Today an amazing online tool came to my attention thanks to the ABA’s publication Birding Magazine. It’s called the Impatient Birder’s Guide and is a great online resource for birders to use.
To start, it was created by Greg Miller (of Big Year fame). He is extremely good at working with eBird and technology and has created an amazingly useful tool for birders.
In essence, it’s a condensed guide of eBird information which allows a birder to easily see the best places to see certain birds in North America and the best places to bird in North America at a certain time of year.
The guide is split into three main parts, the Cheat Sheet, the Mini-Almanac, and the Species Top 10’s.
First, the Cheat Sheet. Here, Miller has taken all eBird information since 1900 and turned it into a list of when the best time of year is to bird in a certain area. Want to know the week to get the most species in Louisiana for example? Easy, just scroll down to its entry and the guide will tell you that that will be the 4th week of April. It then tells you how many species (with or without accidentals) you can see during that week.
The Cheat Sheet
This can be hugely beneficial if you are planning a trip to an area or if you are planning a Big Day in a state. I was able to make use of this function in the planning of a Big Day I will be doing in Allegheny County, PA in a few weeks. I was planning on doing it the second week in May but wasn’t entirely sure. The Cheat Sheet tells me that the second week is the best time in PA so I am now almost definitely doing it then. The one downside however, is that I can’t actual view the data for the county itself. In the future I would love to see an edition that covers individual counties (though that would take a lot more work) for those of us who don’t want to crunch the data ourselves.
The only other downside of this system is it doesn’t tackle certain species and simply gives you an overall number. That’s where the third section comes in but we’ll get to that later.
The second part of the guide is the Mini-Almanac. This is fairly similar to the Cheat Sheet except it shows you what state has the most species during each week of the year (instead of which week has the most species in each state). This can be quite helpful if you have a certain week to go birding and are unsure of where to go. However, for most of the weeks, Texas and California have the most species, limiting the Almanac’s usefulness slightly.
The last section of the guide is the Species Top 10’s. This is where you can see where the best place to locate every bird on the ABA checklist is. This makes up the largest portion of the guide and is almost certainly the most useful part. There are some birds in the ABA area that have a widespread enough range that it can be hard to figure out a good place to go see them. Chuck-will’s-widow is an example of this. They are found throughout the southeast, but it is a bird that there isn’t really one good spot for (at least that I know of). Now however, if you want to find a chuck-will’s-widow, you now know that they are most common in Arkansas in the second week of May.
Due to this just being a collection of data however, you will still need to do outside research on where to find a chuck-will’s-widow in Arkansas but at least you know have a general idea of where they are common.
The one thing that worries me about this is if there is misleading data in the top 10s. This is mainly because the spot it recommends as #1 is the location where chuck-will’s-widow appears in the highest percentage of eBird checklists. If there are not very many eBird checklists for that area, that percentage can seem off. However, Miller counteracts this by putting another column for quality of data. This is basically a measure of how many checklists have been submitted from that state/province in the certain week that is recommended.
Species Top 10s
Overall, I think that this is an amazing resource for birders. The amount of knowledge that is piled into this guide is amazing and it is very valuable to anyone pursuing a Big Year, Big Day, or a particular nemesis bird. It has its problems, but in general it is very useful. The icing of the cake is that it’s free and easy to download. Just follow the link below and click on the download links.