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CT Bird Atlas Updates

Atlas While You Christmas Bird Count

December 2020: Christmas Bird Count season is upon us. The first Connecticut count is on Tuesday, December 15, making today (December 14) the start of Count Week for those in the Storrs area. The count circle dates are below. All data collected during a Christmas Bird Count can also be used for the winter Bird Atlas, of course, although doing this requires a little planning.

The easiest way to ensure that data can be used for the Atlas is to enter observations directly into eBird, with a separate checklist for each site you visit. Then, as with regular Atlas work, simply share the checklist with “ctbirdatlas” and the data will come straight to us. If you are not an eBird user, you can use the data forms on the Atlas website.

The one tricky part is that it is crucial to ensure that all birds on a given checklist fall within a single Atlas block, as Christmas Count territories do not always align neatly with Atlas block boundaries. For example, the survey on the Storrs count is a roughly diamond-shaped area between Routes 195, 44, 32, and 175. As you can see from the image below, this area lies almost entirely within block 40D.

Example of a Bird Atlas Map near Storrs, Connecticut.

The two corners circled in yellow fall in the adjacent blocks to the east and south. Consequently, when in these parts of the territory, separate lists for birds seen on either side of the boundary must be kept. The reason this matters is that all observations are assigned to blocks based on the point location for the checklist (the “pin” you see on an eBird map). If that pin is in one block and you wander into the adjacent block, then we have no way of knowing which birds were seen in which block. Even if you add comments to the checklist, there is no way to subdivide the records into separate blocks except by re-entering all of the data into new checklists.

A good way to keep track of exactly where you are, relative to block boundaries, is to download the Google Earth app to your phone. There also is a .kml file on the Atlas website showing the block boundaries that can be saved to your phone and then viewed in Google Earth. This information has been provided previously, but the key steps are:

  • Download the Google Earth app.
  • Save the block boundary map to your phone. Instructions on how to download the map can be found on the Atlas website, and the map itself is here. Be aware that these instructions were written for an iPhone in 2018 and some details might have changed or might differ slightly on other devices.
  • Add the block boundary map to Google Earth. When these steps were tried recently, it was a little different from 2018 but the instructions still worked well.

As a bonus, there also is a file that can be downloaded to show the Christmas Bird Count circles. If you save the file and pull it up in Google Earth, you will get an image that looks like this one (note that a couple of recently added count circles are missing):

Example of a Bird Atlas map showing count circles.

With this in hand, you can zoom in to wherever you are, look for the blue dot to see your location, and make sure you know which side of a block boundary you are on. By viewing both the block map and count circle map together, you can also make sure you stay within the circle.

To give another example, this next map shows a territory for the Moosup area of the Trailwoods Christmas Bird Count. Most of the area in is blocks 44E and 59A, but it also includes the portion of 58B that lies east of I-395. The green arc in the bottom left corner, shows the edge of the count circle, so keeping the app open lets you check to make sure you know exactly which block you are in and whether you are staying within the Christmas Count circle.

Map example to help with using Google Earth App.

If you have used Google Earth in the past, but have found that the block grid sometimes disappears (this can happen, for example, after upgrading the app), there are instructions for how to “pin” the grid in place so that it is always visible when you open the app (thank you to Chris Howe for providing these, and to others for testing them).

121st Annual National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count

Connecticut Count 2020-2021 Schedule

Content last updated December 2020.