have given a short description about how each of the effort classifications help is the data analysis.

If you are not currently an eBird user, you might think about at least giving at a try. Take Cape May for instance, there a a good number of birders out in the field, year round. Yet, only a few, that know of at least are submitting checklists to eBird. If everyone who birded in Cape May submitted a checklist each day they birded here, there could be huge amounts of data sets created thus aiding researcher's ability to really try and grasp the breadth and magnitude of migration through this tiny area. And don't let those naysayers who say that everyone has in the world has to participate to make the data truly scientifically valid. There is truth in the fact that the more people involved, the more robust the data set. But, I am a firm believer that every little bit counts. After all, data is collected a little bit at a time. The 30,000+ hawks that were counted here in Cape May last fall didn't fly over in one day! Take the Summer Tanager that was calling in my back yard last evening, if I don't enter this sighting in no one will really know about it. It may not be scientifically significant sighting, but it builds my personal data set and possibly helps.

On the flip side of the number of folks who do not use eBird, there seems to have been a good jump in the number who are submitting checklists for New Jersey. According to eBird, as of June 18 there were 3047 lists submitted for New Jersey, that's almost 170 lists per day. Now this is still about 1600 less than New York and 1900 less than Texas but New Jersey list submission has grown over the past six months. I noticed a big jump in May but attributed this to the WSB and the Cornell teams being around and other submitting their scouting observations. Now we're over a month past the WSB and New Jersey is still number three in terms of lists submitted. Keep up the good work!

So, think about starting up an eBird account if you don't already have one. Your small contributions can really make a difference in the conservation of birds. Take a look at the observation effort descriptions on the site and see if you can make a few simple changes to your observation collections and entry, and make your checklists more meaningful!

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