Saturday, December 30, 2017

Do You Remember Your 1st Rare Bird Sighting? - 30 Dec 2017

Worm-eating Warbler from Magee Marsh, May 2013
I don't. Not at all. But, apparently, I have a record of it, and it appears to be valid!

Back at the end of October I received a call from our receptionist at work that a visitor from Germany was here to meet with a colleague. "Had I seen him?" was the question, and my answer was "No". Since the person was from Germany I felt it necessary to meet him and let him know that my colleague was out of the office today. It turned out that he was a fellow microscopist and lab leader from the Physics Labs in Ludwigshafen so I was happy to meet him and give him a tour of our labs.

During my discussions with Dr. Bernd Hindrichson the topic of birds came up (he had seen some of my bird photos in the lab here at work). Turns out that he had just created a new bird-listing app called SENED BirdWorld and would I be interested in checking it out? Absolutely! So, I downloaded a copy of the app from the App Store and gave it a once-over.

In terms of a listing app, it is very basic, and cannot really compete with apps like Birder's Diary or even eBird. But, what I like about it is that it lists every species of the current IOC List 6.1 (10,600 spp) and each species is linked to both Wikipedia and BirdLife International websites, so species status is available (least concern - near threatened - ... critically endangered), along with high-resolution photos that makes this a nice reference app for world-listers. At $9.95 you can download North American checklists for each state and province. For additional $9.95 prices you can download European and Asian checklists so you have access to checklists for specific regions. For ~$45 you can download checklists for every region of the world that makes "ticking" easy.

If you're into gaming the app has a feature that gives you points for each sighting based on the specie's rare-ness. So, each time you tick a sighting you get additional points. Consider it a basic Pokeman-Go type app.

Where the app fails is that sightings can only be entered once, and is based on your present location, so a historical sighting of a Reed Bunting from Europe could show as being entered from North America if you waited until you were home to enter the sighting. But, as I mentioned earlier, I like the app for its Reference Value - having a photographic database of every bird species is kind of neat!

While reviewing the app I was somewhat obligated to see what else is out there in terms of listing software. Now I'm doing searches to compare different software packages like Avisys (no longer available), Birder's Diary, eBird, Swift, Bird Journal, etc. Luckily, I found an article by Surfbirds that has a nice comparison of the different packages and compares them. The Test Garden also has a nice article and review of each package.

Which led me to spending some time yesterday viewing Birder's Diary videos on YouTube. It's an impressive package, especially new Version 5.0. Birder's Diary is now what I've always wanted in a record-keeping package. When I first started keeping notebooks online, I wanted something that would allow me to store images, as well as observations. That's how I ultimately got into blogging. I have no plans to stop blogging, but with pressures from eBird to start logging sightings, I thought it might be time to pull out the old files and start building a life list. 'Till now I have no idea where my life list stands.

I was all excited about Birder's Diary until I saw the price. Up to $150 to get access to the world lists, which I'd need since my trips to Kenya, Mexico,  and Europe would be needed to record sightings. Suddenly, Birder's Diary seemed like an expensive effort. So, I opted to check out eBird.

I've been aware of the power of eBird for some time now, and fully endorse it as the ultimate listing / citizen science effort. But until yesterday I didn't know that it could be used as a World-listing Software package (eBird uses Clement's / AOU lists while other packages may use IOC lists). Since it's free, I decided to start uploading some of my old sightings for fun.

With apologies to eBird reviewers, I started entering some sightings from my earliest notebook dating back to 1986 - 1988. Entries were were more journal notes, with sightings of birds, but not necessarily efforts and numbers. So now I'm trying to decide between Historical vs. Incidental vs. Traveling vs. Stationary sightings, and how to put numbers to sightings when all I mention are Great Blue Heron(s), Cattle Egret(s), etc. And, how do I document those birds considered rare? I've decided to muddle through and hope the eBird gods will forgive my indiscretions regarding entries.

This morning, while lying in bed trying to wake up, I remembered I had a file on my computer named LifeList.doc. It was a Word document that I created back in ~1988 as a first project with my brand new Zeos x486 PC. I typed out the current North America list of birds, including species names, and entered my first sightings of species seen during my undergraduate days at UM-Dearborn (1981 - 1984). Back then I was taking a Field Biology class with Dr. Orin Gelderloos, and part of that class was identifying flora/fauna in the Natural Area at UM-D, and having to learn everything possible about those sightings. Those field notebooks were the source of my life list that was started in 1988.

So, I thought I'd sort the sightings by date in order to enter my life list into eBird. I spent the better part of the morning retyping dates into a format that would allow me to sort sightings and I was then able to generate a chronological listing of bird sightings starting as far back as 04 May 1981.

I was therefore surprised when my first eBird entry (of historical sightings) included a Worm-eating Warbler! eBird flagged the species as RARE for the UM-Dearborn area, so I was forced to determine if the sighting was real or not. You see, I was a brand new student to birding, and this was my first day in the field with a pair of binoculars. Like everyone else in the class I was having to write down observations of birds that were mostly being pointed out by Dr. Gelderloos. I would then have to research and learn what I could about those plants/birds that were suddenly being assigned to us for the next day's quiz. 30 years later I'm looking at a tick mark next to Worm-eating Warbler, and am now wondering if I made the obvious misidentification mistake of a new birder.

But, it had to be correct. Why else would that sighting be in my field notebook, only later to be entered into this life list? Unfortunately, my field notebooks were lost after loaning them out to a certain baby sister who's name I won't mention (let's call her Shell) - she took the same class with Dr. G. ten years later. The notebooks subsequently were passed on to someone else or were lost or destroyed.

I was about to scratch the sighting from eBird when I remembered that I had a copy of Julie Crave's Birds of Dearborn-An Annotated Checklist. I pulled up the entries for Worm-eating Warbler, and found that a bird had been banded on 06 May 1981, just two days after this sighting! Therefore, we (the class) must have seen it, and can then claim the sighting to be valid. Cool!

As of 04 May 1981 my official life list is now at 6.

With eternal gratitude to Orin Gelderloos, who sparked my lifelong passion into birding and bird photography, and to Julie Craves for helping me validate a first rare bird sighting, I can now continue entering old records into eBird to see what kind of lister I've become.

UM Dearborn--Rouge River Bird Observatory, Wayne, Michigan, US
May 4, 1981 7:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Comments:     This is my first official bird list as an undergrad student at UM-Dearborn. Day 1 of Field Biology class under Dr. Orin Gelderloos, this is the list I compiled of birds seen during our bird/plant study, and the first day of a soon-to-be lifelong passion into birding and bird photography. I started a life list that I compiled back in 1988 using pages from my field notebook (long lost), but I found the original word document with my sightings. Classes were 4 hours long and consisted of walks along the trails at UM-D Natural Area.
7 species

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)  1
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  1
Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)  1
Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum)  1     I don't remember this bird being any different from any other, but was part of the class list and field notebook entry, so the sighting must've been true! This is a historical entry from a life list spreadsheet based on Field Biology notebook entries under Dr. Orin Gelderloos.
Nashville Warbler (Oreothlypis ruficapilla)  1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)  1

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (


Andrew Bradshaw said...

Nice! My first rare bird sighting was of an Ash-throated Flycatcher at a banding station in Central Illinois- that was a good bird!

Darrin OBrien said...

Bird of Dearborn =

Blog Archive