Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Jersey GBBC Observations

The Great Backyard Bird Count has come and gone. Weather-wise, we had a pretty great weekend with some rain but generally temperatures above freezing throughout most of NJ. This meant that there was more open water for waterbirds and easier viewing conditions for observers. On the other hand, a little snow never hurts for attracting birds to the feeders which helped my personal count last year. Here are the highlights:

  • As of today, New Jersey has submitted 2516 checklists with potentially more to come as the March 1 deadline approaches. This puts us 10th overall. Being the most densely populated state in the US, I think we can do better with more promotion. Then again, we didn't even crack the top 10 last year.
  • We reported 162 species so far, more than any of the last 10 years.
  • Looking at the distribution map for the state, it's clear that the # of checklists submitted is proportional to the # of people in that area of the state. The densely populated areas like the northeast, central NJ, and northern shore contributed many checklists while the pine barrens area and the coast of Delaware Bay contributed very little. While these areas are obviously less populated, they also include much more birding habitat and offer an opportunity for some promotion next year.
  • Like many states, the most numerous birds reported were Snow and Canada Goose. In fact, we reported over 300,000 Snow Geese helping us be #1 in the total individual birds reported. The species reported most often were common yard birds like Mourning Dove and Northern Cardinal.
  • Interestingly, out of 2500 checklists, only 966 reported House Sparrow and 766 reported European Starling. Does that mean that people are ignoring them? not able to identify them? just not seeing them?
  • Once again we had tons of Red-headed Woodpeckers reported which mostly turned out to be Red-bellied Woodpeckers. We also had tons of Purple Finches reported. In this invasion year, it's been tough to filter through those records.
  • We had some nice rarities and semi-hardy birds including 2 Baltimore Orioles, Barnacle Goose, Townsend's Solitaire, both Crossbills, Evening Grosbeak, 2 Osprey, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shrike, Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Nice!
  • I've looked at many of the checklists that are submitted and I was disappointed to not see the names of many of the birders I know in NJ. We had tons of reports over the weekend on our listserv, but few of those people reported birds for the GBBC. Does the term "backyard" make them think it's only for yard birds? Do they just not want to participate in another count?
  • My town, Piscataway, submitted 20 checklists vs. 13 last year. But my original hometown submitted 0 this year and 7 last year! I really want to do more promotion next year. I think the GBBC is such an awesome way to get people looking at birds.

Did you participate? What observations do you have?


Susan T. said...

This was my first GBBC - I had previously thought it was more involved than it was. It was unexpectedly rewarding - I decided to throw in a nearby millpond, happily ice-free, and had canvasbacks, a species I had not previously observed nearby.

I had been neglecting this location due to my getting depressed about some ATV activity and deer damage, but I was heartened by the lack of these this go-around. I decided I would begin visiting the pond weekly again.

But, I saw the benefits of daily visits to such an area. Wish I had the time for that!

In terms of promotion: these activities are heavily skewed towards those who have done them before. Stress: you don't need to "register," don't need to "log in," don't need to be a member of the Cornell Institute, don't need to report at the same time each day, don't need to follow any complicated protocol.

You simply type in your zip and an email address, then the website moves you automatically to the next screen.

And, I wish, wish, wish the results map was clickable so that I could click on an interesting area of the US and come up with a list of towns and their results. I don't really know the names of locations inside the states, but I'm interested in certain areas.

Nuthatch said...

House Sparrows: I found when I was a reviewer that beginning birders identified males, but the females puzzled them. They would be ignored, or misidentified, especially as (oddly enough) Chipping Sparrows, brown-morph White-throated Sparrows, Field Sparrows...

These types of errors are extremely difficult for reviewers to catch. There needs to be some way to more thoroughly prepare or provide reference on common birds, or really customize and strengthen filters, IMHO.

N8 said...

I submitted the results of my pelagic trip on the 16th in the hopes it might add some species to the NC list. I did get flagged on a couple birds that aren't seen often from shore and the compiler questioned me, but when she found out I was on a boat it was ok.

So Red Phalarope, Dovekie, and Great Skua are on the NC list because of me. That's kind of neat.

Patrick Belardo said...

I'm going to recruit you to help me promote next year! You bring up some great points. It's great that they make it so easy.

Those mis-IDs make it very difficult like you said. Now that I think about it, we did have an exceptional number of Chipping Sparrows.

That's awesome! We had someone report a Fulmar from inland but it was a mistake.

Owlman said...

"My town, Piscataway, submitted 20 checklists vs. 13 last year. But my original hometown submitted 0 this year and 7 last year!" Let's assume that you were one of the 7 in your old home town and you then moved to your new town (Piscataway) giving the new guys a single vote. Based on my math and logic it seems like you may have 6 stalkers on your hands that followed you to all the way to Piscataway. I guess the good thing is that they are birders and most of them/us are not too weird. Seen any suspicious activity? People asking for autographs? Taking pictures of ya?

Seriously I had a good local trip over the GBBC weekend and besides the LEOs I saw Norther Harrier, Flicker, Pileated woodpecker (and all the rest of the common woodpeckers), lotsa sparrows (field, white browed, song…) , red winged blackbird and all the rest of the common stuff (cardinals, blue jays etc). In reality the GBBC was a great excuse to go owl prowling and I wasn’t actively recording species. I did however submit my count to the GBBC site – I think I had a tally of 30 something.

John said...

It's interesting that relatively few house sparrows are being reported. I wonder if some of that could reflect local distribution changes. Most of the house sparrows in my neighborhood disappeared around the middle of November and only recently started to show up again in any numbers. So my checklists might show 5 house sparrows (if any) as opposed to the 20-30 that would if appeared if the count were last summer. I don't know enough about house sparrow behavior to be sure.

And of course, many are probably getting misidentified or ignored. The mistakes that are not caught by the filters are very hard to catch.

Owlman said...

I wish the GBBC was today. I had a bunch of birds at the feeders today including a nice flock of red winged black birds....

Will said...

I had 1500 American Crows and some wildlife officers trying to drive them off.

In case you are wondering, the Crows are back.

Robert said...

It will be interesting to look at the GBBC species numbers this year. Normally we have house finches occasionally, purple finches commonly and gold finches in abundance. Neither of the first two and only 7 of the latter showed this year in Trois Rivières,Quebec. The waxwings also seemed to have gone south since Christmas. Pine Grosbeaks and redpolls are here though along with the northern gulls. Great blog!