The Paradox of Hot Spot

In the past few weeks I have seen more birders than any time since we moved to Indiana. And this includes Big May Days and Christmas Bird Counts. The reason is I encountered the Eagle Creek Sunday Group one weekend and went on Don Gorney’s Fort Harrison State Park Sunday morning walk the next weekend. And it was fun to be among all the birders. So much so I’ll continue to go occasionally. But seeing the birders at those locations once again brings up The Paradox of Hot Spot.

Does a “Hot Spot” that theoretically increases ones odds of seeing more species outweigh birding lesser birded areas to increase bird data? Because the way we are headed is getting repeated data from certain “Hot Spots” like Eagle Creek.

But as most things the truth probably is in the middle.

Mike and I visited Eagle Creek’s Marina for the second time this month in hopes of seeing warblers. And we did along, with several other birders. This is still strange since I rarely encounter birders at my usual spots.

A Blackpoll Warbler sitting up nicely enjoying the view.
If not for the twig this would have been a good photo of a Cape May Warbler.

And later in the morning we birded the north end and saw a nice variety of shorebirds. Plus encountered several other birders.

This is an ID photo of a Baird’s Sandpiper.
And one of two Stilt Sandpipers working the mud flat.
Paradox of Hot Spot
Would this be the same young Laughing Gull I found a few weeks ago?

In the past I have birded areas where I go the entire day and not encountered birders. (Bushwhacking) And probably not as many species. But I always feel good at the end of the day finding my own birds and adding to the overall data.

But not many people do this type of birding. Most are lured by The Pull to a “Hot Spot” to see birds. So as much as eBird is expanding citizen science data, in my opinion it also promotes birding at certain “Hot Spots” only. Which to me is a paradox.

So how to overcome this? Not sure since it’s probably been happening since birding started. Data from repeatable surveys like the Breeding Bird Survey will still be used for future conservation efforts. Maybe eBird could include something like a repeatable, timed route. But like I have posted before people won’t do those since they are lured by The Pull to a Hot Spot.

Going forward I’ll hopefully be able to split my time between “Hot Spots”, since I need to do more Social Birding, and my less birded areas. We’ll see.

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



London’s Bar Chart comes up.


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.


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


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.

Download Your eBird Data

This first blog is going to be about something I haven’t seen posted.  Quite simply, download your eBird data.

Here’s why.  Back in my running days (mid-2000’s) I kept track of my miles in a notebook and then on a spreadsheet which I backed up weekly.  One of my running buddies kept track of his mileage on a running website similar to eBird.   And I know of several other runners that did also.  One day the website closed without warning and no one could get their data off the site.  My friend lost over two years of data.

I know things have changed drastically in the computer world in the last 8-10 years, and eBird’s data is secure, but it would probably be a good idea to backup your eBird data and your computer every couple of weeks.  I saw that eBird’s main page was hacked on July 4, 2013.  The data servers weren’t hacked but you never know.  It could happen.

I have been backing up my eBird data every couple of weeks for the last 4-1/2 years.  And it doesn’t take long. Simply go to the  “My eBird” tab and click on “Download My Data”.  From there click the submit button and your data will be emailed to you.  What to do with that data is another topic.