Wednesday, September 7, 2011

One Year of eBird

About a year ago, two things happened that got me interested in watching birds. First, we moved to a new apartment, one that's surrounded by more trees than houses, is in a safe neighborhood where we can keep windows and blinds open, and is on the second floor above a steeply sloping yard, making for some fantastic views of tree tops, open sky, etc. It's a little like living in a tree house, and it became hard not to notice the great variety of cool and interesting birds hanging around outside our windows.

Second, I discovered eBird. I don't remember exactly how I stumbled across this amazing website -- it was probably during my search for a reliable online resource for identifying birds, the answer to which, of course, is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds -- but eBird latched onto the data-collecting/science-y side of my personality and quickly drew me in.

For those who don't already know, eBird is a website co-run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, where ordinary people around the country/world report the birds they see, and then researchers use that data to learn more about bird behavior, migration patterns, species ranges, and all sorts of other cool things. So eBird is useful both as a place for a single person to keep organized records of what/how many birds they've seen and where (the sort of thing birders do anyway, I'm told), and for scientists to gather tons of data that they otherwise wouldn't be able to get. Basically, eBird is good for me and it's good for science, and that makes it awesome.

I started recording my bird sightings in eBird (the first time I'd recorded any bird sightings at all, ever) on September 10, 2010, almost exactly a year ago. I started with short checklists of birds seen from my apartment windows, looking outside and counting birds for 15-30 minutes at a time, but eventually I recorded checklists for my longer walks in the woods as well. Keeping track of the birds I see on eBird has motivated me to learn more birds, and to get better at identifying them. And it's just satisfying somehow (to me, anyway) to have this magically consolidated and coordinated record of the birds I've encountered. In short, it's taken something that was already fun for me (looking at cool animals) and made it funner!

Anyway, I thought it'd be interesting to celebrate my one-year anniversary of eBird by sharing some of my results-so-far. One of the coolest things about eBird is that it can show you graphical charts of bird sightings organized by week for any given spot/area/region/etc. -- and this can be a chart of your own personal sightings, or the consolidated sightings from everyone in the area. Basically, the bigger the bar in a given week, the more frequently I saw (and reported) that bird in that week.

So without further ado, here's my chart for a year of bird-watching from my apartment windows:

There are so many interesting things to see in this data, and also a lot of artifacts from my own personal life. There are no reports for the third week of May because I was out of town (wedding week). The bars during the summer months are all really big because I only reported 2 or 3 checklists per week during that time -- I was getting distracted with other things... gardening, walking in the woods, visiting family -- whereas the the bars have a much wider range in the winter months because I was mainly cooped up in my apartment and looking out of my windows a lot. I reported fewer birds overall in October and November because I was still learning how to identify birds and I simply wasn't confident enough in my identification skills. (I'm still not an expert, but I definitely know more now.) The ducks show up only in the winter months and early spring because that's when the bare trees didn't block my view of the stream across the street. There could be birds down there right now and I wouldn't know it because I can't see them.

So the chart is a mixture of all sorts of restrictions and coincidences, but looking past the holes you can definitely see trends. We get Chimney Swifts in the summer and White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos in the winter. We have warblers that pop in for a visit in the spring and fall, and Chickadees, Titmice, and Blue Jays that stay all year round (maybe not the same individuals, but the same species at least). And 48 different species overall sounds like a pretty big number to me, considering I probably couldn't have even named that many species this time last year. (OK, maybe I could've, but still.) It'll be really interesting to see how this chart evolves as I keep recording birds through another year!

For comparison -- although it's far from complete -- I'll close with a similar chart of my sightings at Naugatuck State Forest for the year. The great majority of these reports come from the reservoir area, which is where I most frequently visit, although a few are from the meadows to the north; different habitats, but a single forest, so I feel OK lumping all the data together.

OK, now I can go back to posting pictures of animals rather than pictures of data, although I think both are cool. :)

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Very interesting - now if only I could see the birds to identify them! ;-) I *is* fun to keep track! Happy birding! and other natural delights! :-)