Friday, 29 May 2015

EBird species and checklist counts adjusted for population

I have posted before about the eBird Big Day.  The dust has now settled and the results by country are available.  I thought it would be interesting to see how the results appeared when looked at when adjusted for the population of each country.

The first challenge for a bear of little brain such as me was to get the results for each country.  After an  email from me a quite prompt and friendly (probably more friendly than I deserved) email from eBird pointed out that it was already available - they gave a link but there is also one lurking on the webpage (Click on 'World" then scroll down until "All countries" eventually appears, and bingo).

A quick copy and paste into Excel, remove the histograms and upload to ACCESS.  (By fiddling with the date I also got a full eBird list x country, which will also feature below.)  So that was half the data I needed.

The other half of the data is the population.  This involves the work of demographers so, like taxonomy, there are a squillionn possible measures of population each of which will be regarded by its author and a few disciples as the only worthwhile one.  From my time working in the UN I like the series put out by the United Nations Population Division best.  They have final estimates for 2010 and projections for years since then.  Although the 2010 estimates are 5 years old they are largely factual and not subject to the choices (eg about fertility rates) inherent in projections so  have mainly used them rather than more up to date ones from alternate sources.

Well that was easy, wasn't it.  Now we get to the tricky bit, which is matching the names of countries between two independent datasets.  There are many possible reasons for the differences between the names used including:
  • Some places beloved of birders (eg Antarctica, Svalbard) don't have a resident population);
  • Others aren't countries under any definition ('High Seas' being a good example);
  • Spelling differences (eg Faroe Islands vs Faeroe Islands)
  • Official names which have to be used by UNPD are sometimes unduly complicated (Bolivia (Plurinational State of) is probably the worst example as I have no idea what 'plurinational' means) and eBird and I both use simpler versions such as 'Bolivia'; and
  • Political issues - I'm sure that if the UNPD figures showed Taiwan or Kosovo as separate countries the relevant Ambassadors from Other Countries would melt the bitumen on 1st Avenue NY NY going over to complain.
Whatever.  I have cross-checked the two data sets and made my own decisions as to what is which, coming up with 236 countries common to both sets.  In a few cases I used other sources to estimate the population (eg to get separate figures for Jersey and Guernsey as countries, as it was too much grief for me to come up with a combined ebird report for 'Channel Islands').  While there will be some bits of rock and/or water which I have omitted from the eBird list I don't think they'll affect the result too much - and remember this is largely for amusement, not triggering Armageddon.  But the first table is a summary of the three datasets as they originally were copied (using MAB to denote my list):

It would be nuts to try to present tables or graphs covering all or any of these in the presentations which follow so in each chart I will just show the top 20 entries.  The simple stuff (eg countries x number of Big Day species and # of checklists submitted) are available from the eBird website so I won't bother with them.

The first analysis is the number of species recorded in the Big Day divided by the population.  To get numbers that are easy to comprehend I have used population in millions.  I have shown a graph, rather than numbers, as it is sufficient for the use.  (NB: click on any of these graphics to see a larger version.)
In each case these are countries in which modest number of species were seen but with small (or tiny) populations, giving a high ratio.  Filtering the results by setting a qualification of "reporting at least 100 species" or "Population at least 100k" still showed a preponderance of countries with smaller populations kicking butt.  Well done those small countries!

The major difference arose when a filter of "submitted at least 100 Big Day sheets" was applied.  This cut down the list from 131 to 20 countries!
Of the top 6 countries in this analysis, 5 are from Central or South America, with Zimbabwe a stand-out from Africa, A further 5 countries from Latn America are also included in this 20 top suppliers of sheets.  I am tempted to also put in a comment about this possibly reflecting the importance of eco-tourism in the areas inspiring the population to have a red hot go at a Big Day project.  (I'm not sure quite how important tourism is to thse countries, but in Tanzania a statement in the Parliament said " ... the tourism sector in the country is now contributing 17 per cent of GDP and generating 25 per cent of foreign exchange.")   Again, well done the enthusiastic birders.

(As an aside, while Tanzania hasn't featured too greatly in my results the 21 sheets from that country scored 320 species - somewhat over 1/3rd of those ever recorded.  Given that there are few indigenous birders and the tourist industry is not at peak in May that is probably a pretty fair wazungu effort.)

As well as this information about the Big Day the eBird site can also provide information about the number of species ever reported and the number of checklists ever submitted.  (This will include lists submitted by folk loading up their life lists, including lists compiled before the Internet was invented, let alone eBird.)

Here are the top 20 countries in terms of the number of species ever reported to eBird.
When looking at the next analysis I was surprised that Europe doesn't really feature at all in this list.  I suspect that this may be a language issue inhibiting eBird's penetration to countries such as France and Germany as I was very surprised to see that their number of species ever reported are so much lower than that of the UK (which is in total about the land area of an Australian Municipality).

My next analysis is the proportion of species ever recorded which were entered in the Big Day.
Again Latin America has done brilliantly.

I will also give particular praise to Sri Lanka as I recall from our visit to that lovely country that most of their migrant species have shot through (Australian for 'gone away' rather than implying they have been killed - this isn't Malta) by May.  Possibly it reflects the small size of the country, and the fact that the expert guides know exactly where to go to bag a lot of species in a short time.

The countries which supply a lot of eBird sheets every month (USA, Canada and Australia) are also pretty well up this list.

Apart from Zimbabwe - those folk really did a good job - the Dark Continent seems to have underperformed, especially noting the appearance of several sub-Saharan countries in the top 20 list for # species ever seen.  Presumably everyone in China is too busy making stuff to sell to the rest of us to go birding for the day (or they couldn't see birds through the smog).

I am sure there is lots more could be done with these data and  I may have another go later.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

ANPS Borrows Burra Burrow

After a couple of weather induced postponements (and, for me, other absences so numerous I was surprised people still recognised me) the ANPS Wednesday Walkers gathered at a property in Western Burra.

I wanted an alliterative title for this post so thought to use the name of the gathering place of intellectuals, movie stars (eg the nice Mr Crowe), leaders of the country (eg Mr Albanese) and movers and shakers of the corporate world  (eg the nice Mr Holmes a Court Jnr) at South Sydney Rugby League matches.  I don't think any of those gentlemen feature in this photo.
A highlight of the visit was the huge old Eucalypts.  This E. meliodora was very close to the cottage.
 Down by the dam was one (or possibly two) of the biggest E. bridgesiana I have ever seen.
 There were relatively few flowers around today, as is to be expected from the time of year.  Ros agreed that this was Wahlenbergia communis.
 This was also a Wahlenbergia but of uncertain specificity,  The swelling is probably a gall rather than just a swollen receptacle.
The next few images are all old favourites, but as they were kind enough to bloom for us, the least I could do was take a snap.

Melichrus urceolatus
 Hibbertia obtusifolia
 Vittadinia cuneata
The higher part of the block was well served in the matter of Allocasuarina verticillata (unfortunately without the attention of Glossy Black-Cockatoos).  The tree is the foreground is a female - those in the background not graced with cones are males.
Some of the male trees did initially appear to have cones, but when looked at closely they were galls, of which this was a pretty fresh example.  Suggestions of some Latin to attach to this would be welcome. ( A Googling suggested Cylindrococcus spiniferus but that has a more cylindrical gall.  Roger Farrow is looking into what these might be.  Watch this space.) 
 Other fruits seen included this Amyema pendula: I have highlighted the non-pendulous central fruit.
 Moving away from plants, an eagle-eyed observer pointed out this fungus.  It is the Arched Earthstar Geastar fornicatum (the specific name translates as meaning "arched" - I cant think of any other possible meaning).
My classic fungi book says these are typically found in arid environments, but the ALA shows at least one record (of the 77 they hold) in the Canberra area.  So a good sighting which has been reported to Fungimap.

This bat was clinging to a wall inside our host's cabin.  I think it is Chalinobolus gouldii.
This shows the ears rather better.
 Talking of eagle-eyed, here is the original.  Obviously a Wedge-tailed eagle.
This image is closer to being in focus and shows the light coloured primaries indicating that its a quite young bird.
 Some sawfly larvae, aka spitfires.
More laid-back larvae identified as those of Delia harpalyce (the Imperial Jezebel) dining on mistletoe leaves, as do the larvae of most species of that genus.
 A female orb spider had stretched her web across the track we wished to follow.  She was also laid back and posed nicely.
 This image doesn't do justice to the steepness of the slope but does show a few of the rocks.
 Here are some more rocks, arranged - apparently by convicts (from the distant past, not the Machonochie lot on day release) - into a wall.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Birds: diverse and departed

As I noted in my post about BirdaDay I went for a birding bike ride while my car was being serviced in Queanbeyan.  The route is shown in the following map: my birding bits are in blue while the transfer bits are in red.  It totalled to 30km on the bike.
Point 1 is the area referred to as Newline paddocks.  Most of my distance, and most of the diversity, were accrued here along the lane, which is a private road, although the owners/lessees involved don't object to people birding down it.
Close to the start of road there were a few puddles which attracted thirsty birds including the best of the day, two Fuscous Honeyaters.  (The 'black eye' effect was very obvious.)

As is obvious from the map image it is close to Canberra Airport and usually gives good sightings of aircraft coming or going.  As it was a tad early in the day this hot air balloon was still doing its business - and seemed to be getting bit close to becoming a hood ornament on a 737!
As the area along the lane is 'disturbed land' there are a lot of weedy things, including a lot of Pyracantha sp.  Rather than being full of berries they were floriferous: presumably the berries had entered the dispersal stream through the many parrots around the area.
Many of the trees in the area are old with a good collection of hollows.  Although it is not yet Winter, let alone Spring, many of the hollows seemed to be a good examination by species such as Wood Ducks, Common Starlings and the Crimson Rosella shown here.
This area first came to notice when a prominent local naturalist commented on the patch of Box Woodland visible from Pialligo Avenue.  Although the understorey is pretty weedy there are still a lot of nice old trees.
At present some of the trees are looking a bit used ....,
... probably due to the infestation of scale insects (aka lerp) in conjunction with the effect of the Noisy Miners dissuading Pardalotes and other lerpophages from cleaning things up.

Overall I recorded 23 species here (using Birdlog on my phone, so they were in Cornell before I got on my bike to move to site 2)!   As I rode down the road I thought this looked rather like a Geoffrey Smart painting with large areas of monochrome and clean lines.
The second site was the Redwood Grove.  Given the 3% survival rate of the trees it would seem that Weston's advice against this plantings was pretty much on the money.  Many of the trees that are left look to be doing it tough as well.
This really was an avian desert: I only recorded 4 species, and they were all in an area of remnant (or possibly regrowth) eucalypts.  So these are the departed birds!

Back on the bike and past the new bridge over the Molonglo.  I was very surprised to see that 'they' are planning a dual bridge - but reckon it is sensible to do so.
My third stop was Jerrabomberra Wetlands.  The first good bird of the day was a Cattle Egret associating with the cattle.  Then a Golden-headed Cisticola  beside the bike path and a heap of Purple Swamphens in Kelly's Swamp.  I rode along to the Kingston end of the Reserve and was pleased to see a Black-shouldered Kite checking proceedings.
A little later From Cygnus hide, at the Fyshwick end of the Reserve I saw two birds of this species, escorting some walkers from the new boardwalk.  Almost certainly a pair getting ready for nesting.

In the duck department the interest was largely the highish number of Australasian Shovelers around.  They are very obliging birds having bright orange legs which stand out when the heavy bill is not visible (eg due to being underwater).  In case you wonder how Synchronised Swimming was invented, ask no more.
As far as I could tell the ducks were not layered with waterproof makeup and inch thick scarlet lipstick: only humans could do that!

I recorded 33 species at the Wetlands, giving a pleasing 50 species for the day.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Update on Bird-a-Day 2015 ...

On 23 May it is looking pretty much as though my participation in the Bird-a-Day challenge for 2015 is about to grind to a halt.  I have 11 birds that I reckon are almost certain to be seen the area around home and a further 12 that are prospects in the urban part of the ACT.  If I can struggle through to 5 June (13 days away) there is a prospect of some coastal birds which might get me through to last years failure date of 11 June.

Comparing the species seen in 2014 with those in 2015 I found that there were 50 species seen last year that I haven't got (so far) this year and 34 this year that I didn't locate last year.  I haven't been able to isolate the reasons for this but was quite surprised to see that several of the species in both lists of "differents" were birds seen on the trips to Adelaide in both years.  This seemed to reflect the different routes followed, with birds such as Major Mitchell's Cockatoo and Yellow Rosella being logged on the trip across the Riverina last year and Little Crow and Chirruping Wedgebill featuring at Broken Hill this year.

This cartoon offers a couple of other reasons for the earlier onset of difficulties.
Of course, as soon as I posted the above I went for a bike ride looping from Queanbeyan, past the airport to Kelly's Swamp and back through Oaks Estate Rd.  In the course of this I found 6 "eligible'" species, including Bird of the Day, Fuscous Honeyeater (code 4, so definitely a bonus).

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Do Beavers Fly?

We lived in Ottawa in 1990 and 1991, and remember the time with great pleasure.  One of the highlights was realising how common beavers were in the area.  Some points:
  • We had been there less than a week and went for a walk along a path below Parliament House.  There was a beaver swimming across the River!
  • Go forward about 9 months and I took a bunch of visiting European Statisticians to the swamp adjacent to the Brittania Water Treatment Plant.  The guests were very excited to see a beaver: the Norwegian said something like "We have to go a long way from Oslo to see one of them!"
  • When Orienteering in the forests it was important to aim for the dam on beaver ponds: that was a nice run across a swamp whereas crossing upstream involved wading a significant depth of water.
  • They were also common in the suburbs and the City sent teams out with dynamite in Spring before the steams started flowing to blow up the dams which would otherwise flood houses.  This meant we were quite used to seeing beaver chomp marks.
Hold that last thought and come forward about 24 years.

Walking across the lawn this morning I was surprised to find a moderate sized lump of Acacia dealbata adopting a horizontal 'growth' pattern at point 1.
 Here is a close-up of point 2, confirming the source of the material
 Now looking at this it closely resembles beaver munching.
However, I am reasonably sure beavers neither fly, nor climb thin trees.  The same applies to wombats.  I must therefore conclude that the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos have got fed up with a pure pine cone diet ...
...  and have ripped into the Acacia, searching for grubs.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Small Town Memorials support

I decided that putting my illustrations into the same post as the text of the poem (Smalltown Memorials, by Geoff Page) would distract from the poetry so here they are.  I have, in the spirit of the poem, largely restricted the images to memorials in smaller towns.

 "Just the obelisk" Captains Flat, about 50kms by road from Canberra.

 "A few names inlaid"  Tumblong, on the Hume Highway SW of Gundagai.
"More often full-scale granite", Deniliqin in the Riverina (SW NSW)
"A marble digger" Walgett -between Bourke and Moree, (NW NSW)
"a thickening of houses"  Hill End, North of Bathurst
"a few unlikely trees"  O'Connell (near Bathurst).  In this instance the trees themselves are the memorial.
"A marble digger" Walgett - between Bourke and Moree in NW NSW
"The next bequeathed us Parks and pools" Scone - a larger town, in the Hunter Valley. 
"Demanded stone" Coolac - recently by-passed by the Hume Highway a few kilometres North of Gundagai.
 Another stone: Cargo - between Canowindra and Orange.
The next few images reflect on recent additions to memorials.  I haven't tried to describe them poetically, since my efforts in that form approach doggerel - from underneath.

The poem was written in 1975 and thus couldn't consider the memorials to the Vietnam War as few (if any) would have existed.  Since a relatively small number of Australian troops served in the conflict the chances of a really small town having a Memorial are low.

Memorials specific to that conflict are becoming common, as with these examples from Wagga Wagga ....
...  and Gundagai.
The image of the gunship with troops gathered beneath it ...
... is a frequent element of Vietnam War memorials.

The other thrust of modern Memorials is to honour National Service personnel, who didn't necessarily go into battle.  This example is from Young, NW of Canberra
In both of these cases the memorials tend to appear close to those commemorating the two World Wars, often all located in a Memorial Park.  (Strangely, the World War Memorials are often some fair distance from the memorial to the Boer War which predates both of them.)