In my preparations for the Midwest Birding Symposium, I used eBird to create a chart of potential life birds, which I organized by my likelihood of seeing them. Then I used a systematic approach to studying the fall plumage of eastern warblers. Well, how did I do? and how effective was eBird (meaning all of you wonderful eBirders out there contributing your sightings data) in revealing the true probability of finding these species.
As you can see, I was able to add 15 life birds, which was fantastic!
I got all of the "Gimme's", but not without some effort and luck. I had almost given up on that Ruby-throated Hummingbird after a day and a half. Though there were several feeders up at homes and at the birding locations, I never saw a hummer at a feeder. Finally, at Meadowbrook Marsh, we had a couple buzzing around and landing in the trees and bushes in which we were seeing all of the warblers. Very cool! I was glad to see them "in the wild" anyway. I only saw one Eastern Wood-Pewee, so I'm grateful for the luck of seeing it. We did see dozens of Blackpoll Warblers, but only a few Black-throated Blue and just a couple Black-throated Greens. My prior warbler study proved very useful as I "recognized" many species instantly. With the help of the great birders I was with in the field, I was able to learn how to "identify" the other species.
Of the "Probable's", I did get most of them. I never was in Red-headed Woodpecker habitat. Looking in eBird, it looks like no body reported Yellow-throated Vireo during the Midwest Birding Symposium. I guess I just missed Gray-cheeked Thrush as I see from other bloggers that one was banded at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Darn! Of the "Somewhat Probable's" I was grateful to see the gorgeous Canada Warbler and I was able to hear, but not see, the Veery. I saw a photo that the BSBO also banded a Veery during the symposium. Scarlet Tanagers were seen by a few people, but I dipped. Oh, well. All the more reason for a return visit, right?!
Eastern Screech-Owl turned out to be much easier than being on the "There's some hope" list. Anyone would miss them I guess, unless they went out at night to hear them. Greg Miller had heard a Barred Owl from the parking lot of Meadowbrook Marsh one early morning, but Donald the Birder and I couldn't track one down Saturday night.
I never made it out to do any shore-birding, though I understand an American Golden Plover and White-rumped Sandpiper were seen at Ottawa on the auto tour.
Looking back at my method of creating the probability chart I recognize a couple mistakes I made. First, when I pulled eBird sightings data, I didn't focus on just Ottawa County, but pulled data for all of the surrounding counties too. Now having been to the area, I realize that the counties along the shore of Lake Erie have a very distinct habitat than the counties a bit more inland. Second, I was so enthralled by the pretty warblers that I never made it out to do any shore-birding, which could have added several more life birds.
The probability chart worked accurately enough. Though one thing I did notice in eBird was that most of the data was from sightings by just a small handful of folks during the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium. What that tells me is that we need more eBirders in that region and more eBirders at the symposium. I thought with the BSBO people there and regular visitors, that at least a few would be diligent eBirders. I guess they are too busy collecting their own data and that eBird would just be a lot of time for data entry duplication.
So the moral of his post is that eBird data and study is very helpful when preparing to go birding in a location new to you. Birds are birds, and weather is weather. Birds and weather don't follow our calendar perfectly. So now matter how systematically I tried to prepare, birding will always be an exciting game of chance!