Wednesday, December 21, 2011

eBirder interview: Robert Mortenson

Name: Robert Mortensen
Blog: Birding is Fun!
Home town: Bountiful, Utah
How long birding? 7 years
How long eBirding? 6 years

Why is eBird important?
eBird is important to me personally because I can keep track of my bird sightings and I love to be able to see the comings and goings of the various species in my personal birding patches and in my backyard. eBird is important to bird science and conservation and I believe it will continue to be more and more relevant to science and politics. eBird really is the best tool to understand bird distribution and migration patterns, which in turn tells us which habitats are most critical.

How has eBird changed the way you watch birds?
eBird has greatly changed, improved, and enhanced the way I watch birds. I used to be a trip-ticker...just a big list of all the birds seen on a bird outing. Now I count the birds of each species I see and hear. I even pay attention to gender and age if I have learned it for that species. When I take a bird trip, I now break it down into checklists for each stop - and even five-mile sections of highway if its the same kind of habitat.

In what areas has eBird not changed the way you watch birds?
Counting the birds and reporting them in eBird has not diminished in any way my enjoyment and amazement of the birds themselves. The color of Bullock's Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, and Yellow Warblers is what hooked me on birding...and they still hook me every time I see them.

How has eBird changed the face of birding?
I think many birders used to keep track of their sightings in their own field guides, notebooks, or on a spreadsheet. I think all of us eBirders now go about birding a bit differently, but for the better. Now our citizen-scientist sighting data can be used and is available for free to the world. I believe that all this data will improve the quality and accuracy of range maps in field guides. We are gaining a greater understanding of migration ranges and for the frequency of vagrant birds in locations outside of their typical range. The information is quickly and easily communicated across the globe through eBird, when in the past, such bird data would have to be collected from each region of the world.

Why should someone start eBirding? What's the incentive?
I started eBirding simply because it was a free online service that did a good job keeping track of my sightings. Then I discovered how it contributes to bird science and it made me feel good. Later I discovered I could play around with the data and have fun learning new things about birds. eBird is also a great tool for birding in locations new to you. You can find out what species are being seen during each week of the year. eBird is really the birders best friend, tool, and resource. I hope all birders everywhere will recognize the personal and global benefits of using eBird, the greatest citizen-science project of all time.

Do you have any personal eBird goals as respect special birding locations or species? I love to track the birds in my local patch and my goal is to have at least one checklist for each week. I feel compelled to eliminate all those hatched/grayed-out columns showing that I missed a week here and there. I also do my best to average submitting at least one checklist a day...even if its only from my own backyard feeders, that data is important. Through my birding blog, I am currently encouraging others to join me in taking the "One-a-Day eBird Challenge." I also use the eBird "alerts" to notify me of birds I have not recorded for the county in which I live. I have a goal to never get an alert email, because I have already seen all of those species. That alert email is actually pretty helpful in letting me know where species are being seen, so I can go there myself.

How do you use eBird data?
One of my favorite ways of using eBird data is making animated maps of bird migration patterns. eBird has some really fancy animated maps that they are creating for many species, but not all species have these fancy maps yet. I take screenshots of the eBird sightings maps and convert them into animated GIF's with picasion.com. Sometimes I look at month-by-month patterns to understand seasonal migration. Other times I look at species expansion over the years...the Eurasian Collared-dove is the prime example.

When I was preparing to go to Ohio for the Midwest Birding Symposium, I looked at the bird sightings in Ottawa County for the middle two weeks of September. I downloaded the data into Excel and from there pared down the list to just the life birds I was hoping to see. Then I sorted the data by the frequency of eBird reports for each species, which gave me an idea of the probability of seeing those species. It worked splendidly and accurately.

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