I've been thinking about e-bird and VTbird in light of recent discussions.
It occurs to me that sometimes we risk stepping on each others' toes in our use of these valued tools due to the fact that they both have multiple purposes and serve many masters. Occasionally, those many dancers on the floor cause us to transgress when we inadvertently lose track of which partner we are asking to dance when we enter or post, and how we receive the invitation when we respond to a posting or message.
Here's how it seems to go to me. Let me know if you agree
Ebird is a massive data base -- contributed to mostly by citizen bird-watchers. While those who use the data for scientific purposes might wish that every posting would be accurate, the real power of ebird comes from its unmatched geographic coverage and enormous number of observations. From an ebird standpoint, a mis-reported Pewee or two (and I'm not saying they were -- I have great respect for the abilities of those who reported them) makes no difference. Statistically, as the number of entries goes up, the standard error of the mean goes down. In other words, errors become matters of insignificance as the data base gets huge. Of course, if all entries were erroneous, then the whole data base would be meaningless. So, there is an assumption in the argument that most entries are accurate -- which supports the idea that we should all post as often as we can to build the data base, and help each other do the best we can as a group of bird-interested people from Vermont to be accurate. Just like Maeve -- keep the "I'm not sure" sightings for your own records, let others know, so they might add eyes and ears, and use VTBird to ask questions to help yourself clarify your observation.
A second use of ebird is as an official register for bird observations in Vermont. In this use of the data, every record that is "unusual" needs to be thoroughly scrutinized. Alan, Chris, Sue et.al. on the Vermont Bird Records Committee have a responsibility to make sure that every bird that is seen when and where it is out of its "normal" distribution (time and place), is accurately reported. So, they have to assume the null hypothesis: If it's outside the norm, then -- unless proven otherwise -- it should not be counted. They have the unsavory task of challenging us on: our basic skills, the quality of the observation, our familiarity with the species, sex, plumage, what behavioral, sound or pictorial evidence we can add -- and assessing all of that against how "unusual" the sighting was before accepting or rejecting it.
The hard part is that I might offer-up seeing what I think was a glimpse at an early hummingbird, and post it so that others might share my joy, and keep let me know whether they saw one too. But to the experts, I've just posited a piece of information that might change the Vermont Bird records, have impact on global warming studies, etc. How we treat that difference of perspective as we communicate about it, may easily lead to bristles.
It seems like some of these collisions are inevitable. But, maybe we can help by giving a little context (who we are, where we are coming from, etc.) when we offer up observations and challenges, try to be as accurate as possible in our posts to ebird (if I'm offering up a Cardinal, I feel very confident posting but if I think I saw a female Indigo Bunting in fall dress -- a bird I've only seen once -- I should try to be more careful / thorough), and let each other know where we are coming from when we respond to each other.
And maybe most importantly, VTbird should be completely non-judgemental. It's an information sharing, community building and learning tool. I am so appreciative of all I learned from all of you as I have gone from greenhorn to slightly less green. And for all the friends I've made in the process. Inclusive is the way to better birding for all!