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News and information about the survey for BBS Observers

Summer 1995


We want to start with a correction for the 1993 newsletter. The rare warbler reported on the Fish Rock, CA BBS route by Benjamin Parmeter in 1992 was a Black-and-white Warbler, not a Blue-winged Warbler. The error was ours, and we apologize for this mistake.

Torrential rain, excessive wind, and cold weather in the midwest created difficult conditions for even the most dedicated BBS volunteer in 1993. A number of observers tried to conduct surveys on 5 or more mornings, only to abandon their attempts due to unsuitable weather conditions. Even when the surveys could be conducted, the conditions were less than favorable. Lee Pfannmuller mentioned having to warm her hands with the car defroster between stops on the Floodwood, MN (appropriately named for that year) route. Gene Bauer described a most impressive thunderstorm as he camped out between BBS routes in Minnesota, including a bolt of lightning striking his car and causing sparks to fly out of his defroster.

While attempting to conduct the Amherst, CO survey, Bill Prather tried to cross a stream that appeared to be on 6-8 inches deep, but proved to be much deeper. His car stalled out in the deep water, and he was stranded for 3.5 hours waiting for the waters to recede and the engine to dry out. During that period, he was entertained by large numbers of Plains Spadefoots and Great Plains Toads swimming around his car, producing a deafening chorus.

Other observers could only briefly appreciate the various wildlife present along their routes. On her four routes in Idaho, Colleen Sweeney had to pass on photographic opportunities of a bull moose in a pond, elk cows and their newborn calves in a montane meadow, and various birds, amphibians, and other wildlife. Those of us conducting surveys in more developed regions where the major distractions consist of an endless array of barking dogs, blaring stereos, and constant traffic can only be envious.

Car problems presented difficulties for a few observers. On the way to one of his Wisconsin BBS routes, Noel Cutright noticed his temperature gauge in the red and discovered a missing radiator cap. Instead of his usual 4 AM breakfast, he had to fill the radiator and carry enough water to make it through the route. Only after finishing the route and buying a radiator cap, was he able to enjoy breakfast.

Tire problems caused Mike Austin to slightly delay the start of the Danbury, TX route and produced an unfortunate encounter with a fire ant colony. Brent Ortego also experienced tire problems on a Texas route, forcing a 2 mile hike and other difficulties trying to purchase a new tire on a Saturday evening in rural Texas. He solved the problem by buying a new truck after returning home.

Fred Ramsey was not very sympathetic with a noisy camping neighbor who woke him up at 3:15 AM wanting to come out of the cold and rain. He also mentioned problems with warblers mimicking other species songs along his Camp Sherman, OR route. Hermit and Townsend's warblers have caused problems for years, but in 1993, a Nashville imitating the song of a MacGillivray's caused additional complications. Are other observers experiencing similar problems?

Vicki Saab experienced an unique problem along the Cabarton, ID route where thousands of sheep were being herded past 4 stops. The image of a birder trying to count birds while surrounded by sheep and Peruvian sheep herders sounds like a scene from a Monte Python movie. Margaret Higbee has a similar problem along the Kittanning, PA route, where the first stop is located opposite a game cock farm. The 75+ crowing roosters drown out most bird song at that stop.

Leaving on a positive note, John Confer was struggling with an unfamiliar bird song along his Pulaski, NY route. Suddenly, nearby Red-winged Blackbirds gave their predator alarm calls, and he looked up to see a Northern Goshawk chasing a Red-winged around a tree. As they disappeared, a Sedge Wren popped up in front of him, resolving the mysterious bird song and providing a noteworthy record for this declining species in New York. We hope everyone has similar experiences in 1995, on nice warm, sunny, calm mornings.

1993-1994 COVERAGE

Despite the constant rains and extensive flooding in the midwest which prevented a number of surveys from taking place, 1993 proved to be another record-breaking year for the BBS. A total of 2771 completed surveys were completed, a 9.3% increase over the 2518 surveys conducted in 1992. The number of U.S. routes rose to 2491, a 7.7% increase over the 1992 total of 2267. Canadian coverage increased to 280 routes, a 13.1% increase. Additionally, 26 surveys were conducted during the first year of the project to expand the BBS into northern Mexico.

Some of this increase reflects expansion in the numbers of routes in Alabama, Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, and Washington during 1993. Additionally, coverage of existing BBS routes improved substantially in British Columbia, Nebraska, Nevada, Quebec, and West Virginia, a result of the concerted efforts by the BBS coordinators and other individuals in these states/provinces.

No widespread adverse weather conditions occurred during 1994, and BBS coverage continued to reach new highs. A total of 2904 completed surveys have been returned to the BBS office to date, an increase of 3.8% over the 1993 totals. Coverage in the U.S. increased by 4.3%, to 2597 routes. Canadian coverage remained fairly constant, at 278 completed surveys. The number of routes were expanded in Alberta, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas, while improved coverage in Alaska, California, North Carolina, and Ontario also contributed to the record number of completed surveys. The state and provincial coverage totals for 1993 and 1994 are summarized on page 2.

The goal for 1995 is to break the barrier of 3000 completed surveys.


Beginning in 1993, the BBS initiated a policy of sending only a single summary sheet for each route. This policy was designed to save time and money for the BBS, as the vast majority of our volunteers use copy machines to make the necessary copies of their data for their files.

For those volunteers who do not have ready access to copy machines and need a second copy of the summary sheet, please let us know and we will gladly send you additional copies of these forms.


              # Routes   
State   1992    1993   1994
AL       51      68     65
AK       34      67     76
AB       68      66     82
AZ       48      55     47
AR       27      31     32
BC       42      55     56
CA      112     123    136 
CO       77      79     80
CT       14      13     13
DE        8       9      9
FL       68      76     81
GA       56      52     56
ID       43      48     52
IL       62      78     79
IN       40      38     36
IA       30      25     22
KS       31      36     35
KY       30      30     27
LA       37      30     29
NWT       6       2      0
ME       42      48     49
MB       29      31     31
MD       54      52     55
MS       19      20     21
MEXICO   --      26     28
MI       64      71     71
MN       41      64     61
MS       19      20     18
MO       36      30     43
MT       47      49     55 
NE       29      34     31
NV       18      25     23
NB       12      15     13
NF        1       3      2
NH       21      23     23
NJ       23      25     26
NM       49      53     60
NY       87      83     82
NC       34      35     52
ND       41      35     34
NS       14      15     17
OH       60      66     62
OK       50      51     57
ON       69      65     89
OR       67      90     97
PA       84      90     89
PEI       3       4      2
PQ       38      46     47
RI        4       3      1
SK       31      29     28
SC       20      18     12
SD       32      33     34
TN       38      36     37
TX       84      91    131
UT       49      58     53
VT       21      22     19
VA       54      55     56
WA       54      69     74
WV       28      41     38
WI       65      64     70
WY       74      77     79
YK       16      14     16
PARKS    13      11     10


Since our last bulletin, the BBS has become a part of the National Biological Service (formerly National Biological Survey), an agency within the Department of the Interior. The BBS is becoming an integral part of this new agency, whose mission is to provide the scientific understanding and technologies needed to support the sound management and conservation of our nation's biological resources.


In December 1993, a new phone system was installed at Patuxent, producing changes in all of the phone numbers on the research center. Our new phone numbers are:

                         (301) 497-5841
                         Bruce Peterjohn

                         (301) 497-5784

Our mailing address remains unchanged at:

Breeding Bird Survey
Patuxent Envir. Science Center
Gabrielson Lab
12100 Beech Forest Rd.
Laurel, MD  20708


During 1994, a computer program summarizing the BBS trend analyses was prepared through the efforts of Jim Hines, John Sauer, Sandra Orsillo, and Bruce Peterjohn. This program provides trend information for approximately 400 species of birds, including relative abundance maps, trend maps, and regional/state/strata trend estimates and annual indices for each species. Some general information on the BBS and how these data were analyzed are also included in the program.

This BBS computer program requires approximately 30 megabytes of memory, and is only available on CD-ROM. We are in the process of updating this program with the analyses through 1994, which will hopefully be completed by summer. If you have a CD reader and sufficient memory on a DOS system hard drive, we can make the program available to you. Please contact Bruce Peterjohn at the phone number listed above to make the arrangements. Since we currently have a limited number of CDs containing this program, it may take a while to meet all of the requests. Your patience will be appreciated.

Many of you probably saw the article about the BBS that appeared in the December, 1994 issue of Birding magazine. If you did not see this article and would like a copy, please contact the BBS office.

We have also been very active on other fronts. The BBS participated in the North American Research Workshop on the Ecology and Management of Cowbirds, held in Austin, Texas on Nov. 4-5, 1993. A paper describing temporal and geographic patterns in cowbird population trends by Peterjohn, John Sauer, and Sandra Orsillo was presented at the workshop, and a manuscript with a similar title has been submitted for the workshop proceedings.

BBS-related publications that appeared in print during 1994 include:

--Observer differences in the North American Breeding Bird Survey (Auk 111:50-62).

--Within-site variability in surveys of wildlife populations (Ecology 75:1097-1108).

--Population trends of woodland birds from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (Wildlife Soc. Bull. 22:155-164).

--Population status and trends of grouse and prairie-chickens from the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count (Trans. 59th N. Am. Wildl. & Natur. Resour. Conf.:439-448).

--Mourning Dove population trend estimates from call-count and North American Breeding Bird Surveys (Jour. Wildlife Management 58:506-515).

Copies of any of these articles can be obtained from the BBS office.


As usual, there have been a few changes in the list of state/provincial coordinators since the previous newsletter. The new Tennessee coordinator is Charles Nicholson. With the death of Burt Monroe Jr., Brainard Palmer-Ball, Jr. has become the sole coordinator for Kentucky. In Pennsylvania, Dan Brauning has agreed to share coordination duties with Paul Schwalbe.

In California, Bruce Deuel has relinquished his role as coordinator for the northern portion of the state, and has been replaced by Lyann Comrack. In Wisconsin, Sam Robbins has passed the role of state coordinator to Darryl Tessen). Sam had coordinated the program since its inception in 1966. In his honor, the Wisconsin observers made a concerted effort to achieve 100% coverage during 1994, the first time all 70 routes had been surveyed within a single year. Congratulations to Sam, and to the Wisconsin observers.

The BBS Honor Roll continues to grow, with at least 49 observers conducting five or more surveys in 1993 or 1994. Dave Holmes (DE, MD, PA) continues to lead this list with 15 surveys, although Steve Stedman has climbed into a close second place with 14 surveys (TN, KY, WV). Other volunteers conducting eight or more surveys include Brad Andres (AK), Sandy Williams (NM), Vern Kleen (IL), Sebastian Patti (IN, IL, MO, MI), Richard Peterson (SD), and John White (FL). An additional 50 people conduct 5-7 surveys annually. Our heartfelt thanks to all of these people who are deeply committed to the BBS, and to everyone conducting surveys during 1993 and 1994.


The Canadian Wildlife Service BBS Coordinator, Connie Downes, was on French language training which complicated the processing of the 1993 Canadian data. We apologize for delays in providing the observers with their printouts, and will try to ensure that these delays are not repeated in the future.

Connie paid a visit to the BBS offices at Patuxent during May 1993. During this visit, Connie agreed to assume most day-to-day coordination responsibilities for the program in Canada. All Canadian route assignments are being handled by her office, as are all mailings to the Canadian volunteers. She also has a complete set of the Canadian BBS data and route maps, and can make the data available upon request. (However, only the BBS office at Patuxent has both the U.S. and Canadian data sets, so people requiring data from both countries should contact Bruce Peterjohn.) Connie's efforts in promoting the BBS in Canada have already paid off, as evidenced by the increased coverage in 1993-1994.


Susan Weller, the Idaho BBS coordinator, informed us that BBS participants in Idaho were recognized during the migratory bird day activities on May 8, 1993. Cecil Andrus, the governor of Idaho, signed a proclamation commemorating the event, and sent letters of appreciation to all BBS volunteers.