Sunday, August 12, 2007

Better Birding Through Technology

It's never too late to fulfill your New Year's resolutions. Mine was inspired by Kimball Garrett's presentation at the Sea and Sage Audubon pancake breakfast last fall: he encouraged birders to log in their sightings on eBird, a great site hosted by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The awesomeness of eBird comes in two flavors. First, it gives individual users an electronic record of all their sightings (which can be sorted and analyzed in a number of ways). Second, and more importantly, the collective input from users forms a huge database on bird distribution and population patterns. For obvious reasons, this information is of great interest to ornithologists.

I won't go into why it's taken me 10 months to get around to setting up an eBird account (it's free), but I finally did. The site is easy and fun to use; you just indicate where and when you birded, check off what you saw, and the program adds up the numbers for you. Very cool.

I faithfully submitted lists for all four of my weekend forays (to the Least Tern Reserve at Huntington State Beach, Bolsa Chica, Talbert Nature Reserve, and San Joaquin) and came up with a total of 59 birds. Not a Big Weekend by any stretch of the imagination, but respectable for a couple of lazy summer days out. Four outings sounds like a lot, but it really wasn't very intense—we still managed to fit in a showing of the latest Harry Potter movie followed by dinner and microbrews at a nearby brewpub. Yum.

And over dinner, we realized that we hadn't done the dinner-and-a-movie thing in a couple of years, since our weekend afternoons and evenings as of late had been dedicated to (1) birding, (2) recovering from birding and/or downloading Glenn's new bird photos, or (3) going to bed early in preparation for the next day's birding excursion.

But while wandering the wilds of South Coast Plaza before the film, we noticed some fledgling House Sparrrows being fed muffin crumbs by their parents outside Starbucks. No, I didn't log this sighting on eBird.

My favorite sightings of the weekend:

—Black-bellied Plovers in full breeding plumage at Huntington and Bolsa Chica,

— A banded juvenile Peregrine Falcon at Bolsa Chica,

There's no such thing as too many Peregrine Falcon shots

—Blue-gray and California Gnatcatchers only a few steps away from each other at Talbert. Both were pretty bold, and let me get close enough to see the white undersides of their tails: black for the California, and white for the Blue-gray. And the male California Gnatcatchers still had their telltale black caps.

—A Sora and what I'm pretty sure was a Least Bittern at San Joaquin (another birder nearby also thought it was a bittern, which reduces the chance that I was hallucinating).

Oh yeah—the owls in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" looked really fake.

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