With eBird, Every Day Can Be a Bird Count Day

Year round residents  - Brown pelican and brown booby in Leinster Bay
Photo Gail Karlsson 
It sounds pretty geeky to post your bird sightings on the internet, but I recently decided to give it a try. It turns out to be a pretty special and relatively easy way for ordinary nature lovers to make a contribution as citizen scientists.   

One reason I decided to try eBird was because I was disappointed to be missing the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird count. It’s always fun to spend a morning roaming around the neighborhood marking down the birds you can identify on the VI checklist.

All the Christmas bird count reports collected from St. John, and everywhere around the US, are sent to the National Audubon Society and used to help scientists track long-term population numbers and migration trends. This information is important for conservation efforts as well as scientific research.  

I often go on the Friday morning bird walks around Francis Bay led by National Park Service ranger Laurel Brannick to see what types of birds come to St. John at different times of the year. When I told her I would be away on the official Christmas bird count day this year, she suggested that I do my counting early, before I left town, and post the results on eBird.

I usually find the idea of ‘e’ or ‘i’ anything pretty daunting, but I was also interested in trying out eBird because I recently saw a presentation by a representative of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology who was involved in developing it. He is currently working on tracking annual migrations using millions of bird sighting reports posted by volunteers across the country. He cross-references their data about where specific birds are being seen with radar images that indicate mass movements of birds, and sound recordings of the nighttime flight calls of migratory birds. This sophisticated merging of different information sources means it’s becoming a lot easier to find out about the seasonal movements and ranges of different birds.  

My interest in bird migration has so far been pretty much focused on identifying local versus transitory herons and egrets in the Virgin Islands. I have wondered if any of the birds I see in the northeast over the summer wind up in the Caribbean, and got excited about using eBird to explore the Virgin Islands database of sightings.  

But when I looked on eBird, I found that there wasn’t actually all that much data specifically about St. John.  

Now I’m thinking it would be great if more bird watchers in different areas of St. John could take the time and make the effort to figure out how to use eBird too, so we (and people who are visiting ) can have a better idea about which birds are coming and going, or staying put.
Here’s how to get started:
Go to eBird.org
Click on Submit Observations
Create an account – name and password
Identify a location for your observations. Enter VI in the box and a map will come up. Use the map to choose an existing site on St John. Or you can create a new one by clicking on the magnifying glass icon, moving it to your spot and clicking, and then naming the spot.
Check off 'how' you went birding - walking a trail, sitting in one place, etc – and the time and duration.
Use the checklist page provided to report the types and numbers of birds you are confident you saw or heard. If you can't find the species you're looking for on the checklist, use the 'Add a species' box.
Add a photo or confirming info if asked to. The checklist is monitored by regional experts, and if a sighting seems unusual they may request additional info
Check off whether or not it is a complete list of all the birds you observed. It is much more useful if you put in all the birds you could identify rather than just the unusual ones. 
Fall migrants in Fish Bay - short-billed dowitcher and lesser yellowlegs
Photo Gail Karlsson