Monday, July 2, 2012

One bird, two birds, blackbird, bellbird

Tui drinking flax nectar
Is it a blackbird? Is it a bellbird? No, it's a tui, the 6th most common bird seen in NZ gardens over the past five years.
Photo by Mollivan Jon
Leap outside. It's garden bird survey time again! Every year, for a week, thousands of people throughout New Zealand spend an hour in their garden counting the birds. It's the annual New Zealand garden bird survey, coordinated by Eric Spurr of Landcare Research in collaboration with the Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Forest & Bird, and NZBRN.

You've got until this Sunday (8 July) to add your gardens' birds to the national tally. All you need to do is spend one hour noting the maximum number of each bird species that you see at any one time.

Here's what Eric Spurr told us about last year's survey.
The most striking result was a large decline in the number of silvereye counted (average about two thirds the number counted the previous year). Survey participants made comments such as, “Where are all the silvereyes?” and “This is the lowest number of silvereyes we’ve had in years”. House sparrow was by far the most numerous species last year (second the previous year), with 39,001 counted in 3089 gardens (average 12.6 per garden). Silvereye was second (top last year) with 18,641 counted (average 6.0 per garden). As in previous years, counts varied between regions.
These annual surveys are an excellent way to document which birds are using our gardens and how our bird communities are changing.

Instructions and a summary of past years' findings can be found at the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey. Eric has a poster summarising what we've all learned from the past surveys. All your observations are error-checked by Eric and then added to NZBRN for everyone to use. The error-checked past data will all be in NZBRN's new NatureWatch NZ when it launches later this year.

If you miss this survey or get enthused about documenting the birds using your garden at other times of the year, you can store and share your garden observations on NZBRN at any time (and not just of birds, of course). If birds and only birds are your thing, another great web option is eBird.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Weedbusting with NZBRN

At this year's Canterbury Weedbusters Workshop at Little River, we gave more of a look at some of the new features of our upcoming NatureWatch NZ website. I thought you might be interested to see them too. You may notice some similarities with the talk I gave at last month's BioData workshop for GEO-BON (recycling is good) but the screenshots of our test system are all new.

NZBRN talk at BioData Workshop
Here's a copy of our talk on NZBRN at the Canterbury Weedbusters workshop (3.3 MB PDF).

For the talk I'd connected our test NatureWatch NZ site to an old photo I had on Flickr which I had identified as Chilean flame creeper, Tropaeolum speciosum (Tropaeolaceae). This is a problematic weed in parts of Otago and South Canterbury and has just a few patches on Banks Peninsula. It's a good example of an incipient weed that would benefit from a lot of community observations so everyone has a much better idea of exactly where it is and how fast it's spreading so it can be effectively controlled.

a weed on the rise
Chilean glory creeper near the Akaroa road between Little River and Cooptown.
Photo by Mollivan Jon

As it turns out, my choice of photo for the talk inadvertently provided another example of the power of the NatureWatch NZ approach to crowdsourcing biodiversity observations. Why? Because my identification was wrong. Ian Hankin of the Department of Conservation had passed the same plant and had a close look at my photo and correctly identified it as not Chilean flame creeper but Chilean glory creeper, Eccremocarpus scaber (Bignoniaceae). In my defence, I took the photograph on a bike ride and didn't get close to the plant. In Hank's praise, he'd only seen the plant while driving past.

Imagine magnifying that error correction a thousand fold. In a couple of months, you'll be able to upload photos to NatureWatch NZ, suggest an identification (or flag it as "ID Please"), and then see what everyone else thinks. On the American-based iNaturalist site on which NatureWatch NZ is based, I've had my photos of American plants identified by other users in a couple of hours, sometimes a day or two. It's a magical thing.

For the record, here's what Chilean flame creeper really looks like. This is a photo I took in Lord's Bush, near Springfield.

Tropaeolum speciosum
Chilean flame creeper in flower in Lord's Bush.
Photo by Mollivan Jon

Both species are environmental weeds on the rise (here are the Weedbusters pages on Chilean glory creeper and Chilean flame creeper). It would be great if you got to know these species and recorded them wherever you saw them.