Bird Atlas Tips August 2009
Hi Loudoun County Atlasers!
As summer marches on we are past the peak breeding activity for many (not all!) species, making breeding confirmations challenging. But spending an hour in a tick-covered field with the sun beating down on you in hopes of that one glimpse of that one elusive species is what makes atlasing so fun, right? And don’t give up hope – the Loudoun County Bird Atlas is a year-round project so please continue atlasing your block at least once a month between September and next April. During this time period you will mostly be using the E (encountered) code, which should make data collection and entry quicker.
I’m pleased to announce three new features added to the atlas database thanks to the hard work of Allison Sussman and Mark Wimer at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Several of the features were inspired by comments from atlasers so thanks for your feedback and keep the comments coming!
• Species Maps – When you click on the VA-Lou2009 BBA tab (located under the atlas logo) and view the results by species you can now see a map displaying exactly which blocks each species has been observed in and their current breeding status (possible, probable, or confirmed breeder). The maps are not updated as frequently as the other results so if you want the most up to date status for a species refer to the lists of results.
• Warning about the P (pair) Code in the Probable Category – Some of you may have noticed that a warning message now appears when you enter a P (pair) code for species where the sexes are indistinguishable (Blue Jays, Catbirds, etc.). If you are confident that the 2 individuals are indeed a pair because of behavioral clues you observed, then please do not change your data and keep the P code. However, if you didn’t observe any behavior to indicate that the two individuals were a pair and not two females, two males, or a parent and older fledgling, etc. use a different code and try to get back out in the field to document another probable or confirmed breeding code for the species.
• Atlas Map with blocks in Google Earth – If you don’t already have this great, free mapping program on your computer consider downloading Google Earth and then open the attached kml file for a map of Loudoun County divided into atlas blocks. These satellite images provide a great tool for viewing block boundaries and other geographic features.
A few notes about the Atlas Verification Form
• The Atlas Verification Form can now be downloaded and filled out electronically from the atlas website. However, most computers will not let you save the completed form to your computer so you still need to print the form and either snail mail or scan/email it to me. Does anyone know how to make the verification form interactive and in a format that can be saved to most computers? We are working on providing a link on the atlas database that will indicate whether a verification form is needed or received for each Species of Special Interest sighting.
• Remember to submit a verification form if you observe probable or confirmed evidence of breeding in a species not thought to breed in Loudoun (no asterick behind the name). Please try to have others confirm your sighting and/or take a picture.
• If you observe the same Species of Special Interest in the same area at a later date (within the same breeding season) there is no need to submit another verification form unless you can upgrade the species to a higher breeding category (for example possible breeder to a probable or confirmed breeder). If you can “upgrade” the species then please either fill out a new verification form or email/call me with the additional sighting and date and I’ll update your previously submitted form.
• Breeding activities usually start well before safe dates and continue past safe dates for local nesting pairs. Don’t wait until the safe date to begin looking for nesting birds and don’t stop looking after the last safe date for fledged young. Codes in the Probable and Confirmed breeder categories apply regardless of safe dates (with the exception of the pair code). ~Maryland/DC Breeding Bird Atlas
• Make a list of some of the target species and/or habitat patches you want to focus on each atlasing trip. Know which species have already been confirmed in your block and which species still need confirmation. Take a current list of all species and their status for your block with you. ~Maryland/DC Breeding Bird Atlas
• Print your block map in black-and-white, then plot the location of stick nests on them in red. During the breeding season, mark down new hawk and crow nests that you find, and during leafless days in winter, look for old stick nests. This should give you an idea of where hawks may re-use nests and where owls may be nesting. ~New York Breeding Bird Atlas
Your Atlasing Tips
Attached is a great write-up summarizing an atlasing trip by one of our atlasers, Kurt Gaskill. It’s like going for a bird walk along with him as he atlases the Middleburg and Bluemont areas of the county. This is one of several excellent atlasing descriptions that Kurt recently posted to the VA-bird listserve. Please let me know if you are interested in reading his other summaries.
33 enthusiastic atlasers have spent 853 hours in the field documenting 9,940 sightings. You have recorded 180 species, with 88 of these species having a confirmed nesting status. Highlights from July include confirmations of breeding in the Bobolink, Prairie Warbler, and Black Vulture. Several atlasers have obtained permission to atlas on private properties throughout the county. These permissions enable us to develop a good working relationship with our fellow citizens and will really benefit the atlas in future years. Keep up the great work!
On a side note, I’m expecting the arrival of my second daughter the end of August so the September newsletter may come out a bit later than usual.
Thanks for your patience and understanding!
Loudoun County Bird Atlas Coordinator