Why I Love Being a Primary Atlaser

One cool thing about coordinating a Breeding Bird Atlas (BBA) block, like several other citizen science initiatives, is you develop a sense of “place.” I’ve visited Superior, WI and Duluth, MN (and beyond) as part of the same trip several times before I moved up here, so I inevitably associate the Twin Ports in my experience. I moved to Duluth, MN last fall, and picking up the nearest available BBA block has given me occasion to do what I like to do best: walk around and look for birds, most commonly, around sidewalks. I’m responsible for the Superior CE block, which means the burden falls on me to make sure it’s completed. I used to participate in the WI Big Green Birding Year; I found quite a bit of joy just getting to know my neighborhood better, especially since I moved almost annually in Madison. Picking up this local block here up north has given me the same opportunity to get to know my new home (well, in this case, the twin port) better.

Coordinating a block doesn’t mean I have to complete it single-handed, and since I picked it up late (it’s year 3 and still needed a coordinator by the time I moved here) there have been plenty of contributors. In fact, by the time I got here, there had been 13 of the requisite 20 hours already logged. I’ve done more than the 2 required night visits, and all I need to do is finish out the time birding (which is easy, and technically needs only to be completed sometime within the next 2 years), or ensure that others do.

Yet, it’s inevitable that you develop a sense of pride about “your” block, and I think it’s an incentive to bird there. Like many other coordinators, I’m thus far aiming “above and beyond” the requirements to find as many breeding species as possible. My personal interest is to even find some in as many spots as possible, such as American woodcock. In the process, you learn more about habitat associations, which brings out the always-learning component of birding that keeps you coming back. Initiatives like these have a way of rekindling your curiosity, and by nature, require you to pay closer attention to behavioral details. It gets you back to the “roots” of birding and nature observation.

It has led me to more detailed birding of an area that in general is little birded, and highlights spatial bias in e-Bird. For instance, I have a famous hot spot in my block, and by-and-large most observations are from there (or on the way). So, I have the satisfaction of reporting species in places they’ve never been reported before, because people don’t often go to those areas to bird. It thereby produces more detailed data at a finer spatial resolution for e-Bird, and fills in “gaps” of areas that haven’t been (or at least have infrequently been) surveyed. To that end, I think the BBA is succeeding in its sampling design aims, to gather more data across a particular area.

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