How I Twitch Using eBird

Some time ago, I did a half-day trip and drove cross-state to score a regional rarity. The target bird was a juvenile White Ibis at Pointe Mouillee State Game Area in SE Michigan.

In this post, I’d like to highlight the way I prepare for a twitch like this one, and explain how I used eBird data to make my Mouillee ibis hunt more enjoyable, and also profitable to other birders.

First off, I planned my route.  Admittedly, my instinct (like most listers) is to race straight-line for “the bird”.

  • So pull out the GPS and plug in the coordinates!
  • If you need a potty break, pick a good rest area (my Lapeer County, MI list is almost entirely comprised of birds I’ve found at the rest area along I-196!).
  • If you need a hotel, pick a good hotel, and you just might get a Dickcissel (see eBird checklist S11154888)!
  • If you need to tank up, watch the gas stations from the highway for good habitat, and go on a quick run while your tank fills up.  Here’s a favorite gas station of mine in Genesee county, Michigan (I like the drainage pond during shorebird migration and the field across the road during Dickcissel season):

I’m also always sure to have a copy of the latest sightings post. Bear in mind, however, that you may encounter great indicators of the bird’s presence, such as dozens of birders earnestly pointing scopes in a single direction. If you dip on “the bird”, you may be very upset but unfortunately there’s very little you can do about it…

When/if you do happen to see “the bird”, relax a little. Then begin worrying about other birds in the area. If I’m unfamiliar with the birds in the area, I’ll pull up the eBird bar chart of birds at that location. In the example below, I filtered birds to just June-July:

Chances are that there’s more than one local rarity hanging out with this White Ibis. I’ll pull up the Monroe County Rarities tab on BirdTrax and check:

…and there are indeed other spectacular birds to see! I’ll pull up the eBird checklists, give them a look, and take notes of interesting observations, details, and directions to the bird in the comments of the observers (if they are good eBirders).

Often I enjoy stopping at eBird hotspots on my return trip, just to do some casual/relaxing birding. To this end, I usually visit the eBird “Submit Observations” page. I click through eBird hotspots along the freeway between myself and “the bird”. Note you could also do this using BirdsEye.

If a hotspot isn’t too far off the route and it seems promising, I navigate to my BirdTrax gadget, switch the settings around so that the county or area of the hotspot is covered, find the hotspot name in the sightings report, click on it, and open up the list of sightings at the hotspot (my gadget shown here filters out usual suspects):

That Kent County Caspian Tern looks really awesome! I click on the species to find out how many times it’s been seen (just once), and I open the popup box to get the checklist link.

I just love that eBird checklist! There’s stop #1.

When I get back home after an enjoyable trip, I pretty much go straight to the eBird website. It’s not a slavish instinct of mine, it’s just the way I share my birds ASAP with the rest of the world’s birding community. Sadly, I’m one of those fortunate birders who don’t own an iPhone or Android, so BirdLog data entry is not an option for me. Otherwise I highly recommend using it wherever you go. So when you have BirdLog (get it for just $10), you are without excuse if you don’t submit an eBird checklist for potty breaks, rest areas, and gas stations.

In my eBird checklist, I carefully enter date and effort info as accurately as possible with specific and valuable protocol (e.g. Travelling, Stationary, or Area, not Incidental). Then I enter a complete checklist of all birds I saw. If I ever check a confirm box, I enter a comment fully explaining the observation so that the reviewer doesn’t need to personally contact me for details.

For any birds somebody may like to chase, I enter a location description, and other essential bird-chasing information. Finally, when I input “the bird”, I put a Google Map in my species comments using my eBirdGM code generator:

…and a photo (this one isn’t mine, credit goes to Caleb Putnam):

…and a video if possible, along with Sound-Cloud/Xeno-Canto recordings if obtained. I note the past history of the bird at this location, the whereabouts when I saw it, and then I do a listers post. Here’s what my standard posting template usually looks like:


I observed the White Ibis at Pointe Mouillee SGA beginning at about 6:30 this evening until 6:50. For detailed location descriptions and directions, Google maps, sound recordings, photos, videos, and other handy information, check out my eBird checklist.

eBird Checklist:

Good eBirding,
Zachary DeBruine

Note that you can also use the eBird checklist sharing tool by simply emailing your checklist to the listserv with a little comment. By the way, like it or not, in 10 years eBird will be the listserv to the world. I think. Give them a thumbs up on the work they are doing right now (hotspot wikis), and support them in any way you can financially or at least promotionally. The folks at Cornell are really giving us a better birding world!  They need your financial support urgently.

So, that’s how I twitch using eBird. If you always stay up to date on the newest birding technologies, you’ll find yourself enjoying better birding trips than before, finding more birds you can appreciate, and helping other birders also find them with even greater ease and accuracy than before.

Finally, if you have another way you prepare for birding trips that you would like to share, just comment. We learn from each other!

Good eBirding,
Zachary DeBruine