Friday, April 27, 2007

ABA: Wednesday a.m.

During the American Birding Association's annual convention, the schedule alternates field trip days with workshop days. After Tuesday's field trips, many participants signed up for one or two of three workshops on Wednesday morning and afternoon.

In the morning, I attended the "Technology in Birding" presentation by Brian Sullivan, project leader for eBird from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He emphasized that birders now have many tools at their fingertips and these tools make birding easier despite a sometimes steep learning curve.

According to Sullivan, technology can help birders find, identify and record/document birds, distribute/share and analyze data, and conserve birds and habitat. Among the tools to accomplish those tasks are digital field guides, digital sound recordings/playback, GPS (global positioning system) units, digital tools for checklists and myriad Internet resources.

Among those Internet resources are listserves (electronic mailing lists typically organized by geography or topic), identification forums, photo galleries, blogs, data gathering tools such as eBird and online publications. Sullivan described listserves as "a pretty cool window to the world," and a menu of many listserves appears on Birdingonthe.net.

Sullivan pointed out one such listserv that focuses on species identification. ID Frontiers gives birders of all levels around the world a chance to discuss confounding I.D. challenges.

Online photo galleries such as flickr, PBase and Surfbirds also allows birders share data, analyze images and identify unfamiliar birds.

Many of these sites do not charge participants, and some charge only for certain services. It's possible, for instance, to post photos for free on flickr, create and maintain a birding blog without any charges on Blogger, upload videos to YouTube for free, and then embed photo and video files into blog posts.

Among the data-gathering tools that Sullivan cited are radar websites, which he called "the most exciting technology," and eBird, on which he works. The latter site gives birders the chance to share their observations with other birders as well as scientists and conservationists.

eBird makes data accessible and organizes it in various ways, Sullivan said. "Every observation is valuable," he said.

Sullivan hopes that thousands more birders in the Western Hemisphere will change the way that they bird. "I want eBird to be an integral part of one's daily birding routine -- as crucial as bringing your binoculars," he said.

All that data becomes available to researchers and conservationists in the Avian Knowledge Network, which includes PRBO Conservation Science, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and Bird Studies Canada as well as Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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