eBird 6% Rule

Before I go on a trip outside my local patch, like the recent London trip, I check eBird to see what species might be seen. For most birding spots eBird gives a good overview. You can do this if you are registered with eBird or not.

Before I go into details let me say this might look complicated, but it isn’t. If you have basic spreadsheet experience the following takes less than 5 minutes. If it isn’t clear leave a comment and I’ll try to clear it up.

The first thing is check to see if the area as caught on in eBird. Go to the EXPLORE DATA tab and choose EXPLORE A REGION. Then scroll down to London, England.

eBird - Explore London

Choose BAR CHARTS.

BarChart

London’s Bar Chart comes up.

LondonBarChart

By looking at the bar chart you can tell if the area has caught on in eBird. If the green lines are mostly narrow you know not many people have submitted eBird lists. In this case the green distribution lines are thick so we can tell it has been birded. You could go through the bar chart and make your own list but what I like to do is download the data.

Go to the bottom of the chart and select DOWNLOAD HISTOGRAM DATA.  This will download a CSV text file that you need to open with your favorite spreadsheet software. I’ll be using Microsoft Excel.

HistogramData

This is how the histogram looks when it’s opened.

HistogramInfo

Then manipulate the spreadsheet as follows:

  1. Delete rows 1-9

Instructions 1

2. Delete all the columns except for the week before the trip, the actual week, and the week after, leaving 3 weeks. In this case the last week of March and first two weeks of April.

Instructions 2

3. Insert a new column and number all species in ascending order.

Instructions 3

4. Sort on column D in Descending order Largest to Smallest

Instructions 4

5. Change the values to 2 decimals.

Instructions 5

I found out Eurasian Coot is the most common bird seen in London the first week of April. Sometimes I add all 3 columns and take an average.

I then look for birding spots where I could probably see most of these species and see if the spots fit the timing and logistics of the trip. I did the previous steps with 4 or 5 London eBird Hotspots and right or wrong came up with Hyde Park and the London Wetlands Centre.

My final list had 64 possible birds between the two sites with a frequency of 6% or greater. I ended up seeing 55 of the 64 or 86%. Plus I saw 2 species not on the list. A Common Buzzard and a bird which will be the topic of the next London blog.

Of the 9 I didn’t see there were 3 I probably could have seen with a little more time – Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, and Mistle Thrush. But they’ll be there on the next trip.

On trips involving more birding than vacation, like last years Colorado trip, the percentage level can easily be pushed down to the 2-3% level.

IAS Big May Day Bird Count – Sign Up!

The Indiana Audubon Society (IAS) will hold its annual Big May Day Bird Count on May 14. As seen on its webpage the “objective of the BMDBC is to count the number of birds of each species occurring in a participating county area from midnight to midnight on the second Saturday in May. This data snapshot provides a valuable scientific record of the bird populations occurring each year in Indiana.”

I have participated in the last 3 counts for Johnson County and previously for several years in the LaSalle County count in Illinois. I have always found these counts to be fun. Groups start at different times and go until 12:30PM. We then meet at Johnson County Park for lunch and to recap the morning. From there some people will go searching for species we missed in the morning.

The last 3 years in Johnson County we have seen 2015 – 122, 2014 – 134, and 2013 – 127 species.

Some other data recapping last year’s count taken from the Indiana Audubon Quarterly Vol. 93, No. 4 November, 2015: “Thirty two of the 92 counties (35%) participated and reported 244 individual species. (See Indiana Map below) According to the annual data since collected since 1991, the number of counties participating was down compared to the average of 40, but the number of individual species reported (244) is above the average of 238. Additionally, the total birds counted (116,729) by 376 observers is well below the average of 150,751.”

If you’re interested in helping on a count please contact a county compiler. The compilers are listed on the left side of the page on the link to the Indiana Audubon in the first paragraph.

Big May Day Count Counites
The counties in red are the ones conducing Big May Days. IAS Webpage

If you are interested helping on the JOHNSON COUNTY count please contact Tom at annntom AT embarqmail.com. You can bird as much or as little as you want. Or even report from a feeder or your yard.  All birds count!

Cuckoo Day Two – Black-billed

Let’s get right to it. Last Sunday during my Big Day I had some of my all-time best looks and photos of a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Yesterday was no different with a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO with one seen and two others heard on the day. Even in the poor light the one I watched sat like cuckoos will. So I stood and watched back.

Black-billed Cuckoo
I’m at almost the same spot as last week when I saw the Yellow-billed Cuckoo except this Black-billed Cuckoo is on the other side of the road. It’s hard to see but the buff color under the chin is visible. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
BBCU (14)
I don’t think I disturbed it but it tried to get small and “hide” after a bit. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
BBCU (13)
I cranked up the ISO to get a better photo in the rainy conditions. Notice the lack of spots on the tail. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16

One of the Black-billed Cuckoo called a couple of times, once doing the low “cuckle” call as I call it. Cool times.

And for fun here is last week’s Yellow-billed on the left and this week’s Black-billed on the right.

YBCUBBCU A

The day started off well with Mike and I at Northwest Park in Greenwood. The first bird on the day was a GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER that would never stop long enough for a photo.

BWWA (4)
This Black-and-White Warbler is demonstrating the nuthatch behavior for which they are known. Northwest Park 5/7/16
SWTH (1)
I have lightened this early morning photo to show the buff around the eye of this Swainson’s Thrush. Northwest Park 5/7/16

At Atterbury we picked up some FOS species.

BOBO (6)
A very distant Bobolink testing the limits of my new camera. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
BOBO (8)
Photobomb! What do you think, an Eastern Meadowlark? Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
HESP (6)
Another distant photo this time of a Henslow’s Sparrow. The wind was gusting at 25mph making photos tough. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16

And in the afternoon after Mike had departed I saw a few more FOY including the before mentioned Black-billed Cuckoo.

SCTA (1)
I can’t get enough of the bright red of a Scarlet Tanager. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
LEFL (1)
The ISO is up to capture this Least Flycatcher in the undergrowth. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
LEFL (5)
How does it turn its head around 360deg? Atterbury FWA 5/7/16

You can tell it’s that time of year as I continue to see 10 or so FOY species each weekend.

A Johnson County Big Day

I left you last time at 4PM Sunday sitting a mile from the Johnson County line with 99 species and not a good alternative for #100. But before I discuss the limited options for #100, let me share a few highlights of the day.

5:30 AM – Owling

First let me say I run a modified Big Day. No use getting up at midnight for a county Big Day when I’m not going to hear rails or bitterns. So I’m out at 5AM. Since you usually find 80% of the birds by 10-11AM I’m up at a “reasonable” hour and home mid-afternoon.

It’s 5:30AM and the Boy Scouts have decided to camp at the EASTERN SCREECH-OWL spot. I’m not going to play a recorder and wake them up to answer lot’s questions. So it’s back to an alternative spot, which I hadn’t planned on.

At spot #2 immediately upon turning on the recorder an owl swoops in over my head. Great! Except it’s too big for a screech-owl. I put the recorder on top of the car and watch with my flashlight as a BARRED OWL tries to pick the recorder off the car! We watch each other for a minute and I decide to move on.

Because in a Big Day there are many rules but here is one of the main ones:

Keep moving if it doesn’t look like the bird will appear.

I had the Barred Owl, two in fact with a distant one calling, and no hope for a screech-owl.

I’m heading back to the AMERICAN WOODCOCK field and thinking, “the field is on the north end of the original screech-owl area. Maybe…”

I get out of the car, hear the woodcock overhead, turn the recorder on, and almost immediately a screech-owl lands in the closet tree. I’m a little ahead on time so I give the little guy a good look. Then on to the Great Horned Owl spot.

Another first. The GREAT HORNED OWL is sitting on a telephone pole as I pull up. He flies away and I hear it and another one calling in the dawn light. A good start to the day.

From that point I start moving, trying to keep to my schedule. I struck out at the bobwhite spot but still see several other species.

COYE
Like a Common Yellowthroat in the dawn light. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
EATO
And an Eastern Towhee. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16

I might have done better but Atterbury FWA is closed for Spring Turkey Season. This is OK since it forces me to follow another rule:

Don’t get far from your car.

Walking for a bird or two can kill a Big Day. Get out of the car. See/hear the bird. Move on.

Get Em Time

As usual from 7 to 11 AM I get the bulk of the day’s total. I start at Laura Hare picking up FOS WORM-EATING WARBLER and OVENBIRD. Back towards Atterbury. No BOBOLINKS at the Bobolink field. But the HENSLOW’S SPARROWS are calling at the usual spot. On to the east side of Atterbury where in short order I pick up several species.

YEWA
Yellow Warbler. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
RCKI
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
YBCU (3)
A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was posing nicely. Check out those tail spots! Atterbury FWA 5/1/16

YBCU (2) YBCU (1)

Next is the Purple Martin Road were I pick up a few warblers. A few miles further north I see shorebirds. To a local park for a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. And to Driftwood for Orioles and the staying cormorant.

PROW
Prothonotary Warbler Irwin park 5/1/16
DCCO
At least the Double-crested Cormorant stayed around. Driftwood 5/1/16
BAOR
As usual Driftwood was thick with Baltimore Orioles. Driftwood 5/1/16

Now it’s One at a Time

It’s 11AM and I’m at 84 species. The plan is to start picking off species one or two at a time at selected locations. I’m thinking if all goes well I can easily get 100 and be home by 3PM.

But it doesn’t go quite that easily.

I miss on BELL’S VIREO (too early?) and Saturday’s BLUE GROSBEAK at Johnson County Park. Back to the bobwhite area but no NORTHERN BOBWHITE. The Centerline wetspot has shorebirds but not PECTORALS SANDPIPERS which have been there all year. But the BLUE-WINGED TEAL remain from Saturday. To Franklin HS where Saturday’s NORTHERN SHOVELER is gone. I flush a WILSON’S SNIPE and cutting across I also unexpectedly flush a SORA which ends up being the surprise of the day. Have you ever seen a Sora fly? Lowe’s Pond doesn’t have the PIED-BILLED GREBE from Saturday and the EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE isn’t at its usual spot. East of Franklin the wetspot have no shorebirds or the usual VESPER SPARROW.

But I have picked up 12 of the expected species including an unexpected Red-headed Woodpecker.

Back at 4PM

So I go from thinking 100 is going to be easy to resigning myself to 98. Then I see the COOPER’S HAWK.

What were my options for #100?

Drive 25 minutes across county to the BALD EAGLE’S nest. I don’t need #100 that bad.

Drive 15 minutes through mall traffic to a local park and hope for warblers I might have missed. Too much work at this point for a “maybe” bird.

I finally decide to check the 3 remaining retention ponds between the county line and myself. Maybe an AMERICAN COOT or some other late waterfowl.

The first pond is empty.

The second pond is empty.

The part of the third pond I can see is empty. I walk around the pond for a better look and lo and behold in a far corner –

PBGR
A PIED-BILLED GREBE!

So 100 species and 28 stops later I’m finished. That means home by 5PM. Still not my highest count in Johnson County. I had 101 on the IAS Big May Day a couple of years ago. It has been a fun day of birding even if it went a little longer than planned.

Prelude to a County Big Day

It’s 4PM on a beautiful April Sunday afternoon. What am I doing? Cussing a poor, innocent COOPER’S HAWK flying by. And what has it done to receive my wrath? It’s because I’m a mile from the Marion County Line, I’ve been birding since 5:15AM, and I want to go home. But the Cooper’s Hawk is #98 and as soon as I lift my binoculars I will see the ROCK PIGEONS that live at the intersection of I65 and Main in Greenwood. One of those unlucky souls is #99 and I can’t quit on #99. Only a mile from the county line means I really don’t have much of an option for #100 except for a long drive across teh county to an eagle’s nest. I’d rather quit at #99 than drive. So what to do?

Prelude – 10 Days Ago

About 10 days ago I started thinking about a Big Day for Johnson County. Living here for 3+ years I pretty well know the bird’s locations. I used to run Big Days periodically when I lived in Illinois. I thought then and I still do that planning for Big Days make one a better birder.

Having to plan for a Big Day makes you:

  1. On a regular basis bird different spots to know exactly where the birds are located, which is good for long-term trend analysis. If you eBird.
  2. Get out of a rut by birding those areas instead of visiting the same old “productive” spots.
  3. Search for new areas. I’m still looking for a marsh in Johnson County with rails. Or an owl/hawk nest to cut down on the chance of missing them on a Big Day. Also for more shorebirds sites in this rural agriculture county.

With the IAS Big May Day on May 14 that left the weekend of May 7-8 or later. When I lived in Illinois I used to go to Southern Illinois and participate in a fund-raising Big Day the last weekend of April. So I decided I’d run a Big Day the last weekend in April to compare the totals.

Prelude – 29 Hours Previous

Having decided to run a Big Day on May 1 I headed out at 7AM on Saturday, April 30, to do some scouting with Mike. The weather was not very cooperative but we had a good morning with several species seen for the first time this year. Right off the bat we had a late staying NORTHERN SHOVELER at Franklin HS pond where we also flushed a WILSON’S SNIPE. Then a PIED-BILLED GREBE at the Walmart/Lowes Pond which isn’t easy to find this time of year. Later we saw a DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT at Driftwood, which is a tough county bird.

We located areas that if the birds continued overnight would be good spots on Sunday.

Like the regular flooded area which held BLUE-WINGED TEAL along with GREATER YELLOWLEGS.

BWTE

The “Purple Martin” road had numerous warblers plus this ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK.

RBGR (2)

The “River Road” in Atterbury had one spot with a calling SCARLET TANAGER and YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO.

SCTA

YBCU (2)
I’m showing the back-end of the cuckoo to show how much water the feathers repel.

Mike heard a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER calling as we drove through Atterbury. It posed for photos in the rain.

108

BWWA (1)

Not an uncommon bird but a photo of a singing EASTERN MEADOWLARK during a break in the rain.

115

Would these birds be there the next day? Would I find #100.

I’ll finish the story soon.