Monday, March 25, 2013

Dundas Valley needs better eBird zones

Over the past few months I have been collecting a lot of data while out hiking. For instance, I am nearly done the mapping of Dundas Valley Conservation Area trails on Google Maps (a subject for a future, much longer blog post) and will shortly after begin adding the same data to Open Street Maps if possible.

The other data collection I have been doing has been the logging of bird sightings on each trail. (Okay, and at home... and birds seen while in the car or on the bus, pretty much anywhere I can remember at the end of the day.)

eBird is a nifty online tool developed by Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology. It's been around for the last ten years or so, but in the last five it has been especially useful as they've added public-facing data streams, and a means to store your own personal history of bird observations.

It's most exciting feature, in my opinion, is the ability to create reports of bird sightings over a whole year utilizing every user's reports, plus historical data. Getting a basic snapshot of Cootes Paradise, for example, is as easy as following this custom report (link) I've created that combines all the different public birding "hotspots" related to parts (or the whole) of Cootes.

If you look at the link though, you'll see a few holes though: early June is lacking any data, and July and August have monthly quarters with no data. This doesn't mean no one has reported birds in those areas ever, just that when they reported, the may not have used the public "hotspots", and the data is stuck in personal location lists.

Dundas Valley, on the other hand, is much, much worse on eBird. When I started becoming more active this year I noticed there was but one "hotspot", which was the whole of Dundas Valley. I've since started suggesting new sub-hotspots that eBird could add so users don't feel the need to create more personal spots, and that is likely going to help in the long run. But for now, the data is rather dismal -- except for the past few months -- have a look here at a report (link) that contains all the approved hotspots (I have two more in the queue for approval).

Ultimately, it'd be great to see these reports improved to the level that the general Hamilton region report (link) enjoys -- a clear snapshot of historical reports of 346 different bird species in the area, going back to 1900.

One of my goals this year will be to help eliminate these data holes for Dundas Valley (and Cootes), but one person's effort alone won't give as clear of a snapshot of species populations and presence as much as the effort of many might. Perhaps though, with the recent explosion of eBird users in the region, this problem might take care of itself this year.

The most amazing thing this last few months is what little work it takes to build up a dataset. Just a few minutes here and there, and over a few months you can build a pretty hefty pile of data. And in a lot of cases you don't need to learn very many bird species to do so.

Looking forward to some spring hikes, and the emergence of flora.. if only there was an eBird-like system for wildflowers...

EDIT: Since this posting I've discovered a method of combining "hotspot" reports with "personal" reports in Dundas Valley -- specifically, this is possible because Dundas Valley is considered an Important Bird Area (IBA). Here's a link to the report. I still hope the Dundas Valley "hotspots" get the data holes filled this year.

And now, some birds found in the last week in Dundas Valley:

(above) Pink Siskin singing - loud but hard to find him in the spruce trees! Found just off the John White Trail.

Carolina Wren, posing after just giving me an earful about hiking near its nest...

First Killdeer photo of the season in Dundas Valley

1 comment:

  1. Hi Robert,

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