Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Birder's Guide To The Internet, 2017 Edition

1994. That was the year I officially became a birder. It was a good time to be a birder, but everything was much, much harder. You think birding is hard now? Well back then, you could get lost! You got around using actual paper maps! You didn't have field guides and bird songs in your cell phones...people didn't even have cell phones! The only computer that would answer to your voice commands was aboard the USS Enterprise. It sounds like the stone age, and while the world didn't look that much different from today, the tools we have at our fingertips now seem light years ahead. The myriad of online resources available to birders have, for some, changed everything.

As the #7 birder in the United States (as ranked by the Global Birder Ranking System), I feel like I should lift up the birding community. I will pick you up and carry you on my back, like a birding horse. Even with so many tools these days, we must still be honest with ourselves...birders need so much help. Many birders just don't know what is out there, don't know that they can answer a great many of their questions themselves if they are willing to spare a few minutes of their time. They need to be uplifted, and that is why I am here today. In that spirit, here is a list of some of my fav websites that can help you learn more about birds, and help you see more of them.

Compulsively checking Sialia over and over again will eventually pay off for you in a big way...that is how seeing this MEGUH Marsh Sandpiper was made possible.

Sialia/ABA Birding News - Listservs are nothing new, but are still absolutely crucial. Most grizzled veteran birders know that if you find a rare bird, you don't put it on Facebook first, you don't put it on eBird first, you slap that thing on the listerv ASAP. Do you live in an area where multiple listservs have coverage nearby? Want to see all the listservs in one place? Check Sialia (my preference) or ABA Birding News. I've seen a number of fantastic birds here in northern California simply because I compulsively check Sialia for breaking news of Meguhs.

Xeno-canto - A vast and totally free library of bird vocalizations that grows on the daily. Most of the material is downloadable. Ace. Something like this was inconceivable 20 years ago.

Birdingpal - Travelling someplace? Want to have someone basically act as your guide for a minimal cost? Check out Birdingpal! Or you can just hit up a birder for the info you are looking for. You can also use this site to hire "real" guides for a nonminimal cost.

The more users eBird gets, the better it gets as a tool for birders. Among the many services it provides, eBird is rapidly becoming a great resource for birders looking to know where to get in the field south of the border...for example, without it we would not have had crippling looks at Rufous-bellied Chachalaca in Lo de Marcos, Nayarit, Mexico.

eBird - eBird is imperfect, it is flawed, and it is still the best thing since sliced bread...and you know how important sliced bread is. You also know what eBird is and what eBird can do for you already, so I'll leave you to it. eBird.

Cloudbirders and Surfbirds - Trip reports, trip reports, trip reports. If you are planning a birding trip someplace, not only do you want to utilize the tried and true "birder's guide", you want trip reports to find new information on an area. These two sites are great resources. Note that trip reports by some tour companies (both included on these websites, and elsewhere) vary in the amount of details provided...some tour companies will provide a lot of detail on where they bird (very helpful), while others lamely will keep their hotspots "secret", and may not even mention where they stay. Weak.

Last year the nerds and I stayed at the fantastic Rancho Primavera in El Tuito (Jalisco, Mexico), where we could nonchalantly watch a Blue Mockingbird pig out at a feeding platform from the deck of our rental house. I never would have found out about the place if not for coming across it in a blog post.

Blogs - Talk about old-fashioned...yes, even blogs like this one can still be resources for the birder! What do you think this post is for? Since birding blogs can and do cover all things bird, we can potentially help you with identification issues, trip report material, you name it. One of my favorite blogs is the vastly underappreciated Birds of Passage; if you are considering birding anywhere from Mexico to Ecuador, you need to read up on their material. The Budget Birders have traveled a lot and provide a lot of helpful information as well. Of course, Earbirding has a lot of great content on bird vox. Obviously, there are too many good blogs out there to list; check out the sidebar on the left for more.

Migration forecasts - We don't use these much here on the west coast (though there is a Portland site) due to the nature of migration here (the nature of which is incredibly boring compared to many states...but California gets the best vague runts, so it evens out), but in a large part of the country this is something worth getting addicted to during spring and fall migration. Maybe some of you eastern birders take it for granted by now, but I think it is incredible that there are people who can forecast how good (or bad) the birding may be on a particular day in a particular area using traditional weather radar. If you would have told 1997 me that this would be a thing, you probably also could have convinced me that aliens were real and that I was going to be abducted. Hey, I was watching a lot of X-Files at the time. Anyways, Birdcast is a good place to start, but there are multiple region-specific sites.

Google Streetview, which can be toggled on and off using Google Maps or Google Earth, is fascinating. Here is where I used to live on Midway! Yes, those are albatross in the yard.

Google Earth and Google Maps - These are great tools for planning a birding trip or scouting an area without being on the ground. Do you know how amazing it is to bring up sharp satellite imagery on command? I would have killed for that ability for some of my early field work back in the day. Want to know where I saw my first Short-tailed Albatross? Well put these coordinates (28.199202°, -177.383157°) into Google Maps, turn on the satellite imagery, and you can see exactly where I was. I think it's brilliant. Anyways, Google Earth is free to download and you can do even more with it than Google Maps, so check it out if you have much of a map fetish. You probably already look at Google Maps on the regular and have the app installed on your phone, but for the few of you who don't, you are missing out.

Reserve America - Wanna camp? Don't know where to go? Then this is the site for you. Find campgrounds all across the country, reserve your site. Though not all campgrounds are listed here, it's a good place to start.

Airbnb - Staying in a house is better than staying in a motel. That house might even have some good birding on the property. I've used Airbnb on birding trips to Colorado, Maine and Puerto Rico so far with great success, and I'm sure I'll be using it on many future trips. Use Airbnb for birding, business, family vacays, wild sex parties, it's your call.

Not every birding site is created equal, however. You will notice that I omitted Facebook groups - this was done on purpose. Though you certainly can get helpful information in these groups, as a general rule some of the most frequent posters (be it in regional groups, gull ID, etc.) are self-proclaimed experts whose advice can be counterproductive at best. Indeed, if you are a legend in your own mind, then there is no better place to broadcast your "expertise". Google Images are also dangerous to work with, which BB&B has previously covered in Adventures In Birding Online. I also have mixed feelings about the always-improving Merlin app; while it could be (already is?) incredibly helpful for rank beginners, I could easily see it becoming a crutch. It also requires the observer to have a reasonably good camera, which is definitely not necessary to get into birding. At any rate, neither you or I want our primary contribution to the birding community to be "ID please" posts, know what I'm saying?

I'm sure I left something out. If you have any other recommendations, please share! I may be #7, but only #1 knows everything.


  1. BirdForum! http://www.birdforum.net/

    They have lots of different forums available, with everything from trip reports, to a bird ID forum, to a bird-only version of what is essentially Wikipedia, to a Taxonomy/Nomenclature forum. I have used them to contact birders in a given area, to read details about places to bird while travelling, and to stay up to date on potential bird taxonomy changes. They are very useful, in my opinion.

  2. That mockingbird was fucking ridiculous.

    1. I can't wait to do some proper geri birding again. I've seen quite a few BLMOs but that was one of my fav geri birds.

  3. I've had a few good experiences with birding pal over the years, but the last time I tried to use it it ended up being: pay $10 to have somebody ignore your email. I gave up on it after that.
    I've been waiting and waiting for a substitute website to come along that works better and doesn't look like it was made in 1995.

    1. Maybe the pal you were trying to reach died. This is a geriatric hobby, after all.

      Birders and 1995 websites go hand in hand, I'm surprised no one complains to eBird about looking too new-fangled.