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eBirding on Guided Tours

Each year thousands of birders join guided tours, including morning bird walks at ecolodges, several days with a private guide, or multi-day adventures with a professional tour company. Intense birding like this always presents data entry challenges in eBird, but guided tours have some added layers of complexity. Below are some tips to submitting your birds from a tour.

Keep notes as you go
eBird obviously needs correct lists of birds from accurate locations. On a busy trip it can be very easy to forget where you had a species or to mark a location incorrectly on the map later.

Use eBird Mobile 
eBird Mobile is obviously the best way to keep your notes as you go. If you use eBird Mobile to tally birds immediately after a given birding event or stop on a tour, then it allows you to use eBird Mobile's GPS to get an accurate location, letting you mark down an accurate list. See our "Preparing for a trip with eBird Mobile" article for tips on using the program where coverage is low. Also, make sure you preserve your battery and have a notebook and pencil as backup in case your phone loses its charge!

Work with your guide and other participants
Ask your guide if he or she uses eBird. Ask other participants as well. If several of you can team up to keep accurate, site-specific eBird lists, then the workload can be shared. Even if your guide does not use eBird, he or she can be very helpful if you have specific questions about where you saw something or how another species was eliminated. At the end of the day or as the trip comes to a close ask a few questions that will help make sure that the data are accurate. Which trail were we on when we had the Pheasant Cuckoo? How did we know that kingbird was a Couch's and not a Tropical? Make sure to share your sightings with others that you birded with. 

Document your rarities
Documenting rare birds is an essential part of eBird. New records or range extensions need documentation to be validated in eBird. Long tours are almost certain to find some unusual species that require documentation.
Many guides will express excitement at finding a rare bird and will help to document it with photos, audio recordings, or video. However, you will be the one reporting it to eBird and it will be your responsibility to submit documentation to eBird. If eBird marks a species as unusual, make sure you understand why it was flagged

Things to Avoid
The most frequent errors that we see with lists from guided tours are:
  1. Misplotted locations. Elevation matters and even minor errors in where you plot your point can sometimes cause a record to be flagged. Make sure that you submit from the finest scale location possible (use a specific trail or lodge in a National Park, if you stayed at that location). If you get in the car, you should start a new eBird list if possible. 
  2. Combined lists and day lists. Full day lists that cover many locations can cause real problems in eBird. You should NEVER submit from a specific location if you actually covered more than one location that required a long drive in between. Again, A good rule of thumb is if you get in a car, start a new list. For example, a list in Texas from Santa Ana NWR that includes House Sparrow with a comment "seen at McAllen Airport" indicates that two distant sites were combined, and that the lists should have been broken in to two lists or should have been submitted from the county of Hidalgo, Texas. Sightings must be submitted from locations that accurately represent the birds you're reporting—either precise locations, or a larger region that captures all of your birding (e.g., county, state/province, or entire country if you crossed state/province boundaries). Breaking your list into multiple sites, even if the lists are incomplete and only touch on the highlights, at least ensures accuracy.
  3. Bird name errors and taxonomic errors. If you get "flagged" on a species that seems surprisingly common, the name may have changed. Many guides know their local birds very well, but may not be up on the latest name changes. Bird names can change over time as new species are recognized and names are revised. The first check should be to make sure the common name and scientific name match up—Googling the species often reveals if there has been a recent taxonomy change or if it is sometimes split. An even better course is to plug the name into Avibase, which will show a list of names (including the one used in the current eBird taxonomy) that could match up to the name you selected. For example, the bird formerly known as Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) used to be considered one global species in the northern hemisphere. When the New World species was recognized as a different species--Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata)--it suddenly became incorrect to report the widespread snipe species in the Americas as Common Snipe, since the common name and scientific name that used to be correct now refer only to the Eurasian species. Please be careful of issues like these, and use Avibase (or email us at if you are confused.
  4. "Seen by guide" documentation. While many professional guides know the birds in their area very well, eBird cannot consider statements like "seen by our guide" or "Identified by guide; contact him for documentation" to be acceptable. It is your responsibility, not the guide's, to document birds that you report to eBird. Hopefully your guide can help provide documentation or photos, and the best way to get your guide's input is to share your eBird list with the guide, and then have them add photos or notes. We need a first-hand report submitted to eBird in order to document the presence of a species. So if you report a rare bird, make sure you understand the identification or work with the guide to provide evidence.
If you really can't understand why eBird is requesting documentation, please provide documentation but also provide notes that indicate that you don't understand why. It could be an eBird error or species omitted from the filter.
[NOTE: eBird does not attempt to include all subspecies, hybrids, spuhs, and slashes on the checklist filters, so some expected taxa might be "flagged" in error.
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