Although I had been vaguely aware of "E-Bird" (http://ebird.org) for some time until late in 2017 I hadn't really appreciated its usefulness. Once I did so I realised that adding references to that resource would greatly enhance my birding guide. However, realisation and actually doing something about it are two different things! Unfortunately, a series of domestic events forced me to put the idea on the 'back burner' for six months or more so I returned to it only in late April of this year. Even so, the process of incorporating the information from E-bird took a lot longer than I had hoped (with external factors again hampering progress). In addition to adding links to E-bird for those sites that this resource covers, I have also added links to relevant posts on my blog. This seemed to be the only way I could give readers access to photos of some of the sites mentioned in my guide (although my plans to cover the principle sites with photos and a more discursive account has had to be postponed until I can return to Spain regularly). It also draws attention to my discussion of various points of interest - tricky bird ID (e.g. larks & swifts), particular species of bird (e.g. Bald Ibis), the historical context (both ornithologically and in general), expand on points made in my introduction and a number of book reviews.
So how and why can E-bird be so useful? Well, it allows you to generate useful checklists for whatever region you're visiting. Hence a few taps on the keyboard allows you to discover that Spain as a whole has a checklist of 589 bird species of which Andalucia has 424 species (the highest total for all Spanish provinces), 346 species have been reported on E-bird from Cadiz "county", a figure exceeded only by Malaga with 355. (Note: the raw figures generated for provinces and individual sites appear to include undetermined species pairs and escapees which inflates the totals but this is countered by the omission of those extreme rarities not reported to E-Bird. However they should still be useful for comparative purposes). It also gives information on species reported for individual sites with, for example, 233 species being reported from the Canal principal area of La Janda (and, I note, another 11 checklists submitted since May when I originally wrote my notes!). From the data available you can also generate useful bar charts not only of any of the above regions but also specific sites. In additions to indicating temporal presence, these bar charts give you an idea of frequency (from rare to widespread). Naturally, how accurate these are depends rather on how many checklists have been submitted so only really works well for larger regions and frequently visited locations. You can also hone your search down to look at a specific time frame. Fortunately, each for each 'hot spot' the total number of submitted lists is given allowing you to make a reasonable judgement about how accurate they might be. From my perspective, it saves the drudgery of composing a more detailed species/seasonal occurrence list for each site (and it's not difficult to extrapolate from well-known locations to similar areas nearby). You can also generate data on particular species (including a map). This is hugely useful if you want to find your 'target birds'. It's not perfect and information remains patchy and should be used with some caution but it's a huge advance and one to be nurtured and valued. Note that the details (number of checklists & species) given in my guide are accurate only up to May 2018 so you'll find some discrepancies between the quoted and current figures given but should still be adequate to give the reader a good idea of what to expect. (Note - E-bird was developed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA so American bird names are used - loon, jaeger, etc - but this shouldn't cause much of a problem).
The most important element, though, is not what E-bird can do for you but what you can do for E-bird and, by extension, the wider birding community. Accordingly, I urge all birders to submit their checklists so that the resource can grow both in size and functionality. Here in the UK we are fortunate to have a long established network of county bird societies to provide information but this is not (yet) the case in Spain (and elsewhere). In many, but not all, respects E-bird can fill this gap. Going through old notebooks is tedious and easy to put off as I well know since I still have much of my own checklists to submit ..... when I discover where the hell I've squirrelled away most of my notebooks ... but it's well worth it!
Addendum - since publishing this post I've had a typically encouraging and helpful message from Yeray Seminario who reminds me that when he, Javi Elorriaga and Miguel Gonzalez started collaborating with the E-bird about five years ago, they were amongst the first to really engage with this project in Spain. I've not had the pleasure of meeting Miguel but Yeray and Javi are two of the finest birders in not only in the province but in Spain. We are extraordinarily fortunate in Cadiz province to have two such experts supervising the input to this scheme. Fortunately, for hopeless monoglots like me, they are both fluent English speakers and very helpful too. As noted above, they and Miguel were three of the first reviewers involved in Spain but numbers have now swelled to 50 odd. It is they who review information to ensure any errors are picked up and weeded out making the resource as reliable as possible. As Yeray observed, the quality of the data is constantly improving whilst its volume is growing exponentially. This means that researchers and conservationists are already putting all this data to good use. The importance and potential of this project simply cannot be understated!
These points aside, the only area whose coverage I've revised to any great degree is in the Bahía de Cádiz. Changes to my coverage of the San Fernando Marshes (NW 15) - mainly an improved map and better directions - have been set out in my previous blog. However, I have also added an entirely new site the Marisma de las Aletas (NW 14.4) entirely derived from E-bird which, thankfully, I could add to a redrawn map of the Los Turunos area (Map 23). This is based on a couple of checklists submitted to E-bird by Rafael Garcia (see https://ebird.org/hotspot/L5561089). I don't know Rafael but I hope he doesn't mind my using the information he kindly put in the public domain and thank him for his efforts. Surrounded by busy trunk roads, this site will never be a huge draw but it does allow another point of access to the habitat in the bay of Cadiz and seemingly attracts sought-after birds such as Slender-billed Gull and an excellent opportunity to get to grips with lark identification as Greater & Lesser Short-toed, Crested & Thekla Lark and, in winter, Skylark can be found there. Since I've not been there as yet my directions are necessarily tentative so any feedback would be welcome.
About me ...
Hi I'm John Cantelo. I've been birding seriously since the 1960s when I met up with some like minded folks at Secondary School. I have lived in Kent , where I taught History and Sociology, since the late 1970s. In that time I've served on the committees of both my local RSPB group and the county ornithological society (KOS). I have also worked as a part-time field teacher for the RSPB at Dungeness. Having retired now spend as much time as in Alcala de los Gazules in SW Spain. When I'm not birding I edit books for the Crossbill Guides series.