In my previous post ("eBird revisited: one year later") I discussed how eBird is an essential birding tool for you, even if you decide not to submit your own sightings.
Adding your own personal sightings to eBird contributes to citizen science, makes your sightings valuable beyond your own enjoyment, and makes eBird that much better.
However, the way eBird is structured when submitting observations gives the one submitting a better understanding of bird status in the area being reported.
You see, when you submit your list of sightings from a field trip, you choose from a checklist of birds that are expected in that specific county during that specific month. If the bird isn't on the default checklist, then it is considered rare by local experts. If you then switch to the "Show Rare Species" checklist, all birds ever recorded (in any month) in the county are listed. If your bird is not on this list, either? Then it is likely a first county record! You select "Add Species" and type in the name.
But there is more. Every species ever recorded in the county has a filter number for each month of the year. If you report more individuals of a selected species than the filter considers "normal" you are notified that you have seen an unusually high number!
A third option for checklists that you can turn on or off is the ability to "Show subspecies." This option displays on the checklist such things as Red-shafted Flickers, Slate-colored Juncos, Myrtle Warblers, but also subspecies local experts deem worthy of recording. Thus, you can learn of important regional subspecies in the county you are reporting. If a certain subspecies isn't on the list? Try "Add Species" and look to see if it exists on the eBird master species list.
eBird works very hard to make sure the data collected is accurate. Thus, any time you record a high number of individuals or a species not on the default checklist, eBird asks you to confirm and give comments. This is the place to write a brief description or add a photo or photo link. Every location in the world has a volunteer local expert that reviews these unusual sightings. They tag unusual species as likely correctly identified or possibly not by what you say in your comments and a personal email, if necessary to gather more information. These expert Reviewers can help you with status and ID questions.
You can, of course, add comments for any species, rare or not. eBird's "Comments" section allows you to record age and gender data as well as breeding bird codes. Besides simply noting presence ('X') you are encouraged to estimate numbers of individuals. Instead of recording just the highlights, you are encouraged to record every species. Rather than a day's list, eBird encourages you to record species in more and smaller areas.
All of these things will make you a better birder.
Rebecca in the Woods started eBirding in September 2011. In October 2011 she wrote: How eBird is making me a better birder.
Nate Swick of the Drinking Birder also tells How eBird makes me a better birder.
We're starting a new year. This is the perfect time for you to start entering your field birding sightings. No more excuses! Become an eBirder in 2012.