‘Bird Count happenings‘ will be an irregular series of updates describing various snippets of news related to bird listing and monitoring in India. Our focus will be on activity from India in eBird, a public repository of bird information, but is not restricted to this. Although we view eBird as a valuable tool for accumulating information in Indian birds, it is not the only way in which Indian birdlife is being documented.
The Bird Count India partnership
This partnership exists to encourage and support bird listing and monitoring in India. Since its inception in early 2014, a large number of organizations and online groups have joined the partnership, supporting its goals in various ways. We welcome any group into the partnership in the spirit of working together to better understand our precious bird life.
One way in which the partnership encourages birders to document and share their bird lists is to run a monthly series of eBirding Challenges. Each challenge focusses on the effort spent in birding rather than number of species seen or the rarity of species. All birders who reach the monthly target are recognized on the website and one among these is selected at random to receive a small bird-related gift. The challenges have been run since April 2014, and you can see the monthly list of birders who met the target at this link.
Ongoing projects and new events
The Asian Waterbird Census, our oldest bird monitoring programme, picked up in 2014 with better participation and more site coverage than in recent years. We are told that a summary of the results from 2014 will be out soon.
Other events from early 2014 included the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC; 14-17 Feb), which saw a large jump in contributions thanks to the simultaneous occurrence of the Kerala Common Bird Monitoring Programme (CBMP), the Big Bird Day and the Bengaluru Bird Count. This resulted in India topping all countries in number of species reported, and coming third behind Canada and the USA in terms of the number lists contributed to the GBBC.
A follow-up event to the Kerala CBMP occurred on 12-15 Sept. This event, the Onam Bird Count, garnered even more participation than in February, and results should be out very soon. Other projects in Kerala include the Heronry Count (preliminary summary here) and the pelagic bird surveys — which are also taking off in other States, including Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Goa. Lists from pelagic surveys are being uploaded to 11×11 km ‘hotspot’ cells in eBird.
During the months of June-August, the Goa Bird Conservation Network ran the Monsoon Sunday Bird Challenge, where birders were encouraged to upload their weekend lists to eBird. The eBird platform is also being used to document and archive the findings from formal bird surveys, for example the 2014 Melagiri Bird Survey by the Kenneth Anderson Nature Society.
A significant advance in Indian birding has been the initiation of the Mysore City Bird Atlas. In this, the city of Mysore has been divided into grids, and systematically surveyed in February and in June 2014. This atlas endeavour builds on a long tradition of serious bird documentation by the Mysore Nature group, as shown by the monthly Mysore Birding Diary. Discussions about possible bird atlassing in other parts of the country are going on.
Winter is almost upon us, and there is a packed schedule of events ahead. The India Bird Races will continue as usual in different parts of the country, spread over the winter months. The Asian Waterbird Census will happen in the month of January. And the Big Bird Day and Great Backyard Bird Count are scheduled for February. Please do check birdcount.in for announcements of these and other upcoming birding events.
eBird in India
Until late 2013, the majority of eBirding activity from India was by visiting birders from abroad. Since that time, more and more Indian birders have been using eBird to document their birding outings, and as a consequence, information on the occurrence and abundance of Indian birds is rapidly building up. On 1st January 2014, the number of records of birds from India stood at about 1,20,000. This number crossed half a million in early September, and now (end October) stands at just over 6,00,000 records. The number of India eBird users (ie, those who have uploaded at least one list from India) is 2,100, up from 540 on 1 Jan 2014. Since March, every month roughly 150-300 birders have been uploading one list or more from India.
Past information on birds in India is scarce, and mostly tucked away in notebooks and offline and online reports (but see the digitized records in the BirdSpot, South Asia Birds and India Biodiversity Portal databases). Thanks in part to the bulk upload feature in eBird, birders are uploading their older observations to the system. Since January 2014, a large number of lists (over 5,500 lists, totalling > 1,30,000 records) from the past (ie, from 2013 and earlier) have been uploaded. Many of these lists (over 1,000 lists, >30,000 records) are from Mike Prince, whose lists from India go as far back as 1995 and cover 22 States/UTs. Other major contributors of past lists include the Kerala Birder group, who have uploaded nearly 1,000 past lists (>23,000 records), including those from previous Kerala Forest Bird Surveys, as well as all Asian Waterbird Count data from Kerala. Shivaprakash Adavanne, Praveen J, and Fionna Prins have each uploaded over 200 of their previous lists, and a number of other birders have contributed smaller numbers of lists from the past.
Such historical information on Indian birds is extremely valuable; please do consider adding to the database by digging up your old lists and records and uploading them!
Despite all the recent activity on eBird from India, we have a long way to go, both in absolute terms and in achieving adequate coverage across different parts of the country. For example, the number of lists for all of India is about equal to the number of lists from a single reasonably well-birded county like Miami-Dade county in the USA. Within India, coverage across different Districts is highly uneven. Until there is relatively high coverage across India, it will be difficult to generate accurate species maps, and compare seasonality or changes over years. This is our major challenge.
eBird assistance and features
Uploading lists to eBird can be done through the regular web interface, through smartphone apps, and through the bulk upload feature. We have worked with eBird to display English names that are familiar to Indian birders, but many of us still face some confusion about names, especially because of the large number of recent splits in species. These new names (and also a comprehensive list of Indian bird names) are described here. Several additional features of eBird will be highlighted in the coming months on the Bird Count India website.
Join the effort
We invite individual birders and birding/nature groups from anywhere in India to join the effort to collectively document India’s birds. There are various ways in which you can do so: as individual birders, we can take care to note all the birds we see on our birding trips and upload these lists to a site like eBird. As groups, we can design surveys or monitoring programmes in the areas we cover, to generate and aggregate information on bird distribution and abundance. Entire projects can be run through eBird, like many of those described above, and also MigrantWatch, which gives the option of reporting of migrant sightings to eBird or directly to their database.
If you are interested in listing, surveying or monitoring birds, please do contact us if you would like any advice or other help.
To get updates from Bird Count India automatically into your email inbox, you can sign up here. If you are on Facebook and would like to join our discussion of bird listing and monitoring in India, do join our Facebook group. We also have a Google group, which we hope to re-energize soon!
To add your organization’s name to the list of Bird Count India partners, please email us at birdcountindia |at| gmail.com. And please do be in touch if you have any questions or comments about what we are trying to do.