#BirdsOnMyBlock: Exploring Bird Apps with Black Birders Week
Thumbnail image: Danielle Belleny, Sheridan Alford, Deja Perkins
[Deja Perkins] Hi, everybody. Welcome. Welcome to Birds On My Block: Exploring Bird Apps with Black Birders Week. I am your host for today, Deja Perkins A.K.A. @naturallywild__ on all the social platforms. Please go ahead and say hello, drop where you’re tuning in from in the chat room, in the chat function.
I’m so happy to have all of you all joining us today. I see we have at least 156 people tuning in here on Zoom. And I’m pretty sure many more on Facebook. And we’re just really excited to have you here with us today.
I have two of my co-hosts or my panelists here with me, Danielle, Bellone, Sheridan Alford. Wave, everybody. Wave, guys. Hey. And so this event today is really just talking about exploring the different birding apps that we have and how we, the three of us really use these apps to help explore the birds on our block and beyond.
So like I said, my name is Deja Perkins. I can be found on the socials @naturallywild__. I am an urban ecologist from Chicago. I specialize in engaging communities with birds and nature-based outdoor activities to connect people with science through citizen science and participatory science projects.
Currently, I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. And I’m working with North Carolina State University. But most importantly, I am an advocate for exploring the nature in our neighborhoods and promoting equal access to natural spaces.
So I’ve traveled all over the world to work with birds and look at how to incorporate nature and cities. And today, I will be hosting this livestream and speaking with our two panelists. First, I will introduce Danielle Bellone. She is a wildlife biologist and avid birder living in San Marcos, Texas.
She enjoys the never-ending opportunities to nature watch in everyday places. Her favorite part about being a biologist is being able to share her knowledge of nature with others. She’s also known as the cemetery birder, because she frequents cemeteries and other overlooked places that are surprisingly complex habitats for wildlife.
Danielle encourages others to #gobirding everywhere– I’m sorry, go birding anywhere, especially cemeteries, parking lots, and even online birding, which are some of her favorite nontraditional birding spots. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @bellz B-E-L-L-Z-I-S birding to find out how you can become a part of the Cemetery Birders Club.
I also have with me here today Sheridan Alford, number three of our Powerpuff Girl Birding Squad. Sheridan is a student at University of Georgia graduating this summer. She is pursuing her Master of Science degree in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, focusing on environmental outreach and education.
Her field experiences have taken her across the American South. And her current interest includes an assessment of African-American involvement in bird watching as an outdoor recreational activity. She’s helped to organize the movement Blackbirders Week.
And she creates digital content on her social media platforms and continues to advocate for the diversification and dissemination of outdoor knowledge to her peers. Sheridan can be found on all the socials @beaniejean_. Is there underscore in there? Do I have that right? Yeah, so there’s an underscore at the end of that.
[Sheridan Alford] Yes to the underscore.
[Deja Perkins] Awesome. Well, thank you all for joining me today. Like I said earlier, I think of these two ladies as my birding besties. We are the three– we are, I would call it, maybe the Powerpuff Girls of birding is how I see it sometimes.
And so with that, I’m actually going to open up this session with an icebreaker. I want to know which Powerpuff girl would you be if we were a team? So you can tell me what Powerpuff girl you’re going to identify with or what type Powerpuff girl you see the three of us being and why. What are our super, super powers?
[Sheridan Alford] This is a really great question. Because I can easily point at y’all and figure out which ones I think y’all would be. But for myself, I think it’s either Blossom or Buttercup alternatively. I don’t know. I feel like I’m both in between the two.
[Danielle Bellone] Yeah. And I definitely see myself as a mix of either Bubbles or Buttercup, which is– I made it two extremes. But sometimes, it’s got to be one side or the other.
[Deja Perkins] Yeah, that’s definitely the two extremes. I definitely see you as Bubbles, Danielle, because you’re so sweet. But I know you would ride for your girls if you needed to.
Yes. I don’t know, Sheridan, you remind me of– you definitely give me Blossom vibes. Definitely, for sure. But you also give me some of that Bubbles as well, because you’re so sweet. Both of y’all are just so nice. But a true leader, a true leader, for sure.
So I guess, we all have a little bit Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup inside us. That’s what makes us so sweet and so powerful as well. So of course, we’re talking about the birds that we’ve seen on our block. Just out of curiosity, what birds have you seen on your block in the past three days? So let us know what have you been seeing?
[Danielle Bellone] OK, so the past three days, spring migration is popping. It teetered off a couple of weeks ago. So lately, I see a lot of house sparrows and open starlings.
They’re pretty fun to watch, because they have a lot of social dynamics. And I also see a lot of health finches right around my apartment complex. But that’s just a different bucket of diversity on my porch that I’ve seen.
[Deja Perkins] So you say they have a lot of– they have really interesting behaviors. Can you tell us a little bit about some of those behaviors? Because that’s a huge part of birding. I think people think that birding or bird watching is just like, oh, like spotting it with your eye and then identifying it.
But that’s not the end all be all of birdwatching. A lot of what I enjoy about writing is just being able to observe the bird and the behavior and to learn about what is this bird doing, what are these cool like behaviors and habits that they have. So can you tell us a little bit more about those starlings?
[Danielle Bellone] Sure. And I definitely can vibe with you on watching the interactions of birds and not just being like a checklist. Like oh, I saw that. Let’s go to the next one. I definitely enjoy a more even slower pace than just watching their behaviors.
But for the house sparrows, especially. It’s just they’re just so kind of brutal with each other. They fight in public in front of their whole families. And they just go at it, just knocking out, dragging out fights. It’s just like, wow, y’all live like this right here next to me. So it’s just really hilarious. With starlings, I like to try to pick up on what they’re trying to mimic and different sounds that they’re making.
[Sheridan Alford] And to your question, Deja, I’ve been in Florida for the past three days. So I don’t have my usual Georgia birds that I’ve been seeing. So I have my laughing gulls and my osprey. We’ve been kind of near the beach. So that’s what I’ve been saying for the past couple of days.
I was at Busch Gardens and it is breeding season for the White ibis. So there are ibis chicks all over the place. So yeah, it was cool. I finally got to step outside of where I’m usually at and see some other breeding birds.
[Deja Perkins] That’s really exciting. And I definitely identify with that, because I travel a lot. So the birds on my block, they can be the birds that are around my home. But also when I’m traveling or I am interning somewhere for the summer, that’s my temporary block. So those are definitely the birds on your block.
And those are some pretty cool birds for you to have seen lately. Florida has all the birds. If you haven’t been birding in Florida, it’s definitely somewhere to put on your checklist of places to go and visit, despite all the other exciting things that they have down there.
So I too am not in my usual location. For those of you who don’t know, I am usually based in Raleigh, North Carolina. But for Black Birders Week, I’m going to be based in Chicago. So before I left Raleigh– which is why I gave us that three day period– I was hearing barred owls outside of my window, which is super exciting for me.
Because sometimes I go outside at night when I hear them calling. And I try and look around and spot them. And they’re communicating back and forth between a couple of trees. Definitely, found a red shouldered hawk nest, which was insane. I heard the chicks calling.
And that’s one of the cool things. Birding isn’t just with your eyes. You can hear birds. And that will help you to either identify them or know what’s going on in your neighborhood. So I’m walking my dog and all of a sudden, I hear this really annoying, really high pitched screaming. It’s kind of frequent.
And I don’t know when I hear those annoying– it kind of sounds similar to something I know, but is really annoying. It’s faster. Really insistent. I’m like, OK, it’s probably a baby bird somewhere. So I’m walking, and I’m looking, and I’m looking up.
All of a sudden, I see two little gray wings flapping about, little fluff, little bird floofs. And I’m looking up. And there, lo and behold, a red shouldered hawk nest that I could barely see. But it was just cool, because I don’t think anybody else who lived around my neighborhood noticed that there are these really cool birds and they have chicks.
So using your eyes, using your ears to help you figure out what’s going on and really to locate birds is really awesome. What’s really cool about my neighborhood in Raleigh is that where we’re super, super forested. So we have a lot of tree cover, which means we have more birds.
But it’s completely opposite to where I am in Chicago in the neighborhood I grew up in where we really only have street trees. And everything else is really gray infrastructure, concrete, buildings, and things like that. So here in Chicago, what I’ve seen– well, what I saw this morning, I saw a chipping sparrow.
Saw a lot of flyovers where I see most of our birds. Saw some gulls. Couldn’t ID because I didn’t have my binoculars on me. But I knew they were gulls. Saw some Canada geese doing a flyover.
But nothing as great– and I don’t want to call it exotic, because barred owls can be found everywhere– well, not everywhere, but a lot of the locations that I was in in the US. But it’s just so completely different, the bird species that I see where I live in Raleigh versus where I live or lived in Chicago.
So long story short, but yeah, there’s some really cool diversity. And I’m glad that the three of us got to hop on a call, because we all live in 3 very different locations. And even, Sheridan, with you not being home right now, just being in Florida, it’s great for you to tell us about those birds as well. So I’m curious, how often do you all go birding in your neighborhoods versus your favorite park or exploring new places?
[Sheridan Alford] Yeah, I would say I try to go birding at least maybe two or three times a month, depending– so I’ve been in school. Of course, I have assignments and all those things. But when I do get free time, it’s usually on the weekend. I take my dog with me, Zazou.
And yeah, we just try and get out there. When I have more free time, it’s definitely closer to once a week. Because it’s birding, you can do it outside your window. You can do it in your neighborhood. I can drive to my local botanical garden and bird.
So it’s very diverse, which is one of the things that I love about birding is you can really do it anywhere and everywhere, as Danielle’s hashtag points out.
[Danielle Bellone] Exactly.
[Deja Perkins] That’s why we love it. You can go birding anywhere.
[Danielle Bellone] Seriously, I was birding in a parking lot just the other morning, because I really wanted some great-tailed grackle photos. And for some reason, I’ve been having trouble finding great-tailed grackle.
But I was thinking too hard. I was going to parks and I was going to like lush places. I’m like they’re in parking lots. I see them at ATB all the time. Why don’t I just go there and take some photos? The reason why I’m having trouble finding them and specifically, female great-tailed grackles.
I finally saw one dragging nesting material back to a tree. I was like, OK, it makes sense why they’re being so secretive right now. They’re trying to keep on the low, keep on the hush. They have babies. I actually found my first great-tailed grackle nest in a parking lot, because I was specifically there just for the birds.
I was like, wow, this is so cool. This is like it solved the mystery of where did the grackles go, where did they come from type of thing. So I do try to go birding, I wouldn’t say, every day. But since I have some really awesome patches not even five miles away from me, there’s a place across the street. There’s a place down the street.
So I almost go out every day at this point just to watch behavior, learn the specific birds that are in my neighborhood. I know there’s a male painted bunting in this one location in this one patch. That type of familiarity with my birds or the birds that I share the space with, it makes me feel like I belong to the community a little bit better.
[Deja Perkins] Yes, I love that.
[Sheridan Alford] And I was going to say I completely agree on the familiarity, because at this point, my dog knows the bird route. But it also makes you have an appreciation for the birds. For me, my northern cardinals, my northern cardinals visit me every morning at my theater. And if I don’t see them, I’m concerned.
So it definitely makes you feel connected and adds a little pizzazz into where you live. It’s not just your house and it’s not just your green spaces. There are things that are out there that I look forward to looking at. And they’re not just your basics. But we care about the basics.
[Danielle Bellone] I guess, can you talk about some of the more obscure birding places? I feel like we’re moving towards that type of thing.
[Deja Perkins] Yeah, for sure, go for it.
[Danielle Bellone] OK, well, I already mentioned parking lots and such. But I recently went for the first time to this fish hatchery that was down the street from me. And yeah, I didn’t really see–
[Sheridan Alford] That’s a great birding place.
[Danielle Bellone] Right. It’s a really great birding place. I was looking at past checklists that had been submitted there, because it’s a hot spot at this point. I was looking at past check lists and was like, oh my gosh, in the winter, we have all these ducks, and all these pelicans, and all these things I could be here. And I missed the window just barely.
So I’m already planning ahead of time for next year and next winter when I can actually see all these species that will be there. But basically, the fish hatchery is this several open ponds of water. Some of them have bird obstruction integration, like wires and stuff, to prevent birds from eating the fish.
But some of them are open. And you see the birds either swimming in it, trying to catch something, or getting water. And there’s also a big field right across the street. So that dynamic of water and open grassland creates ideal areas for a bunch of different birds.
So I’d love to see some bronzed [? calbirds, ?] which I hadn’t seen with couple of years. And again, another easy bird to find. But I was just having trouble finding it. And I found it at that spot that I wouldn’t have been to if I hadn’t been just milling about on hot spots and stuff.
[Deja Perkins] All right, so let’s follow up on that really quick. So you mentioned hot spots and checklists. So what exactly– where are you finding these hot spots? Where are you finding these checklists? For those who don’t go birding that way, what exactly does that mean?
[Danielle Bellone] Sure. So I’m specifically talking about hot spots that eBird creates. And eBird hot spots are publicly accessible areas where there have been a number of checklists submitted. And it’s a pretty popular place. It doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a lot of different species. But it does mean a lot of species are– a lot of reports have been placed in that area.
So I can look on eBird and find hot spots near me. And that just guarantees I’ll be able to find some birds. But a hot spot, you can create your own hot spot. And we can share some more information about that. I don’t want to get too ahead of [INAUDIBLE] It’s a good resource to get going for– to find places to go.
[Deja Perkins] Yeah.
[Sheridan Alford] I would definitely second that on hot spot. On eBird and Audubon app, whichever one, that’s how I as a newer birder find places, especially if you have a hard time kind of getting into the community. You don’t really have people to tell you like, oh, you need to go here, you need to go there. That’s where the apps definitely come in handy to kind of try to tell you where to go.
[Deja Perkins] Yeah, so eBird, since we didn’t fully, fully explain what it is, it’s an app and a online site that you can use to explore hot spots nearby. It’ll allow you to keep track of your checklist. If you are one of those lister birders, you can explore other– you can find out where other people are going and finding birds.
And it really is a useful tool if you are just getting started into birding. Because it allows you to see– if you’re trying to figure out where some of the cool species are or you’re trying to add things to your list, it allows for other people to report where they are seeing things.
And on that researcher side of things, which is where I sit– I have one leg in– it allows researchers to actually look and monitor populations and look at different parameters about birds. Because we have people who are crowdsourcing that data and submitting their observations, which is really cool.
It’s a collective, community effort, which is another thing about birding. So it’s like it’s not just– it can be a solo thing, something that you do for yourself and you keep to yourself. But it’s also something that you can do to meet community and build community.
So I guess, this is a really good segue way into you all explaining how exactly do you prepare to go birding. Well, I’m a little stuck right now. I don’t know who should talk about how we prepare to go birding or if we should just go ahead and explain all the apps that we use. So how about you all tell me–
Yeah, let’s do a combination. Sheridan, go ahead.
[Sheridan Alford] Thank you, host. So yeah, prep, first is starting at the house and getting my bag and shoes together. I always decide what kind of location am I going to. Is it going to be forested? Do we have a path of paved road?
Am I going to be in the thick of things or is it pretty clear? And then the weather, of course. So I generally choose my shoes based off of that. I get a a raincoat. Get some bug spray, if you are going to be out in the woods.
But then also making sure that I have my phone charged. Making sure that I have the right binoculars or two or three pairs of binoculars if I’m going out with a group.
I also to try and make sure that I have a field guide. And then I also make sure that someone knows where I’m going, just for safety reasons and to make sure that all is well, basically.
[Deja Perkins] For sure. I definitely always shared my location. I have my location shared on my phone at all times with a few different people. But then there are some people, it’s like, OK, I’m going birding. Here’s my location.
Just so you know, this is the time maybe that I plan to be back, just in case something happens. Danielle, do you have anything that you add in there to help prepare you before you get to your destination?
[Danielle Bellone] Well, I think Sheridan pretty much touched on all the things I run through. I’m a pretty last minute birder. I don’t typically go birding with other people. So I’m granted that ability. But basically, I wake up in the morning, check the weather. All right, put my Tevas on and go.
Of course, I do let somebody know where I’m going also. And it also helps me keep track of time. Because once I get in the groove of birding, it’s like, oh, I’ve be gone for like eight hours. Oh, I should go see my family. Oh, oops. So it’s good to let them know like, hey, I’m in birding. If you need me, contact me or else I’m going to be gone.
[Deja Perkins] Yeah, those are really good points. Is there anything that you do to choose which location you’re going to go birding at? Or is it just kind of like, where do I feel like going today? Visiting some of my favorite spots or is there something you do like, let’s say, migration season, in order to get those birds, how are you prepping, how are you planning to go to other spots?
[Danielle Bellone] Yeah, so I guess, I will look ahead of time and look on the Audubon app and eBird, which they are integrated. So you can see basically the same data just on different interfaces. I’ll check those, see if my target species have been seen lately.
If not, then I’ll just try to find a place that has either a high species count or maybe some other species I really would like to see. And then just plan the day around that. But usually, I go to the same spot, because– or lately, I have. Because I want to take photos. And these photos are a lot more interesting subjects that cooperate.
So I’ll make a mental map of like, OK, where are the calm slow birds so I can get a feel around this as opposed to going straight out there just for spring migration. So it does depend on what I’m trying to do. Go birding photography, relax, et cetera.
[Deja Perkins] Purposes, that’s a good point.
[Sheridan Alford] And I think also another point in just safety and awareness, especially the birds on my block are not– where I grew up, everybody in the town doesn’t know me. And so I think being Black and being a woman as well is very important to make sure that I preplan my routes. Make sure that I share my location.
Like I said, I might bring my dog with me for his exercise, but also for my safety as well. Or having some kind of safety weapon or something, something small on you, just to make sure. Because especially in this climate, you don’t know what is going to happen.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. And even though I can take all the steps to try and make sure that I’m being respectful or following the law, things happen. Things definitely still happen. So I think those are very important for us, specifically.
[Deja Perkins] For sure. No, that’s a really good point. And I probably need to do a better job of planning for safety. Because I would say I am definitely a person who I’m birding all the time. I don’t turn birding off. As soon as I walk out the door–
[Sheridan Alford] It never goes off.
[Deja Perkins] It never goes off. Maybe not even as soon as I walk out the door. I’m birding inside my house. If I’m near the window and I hear something, I’m like, oh. My red shouldered hawks are my alarms to get up in the morning.
There’s a song sparrow that perches on the corner of the building and sings. I’m like, OK, that’s my song sparrow. At some point, I had palm warblers. I’m like, OK. Or I’m using apps like BirdNET to figure out, OK, what bird is that that I’m hearing every single morning or when I’m walking out my door to walk my dog.
OK, what’s my first bird of the day? What birds do my singing this morning? I’m definitely someone who visits the same spots all the time. I feel like I’ve adopted my neighborhood and I’m the bird monitor for my neighborhood. Because I’m walking every morning. I’m recording what I’m seeing in eBird.
Or even if it’s not in eBird, I’m looking and I’m listening to really see how the birds are changing over time in my neighborhood as well as in some of the local spots that I visit. So when it comes for me personally going out and exploring, I have, I would say, maybe about three or four parks that I visit on a pretty frequent basis.
And sometimes, like, let’s say, during spring migration, I’ll hop on to eBird, on the website version, and I’ll kind of look and check to explore and see at the hot spots that I visit, what birds are people reporting at these three locations.
And then for one location, it doesn’t get a lot of people who frequent it. So sometimes it’ll be months before the earliest sighting or the most recent sighting will have been a month or two ago. So I’m like, OK, let me go and check on this spot and see what birds there, how the spot is doing.
And so I’ve kind of adopted these locations and I visit them. And sometimes, depending on the season, I’m like, OK, well, which one have seen the most birds? Which spot has had birds reported that I haven’t seen lately? And then I will use that to go and pick.
But I typically monitor the same locations over and over just because those are my communities. Those are the places that I feel like they need some more love. And so I feel like I also have my researcher brain on. So I’m always trying to like populate these places with data and just kind of have some consistent monitoring going on.
[Sheridan Alford] I was going to say and I love when people start to know that you’re the bird girl, you’re the bird person. And being in school, a lot of my classes are outdoors. So we’ll be sitting outside for a class. And someone’s like at the end or the beginning, they’re like, all right, Sheridan, what birds have you heard?
It’s definitely become a thing of like you’re known as that person or you are familiar with the birds in that area, which I like. I love being the bird girl.
[Danielle Bellone] I think we should run through, I guess, hot spots on eBird, how people can– we’re talking about the hot topic so much, we might as well share the good resource with folks.
[Sheridan Alford] Am I cuing the video?
[Danielle Bellone] Sure. Sure. Cue the video.
[Deja Perkins] All right. So Sheridan is popping up. This is my screen here. So you can go ahead and keep it paused for a second. So I have all my birding apps in one location on my phone. And then go ahead and press play, Sheridan.
So I click into eBird. And this is the first interface that you see. It automatically has the date and the time. And it says record track. So then give that a pause for me, please. So one of the things that you can do with eBird is go ahead and keep track of your life list.
And so can you rewind it just a tiny bit? All right, so one of the things you can do is keep track of your list. And so you can see that in Cook County, which is where I currently am, I’ve had 35 species total. I haven’t– wow, I haven’t had any checklists in Chicago and Cook County.
And you have to– oh, I’m neglecting some things. That happens to me every day. All right, so go ahead and press play. So you can check it by county. You can also keep track and look by the United States, by the world.
So as we can see, the birds that I’ve seen, wood duck, chimney swift, common goldeneye. And the last checklist I entered in Cook County was in December. But you can also explore my species by just the US as a whole.
You also see this comparison between 2021 and 2020. So this year, 90 species. By May last year, 138 species by May. You can also check the same thing for the world. You can look by year and by May in the different types of species and kind of compare your list year by year, month by month.
You can challenge yourself and kind of compete with yourself. The next part is actually starting your check, list. So you click on Start Checklist. It will automatically track your location and your track your mileage.
So if you type in, let’s say, I saw chipping sparrow this morning, click on one. I can look and see if there were any breeding codes, so if the bird was singing, if I saw courtships, if I saw two birds doing some type of courtship display or copulation, if I saw that the bird was carrying food, or feeding young, I could add those codes into eBird.
And that would also let scientists know that I was seeing this bird doing this breeding behavior, that we had breeding birds in this area as well. But keeping this checklist, you can type in your species name by common name or code.
You can also choose your location or where you are and where you’re reporting your birds. So let’s say I’m reporting at Rainbow Beach, saw a chipping sparrow, and, let’s say, the only bird that I saw this morning was the chipping sparrow.
I can stop my track. It’s going to stop it at some point. Or I can add checklist comments as well if I saw anything unusual.
[Sheridan Alford] And she’s also going through different ways to your list. You can sort of by common name, scientific name, change the number of birds that she saw, if she wants to add any. So here’s the stop. She’s stopped her checklist at this point.
[Deja Perkins] And so you have three different types of observations. You can do traveling, stationary, or incidental. So if I just saw this one chipping sparrow and I wasn’t purposely birding, let’s say, I just walked out of my house, I’m like, oh, there’s a chipping sparrow, I want to add that to my list.
Or let’s say– I probably wouldn’t report a chipping sparrow. I saw a barred owl at my front door. Like, oh, cool, and report the barred owl as an incident. And then I would keep going on about my day.
But you also have stationary, which means that you’re in one spot. And you’re purposely birding in one spot. You haven’t traveled more than, I believe, 40 meters, 30 to 40 meters. And then you also have traveling, which is any time you are actually going on a bird walk, or walking on the trail, or actually putting any type of distance while you are bird watching.
And so that’s pretty much it. You can track your minutes. You can track how many people that you’ve had with you observing. And so those are the main points. Please let me know if I missed anything. I know that video was very, very quick.
[Danielle Bellone] It’s not a problem, Deja, because we have an article typed up that basically details all the things that Deja has already mentioned. But it also has details on how you can participate in Saturday’s event, which is Birds of a Feather.
We’re encouraging folks worldwide to just submit a checklist, just one checklist, try to go birding for at least five minutes somewhere that’s really close to you, within 15 miles. And we can go ahead and share that. But I can also share with you how to find hot spots on the web interface.
The mobile interface is pretty similar. It’s pretty easy to find out. But the web interface has a lot of other resources that you can’t access from your phone, which it would be good to get you familiarized with that.
So here is the eBird website. This is just the homepage at ebird.org. And if you scroll down, you can see right here is the article for Birds of a Feather. And I’ll take you right to basically all the things that Deja just ran through and further information on how you can participate in our Saturday events.
And also, there is a giveaway associated with that event. So if you are interested in that or if you’re interested in helping us keep tabs of where you are checking in from, please submit that information on our checklist as well via the link to this article.
So back to the eBird home page. It always starts off with this beautiful bird. But I like to go straight to explore. And then you can see there’s a bunch of options here on what you want to do. Explore species, it basically takes you to a specific species that you want to go to. Give you some quick stats about them.
Explore regions. You can find the whole county, estate, province, et cetera, areas, big five areas that you can get information for. Or you can switch that to US National Wildlife areas. But I like to go into hot spots, because that’s what we are here for.
And when you’re in this hot spots tab, you can either go directly to the location. I like to type in the county here. Or if you know the hot spot name, you can enter it in the hot spot area. And so I’m in Hays County, Texas. That’s going to Zoom in right to where I am.
So here’s San Marcus. And each of these little tabs that you see on the screen is a hot spot. The color, the more the redder colors are a lot more species have been observed there. The more gray colors, a lot less species have been observed there.
So I would say for our initiative, a really good place to start would be some of the lighter grays and blues. Because I doubt there’s only been 15 species that exist in those areas. There’s probably a couple more that can tally up on those hot spot areas.
So once you click a hot spot, you can see how many species have been observed and also how many checklists. Only two checklists have been submitted here. And I would like to get some more information. But you can also see directions from where you are to get to that hot spot, which is super helpful.
You can also go ahead and submit data straight to a checklist. And I’ll show you the bar charts in a second. Let’s go to a few details first. All right, so here I can see all the sightings that have been reported for this location. And in this recent visit side over here, you can see the most recently submitted checklist.
So the last person that was here was in 2020. So this checklist or this hot spot has not had a checklist since then. And this is all the species that have been observed out there. So really good way to have a quick overview of specific area.
They also have this illustrated checklists, which gives you those bar charts of where you could possibly see species in those areas. This hot spot doesn’t really have that much information. So it needs some more contributions.
But if you go to more visited hot spots, you can see a lot more interactive options on selecting species, selecting checklists, et cetera. That is a hot spots overview.
[Deja Perkins] That’s awesome. So eBird, two primary ways you can use it to explore hot spots, — [tongue-tied sounds and laughter] — use it to explore hot spots near you and figure out and to help you plan your trip and figure out where you want to go.
Or you can use them to keep track of your lists and submit the birds that you’re seeing. And so now let’s kind of talk about what we use in order to identify the birds once we get to our spots. So I know one of my favorite apps is Merlin. So Sheridan, why don’t you go ahead and start walking us through how to use it? What is it and how do we use it?
[Sheridan Alford] So Merlin, the Merlin’s Bird app is Cornell’s identification and exploration app. And I will share a video with you all just to go through that. OK, so these are the birding apps. The three ID apps that we have here are Merlin, Audubon, and Raptor ID.
We’re going to go through Merlin first. So clicking on it, you can start bird ID. So this is great if you’re a new birder and you don’t really know what’s in your area. You can pick what time you saw the bird. I’m going to rewind it a little bit.
You can pick out what time you saw the bird, where you were. So if I was in Athens, Georgia, I would click that one. And then when did I see it, so it has a date time. Because again, of course, there are breeding times. So it’s important to know what time of year it is.
And then it asks you what size the bird is. Is it sparrow size all the way up to Canada goose size. And so it has some in between, which is really nice. Because sometimes you’re kind of like, oh, it’s in between there. And you can pick multiple colors, if it’s red and white or yellow and white.
And what was it doing? What’s its activity? And then it will generate a list of birds for you based on your location and the things that you’ve laid out. You can see the options that I gave as well as some pictures of either the breeding adults, immatures, females.
So it gives you quite a few options for you to narrow down. And then it’ll also play the call for you, which meadowlark calls are extremely beautiful. So yeah, you go through it and you kind of pick which ones– and then you can pick if it is your bird or it isn’t your bird at the bottom there.
So that is one of the great apps that I use for identification. If you kind of already have an idea of what the bird is, you can go back and actually just type in the name. So I do this a lot. Say, I had a brown-headed nuthatch, I can click it, go through the photos, play the sounds.
Same thing. Kind of see where its locations are in the United States. So it’s a very useful app. The Audubon app is similar. And we’ll get through that one next. Oh, no, we’re going through Raptor ID. I’m not the greatest with that. I was going to say I’m not the–
[Danielle Bellone] I was going to chime in on another thing I had about Merlin app just–
[Deja Perkins] Yeah, go ahead.
[Danielle Bellone] Because I’m a big fan of Merlin app. But as my go-to app when I see a bird and I don’t know what it is, I go directly to that one. Because it has a very user friendly interface. Super quick tap, tap, tap, this might be your bird.
Some other apps have similar functions. But they have like a lot more options. And when I’m in the field, I’m usually like– I’m doing a bird survey. I need to identify it right now. I don’t want to go through 18 more questions to figure out what this bird is.
I also like to use Merlin app for I don’t know what hawks are in Texas. So I can just type in hawk. And if I download a bird pack, I can see every single hawk that is in this geographic region. And that helps me narrow down the weird thing that I just saw in the sky a lot faster. And then I can double check what I saw with some other apps as well.
[Deja Perkins] Yes. I will hop in on that as well. I 100% love using Merlin when I travel to new locations. So for me, I never go anywhere without my binoculars. So they are always in my bag. And so when I’m going, especially places outside of the country, I make sure that I download the bird pack for the location that I’m going to be at.
And Merlin is so useful, because it just allows you to quickly know what birds are going to be in your location at the time of year. Birds, they migrate, they don’t stay in the same location all the time throughout the year. And so it just is really helpful to be able to know what birds are there.
And they’re also– I’m not sure if it was on this screen, Sheridan– but I know someone did ask the question about what the little half circles mean on eBird. I believe the half circles and full circles are on Merlin as well.
But those are referencing if a bird is rare or not. If it’s being reported, if it’s uncommon in your area. So that little half circle there under cooper’s hawk, that means uncommon. And it’s the same symbology on eBird.
So if you think you saw something, you’re not really sure, so sometimes it’s like in between time of year where the cooper’s hawks are just arriving. But you know you think you saw one, but everybody else is like, oh, we’re not really sure. It’ll pop up as uncommon.
If you go to report that bird over to eBird, sometimes it’ll say, oh, that’s actually great. Other people have been seeing cooper’s hawks as well. And the red circle, which looks like a full moon or just a colored in red dot, that actually means rare. So that means the bird this is highly uncommon to see it in that area.
[Sheridan Alford] I don’t think I have any red circles on here.
[Deja Perkins] It’s OK. We’ll–
[Sheridan Alford] Yeah, I don’t have any red circles.
[Deja Perkins] We’ll see it eventually. If you have one of those red circles, that means that the bird is rare. So like I said, Merlin is great for being able to find birds close to home as well as when you’re traveling.
If you’re like me and can’t leave home without your binoculars and just want to know like, oh, maybe you went to Jamaica or something and you want to just figure out like, oh, what are these birds I’m seeing on the beach? Or what does that bird that’s kind of like soaring up above with this really bright red throat patch?
And you look up in Merlin and it shows it’s a magnificent frigatebird. So it’s just a really awesome tool to always be able to have with you. And on a regularly scheduled program with Raptor ID.
[Sheridan Alford] One more thing [INAUDIBLE] so like she said if it’s uncommon in your area and you’re a new birder, you can kind of get a sense of what is usually in my area and what isn’t. Because you don’t know at the beginning stage.
So that is also just a great resource. If I’m using eBird, I’m using Merlin. And they’re right next to other, as you can see. Scrolling all the way back to another Cornell Lab structured program is Raptor ID.
So raptors, if you’re familiar with birding or if you’re new, a lot of times, you’re seeing them from underneath. And that can get a little difficult always. So we’re definitely going to click on one of these.
It’ll show you pictures– I’ll pause it here– it shows you your first year versus your adults as well as some different regional variations, Florida, Southern, California. So that’s always useful, depending on where you are. Because, again, hawks are a lot of times across the United States and they have some variation in color.
It also has a video here that you can click on as well as the range. And then it gives that for each of these hawk and raptor species. So that’s super useful. Like I said, when you’re seeing it from underneath, it’s not always the same. And a lot of them look very similar to each other. So those are definitely the two most used ID apps that I use. And I will stop sharing my screen now.
[Deja Perkins] Yes. Awesome. So learning by sight, also that exploring hot spots and keeping track of our list, eBird you’ve got. If we want to explore what birds might be in our area before we go birding, or if we’re in a new location, or if we see a bird that we don’t know how to ID, that’s when we pull out Merlin.
Now let’s talk about birding by ear. It’s a great time of year to do that. Lots of leaves on the trees right now. A lot of these small warblers or small birds that are hiding behind the leaves and they don’t want to cooperate with us. How can we figure out what we’re hearing and what birds are calling?
[Danielle Bellone] And do I have an answer for you. I’m absolutely obsessed with this app called BirdNET. And it has been available for Android devices for a while. And I’ve been so envious, oh, should I get an Android just so I can identify birds by sound?
But it’s also available for iOS now, very recently. I think at the top of 2021. So Apple and Android users, we are both able to now use this awesome resource. And I’ve been using it extensively when I go in the field. Even if I know the bird, I’ll be like, oh, I wonder if BirdNET knows.
So it’s all hits and no misses so far. And I’ll share with you how I like to use BirdNET. All right, so this is what the BirdNET interface looks like. And that’s the beginning screen. And it does take a second to start up.
So if your bird is singing and you feel like it’s about to stop and then it never sings again, I’m so sorry. It happens. It’s something that happens. But if you are able to catch your bird– so here’s the BirdNET opening up. Like I said, it takes a second.
And then it immediately starts recording the sounds that are around. So you can see the spectrum down here is going up and up and down. It’s actually recording a birdsong, not my voice. And eventually, I’m going to scan– that stripe there, I just selected the clip that I want to have analyzed, the part that I thought was the most interesting or the most unique for that bird song.
And then I click Analyze at the bottom right here. And BirdNET is going to take a minute. And then it was able to figure out that I had a painted bunting and a house finch. And it also ranks them by certainty. So it can do multiple species at the same time.
And another disclaimer, my fieldwork is in some more remote areas. So there’s not too much background noise. So things like highway sounds, or fans, or other background noise could interfere with the ability for this app to correctly identify your species.
But I have not had too much difficulty really getting mixed up with other things. It’s hooked up to Wikipedia also. So you’re able to see the other birds. And you can go ahead and go back to recording without losing that clip. You can also select a new section if you don’t like the initial section that you selected. You can go back and forth to a new part without deleting it.
And you can also just save those sounds instead of analyzing them. Because you do need an internet connection or you need phone service, at least, in order for the bird sounds to be analyzed by the app. So if you don’t have cell service, just save it, analyze it later.
And it also saves all of your information in the app. You can refer back to your recorded sounds. And they are automatically saved as .wave files and they’re easier to share with other folks. So if you want someone else to have a second look or a second listen to the sound that you heard, you can easily share it straight from the app and it sends directly to that person without the app.
What else about BirdNET? So you can change the window. So you can see the screen, the recording started right here and then I ended it right here. But this whole screen is 30 seconds. You can change the length of that recording ability in the settings.
But once that sound passes the window, you can’t pull back. So a disclaimer, if you heard a good sound, go ahead and clip and save. And keep it rolling if you want to record more sound. Also, this app does drain battery. So I close it out after each time that I use it, like a complete hard close on the app. Or else my battery is drained.
And then by the time I’m trying to finish my survey and my phone’s dead and I hear a bird that I’m not sure about. So just a heads up on the BirdNET app. Otherwise, I absolutely love the app and have a really great time.
They might have a tutorial on their website. I’m not sure. But it’s a pleasable interface. And you can play around with it and learn it easily.
[Deja Perkins] Yeah, and that’s actually a disclaimer I would mention about all of the apps is that they can drain your battery pretty quickly. So sometimes, I even record what I’m hearing or seeing outside of eBird sometimes, if I know if I go out in the field and I already have a low battery or something like that.
Or you can also do that in record and input your observations later. But Danielle, that was a great overview of BirdNET. And I will I 100% agree with you on being envious on the Android users. When I first learned of BirdNET, I was so, so envious.
I have never wanted an Android more in my life, just because they had that ability to use this app, which I found to be really helpful. And I think it definitely has increased my ability to go birding and more accurately identify the things that I’m encountering on my walks.
And I don’t just use BirdNET when I hear something that I don’t know. Sometimes, I use it to practice. When I’m practicing my own ability to ID birds by ear, I’m like, oh, I think that’s a pine warbler. But a pine warbler sounds really similar to– well, it can sound really similar to a parula.
And so I’m like, OK, well, I think that might be it might be the pine warbler or parula. Let me record it and let me use BirdNET and check it. And maybe BirdNET will say it’s definitely a pine warbler.
Or sometimes with BirdNET, it’ll say, oh, it’s possible that it’s these two species. Then I use that process of elimination. And the scientist in me is always like, well, let me just go back and double check. So then I’ll come out of BirdNET and I’ll go into Merlin and look in and play the songs that are located in Merlin’s app.
I’m like, OK, well, let me play the pine warbler in Merlin or let me play the parula in Merlin and see which one better matches up. Or if that’s one of the situations where it’s a bird that I just 100% don’t know and then I can double check. So it’s a great app to be able to help you double check as well and not just always helping to just ID.
So I always, always double check. So now we only have about five minutes left. And we have tons of audience questions that I would really love to get through.
[Sheridan Alford] I know. I’ve been trying to go through and answer some of them. So if some of you might have some answers, type. And then we can try to get through the other ones as well.
[Deja Perkins] OK, so let’s see. So I see a really good question here. Do you have any recommendations or tips for introducing new birder’s to incorporating eBird into their birding practices?
[Sheridan Alford] Yeah, I think my best tip, especially for a new birder, is make it like a competition. Because, of course, we’re all comrades as well. But I need more votes than Deja by the end of the year, which probably won’t happen.
But yeah, make it kind of fun. Make it a competition. And you can do that with eBird by teaching them how to log their birds. And they can even compete with themselves. It doesn’t have to be with someone else.
So month by month, if you make the goal of 10 species, cool. Next month, we need to get to 20 or however you want to do it. So that’s usually how I kind of introduce eBird. And then make it fun. And then after a while, they’ll just automatically use it, from what I’ve seen.
[Danielle Bellone] And also, eBird has initiatives each month– also throughout the year– if you can submit at least one check list every day of the year, you’re submitted to this pool of winners to win things. But they also have monthly initiatives too. So that’s another initiative for you.
[Deja Perkins] Those are great tips. I can’t lie, when I first got into birding, I was birding and just observing birds before I was logging birds into eBird. As you see, I didn’t start logging birds into eBird until 2020. But I was bird watching and observing birds and doing that much longer.
But until I incorporated eBird, I wasn’t sure just how many birds I was seeing. It was just more of a, oh, I saw that bird. It was cool. And now it’s like, oh, yeah, I saw all these birds. A lot of times, I can think back to the moment that I saw these birds.
And it helps me to really keep track of that. And I see somebody put in the chat, I can go full Pokemon Go with bird watching. And that’s so true. Think of eBird as your Pokemon ball that you really collect all your bird Pokemon in.
So let’s see what other– OK, so I see a good question. What technology do each of you wish existed to make birding even more exciting?
[Sheridan Alford] That’s a good one. Danielle, you could go ahead.
[Danielle Bellone] I want to warbler pause button. That’s it. That’s what I want. Stay still. Let me see you.
[Sheridan Alford] Now I need– and I think this does exist, but it is definitely not accessible whatsoever– I need binoculars that take pictures. I know there’s a monocular that takes pictures as you’re looking through them. But it’s like a thousand gajillion dollars. So yeah, I need some binoculars that I can just go click and then I don’t have to do digital scope all day.
[Deja Perkins] That would make life so much easier, so much easier. All right, I see some other questions. How do you pick what birds are your target birds? I think this is in relation to Danielle’s question earlier.
[Danielle Bellone] Honestly, I just scroll through the apps and like, oh, that’s cool. Does that live near to me? it does. All right, let’s go see it. And that’s basically it.
[Deja Perkins] Yeah it’s really simple. If there was a bird that I haven’t seen, let’s say, if I’m going birding on the coast. I’m like, oh, I haven’t seen a sanderling this year. And so that’s going to be the bird that I want to see. That’s just my personal target bird. It’s just based on what you want to see.
And I guess, we have so many more questions, but we are in our last minute. So I guess, if you all have any last tips or last words of wisdom that you want to impart on our audience?
[Danielle Bellone] I would say it takes time. I’m personally bad as an eBird checklist. But I am going to do better. I’m going to hold myself accountable. But hey, you don’t have to be perfect at it. Just give it your best shot.
[Sheridan Alford] Yeah, and I always say, if you’re looking at a bird, then you’re birding. Don’t think that you have to have the most expensive binoculars or be proficient in all the sounds in your area.
Just getting out there is literally half if not more than half the battle. So yeah, I get into it. Love it. Follow all of our tags. We’re always, like I said, never not birding. Literally never not birding. So follow all of our tags. Visit all of our websites.
[Deja Perkins] Yes, we are always birding. And I will say incorporate that into your daily practice as well. Take a second to stop, breathe. You can either put down your phone in order to watch and observe what’s going around you or you can use your phone to help you to identify and explore the world around you. It’s up to you.
But I will say, practice makes perfect. And the more you play with these apps, and the more you go out, and practice birding and practice birding by sight and sound, the better you will be and the more enjoyable your outdoor experience will be.
So I will say thank you all so much for joining us for this webinar, Birds On Your Block. And tag us on social media. #birdsonyourblock, #blackbirdersweek2021. Let us know what birds you’re seeing on your block. Let us know if this has been helpful.
Let us know what apps you’re using, what tools you’re using in order to up your birding game. Until next time. Oh, go ahead. What was that, Sheridan?
[Sheridan Alford] I was just going to say if you have more questions, DM somebody.
[Deja Perkins] Bye, everybody.End of transcript
Curious about the birds on your block? Join Black AF in STEM Collective and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn about using the tools to aid you in finding and identifying the birds on your block! Learn from Deja Perkins, Sheridan Alford, and Danielle Belleny as they share their experiences and the tools they use on their birding adventures. Learn how to use digital tools like Merlin Bird ID, BirdNET, and eBird to practice your birding skills on your outdoor adventures.