Thursday, March 12, 2015

All The Times My eBird Observations Have Been Questioned by Reviewers


Misidentification is a sensitive topic for birders. Birding is a hobby with a heavy reliance on people's word, and if your word is wrong - or if you gain a reputation as someone whose word is wrong - it's not much fun.

But bird identification is hard! All these goddamn things look exactly alike, and they don't usually just sit there and let you look at them.  At the same time, thanks to online listservs, eBird and BirdLog, submitting sightings is easier than ever.  Beginning birders who could once work through their identifications at home in their own notebooks are now tempted with going "public" with their sightings, perhaps earlier than they should.

Birders are confronted with their own misidentifications most commonly through the dreaded "Question about your" emails from eBird reviewers. You hate to see one of these in your inbox. These'll come after you submit an atypical record to eBird but don't provide enough documentation (photos or notes) in the observation to satisfy the reviewer that you had the ID correct. It's not confrontational, but the burden is back on you to convince the person that you saw what you saw.

It's not pleasant when someone tells you that you're wrong. Some birders, I've heard, respond quite negatively to the idea - just the idea - that they were mistaken. We've all got reputations to maintain and self-confidence to massage.

But birders shouldn't be offended by eBird review emails. It's OK to be wrong, and you're not an idiot for misidentifying something. To try to help remove the stigma here, I want to show the world the lots of eBird review emails I've received, letting you know that even a birder who writes on THE INTERNET makes mistakes.

My Report: 3 Cassin's Finches, Lane, Oregon - Feb. 27, 2009
The Problem?: Birders need to be extra careful when they're traveling. I was in Oregon for the first time, and just assumed that all the reddish finches would be Cassin's, because I thought of them as the "Western" finch. I didn't look closely enough, and didn't realize that Cassin's were "exceptionally rare" (reviewer's words) at the elevation I was at.
Was I wrong?: Yeah probably.

My Report: 1 Nashville Warbler, Violette's Lock, MD, April 23, 2006
The Problem: April 23 is a pretty early date for Nashvilles on the East Coast, but I didn't know that, and didn't take any field notes.
Was I wrong?: I don't know

My Report: 1 Say's Phoebe, Lane, Oregon - Feb. 28, 2009
The Problem?: Another example of not being aware of the particulars in a new spot. This is an early date for Say's at this location. However, this was I think my first Say's, and I remember looking carefully. The reviewer said it's not too uncommon to have early birds here, and I think the observation was accepted.
Was I wrong?: No, I don't think so

My Report: 2 Black Vultures, Washington, Illinois - April 9, 2011
The Problem?: It helps to bird with other birders. These birds were not particularly rare at this location, and we both remembered seeing them clearly.
Was I wrong?: Nah.




My Report: 300 Smith's Longspurs, Jasper, Illinois - April 10, 2011
The Problem?: Checking the high count. We were with birders known to the reviewer who said "man this is the largest Smith's flock I've ever seen in IL." Still, put notes in your eBird reviews, OK?
Was I wrong?: Nah

My Report: 5 Song Sparrows, Shelby, TN - August 21, 2011
The Problem?: A weird one. No one ever pays attention to Song Sparrows, so we were surprised when the eBird reviewer somewhat sheepishly emailed and said "I know this is weird but SOSP are hardly ever found at Ensley Bottoms in August." My friend and I both seemed to remember hearing (not seeing) Song Sparrows, but didn't remember them specifically.  Who would?
Was I wrong?: I honestly have no idea, but probably wrong.

My Report: 1 Orange-crowned Warbler, Monhegan, Maine - Sept. 8, 2011
The Problem?: Early for this easily-misidentified species. We didn't get photos, but remembered taking a close look during an otherwise quiet day. Also, weird things come to Monhegan. Still, a good knowledge of bird arrival and departure times is valuable for ID help.
Was I wrong?: I'd say it's about 50/50.

My Report: 1 Mississippi Kite, Cumberland, NJ - May 19, 2012
The Problem?: An uncommon bird in NJ, but I saw it well.  Should have gotten a picture but my camera was still packed in the car.
Was I wrong?: Nah.

My Report: 1 Cassin's Finch, Mt. Lemmon, AZ - May 28, 2012
The Problem?: A late date, but thankfully I was able to get a terrible photo. I ended up uploading it to the checklist and everything was hunky-dory.
Was I wrong?: Nope.

My Report: 1 Least Flycatcher, Alachula, FL - Sept. 4, 2010
The Problem?: An early date, something I wasn't really thinking about when I was birding the deep South.
Was I wrong?: Yeah I was probably wrong.

My Report: 1 Common Nighthawk, Scarborough, ME - April 27, 2005
The Problem?: Pretty early, and during the day, and in a weird spot. Also, it was the first time I'd ever seen a nighthawk and I was a beginning birder.  But it was a nighthawk! And it was sunny out so I saw it perfectly! No way was I wrong.
Was I wrong?: No way!

My Report: 1 Blue-winged Teal, Washington, DC - June 23, 2013
The Problem?: If you're not a breeding-plumaged male duck, just get right the heck out of here, will you? I didn't get a long look at this bird on the C&O Canal, but was for some reason confident it was a female BWTE.  It's not a great time of year for BWTE in DC, and I didn't give it due diligence.
Was I wrong?: Yeah probably.

My Report: 1 Red-eyed Vireo, Aspen, CO - May 31, 2007
The Problem?: I was a novice East Coast birder trying to make it in the West. Not sure what I saw here, but it probably wasn't a REVI.
Was I wrong?: Yeah probably.

My Report: 2 Lapland Longspur, Washington, DC - Dec. 10, 2013
The Problem?: Holy cow thank goodness for garbage digi-binning. I squeezed off some awful pictures of this group of birds that I eventually uploaded to the eBird checklist, and they ended up being the first longspurs seen in the District since the 1980s.
Was I wrong?: Nope.

My Report: 1 Fox Sparrow, Aspen, CO - June 5, 2007
The Problem?: Again, a novice East Coast birder working out West. It's OK!
Was I wrong?: Probably.

My Report: 1 Franklin's Gull, Salt Lake City, UT - Feb. 1, 2014
The Problem?: In a land far away, in a place (Great Salt Lake) where it seems that any species is possible at any time, in heavy fog...but that there was a gull with a black hood is indisputable! And it wasn't a Bonaparte! I'm confident in my ID (I got an awful photo), but this is a tough one.
Was I wrong?: I don't think so, but maybe.

My Report: 1 Nelson's Sparrow, Theodore Roosevelt NP, ND - June 1, 2014
The Problem?: I don't know what to say here. I swear I heard one calling, but I wasn't able to see it. There aren't really any records in June from this part of the state, but it's not heavily birded.  I don't know.
Was I wrong?: Probably.

My Report: 1 Orange-crowned Warbler, Point Lookout SP, MD - Nov. 2, 2014
The Problem?: No one trusts anyone identifying OCWA.  It's alright, don't take it personally.
Was I wrong?: Nope.

My Report: 1 Herring Gull, Aspen, CO - Dec. 21, 2006
The Problem?: Gulls are still the most difficult things to identify, and I certainly wasn't finding good ones in 2006.
Was I wrong?: Yeah.

OK that's all!  That wasn't so bad, right? Don't feel bad if you get eBird review emails.  Don't feel bad if you misidentify things. Alright goodnight.


 

2 comments:

John Beetham said...

What bugs me about the review process isn't so much having sightings questioned (rare birds need documentation, after all) but lack of communication about whether sightings are confirmed or rejected and why (or whether anyone has even looked at sightings that triggered eBird filters).

Josh Adams said...

The Aspen Fox Sparrow getting questioned seems weird to me. There's reports of June-July Fox Sparrows all over the place there, all without comment.

Maybe your REVI sighting a week earlier gave you a questionable reputation? :)

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