Heather Wolf. Illustration by João Fazenda
Five years ago David Owen wrote a short article that fit well with the recycling and upcycling themes we frequently cover so we linked to it. Since then his writing caught my eye again on a related theme, and then earlier this year wrote one of my favorite profiles of recent years. This week I am drawn to his work again. Seth first introduced us to Merlin, after his three years working at the Lab of Ornithology. Merlin has been improving, and we have given it a few more looks since then. But today I am happy to learn more about the app’s backstory:
When a respected naturalist mentions eBird, or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, our family’s attention is rapt. I now realize that Scott Weidensaul first appeared in our pages in 2012, and then twice since then before today. This time is different because he is interviewed by Dave Davies, one of the great conversationalists of our time, and they are discussing Mr. Weidensaul’s new book (click the book image above to order it from a non-Amazon source). The discussion does not shy away from the challenges related to bird populations, but has plenty to smile at too:
Scott Weidensaul has spent decades studying bird migration. “There is a tremendous solace in watching these natural rhythms play out again and again,” he says. His new book is A World On the Wing. Continue reading
A snowy owl in Central Park drew flocks of people (and crows) on Wednesday. Maryté Mercado
If you tend bird-nerdy, you will want to read this. To state the obvious (if you visit here regularly), we live for this kind of news:
The hordes came running and the snow-white raptor became the latest celebrity bird of Manhattan.
In the winter of 1890, a snowy owl was spotted in New York City’s Central Park, part of what a contemporary account called an “unusual abundance” along the East Coast of the large, strikingly beautiful predators that make their home in the Arctic tundra. Continue reading
Prothonotary Warbler by Jillian Ditner; Coastal black mangrove photo by Nick Bayly.
Thanks to the Lab of Ornithology for this:
By Gustave Axelson; Illustrations by Jillian Ditner
Part of the magic of migratory birds is their annual disappearing act—one autumn day there might be an oriole in a treetop, and the next day it’s gone, not to be seen again until spring.
Back in the 17th century, scientists had lots of ideas about where birds go during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, including one theory that they migrate to the moon. Today we know Neotropical migratory birds are intercontinental travelers, chasing summer as they leave the North for the warmer weather and longer days of the New World tropics. Continue reading
Bird conservation goals play an important role on this site, and in the lives of many of our contributors, and Birds Caribbean has spearheaded many projects we’ve been actively involved in.
We look forward to hearing more about this initiative and wish all participants happy, healthy, safe birding!
Birders, in general, tend to be an enthusiastic bunch – and the constraints of the current circumstances actually added extra incentive to find creative problem solving solutions, in finding new birding locations or ways to be safely be in familiar ones.
The BirdsCaribbean Global Big Day video compilation provides proof positive. Enjoy!
Marco Umaña, Santiago Adaniz, Hugo Santa Cruz and Beto Guido (from left to right) / Birding Guides in Costa Rica
My name is Hugo Santa Cruz and I’m excited to write about the Macaw Lodge Global Big Day outcomes. As I’m new to the La Paz Group site, let me introduce myself. I’m a birdwatching and neotropical ecology guide in the Central Pacific of Costa Rica and Bolivia. I’m also a nature photographer and consultant for ecotourism projects and management of protected areas.
The Global Big Day is an initiative of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that has been held since 2015, to raise awareness about the conservation of birds and their habitats. Birdwatchers and photographers from around the world contribute to the census of birds through the eBird platform; an increasingly popular citizen science management tool among birders.
Birders across the globe persisted with the Global Big Day despite the crisis caused by COVID-19, surveying birds either in literal “backyard birding“, or carefully enjoying the fresh air of parks and natural areas within access. This year’s event had record-breaking participation with more than 48,500 registrars and more than 15,000 submitted lists.
In this edition of the Global Big Day, Costa Rica registered 676 species, obtaining the seventh place worldwide among 172 participating countries. The Macaw Lodge Private Forest Reserve stood out among the best hotspots in the country, achieving the eighth place with 137 species of birds registered in a single day, inside our Ecological Sanctuary.
Our team of expert guides and birdwatchers began our Big Day census at 00:00 hrs., starting the first records with species of nocturnal birds. We then continued the count at dawn, moving through the different micro-ecosystems of Macaw Lodge. Continue reading
Macaw Lodge dining room observation deck, January 29, 2020
Three years ago today, a few countries north of where I type this, Team Sapsucker had excellent results on Global Big Day 2017. Today I am reporting on the efforts of one part of the Spoonbills Dream Team.
This team’s dream is spread across multiple geographies and results will be shared later. I will share what I know from Costa Rica. A few months ago, in a world that now seems far, far away Amie and I visited the farm where the cacao is grown for the farm-to-bar chocolate we offer in our shops. The farm has a lodge (or vice versa depending on your perspective), and before our visit to the cacao plantation and chocolate-making facilities we started, at dawn, on the deck of the lodge. That is what you see in the photo above. The lodge is closed at present but the deck that you see in that photo normally has birders from all over the world because of the forest conservation surrounding the cacao and the neighboring Carara National Park.
More on the cacao-growing and the chocolate-making later. Plus, this is where I first saw a melipona bee hotel and I have photos and video from the recent harvest, so more on that later also. For now, birds. Seth, in New Haven, CT USA joined this team, then asked Amie to join the team, and she asked some birding guides who work at the lodge in the cacao plantation to join the team. I am the scribe for that Costa Rica part of the team. I do not even know who else is on the team in other countries, so will leave that for Seth or Amie to report later.
For now, some photos from the location where the bird experts have spent much of their time in recent years. Continue reading
Merlin Bird and Audubon Bird Guide are both amazing resources and are well maintained and updated. They are both free and have a lot of the same features. At first, these apps might seem very similar. However, there are some big differences. I’ll start off with Merlin Bird. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s birding app has a couple of standout features. The app has a much cleaner interface with a simpler bird ID feature. You’ll answer five basic questions and it gives you a list of possible birds. It is very easy to use and is perfect for novices that do not have a lot prior knowledge about birds.
Another point for Merlin Bird is the variety of regions covered from all over the globe. They also let you download these regions individually, so you don’t have to fill up your device with information you don’t need. Merlin bird has a unique feature that allows you to take a photo of a bird and it will attempt to identify it. While it isn’t always accurate (or easy to get a good photo of a bird!) I am impressed by how often it gets it right. Even with photos I’ve taken at a distance the app has managed to identity the bird correctly.
Another nice feature is that the app integrates with Cornell’s other app, eBird. If you have a bird in eBird that you’ve identified it will display that in the Merlin app. It also has a nice ability that shows you a list of birds based on how likely it is that you’ll see them in your area.
When we first became aware of Global Big Day it was just a week in advance of the first such event, and we scrambled to have the properties we managed in India do their part. A total of 253 countries participated that first year and at first glance it would seem dispiriting to realize that many fewer countries have participated since then: in 2016 the count dropped to 159; then in 2017 there were 163; last year there were 171; and this year 168 (recorded so far).
However, by other metrics spirits are easily lifted. I have focused only on one such metric, which is how many checklists were completed. This year’s totals are not in yet, but if you tally each prior year, the number of participants in this event has increased dramatically year on year. Last year there were nearly 30,000 more checklists than there were in 2015. Of course having more countries participate would be better. But having more people participating in all those other countries is a very good sign indeed.
Global Big Day artwork by Luke Seitz
The first time we took part in this annual event, we had already had several years of advance prepping. For example, we had this young man as an intern who was something of a birding wunderkind. Ben helped us determine whether our region of the Western Ghats was likely to appeal to birdwatchers. Short answer, yes. That same summer, 2012, Seth was in his second year working for the Lab of Ornithology and we could see that not only our company’s work but our own family was becoming more birdy, if not yet bird-nerdy.
This year will be the best year yet for birding, and to prove it I am starting today to get ready for the next Global Big Day. I do not know where we will be that day, yet, but I am working on plan. May I suggest you do the same?
By Team eBird
Last May, more than 30,000 people took to fields and forests around the world, noting more than 7,000 species in a single day—Global Big Day. In less than 3 months, birding’s biggest day is coming back. Wherever you are in the world, you can be a part of birding’s next world record!
On 4 May, will you join more than 20,000 others and become a part of Global Big Day? You don’t have to commit to birding for 24 hours—an hour or even 10 minutes of watching birds makes you part of the team. Visit your favorite spot or search out someplace new; enjoy a solo walk or get some friends to join in the Global Big Day fun.
How to participate
- Get an eBird account: eBird is a worldwide bird checklist program used by millions of birders. It’s what allows us to compile everyone’s sightings into a single massive Global Big Day list—while at the same time collecting the data for scientists to use to better understand birds. Sign up here. It’s 100% free. Continue reading
It’s been 5 years since we first began highlighting the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. Since then, we’ve participated in 3 countries, on 2 continents, primarily in birding hotspots such as the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, India, a special corridor of avian biodiversity in the foothills of Poas Volcano in Costa Rica, and Baja California Sur, Mexico.
The data that is collected by thousands of individual birders for eBird has long range benefits for monitoring both the health and range of particular species, as well as the state of the planet as species have to adapt to changing climate.
The map above indicates the locations from which checklists have been submitted (each gray dot represents a list, and the larger yellow dots are a moment frozen in time when a list has just been submitted. I highly recommend clicking on the image to view the site and watch the “lists” pop through the map!) Initially the GBBC only took place in North America, and birders worldwide rejoiced when it was expanded into a global event. (We were in India at the time, so I kid you not.) Continue reading
A Canada warbler. Credit Ian Davies
We have wow posts about birds all the time, but this one will have to take the cake, for now:
At an observatory in Quebec, they were hoping for a 50,000-bird day. They saw more than half a million.
By James Gorman
Ian Davies got hooked on birds when he was 12. He went to a site near Plymouth, Mass., where volunteers were putting bands on migrating birds.
“They let me release a Canada warbler,” he said, “and that was just game over.”
On Monday, he saw an estimated 700,000 warblers and set the birding world all atwitter with a posting on the site eBird describing the astonishing event. Continue reading
Last year at this time, I was in Belize hosting a team from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I had known of the Lab starting 30 years ago when we moved to Ithaca for me to start graduate school at Cornell, and had known the Lab’s backyard, Sapsucker Woods, since Seth was born and we walked him through in a stroller from time to time. But I did not really know much about the Lab’s work until Seth started working there in 2011, during his sophomore year of college. And then in 2012 we had another young Lab worker join us in India.
We have been celebrating Global Big Day ever since, in India and Costa Rica, then last year in Belize. This year Seth is in Costa Rica, where he will be in a national park with a very high bird species counts. I hope we will hear from him about that experience. For now, may we recommend you click the button above to learn more?
Me (left, obviously) with my Costa Rican non-birder friends in Río Celeste, Costa Rica
We’ve discussed eBird countless times here in the past, but I don’t think I ever mentioned their monthly challenges, which are designed to encourage eBirders to contribute some extra element of data to their usual checklists in a given month, with the chance of being randomly selected from the pool of people who satisfy the challenge requirements. If you’re chosen, you’ll receive an excellent pair of binoculars from Zeiss Optics!
In the past there have been challenges related to adding breeding codes to checklists (for example, noting if a species was observed carrying nesting material, or displaying, or feeding a juvenile); noting flyover species; going out birding with someone else and sharing the checklist; using the eBird app; and more! I think I remember a challenge from 2015 that involved checklists including raptors and vultures, and I recall being frustrated because it came a month after I’d been in Jamaica reporting Turkey Vultures several times a day. Continue reading
Image © National Geographic
In 2016 I wrote a couple times about eBird’s data––the observations contributed by citizen scientists––being used for migration maps, among other things. Those posts included animated gif images that illustrated the flow of thousands of birds across the Western Hemisphere at different times of year, which could be used in a casual setting to predict when to go out looking for a target species one wants to see in the wild, or in a conservation setting to know what time of the year is best to enforce certain environmental regulations, like open hunting or hiking seasons in sensitive areas. The moving maps also served as a mesmerizing graphic to simply astound us with the magnitude of travel these birds are undertaking.
Image by the author
I recently came across an Oxford professor’s blog that revolves mostly around conservation and birding, and one of his posts was particularly interesting to me. In it, Professor Paul Jepson discusses the increasing presence of photography in the British birding sphere, and what bird photography means for the hobby of birding/birdwatching. I encourage you to read his article (I’ll put a link below), but will first share one idea that Jepson brings up toward the end of the piece, and which was very thought-provoking:
Bird photography is part of the socio-technological assembly that is shaping futures. If birdwatching is to be a cultural force in the twenty-first century, our bird reserves will need to embrace developments and directions in digital technologies. … My thought experiment imagines a system of pay-for nature hides with an observation tower, like the one in Muritz National Park outside Berlin, as its centre piece. Birding has a strong ‘nature as a public good’ mentality. While many bird photographers agree with this principle, they are also willing to pay for entry to the facilities and special places that enable them to get the shot they desire. Nature hides are popping up across Britain and 2017 hide day rates are £75 for the opportunity to photograph Common Kestrels Falco tinnunculus, £99 for Kingfishers and £150 for Black Grouse.
Although I enjoy taking photos of birds and sharing them online, I do not consider myself a bird photographer, partly because I don’t have the specialized gear (my camera is a point-and-shoot model, though its exceptional 65x optical zoom is useful for bird photos). That being said, Continue reading
This animation shows where the 21 species in the study occur during each week of the year. Brighter colors (yellows) indicate more species are present than darker areas (blues and purples); overall, the species spend more time in Central American wintering grounds than on their northern breeding grounds. Map and animation by Frank La Sorte.
Once again eBird data and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology studies highlight the importance of forest conservation for species survival, as seen in Climate Change Or Habitat Loss? Study Weighs Future Priorities For Conserving Forest Migrants:
Birds are among the first to let us know when the environment is out of whack. But predicting what might happen to bird populations is tricky. Studies often focus on a single issue or location: breeding grounds or wintering grounds, changes in climate, loss of habitat. But in the real world, nothing occurs in isolation. A new study just published in the journal Global Change Biology pulls the pieces together. Continue reading
Team Belize finished with 242 species. From left: Roni Martinez, Andrew Farnsworth, Steve Kelling, Brian Sullivan.
Seth, since his time working for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and even after his time in Ithaca, has helped me to see how important the Lab’s work is to what our company has been doing since he was an infant. Citizen science is an essential component, and at Chan Chich Lodge guests have responded to the passion the guides have for eBird, which is why we put so much attention into this year’s Global Big Day. And it is why we are already planning the next collaboration with the Lab, a collaboration Seth will lead on our side. For now, a final roundup of stories from last weekend, starting with our favorite team:
…After pooling their lists, the teams ended the day with a whopping 327 species combined—reflecting not just great birding but the region’s importance to an immense diversity of birds. Team Belize topped the friendly group competition with 242 species (including 40 species the other teams didn’t find); Team Mexico found 224 species (with 43 unique to their list); and Team Guatemala tallied 213 (with 23 unique)…
Also, the final numbers are in and news published late yesterday confirmed what I suspected as day was breaking in Belize, titled Global Big Day 2017: birding’s biggest day ever:
…On 13 May 2017, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries around the world joined together as a global team, contributing more than 50,000 checklists containing 6,564 species—more than 60% of the world’s birds. This is a new record for the number of bird species reported in a single day, Continue reading
We post a few times a day, sharing information about initiatives in our own realm of work and frequently observations on news links that we find interesting. For the record, here is a bit of news worth celebrating. As I type this at 5:30a.m. Belize time, the Global Big Day page on eBird shows the latest tally of the species count as seen above. At the same time, on the eBird Facebook page I am looking now at the last post, dated May 15 midday, that says:
The #GlobalBigDay total is now 6,255, less than 100 away from a new record for a single day of birding!
Looks to me like a new record has been set. Where are all the bells and whistles? They are outside my door right now, where the wildlife is whirring, cling-clanging, whooping and shrieking as the forest lights up…