Sunday 31 January 2021

EBird, You and I

 Image result for ebird


This is not the kind of post that I like to write here. Due to the extremely rude responses from an Australian and Indian bird photographer, I felt compelled to bring this up in our small birding community and other reviewers alike to take note. The Indian one was more than a year ago and the Australian bloke was recent.

Birdwatching is regarded as a hobby to many and passion to some. It is supposedly a fun activity that brings light minded community together to enjoy nature at its best, sharing the education aspects and the ultimate aim is to promote awareness and conservation. When I was introduced by my mentor, Mrs Lim Bing Yee into birdwatching, I was in the early era of digital processing and towards the end of notebook processing. Digital processing is all about recording birds seen in a digital camera and notebook processing is about recording notes of a bird seen on a notebook. Nowadays, most birdwatchers will have some sort of cameras in their hands as to whether they are birdwatchers or bird photographers. I had watched how some of the Bird Sifus I know are now lugging any kind of camera as an extra gear. In fact, camera these days is an important gear even though it is not a must have for birdwatching. With a camera, it is faster to record any species of birds that are rare or vagrant in a specific area as an evidence before the bird fled away. Notes taking is also important but most birders these days would rather click the shutter than to write a length of a bird description.

Having said that, notes taking increases the observation skills of a birdwatcher than taking photos. 

After having a list of birds seen in a location, where do birders go from here? Some would prefer to keep their list to themselves and while some of them would share it with a community or social media. A well known global platform which is known as eBird, provides a user friendly tool for birders to keep track of their bird lists, photos, sounds and contributing to science as well as conservation. It is indeed a citizen scientist thingy! The goal of eBird is very simple. It is to gather information in the form of checklist of birds, archive it and freely share it to support science, conservation and education with the data collected. It is free for all to use. You can read more about eBird on this link here

As simple as it sounds, any checklist submitted by a birder is subjected to be verified. Why is that? This is to ensure high data accuracy. There are many eBird users out there do not fully understand the primary purpose of eBird and the need to review their submitted checklists.

How does eBird ensure data quality?

eBird's data quality process ensures that your data are useful for the millions of people that use eBird resources each year. From automated data filters to a global team of bird experts, eBird's data quality approach ensures that every record passes through a rigorous evaluation process. This focus on maintaining reliable, accurate data is essential in making eBird one of the most valuable global datasets on bird distribution and abundance. You can read more on this link here

Who are the people in charge of data quality?
It is a role call eBird Reviewer.

Who are these eBird Reviewers?
These are fellow birdwatchers who are familiar with the birds occur in a specific area or region. All reviewers are unpaid volunteers and the eBird platform we are using is FREE too. We used our own precious time vetting through checklists submitted by users to ensure the data is close to accuracy and clean.

The role of a reviewer is simply going through your checklist and any species of birds that are considered as rare or unusual in a specific area will be flagged and marked as unconfirmed. Unless, there is some form of supporting document attached to the checklist such as photos, audio recorded or even detailed description of a bird, then only the sighting will be accepted. Otherwise, the reviewer will send a standard email generated by the system to the eBird user requesting for further details. A reviewer is not Ms or Mr Know-It-All too. If there is a species that a reviewer is unsure of, he or she will refer to a team of reviewers for consultation.

eBird platform has provided comprehensive information and tutorials on how the system works and its policies and yet there are some eBird users out there are unaware of the existence of eBird reviewers. I was one of them when I first started using eBird. Receiving an email from a reviewer is like receiving a "saman" letter to some. When I received my first e-mail from a eBird reviewer, I felt intimidated as if I had done something wrong. Why would anyone want to question my personal bird checklist? And who was this reviewer that I didn't even know of or heard of his name? That was when I realised the primary purpose behind eBird. It is not about my own personal bird checklist but the entire bird community with the same interest. That's when I also learned about the importance of data accuracy and even more when I accepted the role of a eBird reviewer. As well as understanding some of the pains and gains encountered by other fellow reviewers. Having said that, any e-Bird user can keep their list private.

Let me share some of my experiences as a reviewer as well as there are other reviewers would have similar encounters too. When a species is flagged, a standard email will be sent out to the user. Most of the time, we do not receive any replies or should I say, the emails would simply be ignored. The polite and cooperative ones will respond and willing to put in some points of discussions. The honest ones will admit their errors. Bear in mind that reviewers can make mistakes too; no one is perfect. And there is another group of users, the angry ones that would react. Most of time, I and other reviewers would brush off the light comments made by some of them. I personally feel, there is a limit to the level of tolerance. There are other bird reviewers I know have their fair share of such treatment from the users. I like to think it is probably not to such extreme.

When this Australian submitted his checklist, there were two species that required further details and no photos were attached. And his response was:

I brought this up to our regional reviewers and we officially replied him. Not too long after, he fled eBird by deleting his account and all his checklist after the correspondence without any apologies. Good riddance! One less rude user to deal with.

Being rude and abusive as such to any fellow birder is a disgrace and very disrespectful to the birding community. Worst of all is when a foreign visitor does it to a local reviewer or local birder. Not only disrespectful to our birding community but as well as not being sensitive to our local culture. In general, there were cases of rude foreigners or foreign tourists treating our local guides. Thankfully, these are the rare cases. To foreigners like Stephen Happ, if you can't contain your obnoxious and arrogant behavior in your home country, you don't deserve to travel abroad or even enjoy our birds here.

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