You know the tradition - you arrive at your favorite National Wildlife Refuge, or perhaps a new one you've been longing to see, and you head straight for the visitor center. If you're like most birders, you leave the gift shop area for later - and head straight for the old-fashioned pencil and paper logbook, where previous visitors have (you hope) accurately and clearly reported recent bird and mammal sightings.
We love traditions (hey, Warren is an ink-stained wretch of a newspaper reporter, so he knows all about disappearing media forms), but an increasing number of National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs), now have something much better: eBird Trail Tracker, developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Natch.
As our friend Paul Baicich notes, this is a great new way for visitors to share information about bird sightings. The information becomes a part of the large and growing eBird database. No more illegible scrawl, ripped log pages, or coffee stains.
But wait, there's more! (Am I supposed to say something about the free Ginsu knives here??) There's a great demo of Trail Tracker here. For new and learning birders, as well as for the rest of us, the system is full of ornithological information on each species -- pictures, audio, natural history, etc. Suppose you'd never seen a Peregrine Falcon before, and just learned that one had been spotted that morning at the refuge. With a few minutes at the Trail Tracker kiosk, you'd have a much better idea of the bird and how to find it.
About half a dozen NWRs now have Trail Tracker. Perhaps best of all, the information is now available remotely, on-line. So you can see what's been spotted at the refuge before you get in the car (bike, motorcycle, airplane) and head there. Three Roseate Spoonbills were reported today, April 9, at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, in South Texas, according to their online Trail Tracker report. (We love Santa Ana - got our life White-Faced Ibis and Altamira Oriole there, among others).
Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico also has Trail Tracker info on-line. So do lots of birding sites that aren't NWRs.
Many thanks to the great folks at Cornell Lab; people like Mike Carlo, who get the Trail tracker installed at Santa Ana NWR; and, of course, Paul B. Ain't technology great?