eBird – a handy tool and a help to science


Most people as they start birding on a regular basis decide to start keeping lists.  A life list, a state list, a county list – sometimes it seems that birders are more interested in lists than birds.   Did you know that eBird can BE your list?  If you enter your data regularly into eBird, it shows you a breakdown of your history of sightings by all kinds of different measures.

eBird provides life, year, month lists for a variety of locales

eBird provides life, year, month lists for a variety of locales

Hottest hotspots in Loudoun

Hottest hotspots in Loudoun


When going to a new park, many folks pick up the copy of the bird checklist for that park – often a paper copy can be found in the visitor’s center.  Sometimes you go to a new park and there is no checklist, even no visitor’s center.  So you have to guess at what birds are likely and at what else you might have seen.  eBird can provide you a good checklist in all kinds of locations.  For a Hotspot (a publicly shared location like Banshee Reeks), it is based upon what has actually been seen at that location at similar times of the year.   And not just by the season (e.g. Winter), but for the week that you are there visiting.  Further, eBird will highlight which birds are rare – the central point of the feature is to keep the data clean, but it can be very helpful to help you choose between two similar species based upon likelihood.  eBird Mobile can be your notebook/checklist in the field – I find it much easier than scribbling notes down on paper.

Bar charts showing likely locations for a hotspot

Bar charts showing likely locations for a hotspot

Hotspot summary

Region summary



eBird has a few features that help with planning birding trips.  You can look at a particular Hotspot (or even a region) and see what birds are likely by looking at the bar charts for that location.  Or if you know you’ll be in a place, you can explore that region (a country, state, county) and find the Hotspots with the biggest number of species seen.   Next, if you want to see a particular bird, you can explore the data by species and see where you could go to see that bird.  Finally, you can look at a list of target species at a location based upon your life lists.

Target species list - clicking map will show where they might be seen

Target species list – clicking map will show where they might be seen

Alerts and Social

eBird provides the capability to subscribe to alerts – both rare birds (anything that would be flagged by eBird) and ‘Need’ birds.  ‘Need’ birds are birds that you haven’t seen that have been seen in a particular area.  These two features really help to ensure that you are more likely to see a wide variety of birds.  Finally, for each area, eBird will show you who has seen the most birds and who has submitted the most checklists – you can even see recently submitted checklists to see who is recently active.  This can help you connect with other active birders in your area.

Alert subscriptions

Alert subscriptions

The Science

eBird captures all this data and from it the researchers at Cornell (and other institutions) produce many papers and tools.  This dataset is one of the largest ever amassed biodiversity data sets.  eBird is being increasingly used to support Breeding Bird Atlas projects which dramatically reduces the amount of manual effort required to collect and compile the data.

To Get Started


What do YOU Know About American Chestnut Tree Restoration?

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy Larry Johnson

Question– Is an American Chestnut tree growing on BRNP property?

Question– Does a wild (native survivor) American Chestnut tree exist in Loudoun County?

Answers at end of article.

Looking for a botanically-focused venture, this past June 2016, I volunteered for a week-long annual inoculation project at The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) Research Farm through the Roads Scholar Program. Having read numerous articles ranging from newspapers to journals, I arrived in Meadowview, Virginia, naïvely thinking I knew a lot about the plight of the American Chestnut. Not so much, it turned out.

After a brief introductory session, the volunteers were turned over to the Research Farm’s lead scientist, Dr. Laura Georgi. For the next five days Dr. Georgi lectured, instructed, tutored, demonstrated, illustrated—motivating us to learn about almost every aspect of the chestnut species. During the course of the week our learning environments ranged from a class setting to the research farm’s laboratory to the orchard fields. I gained direct knowledge by performing field work in the Meadowview orchards. I learned first-hand how to identify the various symptoms of the blight’s infections; developed a detailed understanding of the pathology of the fungus; and learned to differentiate taxonomically the hybridized tree generations produced in the backbreeding projects. In the Farm’s laboratory, Dr. Georgi provided a rudimentary introduction into the genetics of crossbreeding as practiced by TACF (intrabreeding), and a working level tour through the lab’s procedures and techniques in germinating nuts to grow approximately 5000 seedlings per year.

It is rather common knowledge in botany-centric worlds, that the accidental introduction of the fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), devastated the American Chestnut tree (Castanea dentata), the penultimate foundation species to grow in the eastern North American forests (1-1.5 billion trees). By the end of WWII, in slightly over 50 years, the great American Chestnut was reduced to a few standing survivors and even now these more immune exotic specimens continue to succumb to the blight. Less known is that although the fungus destroys the aboveground stems, it does not attack the root systems which are protected by the soils. This is a fortunate factor in an otherwise total ecological disaster, as the blight did not cause full extinction of C. dentata. The fungus does however cause the extirpation of the tree’s physiology out of the forest canopy, resulting in the chestnut being functionally extinct.

Recent research,[1] designed around and based on the enhanced version of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program[2] where sampling was compiled by states’ forestry evaluation groups, estimates roughly 431 million (error ±30.2 million) C. dentata stems (stem, sapling, or tree). This population equals less than 10% of pre-blight population in its historical range. Distributed across the 16 core-range states, 70.9 million live trees (>2.5 cm dbh) are estimated to exist. That the vast majority (84%) of the stems inventoried in the FIA are seedlings (< 2.5 cm dbh) illustrates the greatly diminished structure of the surviving stock.

Since the blight was discovered, various groups have attempted either to eradicate the fungus or to develop resistant trees; this latter option considered the most viable in terms of success. Hypovirulence control, inter/intra breeding, and genetic engineering are the three main approaches practiced by restoration efforts. Recently the breeding programs and the genetic engineering techniques are experiencing broader support and probability of success in chestnut tree restoration.

TACF is one of the larger national restoration organizations. See box below. The TACF pursues the traditional inter/intra-breeding approaches to developing an immune hybrid tree that is 95% American. The TACF Research Farm is located in Meadowview, with three large local orchards and another remote orchard at Matthews State Forest near Galax. These properties contain approximately 50,000 trees, sprouts, and seedlings planted as stock for their backbreeding program headquartered and operated in a Virginia Dept. of Forestry certified laboratory. With only four staffed positions, the Meadowview backbreeding programs are highly dependent upon volunteers and citizen scientists to perform hands-on tasks during the critical spring and fall months when the chestnut trees are in their annual growth stages.

source - Wikipedia (creative commons)

American chestnut field trial sapling from the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation

Meanwhile back on the farm, er, in the orchards that is, with nine other Roads Scholars, we worked up to eight hours per day performing inoculations of over 2000 trees. Yes, we were intentional infecting trees with the fungus! Inoculations are performed on 3- to 5-year-old trees to determine each plant’s susceptibility to the fungus. Of the 2000 tree we treated with the fungus, the survival rate will probably be 5 or 6 trees. American chestnut tree immunity to the fungus is a very low percentage condition enabled by a genetic mutation from cross breeding.

After limited early success, much progress is being achieved in producing a blight resistant tree, especially in the past 10 years. Advances in breeding techniques and procedures have been greatly enhanced through the contributions of biochemical analysis and mapping of the chestnut genome by genetic engineers. Aided by these scientific disciplines, one can perceive within the chestnut groups a change of attitude from one of dogged determination working against an overwhelming foe to one of confidence based on intelligent information. Conservation literature is beginning to address the pragmatic environmental impacts of repopulation dynamics of the chestnut tree on the current forest biome.

After a brief—but intense— indoctrination into the Chestnut tree and its blight I cannot claim to be naïve any longer. But based on my experience in Meadowview, I must humbly admit that even more than before, my level of knowledge remains “Not so much—still.”

However, I more fully comprehend the scope of the task of the TACF and related organizations with their goal of forestland restoration. More importantly, I understand the vital importance of the role and the dedication of volunteers necessary to support the mission of restoring the mighty Chestnut tree.

Answer 1. Unreported; Highly improbable.

Answer 2. Yes, according to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, Plant Database

[1] Dalgleish,H.J.; Nelson,C.D.; Scrivani,J.A.; Jacobs,D.F. Consequences of Shifts in Abundance and Distribution of American Chestnut for Restoration of a Foundation Tree. Reprinted from Forests (ISSN 1999-4907) in Chestnut, The Journal of The American Chestnut Foundation, Issue 2, Vol. 30, Spring 2016.

[2] Bechtold,W.A.; Patterson,P.L. The Enhanced Forest Inventory and Analysis Program- National Sampling Design and Estimation Procedures; Gen. Tech. Rep. -80; Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station; Asheville, NC, USA, 2005; p.85.


The mission of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is to restore the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands to benefit our environment, our wildlife, and our society.

To learn about TACF and its national breeding program, visit www.acf.org. To join the effort to restore the American chestnut tree, visit www.acf.org/join.php.

The American Chestnut Foundation has a Tree Locator project that encourages identification and verification of native or wild specimens of C. dentata. To assist and standardize the inventory efforts TACF maintains an online reporting site: acf.org/find_a_tree.php.



Bluebird box monitoring

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFor the last several years, we have been monitoring a bluebird trail in Loudoun.  It is a great volunteer opportunity.  It gets you outdoors on a regular basis;  you get to watch the whole lifecycle of birds;  you get to help out local native birds;  and sometimes you get access to some great habitat.  For example. one of the monitoring sites is the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation site – where it requires permission to visit and the bluebird monitors have permission to visit!  In Loudoun county, there are currently about 50 trails – so there is probably one near to you.

Our trail has not been very successful with respect to bluebirds.  We haven’t had any bluebirds nest in our boxes, but we have had other wonderful native birds species – Tree Swallows and House Wrens.  It’s a lovely experience to think that the Tree Swallows flying overhead are the ones that you played a part in their survival.

House Wren babies on a nest

House Wren babies on a nest

Boxes are generally checked one a week over the course of the spring to the fall.  Most trails probably take an hour or less to visit and inspect.  In the spring and fall, you clean out the boxes making sure they are ready for nesting – occasionally you need to fix something about the houses (replace a screw or noel guard) or move them based upon the previous season’s successes.   Then during the breeding season, you mostly just watch and record the nest state, number of eggs and number of juveniles.  You get to see the different nest materials and the eggs up close and you take some pictures of adorable little babies now and again.   All in all, it is very rewarding.

The program in Loudoun County is run by Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.  You can find more information at http://www.loudounwildlife.org/Bluebird_Monitoring.htm .


I just found this fantastic article on the main VMN website about Clark Walter building bluebird boxes – http://www.virginiamasternaturalist.org/home/on-the-wings-of-bluebird-diplomacyFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailToday, we attended a workshop at Riverbend park sponsored by the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia that trained us on survey techniques for the Breeding Bird Atlas project.  The breeding bird survey is a 5 year “survey of all bird species breeding in the state. Data collected will help map the distribution and status of Virginia’s breeding bird community in order to better inform our natural resource and conservation decisions.”  A previous Virginia breeding atlas was done 25 years ago, so this new atlas will help us understand how birds’ behavior and their environment has changed in that time.

For citizen scientists it provides a fun and easy way to help study and conserve birds.  Birders often think of the spring and fall as the highlights of the years for birding – migration brings many more bird species temporarily into the area;  because of this birders often don’t spend as much time birding in the middle of the summer.  This project provides a great opportunity to focus on the birds in the heart of the summer.  For most birds, the middle of the summer, June and July, are the time when most breed and so therefore it is also the best time to visit the field.

at Morven Park

Eastern Kingbird on nest at Morven Park

Participation is super easy – get out and watch birds!  Watch them to see if they are exhibiting breeding behaviors and then report the results.  There are many more details to the protocol as shown on their website, but here are some useful things to know:

  • the state has been divided into blocks, so you need to pay attention to your location and report which block you observed the behavior in
  • there is a set of codes to describe the behaviors
  • the data is entered into a specialization of eBird website called the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas Portal
  • the goal is to upgrade as many birds to ‘Confirmed’ breeding in each block as possible, thus ‘completing’ a block
  • anyone can contribute to any block during breeding season in next 5 years.

During the workshop, we walked for a couple hours trying to find breeding behavior.  Riverbend (like several parks) is divided between two blocks – Seneca SE (a priority block) and Rockville SW.   During the walk, we spotted breeding behaviors on dozens of bird species (including the lovely Louisiana Waterthrush) and it gave participants a opportunity to learn more about some of the more subtle behaviors like counter-singing and territorial defense.  The survey coordinator (Ashley Peele) walked everyone through the data entry, useful tools on the website and encouraged us to spread the word and get others involved!

For anyone going to the 2016 Virginia Master Naturalist conference, they will be hosting another workshop at the conference.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Virginia Working Landscapes is looking for volunteers

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailThey are working on recruiting citizen scientists for the upcoming field season:


Training includes information on pollinator life history, survey collection protocols in the field, identification of the most common bumble bees and butterflies, and specimen preparation for taxonomic identification. Surveys involve pollinator traps (one trap per site, emptied every 2 weeks) and butterfly surveys (4 surveys, 20 minutes each). Citizen scientists are expected to store specimens properly, fill in survey sheets, and deliver -or coordinate delivery- of samples to survey coordinator. Participants will have the opportunity to participate in identification of specimens under the guidance of trained para-taxonomists.

Training Date: May 14th 1pm-4pm • Survey Period: June-August


Training includes protocols, identification skills, and specimen preparation. Volunteers work in pairs to identify and count plant species within seven 1-meter quadrants for a total of 21 plots in each field. Each site takes approximately 6-8 hours to survey. Must be able to commit at least 5 days (30-40 hours plus travel). All supplies and equipment is provided. There is no need to be an expert, but we do ask that you are familiar with Virginia flora and have the ability to key out unknown specimens with a dichotomous key and our reference collection. It is possible to pair with a more experienced person.

Training Date: May 14th 9am-12pm • Survey Period: May-June

To sign-up, visit http://www.vaworkinglandscapes.org/get-involved/citizen-scientistFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Willowsford Conservancy Bluebird Monitoring Kickoff!

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailA current VMN trainee :), Iris Gestram would like us to know about this opportunity.  This is in conjunction with the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy who will have two presenters at the program kickoff.

Here’s what you need to know if interested:

The kickoff date to remember is March 20th.

Join Us! 2016 Bluebird Monitoring Program Kick-off
When: Sunday, March 20
Time: 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Where: Syacmore House
Ages: adults and children 8+
Cost: free!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail