Birder's Guide

MAY 2014

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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47 May 2014 | Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community Reading Chambers's Q & A about his mapping project would have headed off the assumption that its reports aren't vetted. Dots don't appear automatically on the map as they're submitted. Each one represents a sighting that Chambers has received, evalu- ated, accepted, and placed by hand using a graphics program. Reports of arriving Ruby-throateds that seem more likely to be Rufous or other overwintering humming- birds, other birds, moths, fgments, or fab- rications never show up on the map at all. Chambers may hurt a few feelings by reject- ing sightings that don't pass muster, but the ergy source for hummingbirds that arrive in northern latitudes before hummingbird- pollinated fowers have begun to bloom. As odd as the hummingbirds.net migra- tion map looked in the spring of 2012, the reactions of some people outside the hummingbird community were even more unexpected. Because eBird and local and regional birding listservs didn't refect as many early Ruby-throated sightings as Chambers's map, some members of the birding community, including eBird and Avian Knowledge Network Project Leader, Marshall Iliff, voiced skepticism. eBird reports are trustworthy, they argued, be- cause they come from mainstream birders and are vetted by knowledgeable regional volunteers. Both the creator of the hum- mingbirds.net map and its contributors were unknown quantities to most of the mainstream birding community, and the skeptics assumed that reports were added to the map automatically and uncritically. The rash of early sightings on Chambers's map must be moths, other small birds, or something less tangible. Unfortunately, these assumptions were completely unfounded. Chambers created his frst hummingbird migration maps six years before the launch of eBird. Over the years, the proj- ect has gained a large follow- ing, including a small army of backyard watchers who eager- ly await and faithfully report their frst Ruby-throateds each spring. While it's likely that many of these dedicated hum- mingbirders couldn't tell you the difference between a Dove- kie and a dowitcher, they do know a hummingbird when they see one. These long-term relationships plus years of study and experience make Chambers uniquely qualifed to judge the reliability of any Ruby-throated migration re- ports that are out of the norm. quality of the data is his overriding priority. So what accounts for the vast differences between the eBird and hummingbirds.net maps in 2012? Much can be attributed to birding styles and the birds themselves. The active feld birders who make up the major- ity of eBird and listserv participants aren't as inclined as hummingbirds.net correspon- dents to stare for hours at feeders in hopes of spotting the frst spring hummingbird. Hummingbirds are also devilishly hard to spot away from feeders and easily missed when tramping woodland trails, much less when scanning marshes and mudfats. Much of the controversy over the 2012 Ruby-throated migration could have been avoided by a more open-minded approach to information coming from outside the mainstream birding community, recogniz- ing that the contributions of specialists deserve consideration. There are almost as many ways to watch and enjoy birds as there are watchers. Some people travel the world in search of unfamiliar species; others are content to stay close to home, enjoying and learning about the birds that visit their own yards or neighborhoods. The birds we love will beneft most if the birding com- munity is a big tent in which everyone who watches birds feels welcome to contribute. If you're curious about spring arrival dates of Purple Martins in your area, ask the neighbors who have martin houses in their yard. If you need data about the status of bluebirds in your county, ask the gentleman cleaning out roadside nest boxes. If you want to know when the hum- mingbirds normally arrive in spring, ask the gardener who puts out a hummingbird feeder two weeks before the frst eBird report for your area. Their knowledge of birds may not be broad, but you may fnd it surprisingly deep. Sheri L. Williamson Bisbee, AZ sheri@feldguidetohummingbirds.com All accepted reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds submitted to eBird, February–March 2012. Selected reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds submitted to hummingbirds.net, February–March 2012. Map © Lanny Chambers 9-Parallel Universes.indd 47 5/22/14 8:02 PM

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