Seven eBird Checklist Submission Tips

A large and increasing number of birders living on or visiting Long Island
now use eBird on a regular basis. The appeal is two-fold: foremost eBird
provides a simple way to track and store one’s own sightings and at the
same time share them with others including ornithologists and
conservationists who use the information for research and planning. Rare
Bird Alert (RBA) and Kingbird Regional or Seasonal compilers also rely
heavily on eBird data for their summaries. This will also be the chief
means of data collection for the Bird Bird Atlas.

Many birders value the fact that they can become an eBirder without needing
to take a test or demonstrate any knowledge of this citizen science project
and its rules of data entry. For this reason, teams of regional reviewers
all over the world monitor incoming checklists to make sure they conform to
shared data entry standards.

The team overseeing New York State’s Nassau and Suffolk Counties has
increased to meet the growing volume of submissions from these busy
counties and now comprises (in order of recruitment) Angus Wilson, Derek
Rogers, Michael McBrien, Brendan Fogarty, Pete Morris, Taylor Sturm, and
Brent Bomkamp. Hotspots are created and managed by Ben Cacace. As active
birders in the region (and well beyond), our names should be familiar to
most readers.

We are the folks that set the filters that define species as scarce or rare
and the range of expected dates. We review and validate flagged items that
exceed these limits ('trip the filter'), monitor overall checklist quality
and correspond with you when there are errors, missing information or other
concerns. Most people are very responsive to the feedback we provide and it
is a delight to see so many contributors improve the quality of the
checklists they routinely submit, increasing their value as part of the
permanent record. That said, we still encounter the same problems time and
time again and have decided to post occasional notes with advice intended
to help the community as a whole.

Below are seven tips that will help you prepare useful checklists and
minimize the chances that you will hear from us!

Tip #1. Provide SOME WORDS OF DESCRIPTION (or attach photos) for ANY
noteworthy birds. Usually, these will be flagged as 'rare' or as a 'high
count' based on the local filter settings. At present, the filters only
work at the county level and so may or may not flag very localized or
habitat-specific birds. A terse description of the bird or how your method
of counting the individuals is important for validation. Notes on what the
bird(s) was doing or where it was, are of secondary importance but welcome
nonetheless. Simply saying ‘continuing’ or ‘seen by many’ isn’t very
helpful at all. Incorporating media (photos, video or sound recordings) has
never been easier but should not entirely replace written comments.

Tip #2. Try to select the nearest HOT SPOT rather than creating a personal
location. There are plenty to choose from. Checklists mapped to hot spots
are used to develop occurrence data such as bar charts. If you create
personal locations, please avoid general locations (e.g. a village, town or
general area) unless there are reasons to not give the specific locality
(e.g., sensitive species or no public access). Ideally, sightings should be
less than a mile or two from the hotspot marker. For larger sites, it's
helpful to include a line or two on the precise location of any noteworthy
birds. Just think what would be useful to you if you wished to follow up on
(i.e., chase) an exciting finding made by other observers.

Tip #3. Avoid selecting SUBSPECIES on the basis of expectation or because
they are high on a list of suggestions. Identifying subspecies adds a whole
new level of enjoyment to birding. If you use this option, try to explain
the basis of your choice. This will add to your own knowledge and provide
more accurate data.

Tip #4. Pay attention to your PROTOCOL and EFFORT data. Your checklists
become more valuable when this information is accurate. While estimates are
okay, give careful thought to whether you really hiked exactly 1 mile and
birded for exactly 1 hour. The more precise the effort information, the
better. And don't forget, for traveling checklists you should NOT be
including your return mileage unless you took a different route back to
where your checklist originated. Some further guidance on this topic can be
viewed at:

Tip #5. Be COURTEOUS. If you are chasing a bird that was reported by
someone else, why not mention them by name? This simple act shows that you
respect your fellow birders, encourages people to submit in a timely
fashion, and also helps regional compilers understand who first discovered
noteworthy birds.

Tip #6. Not every individual bird can be identified in the field; for these
cases don't be afraid to enter them as a NONSPECIFIC TAXON. Examples
include ‘sparrow sp.’, ‘cuckoo sp.’ etc. Be as specific as possible: if you
saw some small sandpipers, consider using ‘peep sp.’ instead of the less
meaningful general ’shorebird sp.’. To avoid clutter, many of these taxa
are hidden when you enter sightings and may only show up by searching for
them in the ‘Add species’ box. Some may be automatically flagged as ‘rare’
because they haven’t been included in the filters, so don't be offended
when your entry for ‘1000 blackbird sp.’ asks for supporting details. A few
words of description such as ‘too distant to identify’ will do.

Tip #7. Don’t be OFFENDED if a local reviewer asks you a question.
Following Tips 1-6 will minimize this considerably. Reviewers volunteer
their time to maintain local data quality and are usually very
knowledgeable about the birds in their coverage region - after all, we each
peruse hundreds of checklists a month. One can also learn a lot from
reviewer queries. It is easy to modify your checklists using the ‘Manage My
Checklists’ option within your eBird controls. Again be courteous and send
a brief reply to confirm that you received the message and that you will
(presumably) modify your checklist accordingly.

Wishing you great eBirding in 2020!

The Nassau/Suffolk review team


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