Birding a Local Patch

How to Record Birds from your Patch 13

This is the third in a series of articles from Bird Count India about Patch Birding, following on from Part 2 “How to Choose a Local Patch”


The most obvious and valuable way your day-to-day sightings from patch birding can be interesting and useful is to add them to eBird. This means they form a permanent record and can be analysed together with records from other observers, and over time, to get a picture of the species status. Even common birds to you may become of conservation concern in the near future – the decline of Gyps vultures being a prime example.

The good news is that there is nothing complicated to patch birding in eBird, plus it has various tools available for you to easily analyse your patch sightings.

Barn Swallows and Pale/Sand Martin

Carefully count Barn Swallows gathering before migration – when you look more closely at birds on your patch you might notice something you would have overlooked otherwise…
© Mike Prince

Submitting Patch Observations to eBird

Observations from your patch are submitted to eBird as for observations from any other location. There are a few specific pointers described below in order to get the most helpful reporting and analysis.

  • Submit your first checklist from your patch to eBird as normal, and use “Find it on a Map” to define the location. Use a point that is fairly near the centre of your patch. Suggest it as a hotspot to get access to comprehensive reporting through eBird, although if the patch is a private garden for example, you can ignore this.
  • You may like to have multiple sites and hotspots for the patch if you find yourself visiting different areas of it on different occasions, e.g. to cover smaller areas that you might visit when you have little time. See Use of eBird for Patch Birding below for how eBird allows you to group these for easy and comprehensive reporting.
  • Record the date and time of your patch visits, even on brief visits, so that your effort is recorded, and enter the protocol as Travelling or Stationary. You may occasionally have observations where “birding was not your primary purpose”, e.g. when just driving through, and these should be Incidental.
  • It is helpful to use the checklist comments to describe exactly the route you took, or which part of the patch you visited if you haven’t covered it in full, and any general observations for the visit.
  • Try to always enter all species that you record and mark the “checklist complete”, as this will enable you to get more interesting reports, such as how frequent certain species are compared to others.
  • Count or estimate species as much as possible and try to avoid the use of “X”. If your patch is not often visited by others, then even a rough estimate by you will be more valuable than no count at all. If you are lucky enough to find a particularly large number of birds of a species, do add notes on how you counted (eg a flock of ducks in blocks of 10) so that anyone can see how meticulous you have been! (In the absence of such notes, an eBird reviewer may contact you requesting to you add details.) An advantage of patch birding is that you will soon realise when counts are locally significant, so then can make an extra effort to count or estimate accurately.
  • Add details to your records as much as possible. This can include notes about behaviour, any photos or sound recordings, recording the age and sex of birds when you know these, and entering any breeding evidence.

Additional Information to Record

Photos of the patch can be particularly interesting to document changes throughout the seasons. If possible, take habitat photos at various times. Although you cannot at present add these directly to your eBird checklist you can upload them to other websites and link them from the checklist comments.

Note other wildlife if you can. Studying a local patch can be a relatively easy way to start learning about trees, plants, reptiles, dragonflies, butterflies etc. You can use the checklist comments in eBird to mention these, or consider uploading to the India Biodiversity Portal.

eBird Analysis

The eBird hotspots page for your patch is the starting point for analysis. Here you can see the overall list of species and each checklist (whether by yourself or anyone else), and filter by month and year. The initial view shows you the most recently recorded species first (“Last Seen”), but you can change to see “First Seen” or “High Counts”, i.e. the peak number recorded for each species. For a patch though the most interesting report is “Bar Charts”, which gives you a summary of seasonality and abundance for all species.

High Counts

High counts for a well-watched patch

Ideally you should aim to visit your patch at least weekly, which then means that the bar chart will have 100% coverage for the entire year. This gives you a great view of the seasonal distribution of birds on your patch, clearly shows migrant arrival and departures, and will highlight trends in abundance.

Bar Chart

Bar chart from a well-watched patch – showing residents, winter visitors and passage migrants

Use of eBird for Patch Birding

eBird also provides some specific extra reporting for patch birding with My Patch Lists. To use this you need to specifically tell eBird that your location is a patch, via Add a Patch. The key advantage of defining your patch this way is the ability to combine multiple hotspots or personal locations into a single patch for reporting purposes. This page then summarises the species and checklists for your patch, giving your life, year, and month lists. It also ranks your efforts at your patch in comparison with other patch birders. Clearly it’s not possible to directly compare one patch with another as they could vary considerably, but this does provide some light-hearted competition!

Patch Surveys

One of the great advantages of patch birding as we’ve described it here is that it is so simple – just go birding whenever you want, and record each visit in eBird. However, it is possible to get more valuable data with a structured survey approach. For example, if you take a standard route and spend the same amount of effort birding in your patch, then you can repeat this at other times, e.g. in future years, and the results are more directly comparable. This is a good way for detecting trends in common birds, e.g. are they increasing or declining? Bird atlases such as the ongoing Kerala Bird Atlas are based on similar principles.

For now though, just get out to your patch and enjoy your birding! More structured survey approaches will be a topic we’ll cover in the future.

When to Start Patch Birding?

The sooner the better! If you start now you will be in time for most of the first passage and winter migrants to arrive, and thus get a full picture of the winter season.

Look out for the final part of this series, Part 4 “Sharing your Patch Birding”, in a few days, together with news of an exciting patch birding challenge…

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