Verifying bird records in Guyana
Megan Shersby meets Leon Moore, a birder and wildlife tour guide who verifies eBird records for Guyana.
When Leon Moore first started using eBird in 2013, he was the only active Guyanese on the app. He has since trained others and become a verifier for the country’s bird records. “I was introduced to eBird by a wildlife tour leader while I was working at a lodge in central Guyana,” he says. “I already knew a lot about birds, so he suggested I submit my records and become a reviewer.”
Leon works alongside Dr Brian O’Shea, a US ornithologist studying birds in Guyana and Suriname, to verify between 30 to 50 lists from birdwatchers per month. “Guyana’s total bird species list is roughly 850, of which 754 are on eBird,” says Leon. “Every year we see between 550 and 620 species recorded by observers.”
The work of a verifier is more complicated than it may seem: “I help to develop and manage checklist filters for all of Guyana’s regions. These generate a list of birds for a particular time and location.” Records can get flagged for a number of reasons: if a species is particularly rare, not on the checklist for an area, or if the number of individuals of a species is unusual: “Five orange-breasted falcons reported in one place would need to be investigated.”
Once a record has been flagged, Leon or Brian get in contact with the observer to ask about markings they can remember, and whether a photograph or audio recording was taken. “Currently, 57% of all records that are flagged by the filters are then validated,” says Leon. “We also determine whether the participant is eBirding correctly – are they sharing the right information on when, where and how they went birding?”
He explains that it is important for reports to be verified, as eBird is both a scientific database, which can be used to inform and develop conservation initiatives, and a reliable resource for the global birding community.
As a tour guide, Leon has contributed plenty of his own sightings: “One of my favourites was the rufous-winged ground cuckoo, as it is such an elusive species,” he reveals. “I have submitted records of 623 different species in Guyana, and roughly 400 more from elsewhere.”
By volunteering, Leon hopes he can make a difference to the protection of birds and other species in Guyana: “I’m extremely concerned about wildlife declines due to hunting and habitat loss.”
This article originally appeared in BBC Wildlife. Take a look inside the current issue and find out how to subscribe.
Main image: Leon Moore in Guyana. © Sander Groen