Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From Creating New Birdwatching Records to Dusting off the Old

My last "Spring into Citizen Science" post looked at Nature Notebook and the USA National Phenology Network's project to record bird observations worldwide.  By collecting these records in a systematic way, scientists are building a reliable database for use in analyzing bird populations and understanding any changes that occur.  But this only creates a new database...what about everything that happened before the project started?

Fortunately the Network has an answer with a bursting collction of over six million records sitting in their warehouse.  Inspired by bird enthusiast Wells Cooke back in the 1880s, over 3000 people devoted themselves to collecting data worldwide up through World War II.  Though these paper records are available and usable if you go through the stacks by hand, scientists are asking for our help to help digitize these records.  The record cards are being scanned now...all that's needed is a minute (or less!) of your time to transcribe the information and make it more usable.

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the main Bird Phenology Program and About the BPP web pages to learn about the project and bird phenology in general.
  • Click on BPP: Become a Participant to register with the program.  Just provide your name and contact information, and click on the confirmation e-mail that will be sent shortly afterward.
  • View the 15-minute videos on transcribing bird records.  Don't let the video length scare you off...the process is actually quite simple.  It just takes time to provide examples of the 5-10 various types of cards you may see.  But once you watch the first few it should become pretty intuitive.
  • Once the video ends the first card will show up.  Just provide the observer's name and location, dates of the sighting, bird type, and any additional field notes.
  • That's it!  Each card should take less than a minute and you can quickly move through them in very short time.
Regular readers may think they've heard this before.  Well, it's very similar to the OldWeather project previously described on this blog and involves a similar transcription process.  So try them both out and let me know what you think in the comments below.  I'm interested to hear your thoughts on how they compare.

With any luck science will one day be able to combine the data sets and discover some meaningful correlations.  And they'll have us to thank for it.

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