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Attention Vermont Birders: The Vermont Flight Count is THIS WEEKEND!!

FALL COUNT PUTS VERMONT BIRDS "ON-LINE"
by Cory Hatch


WOODSTOCK, Vt. – The Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) is urging 
birdwatchers to search fields and forests, bogs and backyards to inaugurate 
an innovative on-line reporting system for bird observations.

The “Fall Flight Count” – from October 24-27 – is designed to encourage 
Vermonters to watch birds and then report their findings to a new web site 
called Vermont eBird. The site links Vermont to a supercomputer now 
collecting millions of bird observations from across the country.

“This is the perfect blend of nature and technology,” said Kent McFarland, 
a biologist at VINS, which has organized and financed Vermont’s link to 
eBird. “It can revolutionize the way casual birdwatchers and serious 
ornithologists study and protect everything from warblers to woodpeckers.”

The web site, http://www.ebird.org/VINS/index.html , is a portal to a vast 
and powerful database co-sponsored by the famed Cornell Lab of Ornithology 
and Audubon. Audubon Vermont is a local partner in the project. eBird makes 
use of supercomputers at Cornell University, which accepts and organizes 
countless bird observations from every corner of the country.

After entering their observations on-line, birdwatchers can easily save, 
manage and review their sightings at any time. Meanwhile, the observations 
will provide researchers, students and other birdwatchers crucial 
information about the status and abundance of birds. eBird data will help 
researchers track the pace of bird migration, for example, or detect 
population changes in a given bird species.

“This is a powerful tool for bird lovers and for bird conservation,” said 
Vermont naturalist and author Bryan Pfeiffer, who submits his own bird 
sightings to eBird. “For decades we’ve kept our observations on paper. Now 
we can share them on-line and use the data to study and protect the birds 
we love.”

Since 1974, Vermont birders’ sightings have been collected through a 
VINS-sponsored project called Records of Vermont Birds.  For almost 30 
years, birders have dutifully summarized their seasonal bird sightings and 
submitted them to VINS. With the help of a corps of dedicated volunteers, 
each birder’s seasonal report was assembled into a statewide summary that 
was printed and mailed to birders. Birders’ individual summaries were filed 
in boxes to be archived for the historical record. The 30 years of data 
collected undoubtedly hold many conservation and scientific discoveries, 
but the lack of a computer database for retrieval of these data has proven 
to be a roadblock to examining them. These data will now be entered into 
Vermont eBird.

“In a way,” said Pfeiffer, “those of us who admire birds have a duty to 
give them this gift in return.”

To celebrate the new service, VINS is asking Vermonters to go bird watching 
anytime during the four-day count, record their observations, and then 
enter them at the Vermont eBird web site.

McFarland pointed out that the count is designed to generate enthusiasm for 
Vermont eBird, and to encourage its use year-round for all bird 
observations – from Chickadees at the backyard feeder to rare Bicknell’s 
Thrushes in the remote mountains of Vermont.

“We want Vermont eBird to be as much a part of birdwatching as binoculars 
and field guides,” said McFarland. “We want folks to enter their sightings 
every time they go birdwatching.”

“After all,” McFarland said, “we can’t protect birds we don’t know about. 
And we can’t know what’s happening out there without the help of birdwatchers.”

Dr. Jeff Wells, research associate at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said the 
origins of eBird go back more than a decade to when John Fitzpatrick, 
director of the Cornell Ornithology Lab, and Frank Gill, senior vice 
president for science for Audubon, got together with some of the top 
ornithologists from around the country.

“They were sort of dreaming about how to use the internet to harness these 
millions of birders out there, this great energy that was available for 
monitoring bird populations,” said Wells.  “They dreamed of something that 
would be a portal to allow the birders to archive all the information 
birders were collecting out there in a common data base.”

“eBird was really the culmination of this whole idea that you could submit 
bird records from anyplace at anytime from across North America,” he 
continued, “and you know that they’ll be archived and preserved forever 
through research and monitoring.”

Since eBird went public last spring, at least 10,000 birdwatchers have 
submitted data on a regular basis. A related database, Birdsource, just 
reached 15 million records in September.

Wells related the story of a man from Tennessee who entered 10 to 20 years 
of his own records (about 9,000 files) from his observations in one park. 
“He used the eBird analysis tools that are already in existence to write a 
detailed paper about the changes in the status of those birds at that 
location,” Wells said.

Wells said this ability to correlate and analyze bird watching data on a 
local level, then relate it to regional, statewide, and continental 
observations was unprecedented.

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Cory Hatch, an associate editor of The Valley Reporter in Waitsfield, 
Vermont, is writing a series of nature and science articles for VINS.

VINS (Vermont Institute of Natural Science) is a nonprofit, membership 
organization located in Woodstock, Vermont, which has regional offices in 
Montpelier and Manchester. It will open its new VINS Nature Center near 
Quechee Gorge in the spring of 2004. Founded in 1972, VINS’s mission is to 
protect Vermont’s natural heritage through education and research. VINS’s 
educational programs serve more than 20,000 adults and 35,000 students each 
year. VINS is a leading research center for the study of migratory 
songbirds, common loons, peregrine falcons, and other threatened or 
endangered species. VINS also maintains one of North America’s most 
impressive collections of live raptors – hawks, eagles, falcons, and owls – 
and has treated and released thousands of injured wild birds of all 
species. For information on membership and programs, visit the VINS web 
site, www.vinsweb.org.

   VINS / Vermont Institute of Natural Science
   27023 Church Hill Road
   Woodstock, VT 05091
   802-457-1053 ext. 107
   www.vinsweb.org