Bird Atlas Tips May 2009
Congratulations on completing the first month of the Loudoun County Bird Atlas! Since many of you (including myself) are new to atlasing, I thought it may be helpful to send out a few atlasing tips and updates once a month until we all become more familiar with atlasing. As many of you are discovering, atlasing is slow (unlike regular bird walks) and can be very rewarding. Instead of checking a bird off a list and moving on, atlasing requires that you take a few minutes to really observe the behavior of each bird you encounter. The following three tips were passed along by Paul Kreiss, an enthusiastic coordinator for the Maryland Breeding Bird Atlas (2002-2006).
1. The first year go over every street in your block so you know every type of habitat and where the good habitats are. Good habitats are often wooded cemeteries, wooded parks, farm building, wooded residential areas, any water, schools, and fields. When you see an usual species, spend a lot of time watching it, and go back again and again until you can get it confirmed. It may take two or three years to gather good results for your block.
2. Every time you hear a bird singing go back to the same spot a week later because that is one of the easiest ways of documenting a probable breeder (the “T” code). 3. Try to recruit every birdwatcher in your block to feed you information. CLARIFICATION OF SAFE DATES Safe dates indicate when a species is no longer in migration, not when they nest here. I was birding at the Blue Ridge Center a week ago and observed and heard a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher in suitable nesting habitat. This individual may stay here in Loudoun to breed or it may be migrating through (some species sing and even pair before reaching their breeding grounds). That’s where the safe dates come into play. After May 15th I can pretty safely assume any Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher I see or hear will be staying in Loudoun to breed so I can record this species as a possible breeder. Remember that you can record observations from the Probable or Confirmed categories anytime – regardless of safe dates. The one exception to this rule is the P code (observing a pair) in the Probable category.
For information regarding arrival and departure dates for birds that don’t breed in Loudoun, refer to the Maryland Ornithological Society’s Yellowbook (these books are available upon request).
CLARIFICATION OF A FEW ATLAS CODES
1. When you observe aggressive interaction, remember that the “A” code applies to interaction between different species and the “T” code applies to interaction between the same species.
2. Some species make specific calls only when nesting. For example, Cooper’s Hawks make a loud, metallic cackling note (cac, cac, cac, cac) around their nest. Other examples include Cardinal and Goldfinch young, which have very distinctive calls. For more information on nesting-specific calls and other breeding behavior refer to Arthur Cleveland Bent’s electronic book of life histories of North American birds (http://birdsbybent.netfirms.com/index.html). This, and other birding resources, will allow you to look up species from your block to see if they have any breeding specific calls or behaviors you should listen or look for.
3. For cavity nesters, use the “N” code if you observe one or multiple quick visits, without enough time spent in the hole to indicate incubation or caring for young. Use the “ON” code for cavity nesters that enter the hole and stay for a couple of minutes or longer.
4. Use the “UN” code very seldom and only if you are confident you can identify which species the nest or egg shells belong to.
UPDATES FROM THE FIRST MONTH
By popular request, the default species list was expanded to all 276 species so there is no longer an option to view an abbreviated list when entering your atlas data.
18 enthusiastic atlasers have spent 147 hours in the field documenting 1,955 sightings. You have recorded 120 species, with 23 of these species having a confirmed nesting status. Highlights include confirmed nesting in the Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Brown Thrasher, and Common Raven as well as observations of the Sandhill Crane, Rusty BlackBird, Horned Lark, Black-billed Cuckoo, Cliff Swallow, and Cerulean Warbler. Check the atlas data entry site for the entire list of species and their nesting status.
As a reminder – report any new data you collect for bird species that you have already documented as nesting, but do not go out of your way to pursue this kind of data. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Keep up the great work!
Loudoun County Bird Atlas Coordinator