Thursday, March 21, 2013

Newfoundland Birding Hub

In February, this blog marked its third anniversary. What started out as a "journaling" exercise for me to record my birding and gardening experiences has evolved in a way I never expected.  When I set up this site, I didn't tell anyone because of my own insecurities and lack of knowledge about both birding and gardening. I thought that by documenting the journey, I would learn something. I told only two people about some pictures I had posted, and word soon leaked into the birding community.

I could only imagine people must I have thought I was more than a little crazy to think I could regularly post images and musings about either birding or gardening (topics I knew nothing about) without making glaring mistakes and maybe stepping on a few toes. I have made a few errors, quite a few, but I have tried to maintain a sense of truth about the journey and not assume to know things that I clearly don't know. Somehow, traffic to my site steadily picked up. Visitors from St. John's, the province and around the world drop by my site on a regular basis.

Through the realization that I really have very little to offer in terms of instruction, I decided to add links to this site that would be helpful resources to any reader dropping in. Initially, I added basic tools such as links to the Tide Chart (useful when watching for shorebirds or sea birds,); I added links to Road Cams to make it easier for visitors to check the actual road conditions when planning a road trip; and a link to the Weather Channel was added to aid in planning ahead.

As more and more visitors dropped by to check out the site, I added links to the Google Discussion Group: NL Birds (a site where Newfoundland bird sightings are regularly posted); BirdingPals Newfoundland (where visitors could connect with knowledgeable local birders willing to take them out to local hotspots,) and the local birding shop: The Birdhouse and Binocular Shop. An unexpected increase in activity on the site began to really pick up in January 2011. This prompted me to add a Page View Counter to the Home Page. Then Google offered a stat tracking gadget to the backside of the site, so I switched to it, losing the number from the earlier counter. Yet, the change was good because it provides me with a lot of useful information, particularly what people are looking for when they enter the site, and which posts are viewed most frequently. Search topics are also recorded for the site, which has sometimes driven posting topics.

Numbers continued to grow. How did this happen? As a result, I wanted more information about how much interest there is out there for birding in Newfoundland. In December 2011, I joined the Fat Birder Top 1000 (actually 1272 birding sites - not just blogs.) Within fifteen months of joining, my site began moving up the chain. It currently sits at #244 out of 1272 sites. To my amazement, that is in the top 19% of all birding sites registered with Fat Birder. How did that happen? At about the same time, I signed up for Cluster Maps to get a better picture of the origin of the visitors to the site. Over the next fifteen months, Cluster Maps registered over 18,500 unique visitors from all over the world. By clicking on the map, anyone can view where all the unique visitors to the site originate. On February 2, 2012, I decided to join the Nature Blog network. Nature Blog hosts a total of 2423 nature-based blogs; my blog sits at #272 of all of the nature blogs. Narrowing further, Nature Blog lists 511 Bird Blogs. My site sits at #56 (within one year, this blog climbed into the top 11%.) To me, that is absolutely astounding! All three of these stat-recording sites, conduct counts based on unique computer IPs, while the number of Page Views reported at the bottom of my site show just that - how many pages have been accessed. That number now sits at over 70,000, with some lost when I was transitioning counters. All of these tools and the information they provide have really been instrumental in the modifications I have made to this site.

The significant traffic to my site has added to the responsibility I feel about sharing accurate information and resources. Since my birding knowledge is one on a scale of ten, the onus is on me to ensure that I provide links to sites of those experts in our birding community. More and more, Newfoundland birding blogs and photostream sites are showcasing some amazing photos of Newfoundland birds and are growing in quantity and quality. We now have access to birding records through BirdtheRock, expert exposes on the phenomenal birding events around our province, and information about conservation efforts, as well as many novice birders and photographers sharing their experiences. By visiting my site, all of these other blogs and links can be accessed from one location. As soon as I learn of a new blog or photo site, I provide a link. My vision has changed from just sharing my experiences to providing a central location where local or potential visiting birders can access as much as information as possible about where to bird and what to expect to find.

Within the last year, I joined eBird and more and more Newfoundland birders are doing the same. This tool provides a list of all birds reported through that site. These reports provide a map to bird sightings as well as a composite of common and rare birds reported by others in the area. The growing popularity of this tool among birders in this province has the potential to generate a long-lasting public record of sightings in the province.

I have included links to Surfbirds and the ABA where a number of our rarities are posted. I also include links of Big Year birders who I meet around the Avalon so that I might track their progress.  There is also a link provided to report banded bird sightings. Further, there is a link to the Bydbay live bird cam in Port Blandford, where at this time of the year it is likely to see Common Redpoll.

Since the number of unique visitors from Newfoundland has increased (joined NL Blogroll), I have added a new item to my site today. In the upper right hand, I have provided a quick pic and e-mail address to report rare birds around the province. Let's hope that gadget gets used a lot.

Interesting to note:  The top ten posts most often viewed on the site are not the rare birds, but rather more familiar birds and some local history and general interest postings. That clearly suggests that there is a good mix of birders and others who want to know more about the province visiting this site.

It is clear, there is wide interest in the birds of Newfoundland. It is now my hope to provide a single-entry point to "what's happening" with birding in the province, a place where it is easy to access all of the birding activity. Well, all of these evolutionary changes would never have happened if so many people had not led the way through participation in this site. Thank you to all, and if there are links that should be added to enhance access to information about birding in this province, please let me know.

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