Using eBird to get the most out of visits to our National and State Parks

A recent article on the National Parks Traveler website about using eBird to plan birding trips (or getting the most out of a short amount of time if your non birding family is along) got me thinking about what a great tool eBird and a couple of smartphone apps that use eBird are for birding National and State Parks.

Anyone who has used eBird (or the BirdLog NA app in these pictures) has likely noticed hotspots that look like "Kilen Woods SP" and "Kilen Woods--Campground".

Some of you may have wondered what the difference is and which one you should select.  Well, eBird considers data collected at "fine resolutions" to be more useful than data collected over a large area.  In other words, checklists/sightings for individual trails, lakes, ponds, creeks, and such within a National/State Park are more useful than just saying you saw X number of X species in the whole entire park.

Now, you don't have to do that if you don't want to.  The information from your sightings will still be beneficial to both scientists and other birders.  However, while I don't know the exact effects on the science end, I think anyone who is a birder can understand the difference between knowing a bird was sighted somewhere in the park and knowing it was sighted along a specific trail within that park.  Personally, I recommend people try and use the most specific hotspot they can.  If there is not one already for the trail/lake/etc that you birded, then best option is to create one or just use the National/State Park...  don't just use the closest hotspot to where you were.

While submitting your sightings to eBird following the above "protocols" is the most helpful method, it does create one problem.  If you want to see all the sightings within a single National/State Park, you have to look at all the individual hotspots within it, and in some cases, that can be overwhelming.

One possible solution: I've long thought that eBird was missing a very useful option - the ability for users to select a hotspot and see all the sightings within a certain range of that spot.   This would allow people to select a hotspot within a National/State Park and then expand the range to see everything within, for example, 20 miles.  This would allow you to see a comprehensive list of all sightings within the park, but it could also select some areas nearby that you don't want.

This option already does exist for anyone who uses the Birdseye NA smartphone app.  With just a couple of touches/swipes, Birdseye NA allows you to see all the recent sightings to eBird within a selected distance of your current location (or a selected hotspot).  It gets better though....  it also shows you species that you have not seen before (based on your eBird lifelist), allowing you to easily find some new birds.

Here is a screenshot of the Birdseye NA app, showing Theodore Roosevelt NP.  Notice that it lists 55 recently seen species and the 4 species seen recently there that I have never seen.

A better option, (as a volunteer eBird HotSpot reviewer myself I know this could be done - but would take some solid volunteer work) would be to have all the individual hotspots for a park associated with an "umbrella" hotspot for that whole park.  So, all the sightings within a park could be seen with a single click, but could still be submitted at the specific locations.

I'm pretty sure this has been considered or is already in the plans, as I know that the eBird developers are constantly working on expanding the site to constantly improve it.

Anyhow, I encourage people who plan on birding National or State Parks to give check out eBird and the smartphone apps.  Play around with them a bit and maybe you'll be able to use the information gained to help you have a better birding trip or find a new life bird!


New books: ABA Field Guide Series

The ABA (American Birding Association) has recently started publishing a series of field guides focusing on individual states and authored by birders from those states.  The books are designed for beginner and intermediate birders, but early reviews make me think the books are very nice and written so well that anyone interested in birds will enjoy them.

The ABA Field Guide to the Birds of Colorado by Ted Floyd


News: The week in bird news

  • Another case of smuggling.  A Czech man was arrested trying to smuggle bird eggs into Australia.