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meg — August 30, 06:24PM

How detailed should we be?

We watch the eBird Community Forum routinely. We see that many of the same concerns are repeated frequently. One of the most common concerns relates to precision with all the attendant details for date, time, location, effort, accurate identification, good counts, and good descriptions of bird plumage, behavior, and habitat. Timeliness of the review process is a common frustration as well as some apparently inherent personalities across the spectrum of birders.

Although we favor flexibility for data entry and analyses, encouragement for birders of all levels of skill and ability, and good science supported more by the abundance of data within eBird than by imposed precision, we recognize that citizen science is subject to some flaws.

One conclusion we recently read in the peer reviewed article Can Observation Skills of Citizen Scientists Be Estimated Using Species Accumulation Curves? (Kellig. etal. 2015. Plos One. pages 1-20 [but see quote p 13] at < file:///C:/Users/Lonnie%20&%20dave/Downloads/observation%20skills%20estimated.PDF >) concluded,
"As a final comparison, we looked at individual participants within each region. In all cases, people known to be experts (i.e. authors of identification articles, regional editors for birding publications, members of regional review teams) had high SAC indices that always fell within the highest quartile. The eBird Project Leaders, or eBird editors within each region generally did not know individuals within the lower quartile."

That is to us a telling conclusion about birding in general. As novice and recreational birders we have our own quote to ourselves when our observations are flagged, repeatedly reviewed, or never released into public view: "Are you my buddy or not? I can only accept your observation if I see that item also." We work at becoming better birders, but we also are discouraged by constant reminders to be even better with shorter paths for our traveling counts and more details to support high counts and species observed at edge of range in either time or space.

eBird will be most effective if access is as welcoming as possible; good quality data is encouraged; youth, especially, are supported as novice birders; and each birder's individual accomplishments and contributions are accepted equally.

Finally we wish that more emphasis be placed on the statement as quoted in one of the bits of advice offered when eBird was younger: "Every eBirder will strike his or her own balance, but we will always appreciate those that keep multiple, very refined checklists. How refined you get is up to you. Above all though, we don't want to lose contributors who end up feeling like eBird is too much work. For all our encouragement to keep multiple short lists that report all species and contain effort, more than anything we'd like to keep you using eBird at some level. If you need a break after a day of submitting checklists from 6 or 8 specific locations, then go ahead and put in a list from a less specific location and consider it a well-deserved break! Switching from keeping daily lists to keeping location-specific lists can be difficult, and each additional list you keep and enter in eBird adds to the "workload". Don't burn out--make sure that birding and eBirding continue to be fun." [From < >]

Good birding,


Jason Polak — September 11, 12:05AM

Some good points. I think eBird is also presents an opportunity to derive observational models into the scientific inference process. By this I mean mathematical models that incorporate how people observe and record birds, so that biases and inaccuracies can be minimized. eBird is a good testing ground for these models, and they can henceforth be used in other areas where observations are highly heterogeneous.

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meg — September 13, 10:50AM

Detailed eBirders,

We suggest that you read < > for another article about data quality differences (not so much) between "experts" and common citizen scientists.

Even if you just read the abstract!

Good birding,


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