Monday, March 30, 2009

My first regional editor experience

As you may recall, I recently took over as editor of NJ Birds for Region 2 (basically the northeast portion on NJ). I finally wrapped up my first report over the weekend for Fall 2008. (Yes, I'm a wee bit behind!) Here are some observations on being an editor of bird records:

  • It's more work than I originally thought! It took me about 8-10 hours of work over the weekend to compile everything. Granted, I hadn't had the opportunity to log the sightings from the fall as they were reported. Also, using my background as a programmer, I was able to build a small program that takes a spreadsheet of records and formats them to the standard publication format. That accounted for a few hours.
  • I now have an even better appreciation for eBird and REALLY wish every birder used it (I'm guilty as anyone). It would make my life a whole lot easier. Cornell sent a data dump from eBird for the state. I was able to glean tons of sightings that weren't reported to me or to the Jerseybirds mailing list.
  • You obviously can't include every record due to space, but you wish you could. Sorry to all my friends out there whose records may not have made it into the final report.
  • I have a better appreciation and understanding of the bird distribution in my region. For the fall specifically, it was interesting to learn more about typical arrival/departure dates, popular staging areas for waterfowl, high counts of species, and seasonal anomalies. For example, a Bobolink was observed on 10/13 which is pretty late for this species in NJ.
  • The reports give an in-depth seasonal view of bird activity at less well-known birding spots thanks to some dedicated birders. Areas like Baldpate Mountain and Mehrhof Pond may not be on every birder's list of top locations, but the list of sightings would make any birder think twice. Baldpate hosted great warblers and other fall migrants, while Mehrhof held a hefty 1800 Ruddy Ducks at one point among other goodies. Must be a big pond. These sightings help motivate me to step away from my more comfortable birding locales.
  • You never know where you'll find birds. One regular contributor stopped off at a random plowed field in early September and found a host of shorebirds including American Golden-Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and an Upland Sandpiper (rare in migration in NJ).
  • There are rarities such as a November Bewick's Wren that was not reported publicly, but was well-documented and reported only to the editor and records committee.

So, it's on to my winter records now which I hope to finish up this week. I have about a zillion Siskin and WW Crossbill sightings to weed through. Snowy Owls made a nice appearance this winter too. I'll let you know when the Spring 2009 (with Fall records) issue is published online so you can see my report.


John said...

Now that you have developed a program for weeding through the eBird records, maybe editing future editions will be faster.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking on this big task. I'm sure it will become a bit easier, more routine, and even more informative/educational as the seasons go by. Also, you've got a good combination of birding skills, knowledge, and editorial judgement (and diplomacy) for the job. Thanks again!!!

John W. (aka "the Bird Alert genius"; who helped talk you into taking the job)

Patrick Belardo said...

@John W: So you're the one I have to blame for all this work then? :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's correct. But the extra work will be a great way to further hone your multi-tasking skills! :)
John W.

noflickster said...

That brings back (horrible) memories of the season I wrote the Hudson-Delaware region for North American Birds, the time I had everything organized and my hard drive irreparably crashed. Good times.

Glad you're on board with, and will hopefully be promoting, eBird!

Susan said...

I wish you would post your observation to Jerseybirds and then also a note on how to report sightings. I've never done it, which is terrible, but the deadlines are not well published (I'd love it if the four seasonal deadlines were added to the bottom of all JB messages the way the "Report rare bird sightings" message is. An editor may - or may not - send a note to Jerseybirds. I think only 2 do regularly.

Also, I worry that the "proper" reporters are sending them in species-correct order, all divided neatly by date, at one time. I'm too disorganized to achieve that yet. Do you want any records, any time, in whatever disarray they may be? One mailing only?

Also, I'm unclear as to what is wanted - everything, seasonal movements, rarities, big numbers, small numbers? Do you want a single fox sparrow from an expected location? I don't have any feel for what is wanted, and I've talked to others who do not either.

Why isn't such information more easily available? Why doesn't NJ Audubon have a big banner on their homepage listing the seasonal deadlines and email addresses of editors?

Anyway, that's my wish list for regional bird reporting!

I think Ebird will help, BUT is there any way to break down ebird locations to match the 5 regions? I've started prefacing my locations with a (for example) "2 - ....." to indicate the region, but I'm sure that's not uniform, and I'm NOT sure if there isn't a better way.

THANK YOU!! for doing this

Susan Treesh

Patrick Belardo said...

Hi ST,

Your comments touch on areas that I was unclear on up to the point where I became an editor. I'm going to pass your comments to Don F. He's been preparing a plea to Jerseybirds. I'll be sure he addresses all of your questions.

John said...

EBird already breaks down sightings by county. So if NJB regions are drawn primarily by county boundaries, that information is already included in the records, even without users indicating the region in their location names. I suppose an editor could also write a script to pull region records by GIS since coordinates are also included in every record when you plot a location on the eBird map.

Patrick Belardo said...

@John - yep, the records we get include a field for "county" which makes it really easy to sort them.