Birding Competition Update – March

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The first of the mini-competitions within the eBird Calgary 2015 Competition was to find the most species within the circle in the first three months of the year. With just a few days to go there are some close races. As more spring migrants arrive every day, there is still time to find more species.

Here are the leaders in the three categories as of March 28. In the Experienced category, note that Daniel Arndt and Andrew Hart are not eligible for prizes – Daniel is a member of the organizing committee, and Andrew is President of Nature Calgary.


Aidan Vidal                       60 species
Simone Pellerin-Wood        57
Birdboy Canada                 48

Beginner Adult

Aphtin Perratt                   65
Nicole Pellerin                   63
Darlene Shymkiw              62

Experienced Adult

John Thompson                 90
Andrew Hart                      85 (not eligible for prizes)
Daniel Arndt                      84 (not eligible)
Blake Weis                        82
Brian Elder                        77
George Best                      74

Ebird Usage

One of our goals for the competition was to greatly increase the use of eBird by local birders. The number of checklist submissions for the first three months of the year is way up over last year, and we hope to see an even bigger increase in the coming months. Note that the competition area includes all of Calgary county, plus parts of three other counties, so I have compared numbers for Calgary and for all of Alberta to get an idea of the increased usage of eBird.

Number of eBird checklists submitted, January to March:

2014 Alberta – 4,996

2015 Alberta – 6,498

2014 Calgary county – 1,919

2015 Calgary county – 3,484

To a close approximation, the entire increase in eBird usage in Alberta (up 30%) comes from the increase in Calgary county reports.

The number of bird species reported is also way up. This probably is mostly due to the milder conditions and an increase in overwintering birds this year, and perhaps some earlier spring arrivals than last year. Nevertheless, as more birders get out and use eBird, we do get a more complete picture of all the species in our province and local area.

Number of species reported by month:

2014 – Alberta

January    101

February   103

March       128

2015 – Alberta

January    111

February   105

March       140

2014 – Calgary county

January     78

February    78

March       103

2015 – Calgary county

January     91

February   87

March       122

There have been a total of 1,216,532 individual birds reported in Alberta so far in 2015 (752,772 in Calgary county). That’s a lot of data in the eBird database!

As of today we have an even 100 participants in the competition, with a few days still to go until the March 31 deadline (13 Youth, 23 Beginner Adult, 64 Experienced Adult). If you or anyone you know wants to join, email us at We’d really like to increase the number of youths and beginners involved. There is no set time commitment, and even if you only get out a few times in the year, it helps to contribute to our knowledge of local birds, and of course it is good for you too! Don’t worry too much if you’ve missed out on the first part of the competition; you can still get all the winter species next November and December.

In the next few days we will announce the April Birds & Beers event, at which we will award the prizes for the first mini-competition. We are planning some regular field trips to target some of the difficult-to-find birds in the circle, and later in the spring, a Big Day field trip to see how many species we can find in the circle in one day. In the meantime there is a full slate of Nature Calgary field trips that you can participate in, and the Friends of Fish Creek are taking registrations for the 12-week Spring Birding Course, which starts on March 30.

Join Us For the Birding Competition!

The deadline to enter the Calgary birding competition is March 31. Join over 100 other birders who are trying to see as many species as they can in the Calgary area in 2015.

IMG_4944Baltimore Oriole. Photo by Bob Lefebvre

Read about the competition here, and go to the Nature Calgary page to register. If you have any questions, email us at

Note: If you are registered in the competition, you should have been receiving occasional emails from – let us know if you haven’t been getting them.

Birding Competition Update

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The eBird Calgary 2015 birding competition is off to a good start. We had some very mild weather in January, so most of the participants were able to get out and get their lists started. We also had some very good birds in the area, and many Calgary-area birders were able to see Wild Turkeys, a Steller’s Jay, and even a Cassin’s Finch.


Wild Turkey, Millarville area, January 9, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.

As of today there are 87 people registered in the competition, 74 adults and 13 youths. We will still take registrations up until March 31, and we hope to eventually have over 100 participants.

One of our goals is to increase the use of eBird in the Calgary area, so that there will be a more complete record of the local bird populations and movements. In 2014, there were only twenty-five birders who submitted more than 52 eBird checklists in Calgary county (an average of one checklist a week), so we should be able to get that number way up.

In January there were 1,244 eBird checklists submitted in Calgary county, compared to 579 in January 2014. (This year’s number includes all eBirders, not just those in the competition. The entire competition circle includes parts of three other counties as well. But these numbers give you an idea of the increased usage of eBird.) Calgary county was the #2 county in all of Canada for the number of eBird checklists submitted in January, behind only Metro Vancouver. During 2014, Calgary rarely cracked the top 25. That result may be partly due to the mild weather we had here in January, so we’ll have to see if we keep up our high standing. So far in February, Calgary is #5.

Here are the top three birders in the competition in each category for January:

Adults – Experienced

  1. Brian Elder            69 species
  2. Phil Cram              58
  3. Blake Weis            57

Adults – Beginner

  1. Darlene Shymkiw     40
  2. Aphtin Perratt          36
  3. Graeme Mudd          26
  4. Rachel MacKay         16


  1. Aidan Vidal          40
  2. Ethan Denton       36

We have announced the first of our short challenges for the year – Winter Bird List. Prizes will be awarded in each of the categories above for the most species recorded from January 1 to March 31. So don’t wait for spring to get out birding!


Steller’s Jay, Bowness neighbourhood, January 2, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.


Winter Birding Targets

By Brian Elder, posted by Bob Lefebvre

At the December 3, 2014 meeting of Nature Calgary’s Bird Studies Group, Brian Elder presented Calgary Competition: Winter Birding Targets. Brian gives great advice on how to get a good start in the competition, by targeting birds that are only here in the winter, rare birds, and birds that may be around all year but are easier to find in the winter. He includes many of his outstanding photos.

There is still plenty of winter left this year, and if you can’t get out and find these birds in February and early March you can always try again in November and December. Scroll through the PDF file of the presentation below.

Note: The file might not show on the blog in all web browsers or on mobile devices. If you click this link it should open in a new page:

Calgary competition – winter birding


Download the PDF file .


Birds and Beers: A Social Get-together for Birders

Birds and Beers, Tuesday January 27, 2015, 6:00 pm.

Royal Canadian Legion, 9202 Horton Road SW Calgary.

Whenever birders get together, they love to talk about birding – what’s being seen locally, where to find good birds, and everything that’s happening in the world of birding. Often these discussions are brief chats before and after meetings, field trips, and bird counts. A few years ago Sharon Stiteler of the Birdchick blog came up with the brilliant idea of arranging informal get-togethers for birders to just meet face-to-face and discuss anything they want. These “Birds and Beers” events are now very popular and have been held in many states and provinces.

We here at the blog have done three previous Birds and Beers events, and they were all well-received and a lot of fun. This is something we plan to continue, and we will hold several of them during 2015 in conjunction with the eBird Calgary 2015 Birding Competition.

Next Tuesday, January 27, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm (or perhaps until closing if it goes really well), we will have our first Birds and Beers of 2015 at the Royal Canadian Legion #285, 9202 Horton Road S.W. Calgary. Food and drinks are available. We will be inviting all the eBird competition participants and I’m sure some of us will be discussing the competition and eBird, but anyone with an interest in birding in the area is welcome to come, and you can talk about anything birding-related. It is very informal. Unfortunately this is an adults-only venue in the evenings, but we plan to have some child-friendly get-togethers this year too.

For a map to the location and more information, see the Birds and Beers Calgary meetup page on Facebook. There is no need to register or let us know you plan to attend; just come at any time after 6:00 pm and join us.

IMPORTANT – upon arrival, mention to the staff that you are there for Birds and Beers, and they will direct you to the room.

See you there!

eBird: Setting Up Yard Lists

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The previous post showed you how to set up an eBird Patch List, like the one to be used for the 2015 birding competition. This post will show how to set up an eBird Yard List. The previous post has lots of information that is relevant to this, so it’s a good idea to read it over: eBird: Setting Up Patch Lists.

To begin with, you must simply make some observations in or from your yard, and submit them to eBird. To be counted, birds must be seen or heard by the registered participant from within the residence or yard. This includes birds that are in your yard, as well as flyovers and birds heard while you are in the yard.

When specifying your yard location, you may want to protect your privacy by not placing the location marker exactly where you live. Pick a spot a few blocks away but in identical habitat. When naming the location, give it a descriptive name so you and others know it is a yard location, but don’t use your address. In the example below, I have brought up the map on eBird to specify a new location. Suppose I live where the blue marker is in the Ogden neighbourhood. I have placed a marker in a nearby location (the green teardrop marker), and just called it “Yard.” I have typed “Yard” under “Enter Location Name” on the right. I could have called it “Calgary Yard,” “Bob’s Yard,” or “Ogden Yard.”

Location 1



Location 2


Then you enter your observations for the location. I’ll assume you have done that, and your location is now part of your eBird.

To set up an official Yard List that will be included in the competition, go the the “Explore Data” tab on eBird. In the right-hand box under “Your Totals” click “Yard Totals.” This is how will see all the yard lists in your region.


Yard Lists 1


This will bring up your yard lists (you won’t have any yet) and the list of leaders for the region. Remember to set the region to Alberta since some yards in the competition will not be in Calgary county, and if you set it to Canada, there will be yards from all over the country listed. (Note that the yard listed under the current leaders with my name is not the yard list I have just set up, but my real yard list.)


My Yard Lists 2


Next, click the green “Add A Yard” button on the right side of the page. This will bring up the page below, which lists your saved birding locations.


Add a Yard 3


Type in your new yard name (for the competition, use “2015 Calgary Yard Challenge”). Then check off the appropriate location box to the left of your location names. Here, I have five locations listed. Just check ‘Yard” and then click the green “Save Yard” button at the bottom.


Add a Yard 4 Save


You should never have to edit your yard list again (until you move). The page below shows your yard totals at the top, with all the leaders in the region shown below. I have set it to show the month leaders (December 2014). This yard list has 10 species from one checklist submitted.


My Yard Lists 5


That’s it, your yard is set up! Now you can explore the data whenever you want. If you click on the “10” under your species total, it will show all your species reported:


Locarion Year List 6


Now if I enter another set of sightings from my yard location in Ogden, any new species will be added to this official Yard List. (You should report all the species you see when birding, even when there are no new species to add to your year or month list.) Below shows the Yard Lists page after I submitted another checklist. I now have 18 species for the month, second in the region. (The number of my checklists should say 2, not 1; this is just due to a delay in the system.)


Edit Yard List 8


Yard birding can be a lot of fun and is one of the easiest ways to bird almost every day. If you live within the 80-km circle, enter the competition and add your yard to the list!

Link to the eBird 2015 Competition page, with all the information you need to join.

eBird: Setting Up Patch Lists

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

For those of you who are participating in the eBird Calgary 2015 birding competition, and for anyone else interested in using eBird, here is how you set up your patch list. The next post will show how to set up your yard list.

These instructions for setting up a patch will apply to any patch you might want to have, to track all your sightings in an area. An example is to have a Fish Creek Provincial Park patch, which will include every location that you have birded within the park. For the competition, the patch we are competing in is an 80-km radius circle centred on the Centre Street bridge in Calgary. This is the Calgary May Species Count circle and the traditional “Calgary region” for local birders. Several eBird users have had this patch in their lists for years. During the competition year, participants will have to call this patch “2015 Calgary Patch Challenge,” which will enable the committee and other participants to easily see how everyone’s totals compare. The name can easily be changed afterwards and the patch retained.

Besides the competition to see who can find the most species in the 80-km circle, we are having a competition to see who can record the most species in their yard. Birders can compete in either or both of these. Like the patch challenge, participants must set up a “Yard List,” which is essentially a patch that consists of just one location, your yard. The yard list must be called “2015 Calgary Yard Challenge.” (It is not enough to just have a birding location at your yard that you submit observations from. Unless you set it up as an official Yard List, it will not appear in the list of all Yard Lists in the region.)

Here is a link to the eBird page that results from doing a search of their Help file for “patch.” There is a lot of good information there and I encourage you to read through it, but I think that following the instructions in this blog post will be the most straightforward way to get get your patches set up.

You only need to set up the patch list once, and all your past and future sightings will be included in the totals, broken down by month, year, and life. eBird keeps a record of all your birding locations, and which ones are in which patch or patches. (A location can be in more than one patch; for example, my Bebo Grove location is included in my Fish Creek Provincial Park patch, my Calgary City Limits patch, and my 2015 Calgary Patch Challenge patch.) The only thing you will have to remember is that any time you go birding at a new location that is within your patch, you will have to edit the patch or patches to add the new location to them. You don’t have to do this right away but you will want to check periodically to make sure that all your patches have the proper locations included. For the 80-km circle, you may need to refer to the map for locations near the edge to see if they are in or out. For the Yard List patch, you should never have to add locations to it since it will only have your yard location.

All of this will become clearer with some visual aids. First, you will need to have submitted some observations so there is at least one location stored in your eBird. Sign in to eBird. In this example, I have clicked on the “My eBird” tab at the top of the page. My information shows that I have submitted five checklist (one was from my yard, two others in the city, one on Grand Valley road north of Cochrane, and one in Red Deer).

My eBird 1


Next, to set up a patch, click on the “Explore Data” tab at the top. This will bring up the “View and Explore Data” page below. Now under the “Your Totals” box on the right, click on the “Patch Totals” link.

View and Explore 2


The “My Patch Lists” page below will appear. At first it will say you don’t have any patches, and below that, it will list all the patch leaders in the specified region (Canada in this example). Click on the green “Add a Patch” button on the right.

My Patch Lists 3


The “Add a Patch” page below appears. There is a spot to name your new patch, and below that, a list of all of your birding locations from all your sighting submissions. Type in “2015 Calgary Patch Challenge” for the name, as I have here, and then check the little boxes to the left of only those locations that will be included in your patch. In this example, all except the Red Deer location are within the 80-km circle. As you check them, they will appear in the right-hand list “Currently in your Patch.” When you’re done, click the green “Save Patch” button at the bottom.

Add a Patch 5 Save

You are done! Now the “2015 Calgary Patch Challenge” patch appears in your list, with 36 species recorded (see below). Note the “Edit” button on the right of the patch name; this will be used to add more locations to the patch in the future.

The list of all the top patches in the region is shown at the bottom of the page (the “Current Leaders”). I have changed the region to Alberta from Canada, and clicked the “Month” tab, and there is the patch I created, in third place. (If I left the region as Canada my patch would be much farther down the list. For this competition, it is best to use the Alberta region to view results. You can’t use the county, since our circle is not entirely within Calgary county.) You can now click on the Life or Year tabs to see where you stand there, or click on your species totals to see the actual species you reported.

Edit Patch List 7


For example, here is the list of the 36 species in my patch. It was produced when I clicked on the “36” in my Species Totals, Year column above.

Location Year List 7


That’s all you need to get started, but I’ll show you how to edit your patch to add more locations to it. Initially I had five lists from five different locations, but now I have submitted new observations from a new location, Votier’s Flats. Below I have clicked the “edit” button by my patch name. The Edit page shows all my locations, including the new one, on the left, and the locations that are currently in my patch on the right.

Edit Patch List 8

Simply check the box by the Votier’s Flats location, and it will appear in the list on the right. Then Save the patch again.

Edit Patch List 9


After saving the patch, it now has 42 species on six checklists and is in first place for the month, as shown below.



Now it should be a breeze to set up your Yard List so you can compete in that competition too. That will be covered in the next post.

(Note: the lists I used were for illustration purposes only and have since been deleted.)

Getting Started with eBird

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

I have heard before from more than one birder that though they would like to start using eBird, they don’t often see any really good birds. But eBird isn’t a place to report just the “good” birds, it is for reporting all bird species, and the numbers of each species. The data collected on the eBird site is of great use to scientists studying birds and their habitats. eBird is a resource used to monitor the health of bird populations, and the changing patterns of their distribution, by amassing a huge database of biodiversity records. This is a crucial resource for conservations who are trying to decide where our limited resources can best be put to use in helping birds, and in arguing for the preservation of critical habitats. The data comes from both professional and recreational birders.

IMG_4452 2

The familiar House Sparrow has undergone a rapid population decline over much of its range. Is this continuing, accelerating, or levelling off? Is it related to gains by other species? eBird can help to answer questions like these for this and many other species.

It is easy to sign up on the eBird site and get started contributing to this citizen science project. Most birders can contribute almost every day. If you watch birds in your yard, at work, or walking your dog, you can submit your observations and help fill in valuable information on the birding map. Just get in the habit of keeping track of these birds, even if it it is just for a half-hour a day. You need to note the date, the time you started birding, the duration, and, if you are travelling, approximately how far. Then you make a note of the bird species you identify, and how many of each.

Below is a notepad page from March 19, 2014. I used to keep a notepad in the kitchen to keep track of my yard birds, and added to it through the day as I watched them through the windows. (Now I use the BirdLog app on my smartphone, which I find is just as easy, and which submits the results directly to the eBird website. See this blog post, and also see the BirdLog site.) Occasionally I  will spend an extended time of a half-hour or more watching birds in the yard and record the duration, and that is a very useful list to submit to eBird (it is a Stationary count rather than a Travelling count). But usually when I am at home I just watch intermittently, and that is recorded on eBird as an Incidental count, since I may have missed something when I wasn’t watching. On my list below, the number for each species is the highest number I am sure of; in other words, the lowest number that could have accounted for all the sightings I had that day. For example, I recorded four Black-billed Magpies. Although I may have seen a magpie eight or ten times during the day, the highest number I saw at once was four. The other sightings could have been the same birds seen again.



For House Sparrows, I initially saw eight. Later, I saw ten birds in the yard, so I added two. Still later, there were 26 at one time, so I added another 16 for a minimum count of 26. Note that I have recorded male or female for some of those birds for which that can be determined by sight (or hearing, if the birds are singing). This is also important information that can be recorded in eBird, but in this case it also helped to determine the number of birds. I saw a male Dark-eyed Junco, then a female later. The birds were not seen at the same time but must have been different individuals, so the total is two. For Northern Flickers, I made a note of the head markings, and thus deduced that there were at least four individuals, three males and one female, not one bird returning over and over.

Here is the eBird checklist that resulted when I submitted the above list:



Calgary – Yard, Calgary County, Alberta, CA
Date and Effort
Wed Mar 19, 2014 8:00 AM
Party Size:
Bob Lefebvre
11 species total
Canada Goose
Downy Woodpecker
Age & Sex
Juvenile Immature Adult Age Unknown
Male 1
Sex Unknown
Northern Flicker

1 drumming.

Age & Sex
Juvenile Immature Adult Age Unknown
Male 3
Female 1
Sex Unknown
Black-billed Magpie
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
Age & Sex
Juvenile Immature Adult Age Unknown
Male 1
Sex Unknown
European Starling

Again appeared to have roosted overnight in the flicker nest box, emerging at 8:10 am.

White-throated Sparrow
Age & Sex
Juvenile Immature Adult Age Unknown
Sex Unknown 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)
Age & Sex
Juvenile Immature Adult Age Unknown
Male 1
Female 1
Sex Unknown
House Finch
House Sparrow

Are you submitting a complete checklist of the birds you were able to identify?



Similarly, you could keep track  of the birds you see every day at your workplace, or nearby on your lunch break, or on your commute. If you go for daily walks with your dog, it would also be pretty easy to keep track of the birds you see. If you follow the same route or are in the same park every day, you will have one eBird location that you use over and over, and you will be able to monitor the changing patterns of bird populations through the seasons and the years, which is what eBird was designed to do.

I work outside, walking the same route over and over every day. Before getting the Birdlog app, I carried a notepad and stopped every block or two to update my list. I have found it to be pretty easy to keep track of what I see and hear (mostly hear, actually – I can’t track down every bird since I am working, but after a while you learn to recognize all the birds by voice, and keep track of where they are as you walk. It does take a little practice). You have to be careful not to double-count birds as they (and you) move around, but for most species that is straightforward. Birds like magpies that move around a lot can be tricky, but I think they tend to be under-counted anyway, since whenever a hawk enters the neighbourhood it is suddenly beset by dozens of magpies that you weren’t aware of. For eBird the rule of thumb is just to try to get an estimate that does not wildly over-count.

Here is the page of my notebook from my eight-kilometer walk on May 7, 2013 in St. Andrews Heights in northwest Calgary. On this list the totals are cumulative – I don’t add any ticks until I am sure I have seen more birds than before.



And below is the resulting eBird list:



Calgary – St. Andrews Heights, Calgary County, Alberta, CA( Map )
Date and Effort
Tue May 07, 2013 10:15 AM
Party Size:
2 hour(s), 35 minute(s)
8.0 kilometer(s)
Bob Lefebvre
11 species total
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Northern Flicker
Breeding Code
ON Confirmed–Occupied Nest
Black-billed Magpie
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
House Finch
Red Crossbill
House Sparrow
Are you submitting a complete checklist of the birds you were able to identify?


It may not seem like much when you are reporting less than a dozen species on these lists, and seeing pretty much the same birds every day for long stretches, but over time the bird species and numbers change with the seasons, and you sometimes find new and unexpected species as well. Although I will typically see about eight species in the winter and fifteen to twenty in the summer in my yard or in suburban neighbourhoods like St. Andrews Heights, the year totals and life totals for those locations are surprisingly high. From 2008-2014 I submitted 366 lists from St. Andrews Heights, and recorded 67 species. I have submitted 178 yard lists in 2014 and have 56 species. Since January 2012 I have 74 species on my yard list, on 468 checklists.

I hope and expect to see more and more birders using eBird to record their sightings in the future. It is easy to use, and a fun way to contribute to citizen science all year long.

For a brief description of what eBird is and how the data is used, see this article: About eBird

There is a lot of information about how to use the eBird site on its Help Page.

Here is an excellent tutorial on YouTube which describes how to submit observations:



Here is a much fuller introduction to eBird. The video is almost an hour long. The basics of submitting sightings begins just after the 34-minute mark.



I hope that gets you started!

Birding Competition Presentation

If you’d like to learn more about eBird Calgary 2015, the competition sponsored by Nature Calgary, please attend the Bird Study Group Speaker Series on Wednesday, December 3. The competition committee will present information about eBird, and the rules of the event. You will also be able to register in person to participate in this year-long activity.

In addition, Brian Elder will speak about how to get a good start on your winter birds list. This will be of interest to every local birder, whether you will be in the competition or not.


Great Gray Owl. Find out where to go to look for these birds in the winter. Photo by Logan Gibson

Bird Study Group meetings are free and open to anyone. The doors open at 7:00 pm and the meeting starts at 7:30. It is held in Room 211 of the Biological Sciences Building at the University of Calgary.

Here is the Nature Calgary page which gives details of the location. Our Bird Study Group blog page also has information about the meetings.

Join Us For 2015 Competition!

eBird Calgary 2015 Birding Competition

We are now taking registrations for the eBird Calgary 2015 birding competition. Registration is free for Nature Calgary members until the end of December.

Harlequin Ducks

Harlequin Ducks at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary . Photo by Bob Lefebvre

This is a year-long effort in which participants try to see or hear as many species as possible within 80 km of Calgary. The competition is sponsored by Nature Calgary, and you can register now at this page.

All the details about the competition can be found at the 2015 Competition page on this blog (click the link or see the tab at the top of the page). There is also information on this Nature Calgary page.

Join us to meet new people, find new places to go birding, and see new birds!