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Jan 2010 Discussion

On the Ohio birds e-mail listserv

Subject: Toward an Ohio eBird ... a little history

Date: Sun, 24 Jan 2010 04:29:17 -0800

"Toward an Ohio eBird"...
.. thus have I phrased the few postings to this listserv
in order to update the birding community on its progress ...
as I know full well we are not there yet.

eBird is a tool ... a vehicle for data sharing ... how well it
performs is entirely up to those who make use of it, or not,
as the case may be. The following is a preamble to my
response to these criticisms.

I first learned of eBird at a meeting of the Audubon Ohio IBA
meetings of the technical committtee in 2001 when I had
already been working on my own online database to
complement my website. In 2002, I shelled out more than $1000
to get a 13 field database running. A trial quickbase collection
of 1400 shorebird did get up and running but the 22,000 record
database, representing
the bulk of checklists off the Ohio-birds listerv for 1999-2002,
was a couple of weeks away from its debut when Intuit
opted to shut off access to the Internet and change its
pricing structure. The database was sunk, and with it my will
to continue with Aves.Net. Six months later, the ohio-birds
listserv was turned over to the fledgling OOS.

In early 2004, although skeptical, I was ready to try this
thing called eBird.

In Nov 2006, I was re-instated as state reviewer for Ohio eBird. I
had resigned 2 years earlier infrustration after just 9 months ...
eBird 1.0 was exceedingly rough and all too inflexible. When
approached by newdirector Brian Sullivan in Feb 2006 about
a short list of possible reviewers,I gave a sombre and fairly
skeptical reply ... to his credit he took it in stride.

That Nov, I took a look at the new eBird 2.0 and became
sold on the future of eBird, if not the present. ... I was to be
encouraged by the many updates, both the fixes and the
features, that seem to come every few weeks, and have high
expectations for eBird 3.0 currently under development.

Much has been said recently of eBird and the listserv that
I find dismaying. I spent 6 years defending the listserv as
its creator/manager, I spent time defending The Ohio
Cardinal as its editor, the Ohio Bird Records Committee as
its Secretary, and so I hope you will forgive this briefing
on the first 3 years of the effort to bring you an Ohio

The first order of business in Dec 2006, and carried
through April 2007, was to get in place checklist filters
for the state. Cornell had a generic filter in place
which frankly was laughable. One could report 30,000
Snow Geese and the filter would not catch it. To this day,
generic filters rule several states. Only this past Nov did
OK go from 4 large generic checklists
to 16. Presently, Michigan is served, or not, as
the case may be, by 3 generic filters (although more
customization is underway).

What is a checklist filter? For each species, for each month
(in the future it will be weekly), there is a threshold number
which will flag the observation for further review. DO NOT
confuse these with the so-called filtering system of the
Great Backyard Bird Count ... they have nothing in common
but the Cornell University. How I develop a checklist
filter I will reveal in another posting dedicated to the matter
of vetting eBird.

For Ohio, I planned out 22 checklists covering the 88
counties. One can create one for each county but I wanted
something up and running quickly. Initially, I had created
14 (an average of 12hrs of research and tinkering for each
one ) by April 07 covering all but 16 OH counties. Unique
county avifaunas got their own checklist filter ... e.g.
Lucas, Hocking, Adams. The remaining sets were broken
out by physiographic region and with an eye to major
species separations such the chickadee line.

In April 2007, most of these initial checklist filters were
brought online. A logistical snafu prevented a full
implementation which was not realized until this past
Sep. One of the beauties of eBird is that when a new filter
is implemented, ALL existing eBird entries are parsed
through the new filter, even if they had been parsed
before. In this instance something like 2700 records were
flagged ... I had my work cut out for me.

Late in 2007, Oct-Dec, I completed 4 more checklists
covering all but 6 counties ... by now every county near
a population center was covered. In all, I logged 320 hrs for
eBird that year, but figured the bulk of that was a one time
deal ... more or less ... In 2007, data entry in Ohio took off,
something that can be seen in the sample size reported
across years in any species inquiry one may run. That
spring generated 53,000+ records.

Looking for something else to do, in 2008, I became focused
on historical data. Over the course of the next 13 months,
through March 2009, I entered some 1800 historical checklists,
apart from an equal number of my own data back to 1978. The
bulk of historical datum came from book sources from 1900-
1950 involvingnon-passerines, although with the Birds of
Buckeye Lake I only got as far as thewaterfowl. I was not
doing this for completeness ... at this rate 50 years would be
insufficient. I only wanted enough sample data to offer up as
exhibit A in my endeavour to encourage others to participate
as an Ohio Archivist. I have since focused on data sets from
1997 to present, imagining that the subsequent Ohio checklist
produced in eBird may encourage others to fill in the gaps
without being overwhelmed by a blank slate. And so fleshing
out the past 15 years are ...

60 (of 180) checklists from the ODNR Big Island WA survey (1998-99)
150 aerial surveys waterfowl surveys by ODNR ... late 90's
30 monthly surveys of Kellys I. ... various years
24 months of ONWR monthly surveys ... 90's

to name a few ...

Subsequently others have entered some large databases such the
shorebird surveys of the Ottawa/Magee marshes by Mike Bolton
and JohnSzanto back to 1989. Indeed, the International Shorebird
Survey data for Ohio maintained by Manomet Bird Observatory
is here back to 1978. Individuals such as David Brinkman in the
southwest, John Yochum formerly of the far northwest, and
recently, Charlie Bombaci of the Columbus area, have contributed
massive databases.

I also had the unexpected assistance of Gregory Bennett who has
entered an untold number of checklists from ne. Ohio especially
as relates to the waterfowl of the area.

Exhibit A ... the Ohio checklist for 1990-present as generated from

2008 saw another 240 hrs logged for eBird. By then, I had
developed a daily routine owing to the advent of the google gadget
and Jack Siler's map feature high profile species flagged by eBird.
Reviewers were encouraged to pick up the pace of review and I
felt an obligation to answer that need for the birding community.
For the past 24 months, provided I am near a computer, and it is
not one of scheduled field days, I review eBird at 5:30 in the
morning and usually again around 11pm. More on what that
involves when I discuss the vetting of eBird in a separate post.

2009 started off somewhat lax, although the daily routine began
picking up as the spring season alone approached 100,000 records.
eBird, as has been correctly noted, is not without its glitches
and much of the past year I spent ironing out those that I saw
impacting Ohio (Brian Sullivan was very patient with me and
work tirelessly on this). A major one involved the implementation
of the filters I had supplied whereby about a dozen counties
continued to operate under that generic filter that permitted
so many erroneous records (Notably involving Franklin and
Montgomery counties). This culminated in Sept wherein a
completely revised set of the 18 filters were implemented now
covering all but 6 counties. I anticipate placing the remaining
4 filters by this spring.

And with the new set, most every eBird entry was
once again parsed through the filters ... generating 1500 new
records for review ... that was back in Sep. This left me with 180
hrs in 2009 ... or 240 if you throw in my Oct 2009 start-up with
Oklahoma eBird. Why state my hrs ... because the matter of
how much time is spent in data review was made an issue in
a recent post.

Also, in 2009, I got a helping hand in the form of Ken Ostermiller
who has brought the backlog of hotspots (common points of
data entry) up to date .... now about 750 sites ... the widespread
adoption of which should go a long way to solving some of the
geography issues. Ken has brought a naming standard to these
sites, and working together we have been re-positioning those
that were off kilter. [A number of those constructed pre-
google proved to have coordinates incongruent with the
google coordinates.]

I thought to keep mum on all this ... afterall pretty boring stuff.
... but hope you can see that if you have a problem with the
many of the details of
eBird in Ohio, then you have a problem with me ... that's Ok ...
I've been here all along to answer questions/criticisms ... there's
no harsher critic than myself, and I could use all the help I
can get.

If you have an issue/question about a particular sighting, you
can email me ... I made that very appeal to do so last year on the

If you wish to question a flagged item ... PLEASE use the
comment box at the end of your checklist ... all I ask is that
first you compare your report with
the existing literature ... most especially the most up to date
resources of Jim McCormac's Birds of Ohio (with its abundance
chart) and the Ohio Bird Records Committee Checklist. Not too
surprisingly, my filters don't depart too much from what one will
find in those publications. I tweak a particular threshold perhaps
2-4 times a month, which I announce on my Facebook page.

BTW, In the past 4 years, Ohio eBird has seen about a half million
records entered into the database ... the vast majority covering
that same period. Several hundred people participate, yet, of the
60 most active birders in terms of posting to the listserv, only
about 20% participate. I suspect this discrepancy may be behind
the recent back and forth that led to an unfortunate polarization of
opinion on the listserv vs. eBird, when in reality they serve to
complement each other, with little overlap of either function or

And if you indulge me a few more posts on the subject, I will provide
my own characterizations of the limitations of eBird, the listserv, and
the printed ornithological record.


Vic Fazio

Subject: eBird limitations: response - Part 1

Date: Sun, 24 Jan 2010 04:41:22 -0800

"I know we'll hear from its numerous and ever-vigilant official

Hi B... ,
guess you must mean me ... about as close to 'official' as
ebird gets unless you expect to hear from Cornell. And
this would be the first time defending it, though I rather
see it as clarifying some misconceptions.

WHAN: "but I do want to point out some of the obvious limitations
of eBird for record-keeping purposes. No doubt a hundred years
from now it'll be much more informative, should more data

A hundred years? I suggest taking a look at my SA within last winter's
North American Birds on the White-winged Crossbill irruption. Here
is the chart for that flight.

select from the tab, count totals.

eBird, and only eBird, picked up on the
bi-modal flight ... charting the flight down to the cemetery. Questions
abound on the listserv for which ebird could shed some light ...
as I have occasionally illustrated. Or better yet, illustrated by
Ethan Kistler, as he augments his winter distribution maps with
eBird data. It really does have ramifications for in the near term.

WHAN: ...and--importantly--someone includes data from years past.
It'll always be much more informative about robins than it will be
about rarities, of course, and that's to be

I take it you mean in the same way that the Christmas Bird Count, the
Breeding Bird Survey, and the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas (which makes
use of eBird) are focused on the more mundane species by virtue of
counting everything. If so, yes, you are correct.

Although, I wonder what the winter distribution of say Gray Catbirds
be like if we had CBC party data pinpointed... sure we can plot them
by CBC circle, but would eBird reveal a more discrete pattern, one tied
to habitat, or micro-climate ... would riparian corridors be revealed as
key to survival, or buttonbush swamps for Rusty Blackbirds, or identify
discrete over-wintering sites for waterfowl, illustrate the value of
one estuary over another along Lake Erie for mergansers, map the
use of specific grassland plots by Short-eared Owls... well I hope you
get the picture. Bird conservation is more than just the what and how
many, it is also about the where ... and presently we have a very coarse
understanding of this for all but a few heavily studied species.

Presently, only eBird offers a means by which, in near real time,
one's field observation may be tied to a specific geographic
location. What if BBS participants plotted the 50 points of their
route and entered years of data for each one ... could they
discern a pattern as the environment changed from a wheat field
to a shopping mall? What if the DOZENS of of observers visiting
Conneaut Harbor chose to enter their shorebird sightings back
through the past 20 years. Imagine Craig Holt's data presented in
his fine article on the shorebirds of Conneaut magnified 10x,
or 20 x ... Craig imagine what you could have done with that data.

RARITIES: Why cannot eBird serve to be informative about
rarities as well? Apart from their biology, I have explained in
this forum how pinpointing a rarity in eBird ... possible down to a
few meters ... could assist those wishing to relocate that rarity. I
would not suggest a substitution for written directions, which are
filled with information like where to park, but certainly being able
print out a map has to count for something. Or target which
dock that rare gull was sitting on at the marina ... etc.

And to bring Allen Chartier into the discussion, I have to wonder
what it would be like to see a map of the 40+ Rufous Hummingbirds
in eBird (only about a dozen records there now). Surely Allen, you
would find that the frequency histogram of interest. You could
reviewing 20+ years of The Ohio Cardinal, and plot the appropriate
histograms in a spreadsheet. Doable, but rather tedious. And even
then, the geographic information may be no more specific than a
city or township.

Part 1 of 2


Subject: eBird limitations: response - part II

Date: Sun, 24 Jan 2010 04:54:41 -0800

The following addresses Bill's experience with querying data in

WHAN: "For example, I explored its data for Franklin County, Ohio,
from the year 1900 to the present. I got a list, with abundance
histograms, for 278 species (possible in the county apparently, as
there are no records for most of them)"

Sorry, I do not follow you. What do you mean by "there are no
records for most of them"? A species (or taxa) is listed ONLY if
there is a vetted record within the

WHAN: and 19 "other taxa," which included stuff like
"warbler sp." and "sparrow sp.", but no taxa like warbler hybrids
or hypotheticals,
If there is no entry for a given taxa, none within the birding
community have chosen to enter it. The only warbler hybrids
thus far reported to eBird for the state of Ohio involve Blue-
winged and Golden-winged Warblers. One of those, a May
08 sighting by Gene Stauffer is shown for Franklin County.

As to the nature of the other taxa, that is the subject of a separate

Hypotheticals? Within a checklist this typically refers to species
for which there are no specimens or photographs,
merely sight records. That works well within the purview of
records committees, but how does it work for eBird, the Listserv,
or The Ohio Cardinal.

If I had to venture a guess, I would say ...

Of those observations reported to eBird ... 99.9% are sight records.
Of observations reported to this Listserv ... 99% are sight records.
Of observations printed within journals ... 98% are sight records.

Virtually everything is a hypothetical in that regard.

WHAN: or the reports that were excluded.

A valid point. One always likes to see the whole
data set without the bias of another editor. I feel the same way.
No doubt, you could provide an explanation for the basis of
culling observations for The Ohio Cardinal while you were
editor. The result would have a been a tiny fraction of the
data sent to you. No doubt you have the raw files
(photo-copied? archived? backed up electronically?) and
can readily supply these to those that request them. For
example, to BSBO so they may identify additional unpublished
records for the Winter Bird Atlas ... or pinpoint the location to
the necessary quadrangle of those that were printed but where
the specific location was omitted owing to space constraints. I
have spent the better part of the past 12 months reviewing
much of the printed Ohio literature for the Ohio Winter Bird
Atlas, and there is a surprising amount that is beyond our
reach by virtue of the printed format. Were it pinpointed in
eBird it would have been a simple matter to make use of the

But I digress. To answer your question as to excluded records,
in eBird, it took me 3 minutes just now to pull up the 530 Franklin
County records of which I expressly reviewed and physically
designated as INVALID*. Four are pending. And yes, I can
supply a word doc. if you wish to sift through exotics,
duplicate submissions, andtranscription errors, that make up
the bulk of the file.

[*the default condition of all flagged items is INVALID.]

WHAN: "Clicking around gives a local map showing sites at which
included species were reported, when, and by whom. Not all the
locations were accurate."

This is indeed true. And something Ken Ostermiller and I have
been addressing. Given the pace of checklist entry (2200 or so in
the last 7 weeks for example), tackling erroneous placement of data
is quite the challenge. More on our work in a separate post. As I
posted this time last year, I encourage the birding community
to police eBird by bringing these errors to my attention.

BTW, it is a very simple matter for anyone, having identified the
misplacement of their checklist, to relocate it to the correct
locale. Gross misplacement of a checklist, or attaching a broad
location (state and county*) are grounds for invalidation.

*I presently exempt county big days with appropriate effort

WHAN: A few, very few, of these records go back well before
the days of eBird.

Very glad you pointed this out. It goes to the crux of my "beating
the drums"for eBird these past 3 years. Historical data ... where
are they? Again, the participation of the birding community, especially
those with the knowledge of where specific records are located,
will be invaluable in fleshing out local and state avifaunas. While
we're waiting, I will continue to enter historical records under the
banner OHIO-ARCHIVIST -VWF ... which includes one of the
earliest records in eBird ... the only entry for Passenger Pigeon.

On the other hand, Calliope Hummingbird (and dozens of other state
records) will not find a home in eBird without the aid of those with
knowledge of the appropriate geographical placement (nearest
cross-roads works if privacy is an issue) in choosing to enter that
observation. Much of that information IS NOT available in the
printed ornithological record where space constraints force editors
to abbreviate the record. I know I'm forced to consolidate many a
record in North American Birds, as distasteful as I find doing so.

WHAN: I knew most of the
contributors, and trusted their
identifications, but if a lot of beginners start contributing, few
mistaken reports of commoner species such as those Allen Chartier
describes. They are difficult to vet.

Presumably these same ID problems plague the Christmas Bird
Count yet this effort seems to have some staying power. I'll touch
on this in a post on vetting. Worse yet are transcription errors ...
which easily take up most of my time when vetting eBird.

WHAN: I'm putting together a checklist for the county, for which I
have thus far 329 species, a lot more than eBird,

And will remain the case so long as birders choose not to enter
historical data. It is possible to reconstruct (back to 1900) a checklist,
of all species, based on frequency. One that with an appropriate
sample size (that participation issue once again), will give a reasonable
hypothesis as to the occurrence of those species across the seasons.

WHAN: and 27 "other taxa," but not
including vague and unsatisfactory categories like "shorebird sp." or
"blackbird sp."

Another excellent point. I keep to a few rules for the
appearance of the checklists generated by eBird (yes
this is my decision not Cornell). I decline to validate exotics.
eBirders are
free to populate their personal lists with Chukars and Lady
Amherst's Pheasant, but I draw the line at the public checklist.
If someone in the future wishes to reverse that policy, it is only a
matter of a few mouse clicks to do so.

For 2 years I adhered to the principle that a taxa
had to be a discrete entity representing at a maximum the genus.
So Greater/Lesser yellowlegs, peeps sp., were acceptable but
shorebird sp. was not. However, suggestions come in all the
time from end users and despite some misgivings over some of
the choices, I have chosen to respect their submission at least
for a trial period to see whether gull sp., shorebird sp., etc. is
something eBird users wish to see. These extraneous taxa have
only been implemented since spring 2009 and I still consider
them experimental.

WHAN: It doesn't include extinct and extirpated species. The county
has two records of varied thrush, but they do not appear in these data;
ditto for dozens of other records of unusual species. Why offer a search
that starts at the year 1900 when there are no eBird data for all
species, or for a period no longer than a few years?

eBird is a tool by which a database can be created and, to a
limited extent, analyzed. How the Ohio birding community
chooses to wield that tool, and to the extent we take responsibility
for our observations, will dictate the quality and quantity of the
content. One is free to enter any of these
historical records. I would be pleased were yourself or the say
the Avid Birders took on the task of entering historical published
data for Franklin County. I only ask that any one wishing to do
so contact me first so we don't have overlapping efforts across
the state.

What's missing from eBird is 200 years of data.
No doubt these can be supplied.

I doubt it. I just flipped through Wheaton (1882) and found
few specific records. Apart from a few specimen
records, I am aware of exceedingly few published records
prior to 1900 that reference a specific date and location.
Given its role as a tool for conservation, I am more concerned
about the past 30 years or so of data in eBird.

WHAN: Many of them will come from posts on mailing lists
that later appear in printed publications. I edited the Ohio
Cardinal, the state ornithological journal, for ten years, and
going through such data and those of regional and national
counterpart publications (like N. Am. Birds, etc.), will
presumably always be how bird records are compiled.
they are not lost in cyberspace.

Are Listserv observations lost in cyberspace? Are CBC data, and
that of a variety of other databases? How is eBird different in that
respect? I agree, eBird does not serve as a compilation but it can serve

WHAN: And if eBird decides to include this history, this is where
they will find it.

The listserv .. well yes ... which is why I have appealed to those
taking the time to write up the lists for that venue to consider
saving somebody else (namely me) from having to so. For
example, the same White-winged Crossbill data set that proved
so illuminating was a consequence of my entering 2 dozen
checklists (half of the data) off the listserv. Similarly, with the
Sandhill Crane flight in Dec ... a good many were entered into
eBird, subsequent to my appeal to do so, including
1500 birds not listed within Gabe Leidy's summation. But of
his 6600 drawn from many other sources, the bulk are not
within eBird ... more work for me to track those down ,
determine whether sufficient information is available to
enter the data, and then do it ... all because visualizing such
a flight, and the paths the birds took, is far more informative
than a generic slate of disparate reports.

Now as to the printed ornithological record. Unfortunately no
... this will prove a very limited resource. What of the 1000's

of records submitted on

report forms finds its way into print? When I was editor of The

Ohio Cardinal, the 55-65 paper reports, plus the listserv could

represent 14-18 thousand observations for a given season. I

would distilled this down to a spreadsheet of roughly

900 (summer) to 2400 (fall) sightings. From this about half

found their way into print. In other words, 80
of the
ornithological record does not see the light of day.* And
of course, to Dave Slager's point, the effort behind those
observations is rarely made known.

  • A wonderful exception are local efforts at summary such as
    The Bobolink, The Cleveland Bird Calendar, and Ned Keller's
    online database for the Cincy area ... here a much higher
    percentage is made available..

WHAN: EBird has a different and important purpose, the long-term
study of bird populations enabled by large databases of estimated
numbers and locations and seasons of every species.

Exactly so.

WHAN: Finally, I advise against posting one's eBird data
directly to mailing lists in unedited form ... a mailing list is a
poor database, but has other functions.

I agree. And have never held a different position from the time of the
inception of Ohio-Birds.

WHAN: ... I have no problem that the eBird folks are
playing the drums to get participants, even if it is made to seem
like the greatest thing since sliced bread for almost every kind of
data need.

I think I once said it was the greatest tool
since the Peterson Field Guide for the bird
conservation ... and still stand by that.

eBird allows the common birder to tie their
observations, that presently DO NOT find their
way into any other venue, to specific geographic
locations. For those who tout, rightfully, the
conservations efforts of environmental
organizations through land acquisition,
ask yourselves this ... How does one value that
land from the standpoint of biodiversity? ...
you gather data ... you create lists of fauna
and flora. It is the very foundation of the
conservation of biodiversity. Every county park
system, every land trust, every Audubon Society,
every member of the Ohio Bird Conservation
Initiative, etc. could make use of eBird. Still
unsure ... take a look at the Ohio Breeding Bird
Atlas ... do you participate online? Then you
are a part of eBird.

So who are the eBird folks. They are several hundred birders,
dozens of whom also participate on the listserv. They are
Audubon Society groups such as Black River Audubon
diligently canvasing their local Audubon Ohio Important Bird
Areas within Lorain County. They are banding groups, they
are members of the Ohio birding community (and increasingly
Magee bounds tourists) ... collectively bringing more than
200,000 records annually ... 2200+ checklists at the half way
mark of this winter season.

BTW, that effort ranks Ohio consistently about 13th among the states.

other thing. Some people think list postings are just for
reporting bird sightings, but that is far from the case. Look at Rob Thorn's
informative post from last night and imagine how eBird would have told
you that.

Indeed. There is much, much more to the listserv.
Thanks Bill for bringing up these important


Subject: Fwd: eBird comments -- short and generic

Date: Tue, 26 Jan 2010 08:28:52 -0500

Hi, folks. I wrote this several days ago, but as a rank-and-file frequent eBird
user I'm still sending it as an addendum to Vic's highly informed, technical
discussion. The last eBird thread ended on rather negative note for such an
amazing tool. One of the biggest positive aspects of eBird is its national and
even international exposure. In spite of the problems, such as beginners
posting crazy stuff, (which is fairly easily detected) the data are used in
serious research that potentially preserves bird populations that we watch as a
hobby. OHIO-BIRDS is extremely valuable and versatile, but it's primarily an
Ohio site, although birders from other states undoubtedly, but unfortunately
laboriously, glean data from it. Most importantly, someone also noted that
birders can easily use both; it's simple to enter lists on eBird and then with
one click, send the list (with no extraneous data) to Ohiobirds or anywhere on
the Internet -- with accuracy and precision. If you wish, you can also add your
own comments to eBird lists that you send to Ohiobirds. Then you automatically
accumulate both a personal list that is incredibly versatile and useful for
almost any kind of analysis (and an excellent management tool for bird areas),
and provide data that are readily available to any birder or biologist
anywhere. The program, of course, is not perfect, but improvements are
constantly being made and time alone will obviously improve eBird's historical
records. In addition, many people, including myself, are entering lists from
past years and decades. I must add that I got the impression from their
comments that some (not all) of the negative posts were written by folks who
never used eBird.

Many birders are already entering lists on Handheld Birds, the Cornell/National
Geographic app for cell phones or PDAs such as Palm, and then easily
transferring them into eBird though USB or Bluetooth. This involves NO TEDIOUS
TYPING; for most species you enter only two or three letters on your handheld
and hit the appropriate number key. Everything else is then done electronically
and accurately. HHBirds also contains the entire Nat Geo field guide plus other
features not in the book, and playbacks for almost all species. I believe the
program is now available on other platforms besides the Palm OS. (Not the
read-only program for iPhones) This program also can practically eliminate, as
it did for me, procrastination when it comes to transcribing the jumbled (and
nearly illegible in my case) field notes that tend to pile up very quickly. If
necessary, you can also easily copy all of the lists from eBird back into other
programs such as Excel or even MS Word. In an eggshell: easy and versatile,
and, in conjunction with eBird, you can enjoy birding while make a real
contribution to bird science and preservation.

Subject: The Ornithological Record: Paper & Electronic Media

Date: Sun, 24 Jan 2010 05:04:29 -0800

I feel the need to expand a little on the debate
surrounding paper and electronic media. I will limit myself to just a
couple of the remarks recently made on the listserv, but will happily
entertain other viewpoints. NOTE: you can skip to the bottom for
the take home points.

CHARTIER: I can go to the UMMZ libary at Ann Arbor, Michigan and
get any issue of the Ohio Cardinal, ... This hard copy will always be
there (and at many other libraries across the country).

Respectfully, Allen, I must ask ...Will it?
How many libraries are feeling the economic pinch these days, or seemingly
for decades. I first volunteered as an assistant librarian at the age of 13. I
scored 250 issues of Science News when the library had to make room for
something else. Hundreds of other books went by the wayside. Libraries,
including university libraries, have been tossing material for as long
as I have been patronizing them.

CHARTIER: What happens if the Cornell server crashes? Or the URL
changes? Or the data gets hacked?

Presumably, the same thing that happens when your bank server crashes,
or this listserver. Back-up systems abound and are very inexpensive.
Keep in mind that the seasonal
data is now made available for bulk download off a separate website ...
providing further redundancy. And each and every eBirder may readily
download (and yes print!) their own data sets.

In operating as a centralized database, eBird need not do so in a physical
sense... and as it goes global (e.g. New Zealand eBird), overseas mirror sites
are a logical step if not already implemented.

These days, URL changes offer simplistic solutions, most transparent to the
end user. Assuming eBird is on its own server (s), it need only be registered
with WHOIS to maintain and indefinite future matched only by the longevity
of networked computing. How is the backing by Cornell any less secure a
future than a paper library maintained by the U of M?

I hope very much that hard copy survives. I hope the paper data from your
200 correspondents is safe and sound , perhaps in an academic library
which appreciates that data set. However, I recognize that whether
through some calamity or the vagaries of new priorities of a new management
scheme, many a collection has disappeared. There are no guarantees ... and
while I have no blind faith in electronic media nor do I of printed matter ...
but read on.

I love books ... I found comfort in libraries at an early age ... and have
built a

substantial ornithological library of my own ... but paper, apart from burning,
or getting waterlogged, is more ephemeral than recently characterized.

WHAN: "History has proved paper records can survive for thousands
of years; otherwise we'd have very little history. Electronic ones have
yet to prove anything like this. Would anyone like some 8-inch disks?"

Paper, as defined by the use of macerated vegetable matter, dates back 1900
years. The oldest book on paper is 1100 years old. So far Bill is still in the
ballpark. This "paper" was largely cotton or other rag content. For mass
production of books, wood pulp was introduced around 1805 and we have
benefited ever since. However, the acid from lignin degrades paper severely,
something that was first noticed and reported on by a librarian in the 1930's.
Acid free paper was only introduced in the 1950's, although standards for
such paper were only established in 1984 ... the year the MacIntosh was
released. In other words, whether or not the first years of The Ohio Cardinal
were printed on acid free paper of 2% or better alkali content (translates into
100-year survival) is unknown. Indeed, acid free paper was not common at
the time, and only has been widely available commercially since the 1990's
(with a shift to cheap alkali substitutes like chalk). Therefore some question
exists whether paper products prior to the last couple of decades will surpass
the 200 year mark often cited for archive quality (e.g. Kodak) CD-Roms.

[NOTE: most commercial grades are rated at 15-30 years, while CD-RW
and DVDs are half that... ].

Even so, acid free publications are now expected to last 200 years, archive
quality 500, and specially treated museum grades (which are cotton or
other rag not of wood pulp) have been rated at 1000+ years. Since 1995,
the Library of Congress has been retro treating its collection at a cost
of millions of dollars. Multiple copies of Ohio Birds and Natural History
are on file there, but I can't speak for The Ohio Cardinal or other Ohio
print publications.

The take home points are :

The life expectancy of pre 1980's wood pulp paper products is
largely unknown. My copy of Brayton and Wheaton's 1882 treatise
on the Mammals and Birds of Ohio is in excellent condition and I
expect it to far outlast myself. My 32 year-old copies of The Ohio
Cardinal are faded but in good shape. My 100 year old copies of
The Auk and Condor, which I maintain in a shaded, low humidity
environment, definitely show their age and many, some as recent as
1940, are too brittle to handle. Even so, paper still has practical
value and an edge over everyday electronic media in terms of

Electronic media forms will come and go ... yet their life expectancy is
somewhat moot, given that digital information exists as ioiiooio data
which now survives within a global network. The original ARPANET,
the forerunner of the Internet, was decommisioned in 1990, yet data
from 40 years ago still survives today. Indeed, the entire concept
behind the ARPANET was to make data indestructible in a nuclear

Is one better than the other? I find that a moot question as the methods
serve as back up for each other. And I hope the dichotomy between the
two can be viewed as serving dual purposes rather than in opposition.


created by jr on Jun 03, 2008 at 03:00:27 pm
updated by jr on Jan 26, 2010 at 11:26:09 am
    Comments: 0

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