I’ve joined her in a Riverdale neighbourhood in search of a rare Mountain chickadee. The first species we see, however, is a noisy woodpecker, a “Hairy.”
Whitehorse resident Tracy Allard brings out her smartphone and taps an app called eBird to start her checklist: the type, number and location of each bird she’ll see on this eBirding adventure.
The list – which after two hours includes seven species – but no mountain chickadee - will be added to an amazing online tool that helps track observations and share knowledge of birds locally, nationally and globally.
Begun in 2002 by two big birding organizations, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird.com has been called the largest citizen science biodiversity project in the world.
More than one-third of a million birders have submitted 370 million bird sightings, representing more than 10,000 species globally.
The data is updated every seven hours, so it’s pretty much real time.
eBird is becoming more commonly used among Yukon birders, with nearly 20,000 checklists representing almost 300 species submitted for the Yukon, says Cameron Eckert.
Eckert is the Yukon’s regional reviewer and checks local observations for accuracy. Reports of rare species are automatically flagged and usually need further documentation to verify.
He notes that as well as helping keep track of “life lists,” eBird is a terrific resource for learning about birds and documenting a region’s bird life. A life list is a list of all the birds that you have seen in your life.
For example, recent Yukon checklists revealed that a great horned owl was heard hooting at 2 a.m. on one occasion and 37 trumpeter swans were seen at Teslin Lake.
eBird search features include interactive maps, graphs and bar charts, birding hotspots, top birders and more. And you can find data in English, Spanish and French.
For Yukoners, one cool feature is to be able to follow the northern migration of birds each spring and keep an eye out for early arrivals, such as golden eagles.
It can help you find birds in your neighbourhood or query holiday spots such as “where can you see an elegant trogon in Arizona?” laughs Eckert.
eBird integrates data by regional portals and sometimes by species to help researchers and land managers study bird movements and numbers.
Observers can upload photos, video or sound recordings with their checklists.
The eBird app is increasingly used by birders to submit their observations on the fly. While not as functional as the browser-based eBird.org, Cameron says the goal is to eventually make the app have all the functionality of the website.
Being able to enter data for specific habitat types will also be helpful.
Eckert adds that eBird is also building a social network by connecting birders in a region and beyond.
While birding at various British Columbia hotspots, Allard was able to meet people whose names she’d seen on checklists. “It was more fun,” she says, with eBird as the calling card. Happy e-birding!