24/01/2012
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Reporting sightings to BirdGuides

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In 2012, BirdGuides news service celebrates its 12th birthday! The service has come on leaps and bounds since those early days; not least the disappearance of the snot-green header that characterised pages until as recently as 2007. We'd like to think that our change in colour scheme has not just provided BirdGuides news pages with a new look but has also signified a continuing increase in the quality, punctuality and level of service.

But we don't want to rest on our laurels; we're constantly looking improve the service we provide further. There is always plenty going on behind the scenes at BirdGuides as we strive to improve the speed, accuracy and usefulness of outgoing news, whether that be improving the data entry process, the underlying database, or the website itself. For example, each and every one of the 758,900 reports we've sent out in the last 12 years has been individually checked by one of our news operators before being sent out.

The volume of bird news we receive is increasing year on year. Of those 758,900 reports since 2000, over 11% of the total news (85,300 reports) has been sent out in the last year! More reports sent to us equals more news to our customers; it's a win-win situation. However, increasing reports also means an increasing workload for our news staff; a busy 1st of January can see as many as 500 reports being sent out in a day! This is where you can help by helping to streamline the reporting process.

There are several ways in which you can report your news to us. We hope we've covered all bases with our five methods of contacting us: Web submission; BirdGuides app; Text message; Email; and by calling the hotline number. By far the easiest method for submitting news to us is by using the web submission form.

Web submissions

Let's imagine you're at Willington gravel pits, and you find a Blue-winged Teal. Fantastic! There's a few things to consider when you come to fill in the submission form. You'll notice the bird cunningly chose to pitch up at an ambiguously named site; there is a Willington gravel pits in both Bedfordshire and Derbyshire, so the county is critical. It also helps if visiting birders know what they're looking for: what age and sex is the bird — a gaudy male or a dowdy female? Where they need to look — in this example, there are several pits that the bird could be frequenting; and how the bird is behaving — do visiting birders need to take their scope and be prepared for a long wait? Any other information you think could be useful for visiting birders is also worth including; just think, what are the sort of things you like to know before setting off to see a bird?

It's always useful to include other reports with the same submission. The benefits in this example are twofold: firstly, a Garganey is a good local bird and a record that is of value, but less can be more when it comes to the number of messages — one message containing all the information a visiting birder needs is far more efficient than receiving two messages about two different birds at the same site at the same time; and secondly, a female Garganey is a likely confusion species when it comes to looking for a female Blue-winged Teal, so there is added value in knowing there is one around. It's also useful to include any snippets of information that might help with access or particulars that may not be immediately obvious to birders unfamiliar with the area. And remember, if the bird flies off while you're watching it, please do say so — knowing that a bird is not there is as important as knowing a bird is there!

You can find the web submission form at www.birdguides.com/submit.

Fill in all the boxes and you can't go far wrong. A grid reference is always useful, particularly if your site is not already listed in the database or if directions to the location of the bird may be complicated. You can easily generate a grid reference (in the UK) using www.streetmap.co.uk:

  1. Search by placename and zoom in as necessary.
  2. Click the Move Arrow button and click on the map where the bird is.
  3. Click the link reading "Click here to convert coordinates" below the map.
  4. Select and copy the "LR" reference (e.g. SJ525685).

Additionally, many smartphones now have applications that allow you to generate an accurate 6-figure grid reference for your current location; which brings us neatly onto the next option for submitting your news: the BirdGuides app.

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BirdGuides App

The BirdGuides app report form is essentially the web submission form optimised for mobile use. It is able to use the phone's built-in GPS to identify your current location and the nearest site already in the database.

Text messages

There may be times when internet access is limited and, for those without the BirdGuides app, the humble text message still remains the quickest and most reliable way of reporting news from the field. Reporting a bird by text message is simple: just start your message with BIRDS RPT followed by the county, species and site to 07786 200505, then add as many details as you feel necessary, up to a maximum length of 160 characters.

There's another advantage to submitting your news by text message: if you're a subscriber to our Bird Text Alert service, texting us a piece of news that we subsequently use will gain you an additional three credits on your Bird Text Alert account — our way of saying thanks!

There are a few things worth remembering when you submit your news via a text message. Predictive text can do a grand job of scrambling species and place names, so do make sure the message makes sense before hitting "send"! While abbreviations like "Glauc" and "Gt Nth Diver" will never cause any confusion, do take into consideration abbreviations that may be ambiguous; "BB Sand" is the classic, with Broad-billed and Buff-breasted both being possible interpretations.

Broad-billed Sandpiper
Broad-billed Sandpiper, Broadford Bay, Skye, Highland (Photo: Martin Benson)

Emails

Alternatively, if you have a longer report that you wish to send to us, you can do so via email. The same principles apply to email: all reports must include county, species and site. This is also a great way to contact us if you have any queries regarding the news service. The contact email address for the news team is sightings@birdguides.com.

To avoid delays please try to use the correct email address. In particular:

  • If you're an Email Alert subscriber, please don't simply reply to a message you've received from us to reporting your sighting. Although your message will probably get through to the right person eventually, for logistical reasons Email Alert messages are not sent from the sightings@birdguides.com address, and (unlike that address) the Email Alert address is not checked regularly, especially outside office hours.
  • For any non-news related queries, emails should be addressed to contact@birdguides.com — please do not send bird reports to this or other BirdGuides addresses.

While email is great for non-urgent queries, it may not be the quickest way to report that breaking mega to us, and if we have to ask for more information the delays are compounded.

Hotline number

The hotline puts you in direct contact with the BirdGuides news operator. Ringing our hotline does not cost any more than ringing a standard landline number, even from mobiles. We particularly recommend using the hotline if you've just found a new rarity (particularly megas!), as it ensures we can obtain the necessary details from you as quickly as possible. You can ring the BirdGuides hotline number on 0333 5772473 — this is a very useful number to have saved in your mobile for when you chance upon a new rarity.

Other news-related issues

In addition to our attempt to encourage more detailed submissions, we'd also like to remind our contributors of a couple of issues with reporting sightings.

Multiple sightings from the same site

Recently, we've noted an upturn, both through the website and via text, of multiple reports from single sites submitted in quick succession. We'd like to stress that it is much easier for the news team to deal with a single report containing all the species at the site. We can decide the best way to combine and disseminate your information from that start, which means we can run a more efficient and responsive service; and it also means our customers don't waste valuable text credits by receiving several reports in a short time from the same site.

Reporting commoner species

The BirdGuides news service intends to provide news on nationally rare and scarce birds; we also provide news of local birds that are regionally scarce or likely to generate considerable local interest. However, reports are frequently submitted to us that, although notable to the observer, are unlikely to feature on our news services: a winter Blackcap in a garden or an individual's first Wheatear of the spring, for example. These records do not go to waste; they are fed automatically into BirdTrack database even if they're not used in our public news feeds. However, whilst BirdGuides will not use these records and would not actively encourage them to be sent to us, we're keen to ensure these records do not remain buried in a notebook and become lost in the sands of time. That is why we strongly encourage anyone who wishes to report a common or "personally notable" bird sighting to enter the data directly into BirdTrack: http://www.birdtrack.net

Blackcap
Blackcap, Malvern Link, Worcestershire (Photo: Carl Day)

For nationally rare and scarce species, or for locally rare species that are likely to generate interest in the area, reports should continue to be sent in to the BirdGuides news team. In conjunction, we'd like to reiterate the following statement from the submissions page:

Submissions are broadcast on our bird news services at our operators' discretion, and all reports are checked before they appear. If your submission is not used then please don't resubmit it. Although we're not solely interested in rarities, we may decide not to use reports of species in our "common" and "local" categories (see our list of categories), particularly at busy times of year. We reserve the right not to use your report, or to edit it as necessary, at our sole discretion.

If you have any questions as to why a report has not been used, the sightings team can be contacted via the details already given above.

Frequently Asked Questions

You can also help us by reading the relevant list of "Frequently Asked Questions" for each of our services:

While we welcome your feedback, and pride ourselves on our customer service, some questions come up time and again and are covered in depth on one of the above pages.

Written by: BirdGuides