Thursday, October 11, 2012

eBird best practices
Don't be casual!

The most useful checklists to submit to eBird are complete checklists (every species detected is listed) and every species counted. If at all possible, you should accurately track observer effort--mileage and time. As you use eBird, more and more of your checklists will be as these.

The two main categories of effort-based lists are "Stationary" (you birded from a single location and didn't move more than 100 feet or so) and also a "Traveling" count. Traveling counts can be walked or driven (or both). Traveling counts are recommended to be 5 miles or less. If you change habitats, change to another checklist. On the other hand, if you are traveling through miles of identical habitat then it is not necessary to change checklists after 5 miles (think mono-species grasslands or pelagic trips). No eBird checklist should cross county borders. eBird Reviewers are instructed to weed out long trip lists that span county borders or multiple habitats. Thus, if you enter such lists the data will not be used in the maps and bar charts. But they will appear in your personal lists.

Sometimes, though, you see a noteworthy bird when you aren't birding. Or, you are entering sightings from years past--before you started eBirding--that lack effort information. This is the time to enter an "incidental" (renamed from "casual") list. You may or may not enter a complete list.

I've used incidental checklists when entering old year lists that listed only a new county bird for the year and location. I used an incidental list today. I was driving to a birding location and noted 35 Turkey Vultures on the way. I pulled over and used Bird Log to enter the exact location.

Some birders balk at creating multiple lists for one birding excursion, for instance, while doing a Christmas Bird Count or Migration Count or even a Big Day. However, when you think about it, you are really birding intensely at only a few discrete locations, and then you see a few other noteworthy birds en route that will be entered on individual incidental lists.

An old eBird article that uses the obsolete term "casual" observation is here:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NW rarity: Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Kingbird. Newport, Oregon. October 6, 2012. Photo by Greg Gillson.
This past weekend I was along the coast when I received word of a nearby Tropical Kingbird. I arrived just before sunset as the last rays of the orange setting sun illuminated this bird.

A native of Mexico and Central America, breeding birds barely reach SE Arizona. Thus, many birders in the Pacific Northwest are surprised to learn that this bird is regular along the coast of the Pacific NW every October and November. Typically, a half dozen or more are reported from the Oregon coast every autumn.

Each year members of this species undertake a post-breeding dispersal that brings them along the coast of Texas, the Rio Grande, northern Baja, and the West Coast from California to British Columbia. A few birds then also winter in southern California.

To find these birds in the Northwest look in open areas along the immediate coastline. Estuary edges, golf courses, parks with open areas and scattered trees, and vacant lots in town are all habitats where you might find this rare bird. They perch in the open on wires and trees, often quite still for long periods, as in the accompanying photos.

In the Pacific NW they are similar to Western Kingbirds but the yellow breast extends higher and the head is not as pale gray down onto the upper breast as the Western Kingbird. Tropical Kingbird has a blackish notched tail, while Western Kingbird's square black tail has contrasting white outer tail feathers.

Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Kingbird. Newport, Oregon. October 6, 2012. Photo by Greg Gillson.