Volunteers from NC to Nicaragua develop a powerful conservation tool

Participants entering data at the eBird training workshop in Nicaragua.

Recently, we reached a milestone in our work in Nicaragua when a training was held for bird researchers, bird watchers, research assistants and others working with birds in Nicaragua.  The training was about how to use eBird, the online database that is a joint project of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Audubon.

A few years ago we learned that Nicaragua was the only country in Central America that did not have an active portal for data to be vetted and displayed within eBird.  You build a portal by creating a simple (though thorough and large) table that forms the basis of a filter that vets all the data that is entered for that country.  This table includes all known records for bird species recorded in that country and approximate high counts that might trigger suspicion of a count before it gets displayed within eBird (for example if 1,000 individuals were reported for a soliitary species). Those high counts are assigned to the calendar year by month to account for seasonal variations, and then further refined to a province or geographic region within a country. Developing the table is no small task and it provides a critical basic framework to begin entering data.

Needing that table to develop a Nicaragua portal, I worked with Watauga High School intern Julia Roberts to begin the process of updating the table with recently published information, historical, records, and best guesses based on the biology of species.  During the 2010-2011school year Julia updated this filter and prepared it for review by local reviewers who had much more knowledge of Nicaraguan birds than we had.

During our successful IBA meeting in Nicaragua in June of 2011, we recruited a couple of volunteers, Lili Duriaux Chavaria and Oliver Komar, to become the first reviewers of the data for Nicaragua.  They jumped into the task of rechecking the filter, vetting any data that birders had entered in the past (some 700 checklists), and began adding their own data into the database.  One of the goals of the IBA meeting was to get this eBird portal up and running so that folks could capture IBA data.

Our partner Lili Duriaux leading the eBird training workshop held recently in Nicaragua

To that end, the training meeting mentioned earlier in this post was held in late November at the Centro Cultural Nicaragüense Norteamericano.  Twenty-nine of the most engaged birders and researchers in the country attended the workshop and each was able to practice submitting their own data and seeing how the system is so useful for capturing IBA data. We are happy to report that Nicaragua now has eBird records!  In fact the records continue to come in and we can now see how the coverage is distributed throughout the country and where the gaps are.  We hope to have followup training with other IBA managers and birders so that IBA data can begin to be captured for a majority of the 33 IBAs in Nicaragua.

And of course all of this is possible thanks to numerous dedicated volunteers, partners like El Jaguar, eBird, Audubon North Carolina, the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua, and many others.  Thanks to everyone for making this happen.  Projects like this help us track  Audubon NC's priority birds (like Wood Thrush and Golden-winged warbler) on their wintering grounds.

Recent Golden-winged warbler sightings in Nicaragua from eBird.

Sightings of Wood Thrush from recently entered eBird data for Nicaragua.

-- Curtis Smalling

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