Why my eBird Profile made me want to go birding
The front page and most zoomed in level of my eBird page. It is easy to see from the concentration of red shading that I do most of my state birding in East Alabama and the Gulf Coast. The gray counties are lacking any lists by me, so that is where I can focus my future birding trips.
A short time ago, eBird came out with a new “Profile” feature, which any eBird member can create and use at no cost. This option summarizes a birder’s regional to global birding activities by showing species totals on map layers (see the screen captures below). The most zoomed-in, regional map scale is “state” with all counties indicated. The intermediate map layer, with all states indicated, is “country”. The universal map layer is the entire surface of the Earth with countries shown. It is easy to zoom in an out on maps with a click of the mouse. The profiled birder’s species list in each political region is indicated by heat-map colors with pale yellow indicating only a few species listed and red indicating a substantial portion of the entire area’s list recorded. The exact total for the profiled birder is revealed when the mouse pointer is moved over the region. It is a fantastic web tool that has worked flawlessly for me. And it is a tool that has increased my desire to go birding.
The middle layer of my eBird pages. I've been birding around the U.S. since I was a teenager in the 1970, so I have at least one list for most states. The gray states are mostly the states that I never visited. Two exceptions are Montana and West Virginia. I'm scouring my old notebooks for old lists from those states.
I have to admit that I sometimes struggle my birding enthusiasm. I tend to go to the same favored birding places, where 99% of the birds are predictable. I wrote an essay for birder’s world in 2006 in which I told about a year of big days that I did to keep local birding interesting (I’lll try to post a PDF of my 2007 Birder’s World article). For a while, I was chasing birds primarily with my camera, trying to image every North American bird. I’m still hooked on bird photography, but now there are few new images to chase around Auburn Alabama. One look at my eBird profile and I once again knew how to keep local birding interesting—County Listing.
The most zoomed-out layer in eBird Profile is the world divided into countries. I still have a lot of old international lists to enter.
Seeing my activity across Alabama counties mapped in colored detail was somewhat of a revelation to me. First it got me digging for every archived list I had in any file so I could fill in birding activity from years gone by. I had become a poor record keeper, but I found the data for four days in which I was paid to sit next to a landfill in an out-of-the-way county in central Alabama. Now that checklist allowed me to fill in some data for an otherwise unvisited county. I had done bird counts in national forests as part of various research projects, chased rarities at out of the way places, and generally driven around most of the state for 20 years. And yet, there were a dozen counties for which I had zero lists and many counties for which I had a dozen or fewer birds listed. Why not go and run up a reasonable list in each of those counties?
I was immediately excited about county listing because it brought back what I was missing with weekend visits to the same refuge. First, I got to explore totally new areas. Alabama is a really great state for birding exploration. Every county offers diverse habitats with many first class birding spots yet to be discovered. Second, just like on Christmas Bird Counts and Summer Breeding Surveys, my county listing suddenly made every bird count. There is something about tallying birds for a specific project that makes that activity more enjoyable for me. I’ve now got a series of quests that I am looking forward to: First a list for every county in the state. I can visit all of my uncounted counties this winter and spring and have a great time doing it. Then, my next goal will be 50 birds minimum in every county. That is a pretty low bar, but it requires pretty much a morning of birding in every county in the state. Then 100 species in every county. Then, I might start working on western Georgia counties. eBird profile has definitely made me want to go birding.