The importance of using online databases: time to exploit the power of personal birding records

I’ve been following many national and regional e-mail groups, community websites or individual blogs for a long time and I am thrilled by the incredible number of informations circling around in a single day. Everyone loves to share what was seen on the actual day on the local paths. The gathered information what birders own is egregious. On the one hand this is nice and a positive indication of the potential of the birdwatching world but I am pondering if the tremendous amount of data would ever be used for a purpose.

I think it is not a question that data collection on regional level has different goals and outcomes as it would be on international level. I strongly believe that organisations and authorities running worldwide bird databases can make a difference on a global scale what has an impact on regional level as well.

I am not an anti-database guy. I’ve been keeping my own records in a spreadsheet database for many years but I soon realised that those records would die with me in a couple of decades (hopefully) and nobody will care about the incredible number of records I will have collected in my whole life. There are hundreds of birdwatchers out in the fields on a daily basis and at their return the field note is placed to the drawer and will never be used for any further purpose. Others are sharing data completely unorganised. So what’s then?

These days it is not a challenge to find a perfect online database where we can share our records. “Perfect” doesn’t only mean it offers a seamless data entry process but means the records are used for birds. That simple! Wouldn’t we be happy by knowing that our records helped saving a bird population of crashing as data prepared and used properly by decision makers? Of course we would be happy. We have to be happy as we wanna see healthy bird populations. We, birdwatchers, field workers, hate witnessing disappearing species or once common species being evaluated endangered. The good news is that we can do something against it. Anyone can make a difference by simply following his/her daily routine in the field but take a bit more care of data storage.

Many of us are complaining that data submission is time consuming what is crucial in the rushing lifestyle. Well, here I point to my very first paragraph when I’ve written about the hundreds of different sources where birdwatchers are sharing their daily observations. And they do it without caring much about the time while typing. The only problem is that those records are completely unorganised and not usable for a good purpose (there are exceptions for sure!!!).

It is widely known that I am running the WorldWaders database for shorebirds with a few like-minded friends, and we see what regular data submission means and how well this process could be copied by our friends, and our friend’s friends. This global database targets to support and initiate shorebird conservation activities where it is needed. Since the launch of this project hundreds of users have signed up and most of them started submitting data collected in the field. I share my shorebird records as well. I also share all the other records of mine with another global database, the eBird.

eBird is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society and now works globally. I don’t intend to make a comprehensive review of the ease of use of this online database but I intend to encourage those who took time of sharing data but did it unorganised yet. It is the best time to launch either WorldWaders and (!) eBird website and start thinking different. I know what you think now “One swallow doesn’t makes the Summer” – as we say it here. Luckily there are more swallows out there so be optimistic and do believe in others’ joining as well. The number of database users will grow from a few dozens to a few thousands soon. Just be among them and help the initiatives to grow big being able to make a real difference – for BIRDS and indirectly for us, HUMANS!

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Don’t wait till Eurasian Oystercatcher is becoming a threatened bird species – add you records to our databases to be able to identify any decrease of its global population instantly. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Testing BUBO Listing online software

I have been looking for a nice online service for such a long time, which supports the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) taxonomy list. Finally BUBO Listing made it possible as announced in late July.

After many years of use I finally have given up waiting for the taxonomy updates of Clements and switched my list to IOC. I am satisfied with it as updates are posted several times a year. BUBO made adding my life list possible without any hassle of cross checking for different name variations. I’ve been keeping my IOC life list in Apple’s Numbers but now I give it up and going to use BUBO Listing exclusively to keep my lifers.

Adding a list to BUBO Listing is very easy – maybe too simple. When list is created the IOC world checklist appears in taxonomic order. What I like the most in this software, that it gives you the feeling of real ticking, as there are a checkbox next to every species. By ticking the checkbox saving starts instantly making the process a bit slow. There is some fields available where I can add more information to the lifer such as date of observation and the location info as well as any other comment. There is also a checkbox in every row for sensitive species. By ticking it species will be hidden for the public.

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Rolling the mouse over the species name a bubble appears showing the range info for the species. This is a nice and space saving feature.

Here is my wishes what I would like to see in one of the next versions of BUBO Listing.

  • Adding more columns to a record (e.g. trip when the species was first seen, continent and country columns)
  • Simple country or regional checklist creation based on the same world list taxonomy. At the moment I cannot create a Western Palearctic list copied from my IOC list as only AERC, Dutch Birding and UK400 Club lists are available.
  • By adding a country column in the table of the world list ticked species should be copied automatically into different other lists I created (e.g. WP, Europe, Oriental, or South Africa etc.)
  • Enabling to create fancy charts of the checklist (like completed families or share of lifers by continents etc.)

I like the idea to create a badge for my blog or website where the selected lists (up to 2) are visible with the total number of lifers and the latest list addition. This is automatically updated when new species is added to the list. The badge is customisable and several size is available. More info about the steps of creation is here. Result can be sen on the bottom my blog.

BUBO Listing does the job when official taxonomy updates are available for IOC or any of the other lists. When update is posted the relevant list of “My Lists” turns yellow telling that I need to review my records. If I wanna improve my world list in a spreadsheet I still can export my list in three different format.

All in all I am satisfied with this software and all the above mentioned suggestions would just make it even better. By the way, while completing my list I found a seen but non-listed species, the Racket-tailed Roller,in my spreadsheet. My life list then turned 2,044 – nice armchair tick.

X. Hungarian Bird Race: nice birding mixed with great social evenings

The first week-end of every September in the past 10 years was the time when Hungarian birdwatchers came together for a week-end birding including the participance of the Hungarian Bird Race. The week-end is not just about running for species but also about the chance to meet other birdwatchers and friends from across the country.

I was kindly invited to the event as this was the 10th jubilee race. It was nice to attend talks about the happenings of past ten years spiced with a lots of fun and laugh. The Hortobágy birding community made a spectacular job in setting everything perfectly for successful races.

The event was held in edge of the village Hortobágy and the race itself was held in the heart of the national park, the Hortobágy fishponds. The fishpond used to be one of the best birding area in Hungary and large enough for 100-150 birders for a day long birding.

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Guys are listening to the instruction and rule announcements for the race.

The whole birding week-end started unluckily for me as I missed an adult Buff-breasted Sandpiper by 25 minutes which was close to the event centre. I tried to do everything to see it but I simply could not drive faster.

Since there has been a large number of young birders we decided not to run for the most species but for the best for the area. This old-style birding was quite demanding at some point during the day due to the perfect evening prior to the race. Sadly the best species price went to another team we had the second best species (I guess).

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Hides provides nice chance to find birds as well as chatting with other birdwatchers.

During the race we found some nice species including 2 Western Ospreys, a single Common Firecrest (which was seen only once in the past ten years of the race history), a Barred Warbler, flying over Glossy Ibises or Little Crake. Sadly there were no drained pond available so it was really hard to find shorebirds during the race. We have been informed about an easy European Nightjar roosting on a Willow tree. On the same spot a juvenile European Honey Buzzard allowed the birders perfect view.

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Zoltán Ecsedi was one of my team members and a very good friend of mine. He is one of the very best and keen birdwatchers in Hungary.

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Dr. Emil Boros was the other member of my team. Old friend who is the expert of soda lakes.

Unluckily while I was asking informations from another team my team mates found a juvenile Red-breasted Flycatcher which I could not relocate. Some bird species was really hard to find like Little Grebe or White Stork while other common birds were completely missing. Any of the team found a White-tailed Eagle which is really unusual for the area. We finally could manage to see 95 species in 24 hours while the best team saw 126. Best species became an overflying male Red Crossbill which was seen for the first time in races history.

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Squacco Herons found easily at the dried and grazed ponds.

Saturday night rain washed out my plan to visit the traditional Eurasian Dotterel site so I returned home on Sunday with 4 new additions to the year list which is at 198 now.

I wanna say a big thanks to the organisers and staff for the perfect hospitality. Lets continue the race somewhere else next year.