Friday, June 29, 2018

Providing details on flagged high counts of birds

Home-page screen of the current iOs beta version of the eBird application (app). Click on image(s) to see larger versions.

In the beginning, the eBird app required users to provide details for any species that the relevant filter flagged as unusual, either due to the species' rarity or the count being higher than the filter limit, else the checklist would not submit. In 2017, eBird Central decided to dispense with the requirement for details on high counts in order to submit checklists, despite the moaning and gnashing of teeth by many eBird reviewers (including the entire Colorado contingent). This change was incorporated into the then-new Android version of the app and is in beta-testing mode in the iOs version. While both versions of the app still require written details in order to submit reports of rarities, reports from the Android version do not require details for non-zero counts exceeding the filter limit, and the iOs version is heading that way.

Many eBirders have probably rejoiced at this change, but we reviewers really dislike it. That is because a large percentage (though still a minority) of reports in our eBird review queues have no details due to this change. That means that reviewer workload got substantially larger and for very little benefit to eBirders in general. Before the change, something like a simple "estimate" or "counted by 1s" or "counted a portion and extrapolated total" were all that we requested for reports of high counts. The primary reason that reviewers want those details is so that we can be sure that the number reported was the number intended. Even on a phone, it is possible to make a mistake (or series of mistakes) and report unintended numbers.

Because filter limits are kept fairly tight in much of Colorado and Wyoming, reviewers in this region already have a larger task than do many, so this extra workload of having to query observers for details on high counts can be the straw that broke the camel's back. That broken back might result in blanket movement of non-documented reports of counts greater than the filter limit into eBird's non-public data, and none of us -- eBirders or reviewers -- want that. So...


For those that haven't studied how the new app versions look and act, below are some illustrated examples of what your app can show you and what we, as reviewers, would really like eBirders to do.

Figure 1. iOs beta version app showing a hypothetical checklist. Note that the Rock Pigeon tally is indicated as exceeding the filter limit (which is set at 39). Also note that the Inca Dove entry is of a species that has a filter limit for the date and location of zero or is not on the relevant filter at all (in fact, it is not on the filter, as there are no county records). In order to submit the checklist to eBird, the app will require comments for the Inca Dove. However, it will not require comments on the high count of Rock Pigeons. We repeat:  PLEASE REPORT DETAILS OF HOW ANY HIGH COUNTS WERE DERIVED.

Figure 2. Upon tapping on the Rock Pigeon entry in the checklist on the app (see Fig. 1), one can add the detail that we reviewers would like to see on how the high count was derived. We do not need a novella written, just a simple, brief description of your counting/estimating technique (here, "estimate").

Figure 3. Unlike for the Rock Pigeon high count (Fig. 2), rarities require a bit more text. Minor rarities or those entries of species that are only marginally early or late can be supported by skimpier details, but true rarities, like this Inca Dove, need to be supported by firm details. This example is just barely enough for validation, though the promised photos would obviously help a lot.

Figure 4. We reviewers, all being eBirders ourselves, know what a pain it is to have to type much more than a few words into the comments field. However, assuming that one follows through and provides those promised details and/or photos, simply letting us know that you understand why a species flagged and that you'll get to providing those critical details as soon as you can get to a more-typing-friendly machine serves as a useful placeholder. However, PLEASE PROVIDE THOSE DETAILS AND/OR PHOTOS AT YOUR EARLIEST POSSIBLE CONVENIENCE so that we do not have to spend the time querying you.

[A side note about numbers: If one counts a flock of birds by 10s, one cannot report 362 (even if one counted 360 and then two flew over later), as that number is not divisible by 10 without figures to the right of the decimal. It's kind of difficult to have 0.2 of a live bird. One also cannot "count by 5s, then 10s" and report 365, as one's total must be a multiple of the grossest sample size -- in this case, 10. Think of it like this: Before starting a road trip, you check your car odometer, which reads 26362. Upon arriving at your destination, you check it again and it reads 26398, yet you report to the friend that you are meeting that you drove 36.2 miles. The process of counting in smaller sets of birds is similar.]

Tony Leukering and Scott Somershoe (CO reviewers)

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