Online Regional Reports: A Sneak Peek, & Much More To Come

—contributed by Ted Floyd and Greg Neise

We’re in the month of May, for many of us in North America THE best month of the year. But even if migration is mostly over for you (hello, Panama and Costa Rica) or still not yet at full throttle (hello, Nunavut and Greenland), SOMETHING is happening in your neck of the woods. Everywhere on our continent, on every day of the years, birds are doing things. They’re singing and feeding and flying, of course, but that’s not what we’re getting at here. Their POPULATIONS are doing things: migrating and dispersing, of course; contracting and expanding; shifting in time and space; and more. A huge part of enjoying wild birds is making sense of bird population dynamics, and that’s what the journal North American Birds is all about.

Jon Dunn, author of the legendary National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds, once was asked, “Why should somebody subscribe to North American Birds?” His answer: “Quite simply, to become a better birder.” We at the American Birding Association (ABA) agree with Jon’s assessment, and we are proud to be involved in the production and delivery of North American Birds. We also note that the journal is in a time of transition and that the entire enterprise of field birding is a period of transformation. That is the matter to which we now turn.

Regional Reports in the Age of eBird
For longer than anybody’s been alive, North American Birds and its predecessors have delivered regionalized summaries of bird populations. Until the very end of the 20th century, these “Regional Reports,” as they came to be known, provided up-to-date information on bird populations. Then the internet happened, in fits and starts initially (think BirdChat), in due course with the full firepower of the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Do you want the exact locations of 1,000 Yellow-rumped Warbler sightings from TODAY? Tap and swipe your smartphone a few times, and you’ve got it all. Or, if you’re old school, peck at your laptop keyboard, download the data, and do the analysis.

Even in a best-case scenario, print-version Regional Reports can’t possibly show up in your mailbox until several months following the conclusion of a particular season. A lag of 6–9+ months was acceptable pre-internet, but it is not anymore. So we are migrating the Regional Reports to a digital format. We are not there yet. But we’re on our way, we have a few sample reports to show you, we’ll have quite a bit more in the weeks ahead, and we’re cautiously optimistic that the end result will be felicitous.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Let’s do this in reverse order. The ugly part of this is that the Regional Reports are way behind. Literally, several years behind. The backlog is immense, and it will take some time to catch up. But the new digital platform permits us to “backfill” old Regional Reports while simultaneously producing current or near-current Regional Reports.

The bad part isn’t bad so much as it is challenging. The challenge is to swiftly modernize the whole method of production and delivery of Regional Reports. This is a challenge that will fall heavily on the content producers—that is to say, the Regional Editors themselves. Greg Neise, Webczar for the ABA, is working with journal liaison (and Birding Editor) Ted Floyd, to create a system that is as user-friendly and bug-free as possible.

The good part is that the Regional Reports will be timely and editable; they will be searchable and analyzable; they will be broadly accessible and relevant to birding and ornithology in the 2020s and beyond. The print-version Regional Reports, if we’re honest with ourselves, had become a sort of monument to the way things used to be. The online Regional Reports will inform conservation actions, basic science, and the enjoyment of birds and birding for decades to come.

So Where Are These Much-Ballyhooed Digital Reports?
The shortest possible answer is: at the link at the bottom of this paragraph. Before you go there, please understand that these are just a couple of demonstrations of what the online Regional Reports will look like. The system is in place, though, and we anticipate that more of these will be up by the end of the month—with many more to follow as spring turns to summer. With that out of the way: Click here for a sample report.

Regional Reports: The Big Picture
In just the next few days, we are going to have links here for three different “subspecies,” if you will of the North American Birds community: (1) Regional Editors and Associate Editors: (2) current and recent subscribers to the journal; and (3) ABA members and friends who haven’t yet benefited from the learning and discovery and wonder to be found in the Regional Reports.

For more information and perspective on the digital Regional Reports, including their relationship to the print/subscription journal, please see Ted Floyd’s commentary in the current issue (May 2020) of North American Birds. And please check this space regularly, as we expect to have updates as early as next week.