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EBird reports of birds you found in a photo


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This is a continuation of a thread in the ID forum@AlexHenry suggested that the sparrow, which @Aidan B had photographed without realizing it was there, shouldn't be reported on eBird. @DLecy suggested that this forum would be a better place for the discussion, since it wasn't about an ID question.

I asked on Facebook (which I've been on for years, @Charlie Spencer 🙂) and got twenty-some replies.  The large majority said the same things that were said here: Yes, count it, the bird was present, it never even occurred to me that you shouldn't count it.

However, the ornithologist Carl Lundblad said that you shouldn't count in a regular list.  You could make an "incidental" list for it.  The reason was more or less what AlexHenry said: the species numbers are compared to the time and distance based on the assumption that those are the birds that the observer could detect.  Birds that the observer didn't detect will throw the calculation off a little.  Also like AlexHenry, he said that occasional bird reported this way wouldn't cause a very big problems.  A few other people also said briefly that reporting "photo-only" birds would throw off the effort numbers and that listing them separately would be better.

If that's what eBird wants, I think the explanation could be a lot clearer.

Making an incidental list for photo-only birds solves Charlie's problem of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker that you didn't notice till you looked at the background of a photo.  Now if you find a dead Ivory-bill (which would be sad) or get an image of one on your trail cam, you'll have to find ways other than eBird to report it.

I'm tagging @Avery, @Colton V, @MichaelLong, @IKLland, @Hasan, and @RobinHood, since they participated in the discussion here.

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1 minute ago, Jerry Friedman said:

This is a continuation of a thread in the ID forum@AlexHenry suggested that the sparrow, which @Aidan B had photographed without realizing it was there, shouldn't be reported on eBird. @DLecy suggested that this forum would be a better place for the discussion, since it wasn't about an ID question.

I asked on Facebook (which I've been on for years, @Charlie Spencer 🙂) and got twenty-some replies.  The large majority said the same things that were said here: Yes, count it, the bird was present, it never even occurred to me that you shouldn't count it.

However, the ornithologist Carl Lundblad said that you shouldn't count in a regular list.  You could make an "incidental" list for it.  The reason was more or less what AlexHenry said: the species numbers are compared to the time and distance based on the assumption that those are the birds that the observer could detect.  Birds that the observer didn't detect will throw the calculation off a little.  Also like AlexHenry, he said that occasional bird reported this way wouldn't cause a very big problems.  A few other people also said briefly that reporting "photo-only" birds would throw off the effort numbers and that listing them separately would be better.

If that's what eBird wants, I think the explanation could be a lot clearer.

Making an incidental list for photo-only birds solves Charlie's problem of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker that you didn't notice till you looked at the background of a photo.  Now if you find a dead Ivory-bill (which would be sad) or get an image of one on your trail cam, you'll have to find ways other than eBird to report it.

I'm tagging @Avery, @Colton V, @MichaelLong, @IKLland, @Hasan, and @RobinHood, since they participated in the discussion here.

Out of reactions, but good job!!!!

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I agree with both points... hard not to dismiss one over the other. Though I do agree that it’s not the best practice and shouldn’t be common place. Yet, it’s definitely not as harmful as other eBird practices.

Since eBird must have a very high source of error, as it knows everyone can’t detect every bird and anyone can report sightings at any skill level (and is somewhat honour based) I honestly don’t think the logistics/math matter that much when it comes down to throwing the calculations off.  
 

I initially agreed with the forming an incidental checklist, as it’s the best of both worlds, but then thought about it a bit more. eBird always stresses at how complete checklists are the most valuable and the ones used for studies/assessments/data etc.  Those eBird abundance maps and things are only created using complete checklists. So, if a notable bird that could otherwise be added to a complete checklist was instead added to its own incidental checklist, wouldn’t that exempt it from being more scientifically relevant/important?  Especially if the bird was never found again? Maybe I’m over thinking it... 

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Thanks Jerry, very much appreciate the effort.

8 hours ago, Jerry Friedman said:

the species numbers are compared to the time and distance based on the assumption that those are the birds that the observer could detect.  Birds that the observer didn't detect will throw the calculation off a little.

Although it is a minor item in the scheme of things I'm still not sure I have fully understood the logic. As an example - if I observed a very large flock (in the hundreds) of Goldeneye at a hot spot, at a distance of about fifty yards, and didn't check them individually at the time (time restraints, bad weather etc.) but looked at the photos afterwards and spotted a Barrow's (rare here) which I then added to my list I'm not quite sure how this skews the data. It highlights my poor eBird skills whereas a more diligent eBirder would have caught it at the time - you could possibly argue that I did "see" the bird but did not recognize it at the time as a different species.

I can perhaps understand if a very distant bird was identified after the fact using one of the super zooms and reported for that specific location. However I routinely see eBird lists submitted by very experienced birders which include all the findings (including tagged birds) from several hot spots (several miles apart) lumped into one hot spot for convenience. This is a pet peeve of mine and definitely affects the accuracy of the data. Then there are "fly overs" - some kind of differentiation for rare birds?, although I always report them as "flying" in the data box.

I am pretty sure that I am still missing a subtle aspect of the logic here.

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10 hours ago, Jerry Friedman said:

However, the ornithologist Carl Lundblad said that you shouldn't count in a regular list.  You could make an "incidental" list for it.  The reason was more or less what AlexHenry said: the species numbers are compared to the time and distance based on the assumption that those are the birds that the observer could detect.

I don't see what difference using an Incidental would make in the data.  I'm still reporting the bird at the same location and time as the original Stationary / Traveling list. 

And again, it isn't the birds you can detect in the field, it's the birds you can identify.  I'm pretty sure we all see birds we can't identify, and either report them as species or don't include them at all.  It seems to me the absence of those birds would skew the data more than a bird reported from a photo.

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7 hours ago, RobinHood said:

Thanks Jerry, very much appreciate the effort.

Although it is a minor item in the scheme of things I'm still not sure I have fully understood the logic. As an example - if I observed a very large flock (in the hundreds) of Goldeneye at a hot spot, at a distance of about fifty yards, and didn't check them individually at the time (time restraints, bad weather etc.) but looked at the photos afterwards and spotted a Barrow's (rare here) which I then added to my list I'm not quite sure how this skews the data. It highlights my poor eBird skills whereas a more diligent eBirder would have caught it at the time - you could possibly argue that I did "see" the bird but did not recognize it at the time as a different species.

I can perhaps understand if a very distant bird was identified after the fact using one of the super zooms and reported for that specific location. However I routinely see eBird lists submitted by very experienced birders which include all the findings (including tagged birds) from several hot spots (several miles apart) lumped into one hot spot for convenience. This is a pet peeve of mine and definitely affects the accuracy of the data. Then there are "fly overs" - some kind of differentiation for rare birds?, although I always report them as "flying" in the data box.

I am pretty sure that I am still missing a subtle aspect of the logic here.

The Barrow's pictures I posted in the ID forum last week were acquired by just the procedure you describe, only with just a couple dozen Commons.

EBird has no objection to what you're talking about. But if you take a picture of ducks and notice when you look at the picture that there was a pipit on the far bank, that's what they want in a separate list.  Apparently because people use the number of birds you observed to estimate the total number of birds in the area, and you (that is, I) didn't observe that pipit.

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7 hours ago, Charlie Spencer said:

Dead birds are explicitly not reportable. 

That's why I mentioned them.  You said it would be strange if you could see an Ivory-bill in the background of your photo but couldn't put it on eBird because you hadn't observed it at the time.  But there are other situations where you wouldn't be able to put a rarity on eBird--dead birds and trail cams, which are also not allowed (unless @AlexHenry is right about the exception).  You'd have to report it in other ways.

Anyway, it seems you could put that photo-only Ivory-bill on an "incidental" report.

 

6 hours ago, Charlie Spencer said:

I don't see what difference using an Incidental would make in the data.  I'm still reporting the bird at the same location and time as the original Stationary / Traveling list. 

And again, it isn't the birds you can detect in the field, it's the birds you can identify.  I'm pretty sure we all see birds we can't identify, and either report them as species or don't include them at all.  It seems to me the absence of those birds would skew the data more than a bird reported from a photo.

The difference seems to be that reporting an "incidental" sighting takes it out of the data used to determine numbers by comparing to observer effort.

And yes, this isn't a big deal.

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38 minutes ago, Jerry Friedman said:

Apparently because people use the number of birds you observed to estimate the total number of birds in the area, and you (that is, I) didn't observe that pipit.

Thanks Jerry, you deserve a WhatBird medal for your input on this topic.

This is the even more subtle distinction that I thought was being referenced (a bit slower on the uptake with advancing years). I will have to think about it further to see if I am fully convinced although in the scheme of eBird transgressions this is definitely, at least to me, relatively minor.

Thanks again.

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55 minutes ago, Jerry Friedman said:

That's why I mentioned them.  You said it would be strange if you could see an Ivory-bill in the background of your photo but couldn't put it on eBird because you hadn't observed it at the time.  But there are other situations where you wouldn't be able to put a rarity on eBird--dead birds and trail cams, which are also not allowed (unless @AlexHenry is right about the exception).  You'd have to report it in other ways.

I once posted a pic of a dead Canada Goose and I got a reply back from the regional reviewer saying " eBird is intended for wild, living birds; in almost all cases dead birds should not be reported on your checklists. We make rare exceptions for particularly unusual records of national interest. If you think your record might qualify for an exception, please contact us first. Otherwise, please do not upload photos of dead birds."

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What happens when you put a species count as zero? Does that contribute anything to science? For example I was at a rare bird stakeout where the bird didn't show. I looked at other peoples' checklists and they still reported the bird but put the number as zero. Then there's also the breeding code UN Used Nest (enter 0 if no birds seen). So if you can report a used nest on ebird as a species but leave it as zero, could this be applied to other forms of evidence, such as a dead bird, feather, etc? Could you do this with birds you find in the background of photos as well? Or is there something wrong with this that I'm not aware of?

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I don't recall ever reporting dead birds or ever using a zero.  If you enter zero for one rare species you don't see, where do you stop?  

Customer: "Coffee, please, no cream."

Waiter: "We're out of cream.  Is 'no milk' okay?"

(And watch 'Ninotchka' the next time TCM runs it.)

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1 hour ago, Charlie Spencer said:

I don't recall ever reporting dead birds or ever using a zero.  If you enter zero for one rare species you don't see, where do you stop?  

Customer: "Coffee, please, no cream."

Waiter: "We're out of cream.  Is 'no milk' okay?"

(And watch 'Ninotchka' the next time TCM runs it.)

The zero for rare species is more specific to stakeout birds, as a way to let others know not seen.  
 

I can’t even count how many arm chair birds I’ve found from looking at photos.  I saw the flock of gulls...and that Iceland was in it.  

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33 minutes ago, chipperatl said:

The zero for rare species is more specific to stakeout birds, as a way to let others know not seen.

Wouldn't not reporting it at all do the same thing?

33 minutes ago, chipperatl said:

I can’t even count how many arm chair birds I’ve found from looking at photos.  I saw the flock of gulls...and that Iceland was in it.  

Which raises the next question.

Say I identify a bird in the field and also take a photo of it.  I list the bird and attach the photo.  An eBird reviewer says I've misidentified the bird, suggests a different ID, and you realize you were wrong.  Not only was the field ID wrong, and the bird ID'ed from a photo, but someone else did the identification.  Would you count that?

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14 minutes ago, Charlie Spencer said:

Say I identify a bird in the field and also take a photo of it.  I list the bird and attach the photo.  An eBird reviewer says I've misidentified the bird, suggests a different ID, and you realize you were wrong.  Not only was the field ID wrong, and the bird ID'ed from a photo, but someone else did the identification.  Would you count that?

Interesting question. I hadn't thought about this but it no doubt happens often. I would say it depends on how "off" the original observation was. Someone reporting a Say's Phoebe as an American Robin is way off, yet a new birder could reasonable make this mistake. Which, in my opinion, is different than someone who mistakenly ID's a Dusky Flycatcher as a Hammond's Flycatcher. If they were at all unsure, a responsible observer would mark a challenging bird such as an empidonax flycatcher as 'empid sp.' and then work out the observation based on photos, recordings, and field notes anyways. 

But to your original point, I think this happens often and I would wager that many more people "count" the bird than those who don't, experienced and new birders alike.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Charlie Spencer said:

Wouldn't not reporting it at all do the same thing?

Which raises the next question.

Say I identify a bird in the field and also take a photo of it.  I list the bird and attach the photo.  An eBird reviewer says I've misidentified the bird, suggests a different ID, and you realize you were wrong.  Not only was the field ID wrong, and the bird ID'ed from a photo, but someone else did the identification.  Would you count that?

Yes, but I know there was a reason for the 0.  Read it somewhere.  😄

 

Not much different from posting photos here and getting the ID.  For the most part I think I know most of the birds I had to get help on.  Even though my life list is 339, I could look at it and say "Northern Goshawk, I didn't ID in the field.  I snapped pics and had to get help from there."  A few birds in San Diego were pointed out to me by the Tour Guides.  It is a humbling hobby.  But back to the eBird data.  The bird was there, and to me the important thing is identifying the correct bird and recording it.  

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15 hours ago, chipperatl said:

The zero for rare species is more specific to stakeout birds, as a way to let others know not seen.  
 

I can’t even count how many arm chair birds I’ve found from looking at photos.  I saw the flock of gulls...and that Iceland was in it.  

Just making sure it's clear that's not what this thread was originally about.

On the 0, I've heard of people using it to mean they missed a common bird.  It's supposed to show that they really missed it, in case someone might think they saw it but accidentally skipped it in their report.  I don't know whether that makes a difference to anyone.

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14 hours ago, Charlie Spencer said:

Wouldn't not reporting it at all do the same thing?

Which raises the next question.

Say I identify a bird in the field and also take a photo of it.  I list the bird and attach the photo.  An eBird reviewer says I've misidentified the bird, suggests a different ID, and you realize you were wrong.  Not only was the field ID wrong, and the bird ID'ed from a photo, but someone else did the identification.  Would you count that?

Are you talking about counting it on your personal list or lists?  My rule for that is that I can count it if I understand, after I got help, why it's that species and not any other possibility.

I wonder about the exchanges we often see here.

A: This was in my backyard.  I have no clue what it is.  Please help!!

B: That's a female Purple Snorklewhacker..

A: Cool!  Lifer!

Did A look the bird up and see how to recognize it and distinguish it from other possibilities, or did they just add it to the list of birds they'd seen?

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1 hour ago, Jerry Friedman said:

A: Cool!  Lifer!

This is where I personally draw the line. When I was new to birding years ago and someone helped with an ID, even if it was lifer, I didn't care. I was happy to learn from more experienced birders.

Now that I have much more experience, I always try to work out the details of my sightings first before I ask for input from others. If I am trying to figure something super tricky out (ESPECIALLY if a Life Bird is on the line), I will always go to others whom I trust having at least narrowed down my ID to two or less possibilities before asking for their thoughts.nHowever, empidonax flycatchers may be the exception to that rule.

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21 hours ago, MichaelLong said:

I once posted a pic of a dead Canada Goose and I got a reply back from the regional reviewer saying " eBird is intended for wild, living birds; in almost all cases dead birds should not be reported on your checklists. We make rare exceptions for particularly unusual records of national interest. If you think your record might qualify for an exception, please contact us first. Otherwise, please do not upload photos of dead birds."

Thanks.  Guess you can go ahead and report that dead (or trail-cammed, I assume) Ivory-bill on eBird after all.

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