BIRDING WITH A PURPOSE

… Collecting data for the conservation of birds in Botswana

If you are going to Botswana and you like birds, you can do so while helping a cause.  In this article compiled by Pete Hancock from the Birdlife Botswana society information is given to help your bird count really count.  This article was 1st published in the June 2008 member news letter

Do you, like many other birders, keep a list of birds seen on your field trips? If so, you can enter your observations in Botswana Tickbird, a web-based bird monitoring system being implemented by BirdLife Botswana – and thereby make a valuable contribution to bird conservation efforts in the country. This system aims to collect data from both local observers and visiting tourists, with an emphasis on empowering citizen scientists and community monitoring groups.

Botswana Tickbird is part of the Worldbirds global programme – a joint initiative brought to you by BirdLife, the RSPB and Audubon, linking together existing and new internet systems to collect and report on bird populations in different countries around the world.

What kind of observations are needed?

The Botswana Tickbird project is based on DAY LISTS for any prescribed locality in Botswana. If you keep a list of the birds seen on any day or part thereof, in a specific locality, you can enter this information in the system – when accumulated together with similar observations from hundreds of other birders,  what was just a fun past-time becomes a powerful tool for determining changes in the status of a large variety of Botswana’s birds. It is important to note however that what is required are data from small, well-defined sites – they could be as small as your back garden, but should be no larger than, say, a radius of 10 kilometres of a central point. If you are travelling from Maun, via Moremi to Savuti in one day, your day list will NOT be suitable because it covers so many localities, some of which are protected and some of which aren’t, making the utility of the data limited.

How can you participate?

First you must log on to the Botswana Tickbird website – as mentioned, this is a web-based bird monitoring system, so you must have internet access. To register as a user, you can access the site by looking on the BirdLife Botswana website www.birdlifebotswana.org.bw and then clicking on the Tickbird link. Alternatively you can go directly to the site – www.worldbirds.org – then click on Africa and then Botswana.

The first time you access the system, you must register.

The log-on page

An important tip is to make sure that when doing this, you specify which bird names you prefer to use, those of BirdLife International or local common names (i.e. the new Roberts VII names) – this information is required near the bottom of the short registration form. Within a day or so of registering, you will receive an e-mail confirming your user name, and providing you with your own, exclusive password (if you later want to change your password, this is easy to

do). You are now ready to participate in the system!

Entering your birdlist

Once you have been out birding, and have a day list for a specific locality that you wish to enter, log on to the system by entering your user name and password in the space provided. The system opens to the Latest News page showing Visits Highlights and Species Highlights – recent sightings from interesting birding areas and of rare or unusual species seen. The system opens to the Latest News page The system has been programmed to highlight globally threatened birds and birds of conservation concern in Botswana, and BirdLife Botswana’s Category A and B Rarities.

On the left hand side of the Visits Highlights, you will see several different menus that you can choose from (the one saying Latest News will be highlighted in red, since you are on the Latest News page). Click on My Visits to enter your checklist. The procedure from here on is very logical and user-friendly, with the system prompting you for the following information:

  • Where did you go birding?
  • When did you go birding?
  • Who did you go with?
  • What did you see?

There are a few very important points to consider as you follow the process, particularly for describing your birding locality: it must have a name, and since place names in Botswana have not been standardised, this can cause some confusion! For example, Xobega Lediba and Gcobega Lediba, although alternative spellings for the same place in Moremi Game Reserve, will appear as two different localities. You can imagine that if a list of birds of Xobega Lediba is needed at any stage, and half the lists are entered under Gcobega Lediba, it will not be easy to get a complete list. If in doubt, type in the first few letters of the locality and hit the TAB key or press the Select button and localities already entered in the system will appear, enabling you to see the spelling being used. We have standardised on place names as used on the new 1:1,000,000 map of Botswana, with the exception of the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park where we use the more detailed 1:50,000 map. You should only use the “New

Location” option after checking to see if a location already exists (to reduce the amount of duplication). Furthermore, to avoid any confusion, when a location is first entered in the system, a short description should be made in the space provided, including the co-ordinates of its approximate centre point. If you are entering a new locality in the system, please take the few minutes needed to do this – the co-ordinates of the site are easy to obtain using the Google Earth link – simply click on Google Earth and you will have access to an incredible composite satellite image of the whole of Botswana (and in fact, the whole world!) on which you will be able to locate your precise locality. Your back yard, for instance, will show up clearly and if you have been birding in the bush somewhere, the chances are good that you’ll be able to identify the very tree where you started! If you go into Google Earth, a red ‘pin’ will appear on the map in the centre of the country – simply drag it to your birding locality, click on

OK at the top of the map, and the co-ordinates of the site will be automatically entered into the description of your location. Nothing could be easier or more painless – you don’t need to have a GPS or even a map of the area! (Note that in Google Earth, you have the option of having a conventional map to work from, a satellite image or a hybrid of the two – a satellite image with a map of roads and settlements superimposed over it. The latter is most useful. You can also change the scale on the map, satellite image or hybrid until you can see exactly the

locality where you went birding). Please follow the above procedure when entering a new locality in the system – it only has to be done once, and it gives the required structure to the data to facilitate later analysis.

When entering your actual list of birds, you can choose whether you want to work from a complete list of Botswana birds or a short-list of those previously recorded at the particular site where you have been birding. If you type the first few letters of the bird’s name, the system will generate the remainder of the name to save you typing the whole name in. If you make a mistake as you are entering a species, just click on the garbage bin on the right hand side and it will be deleted. The final golden rule for entering your list is to include only those birds that you are sure of – when in doubt, leave it out! Once you are through with entering the birds seen, simply click on Save at the bottom of the page.

The multiple uses of Botswana Tickbird

The beauty of Botswana Tickbird is that it is not only useful to BirdLife Botswana and the greater BirdLife partnership as a conservation and monitoring tool – it has benefits for you the user too. You can use the system to:

  • store and manage your own observations and view other people’s records
  • download or print checklists of birds for a country or a location, or birds you have/have not seen

Part of the Botswana checklist generated by the system

  • extract data for a species or location (particularly useful if you have a specific bird that you want to see – you can find out where it is most frequently seen)
  • create your own maps.

In addition to the above uses for contributors, a ‘reporting rate’ will be calculated for each bird species, being a percentage of the number of day lists entered in which that particular species was recorded. For example, the Cape Turtle-Dove (based on the Botswana Bird Atlas data in the system) has a reporting rate of 63%, making this one of the most common and widespread species in the country at present. If, in 2016, this has dropped to 50%, this would be a quantitative negative change in the status of the bird, and cause for concern. In this way, your data will be contributing to the monitoring of a wide range of bird species throughout the country.

Strength in numbers

A final word about Botswana Tickbird – the larger the number of people who participate in the system, the more robust and useful it becomes. We need birders from all walks of life to participate in order to guarantee widespread coverage and the entry of sufficient data to make analysis meaningful. Please encourage fellow-birders to log-on and give their birding a useful purpose – contributing to the monitoring of Botswana’s diverse avifauna.

This project is supported by the RSPB, the BirdLife International Partner in the UK.

Links of interest:

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