On a beautiful Sunday in January, twenty-two bird nerds from all over Vermont and New Hampshire forwent the sunshine to learn the ins and outs of eBird, a web and phone-based app that allows birders to contribute their observations to science. In a world where we can use an app to make a hotel reservation, track our fitness regimes, and even find a date, tech has addressed the needs of even the most intentionally unplugged, birders who would rather look at feathered friends than screens. Yet eBird workshop participants arrived with field guides and phones in hand, ready and willing to merge the old with the new.
Hosted by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, a Norwich-based non-profit, the eBird workshop was run by VCE scientists (and birdwatchers) Kent McFarland, John Lloyd, and Jason Hill. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is now the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with 100 million bird sightings contributed annually. Soon after its launch, eBird created regional web portals that allowed users to interface with regional data and to feel more ownership over the project.
Vermont eBird, launched in 2003, was the guinea pig for the state portals and VCE scientists, then a part of Vermont Institute of Natural Science, were in on the ground floor. VCE continues to manage the portal in collaboration with Vermont Audubon and various local Audubon chapters, Vermont Fish and Wildlife, the North Branch Nature Center, and of course, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Within the state, Vermont eBird has become a useful platform for multiple citizen science projects, including Putney Mountain Hawkwatch and VCE’s Phoenix Project. Putney Mountain Hawkwatch, which began sporadically in the early 70s and more consistently in the 90s, began using eBird to enter their data in 2015. Putney Mountain is entirely run by volunteers and is one of 300 Hawkwatch sites across North America, of which many use eBird.
For the more retrophilic citizen scientists interested in engaging with eBird, VCE has launched a new initiative, the Phoenix Project, to digitize historical bird data. Using DigiVol, a online crowdsourcing platform developed by the Atlas of Living Australia and the Australian Museum, the Phoenix Project will allow volunteers to help digitize scans of 30 years worth of historical Vermont bird records onto the eBird database. This project, along with the Putney Mountain Hawkwatch, are just two examples of the many ways Vermont eBird is being used to facilitate citizen science and document bird species in Vermont.
Further evidence of Vermont eBird’s success is in the numbers. Now in its 15th year, Vermont eBird participants, numbering 6,502, have cumulatively submitted 266,821 complete checklists, documenting all 384 bird species ever reported in Vermont. Even the accuracy of Vermont eBird data is assured by Vermont volunteer experts — Zac Cota, Sue Elliott, Spencer Hardy, Kyle Jones, Kent McFarland, Craig Provost, Ron Payne, and Ian Worley — who take personal time to review unusual or potentially incorrect observations. The efforts of all of these volunteers make Vermont eBird the largest community-driven biodiversity dataset ever compiled in the Green Mountain State.
Following VCE’s workshop, Vermont eBird can now count twenty-two more tech-savvy birders among their ranks. In particular, workshop participants learned how to navigate the eBird website, submit their data so that it is most useful to scientists like those at VCE, and contribute their written records and field journal entries from previous years to the database.
Participant Emilie Daniel of Orange County said, “I enjoyed the presentation about eBird–your enthusiasm makes one want to get out there and report! . . .when I decided I would be a casual birder (when I was living in Panama), I could see into the future that keeping a life list wasn’t practical for me. I am not that organized. However, I did write my bird sightings in my bird guide (of Panama), and am happy that I will be able to add as ‘Historical’ to my eBird. And maybe I’ll start keeping track of birds I see in Orange County, VT. “
Attendees also had the opportunity to interface with the new Vermont eBird homepage and the new aspects recently added to the site, like the compiled news feed of photos and sounds uploaded along with submitted checklists.
Following the workshop, participant Alice Grau from Addison County said, “I loved the workshop, really enjoyed getting a glimpse of what eBird can do. I have a way to get serious about birding this year, one of my goals.”
Given the interest in the workshop and the positive feedback of participants, VCE plans on holding similar workshops in the future. Any VCE workshops or video tutorials will be posted on the Vermont eBird website.
To find out more about eBird, see the following links: