To have accurate records of a bird available for science, you need a few things. The bird has to be there. It must be in a position or behaving in a way that allows it to be detected, There must be a human present that can both observe the bird and correctly identify it. Finally, the human must have the know how and interest in recording the bird in a format that allows scientists to access it.In the Caribbean, the vast majority of our bird watching data is collected by non-native observers. Visiting tourists, researchers, instructors or students who are in our country for a short period of time and often do not return, sometimes for years. Sometimes, never. Few of them support local training and development of in-country expertise. The Bahamians, or resident observers are often restricted in their movement by daily schedules, though there is the occasional retiree or professional birder who can put up significant numbers.
This results in significant gaps in our biodiversity record. Outside the tourist season, we seldom see bird observations in eBird. Even during the tourist season, those observations are biased to the areas surrounding hotels, resorts and well known birding hotspots.
This year I have challenged myself to conducting at least one survey every day and for the most part I have conducted two or more.
What I have noticed in my data:
There is insufficient data before this effort. You can print out a graph of your chances of seeing reported birds in an area from eBird. most of the year is grayed out meaning there have not been enough bird surveys total or with that bird to create the graph, except for the months that I have been surveying the location multiple times a week. Local effort improves the statistical power of your data through increased effort, geographical and temporal coverage.
I get red flags alot. eBird sends you a polite email asking if you are sure you saw the bird you identified, because it has never been recorded at that time of year on that island. My birding student Robert Meister also got a red flag in his first few weeks for a Pearly-eyed Thrasher (first record on New Providence and I got to confirm it). These records include early migrants, and winter residents and critically endangered species like the Piping Plover. This means local data may have the power to make bird guides more accurate and support better conservation of our resident and migrant birds.
Most importantly to me, residents are getting a fair chance. This means resident birds and resident humans. The data I collect is often in a location a tourist will not go to and I get to see local Bahamian citizens who learn about the birds from me and may participate in science in a way they previously did not know they could.I get to record the breeding behavior of our resident species. Our resident Bahamian birds are generally not covered by international funding and this means, few researchers focus on them. Data on them usually collected as part of a work focused on another federally funded species, collateral conservation. This means by collecting data on resident species we may also fill in taxonomic gaps for the species noone cares about.
If you made it this far, I invite you to join me on the Global Shorebird Count September 3rd to 9th 2019. I intend to hold a bird blitz on September 7th starting at 6:30 AM on New Providence, Bahamas. you can reach me by emailing the page or on my facebook page to determine where you will catch up with me on Saturday.