San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature Connection[San Diego County Bird Atlas Project]

Progress Report
Winter 1998

[map of winter data received, 1 December 1998
Winter Status: 1 December 1998
Red: 90% of target list and 25-hour criteria met
Yellow: 90% of target list criterion only met
Blue: Substantial winter data received
Gray: Incidental observations only
White: No observations
An additional 8765 breeding-season records arrived over the past 3 months, boosting the San Diego Bird Atlas' breeding database to 66,800 records total so far, based on 8023 hours reported in the field. The number of records for 1998 is 80% greater than that for 1997 -- a strong sign that our effort continues to gain momentum as we enter the middle phase of the project. Each record is a report of one species on a specific date in one of the atlas' 479 squares, equivalent to an entry for one species with its associated codes on a daily field form.

A sobering thought recently struck me: The amount of information on breeding birds in San Diego County recorded over just the past two years as part of the San Diego Bird Atlas is already greater than that of all history until 1996. For example, the early egg collections, the foundation of our knowledge of birds' breeding biology, contain 4330 sets of eggs from San Diego County. Compare this figure to the number of actual confirmations of breeding reported for our project so far: 9860. The number of bird specimens in the San Diego Natural History Museum from San Diego County, throughout history and from all seasons combined, is about 8000. Specimen and egg collections, of course, are of critical importance as the ultimate scientific foundation on which all further knowledge of birds must be built. But clearly our atlas data already add enormously to fleshing out the skeleton the eggs and specimens represent.

Of course, much other information is out there too, scattered in a variety of sources. To provide the maximum possible context for understanding the many and ongoing changes in San Diego County's birdlife, Ann Klovstad and I are trying to integrate information from as many of the other sources as possible in a database consistent with our atlas system. Ann has finished entering the historic egg-collection records from the Western Foundation for Vertebrate Zoology. We're recording locations of specimens in our collection at the Museum by atlas square as well. We recently began the process of searching through the reports filed with various other agencies and organizations. One of the exasperating results of current practices in environmental assessment is that many entities, public and private, have spent vast sums on gathering biological information but this information remains in each entity's files, uncoordinated, unevaluated, and not readily accessible to or interpreted for the public, which has paid for it by one means or another. One of the basic goals of the San Diego Bird Atlas is to find, evaluate, and use this information as best we can. Our data gathered during the atlas period are best understood in the context of historic data.

Since the last issue of Wrenderings, the threshold goals for the breeding season have been cleared, with 50% of the number of species on the target list for the square confirmed as breeding, in eight additional squares, bringing the total to 58. It's my pleasure to be able to acknowledge:

Mona Baumgartel in J6, Batiquitos Lagoon (west half)
Peter Famolaro in S12, Sweetwater Reservoir
Mel Gabel in G23, Hellhole Canyon
Ginger Johnson in R7, Ocean Beach
Ed Post in P11, Mission Gorge
Wayne Pray in J11, Escondido SE
Sue Smith in J18, Santa Ysabel
Lee Taylor in K9, Elfin Forest

In addition, in eight additional squares, all the threshold criteria have been met, except the percentage of the number of species on the target list confirmed is greater than 33% but less than 50%. For this significant level of accomplishment we acknowledge:

Kathy Aldern and Maryanne Bache in E10, Couser Canyon
Peter Famolaro in Q17, Hidden Glen
Marj Freda in D8, Live Oak Park
John and Beverly Hargrove in C11, Trujillo Creek
Ed Post in P12, Santee
Sue Smith in S21, Morena Creek
Phoenix von Hendy in L13, Mt. Woodson, and M12, Poway East

The "one third confirmed" threshold has now been met in 26 squares beyond the 58 in which the "one half confirmed" threshold has been met, for a total of 84 -- 17.5% of the total of 479. In some of these "one third confirmed" squares the observer is tantalizingly close to the goal of 50%. Sue Smith, who has probably braved more difficulties on behalf of the project than any of us, is only one confirmation away from 50% in S21, after Joe Barth's discovery of a Say's Phoebe nest at Santa Ysabel put her over the top in J18.

As many of our participants reach the threshold for the breeding season in one or more squares, the question inevitably arises, is it better to continue in a square where the threshold has been cleared or move onto a new square? From the standpoint of our goal of as thorough a coverage as possible, the answer is clearly to adopt a new square and move on. So I'm doing my best to nudge as many of our threshold-clearers as possible in this direction. Nevertheless, many of our participants live or work in the square where they have cleared the threshold, or would visit it regularly regardless of whether we were working toward an atlas or not. In these cases, please continue recording your observations and providing them to us; many interesting discoveries can still be made in squares where the threshold is already cleared. Supplemental observations may help round out our knowledge of a species' breeding schedule or annual fluctuations. We cannot have too much data! Still, please consider what other areas might be of interest to you once you have cleared the threshold--many interesting areas remain poorly covered.

Let's turn now to our winter progress. Our computer power, made possible by the Zoological Society of San Diego, now enables us to see which goals have been met in which squares. In our first year, the criterion based on the target list, 90% of the number of species on the list identified, has already been met in 55 squares. In 22 of these the criterion of at least 25 hours in the field has also been met. These squares need only additional visits in two other years of the next four to clear their thresholds. Thus it looks like our progress for the winter is on par with our progress for the breeding season. Still, 143 squares remain with no winter data at all, so we still have a long way to go. If you'd like to visit one or more of these squares, even without adopting it, we'll be glad to send you maps and target lists.

--Philip Unitt

Winter 1998 Wrenderings | Wrenderings Archive | Bird Atlas Introduction