San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature Connection[San Diego County Bird Atlas Project]

Birds & Mammals

Bird Atlas Introduction
Project Overview
Volunteer Work
Handbook Contents
Breeding Bird Species Accounts
Grid System
Who's Who?
Atlas Support

Focus On...
Wrenderings Archives
Birds of San Diego County Checklist

Model Species Account

Reporting Forms
Incidental (Breeding Season)
Incidental (Winter)
Daily (Breeding Season)
Daily (Winter)
Bird Atlas Instruction Handbook

Project Overview

The support of volunteer observers is absolutely critical to the success of this effort, which will be a breakthrough to a new level of understanding of our natural heritage and will be a powerful tool in assessing and guiding the conservation of wildlife. Effective conservation planning at the local level requires a very fine-scale knowledge of the distribution of plants and animals. Only through projects like the San Diego County Bird Atlas can the data necessary be generated.

What will come out of this project, and why?

The end product of the project will be a book of maps, with interpretive text, portraying the distribution of each species of bird by blocks of about 3 x 3 miles, based on the township and range system. Even more detailed data can be made available on computer diskettes or compact disks. The atlas will cover both breeding and winter distribution, defined by criteria tailored to each individual species. Our goal is to cover every square within a 5-year period extending from spring 1997 through winter 2001 - 2002.

The atlas will show where each species is confirmed and suspected to be breeding, and where it winters regularly and irregularly. The project will reveal the relative abundance of each species from square to square and will indicate where species are absent as well as where they are present. Comparison with historical data will reveal how distributions have contracted and expanded in response to the many changes in our environment over the past century. The atlas will reveal key sites and important populations of species of conservation concern. It will reveal areas of high or low bird diversity, suggesting priorities for conservation. It will serve as the standard against which the inevitable future changes in our birdlife can be assessed. And it will therefore be the "control group" from which the effectiveness of the Multiple Species Conservation Plan and other large-scale experiments will be evaluated.

Where did this idea come from?

Bird atlases similar to ours have been around for over 20 years. First carried out in European countries like Belgium and Britain, atlases for breeding birds have now been published for a few states in the U.S. and three counties in California (Monterey, Marin, and Sonoma). Field work in several other California counties is currently underway. Atlases of wintering birds have been published for France and Britain, but our winter-bird atlas will be the first for California, if not all of North America.

Who is involved?

The key to success of bird atlases is the combination of the work of qualified volunteers, professional management, and institutional support. Volunteer field observers like you are the essential backbone needed to make the atlas a reality. An atlas based on the contributions of community volunteers and coordinated by an independent nonprofit organization like the San Diego Natural History Museum is likely to be received better by the community than one originating and controlled by a government agency. Nevertheless, the cooperation and support of many government agencies is crucial to our success. We have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California State Parks, and others already as part of our team. Indeed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers the San Diego Bird Atlas an essential part of the monitoring needed for the Multiple Species Conservation Plan. The broader the participation in the project, the better will be the results.

Who is in charge?

The San Diego Bird Atlas is a project of the San Diego Natural History Museum, undertaken with the full support of the Museum's administration and board of trustees. The Museum will be raising money from many sources to fund the atlas. The project is undertaken in cooperation with the San Diego, Buena Vista, and Palomar Audubon societies, the San Diego Field Ornithologists, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Philip Unitt will serve as the project's coordinator, as part of his duties as collection manager of the Department of Birds and Mammals. The Museum is planning on Phil's devoting approximately half his time to the atlas over the 5 years of the field work, and one year full time at the end to complete the final publication. Five community representatives are serving as an advisory group: Mike Evans (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Karen Messer (Buena Vista Audubon Society), Conrad Sankpill (San Diego Audubon Society), Ken Weaver (Palomar Audubon Society), and Paul Jorgensen (California State Parks). More members may be added as necessary as the project evolves.

How does it get organized?

We are recruiting participants from as broad a spectrum of the community as possible. Volunteers can contribute in two ways, (1) by taking responsibility for the coverage of one or more 3 X 3-mile squares, or (2) by contributing incidental observations on forms designed for the atlas project. Every participant is welcomed to cover whatever area he or she is interested in, or to volunteer to cover one or more squares as needed to achieve our goal of completeness. Phil and advisors will coordinate everyone's efforts to achieve maximum efficiency. Just call or send in a completed questionnaire. Remember, our goal is to cover every square to at least a minimum threshold.

What is the grid system based on?

Much of the territory of the United States was long ago surveyed into "townships," "ranges," and "sections," a system called the Public Land Survey. Ideally, each section is one mile square, and each township is a larger square consisting of 36 sections. This system has been used heavily for defining property boundaries, and roads follow section boundaries in some areas. You can see this system readily on USGS topo maps, the Cleveland National Forest map, and parts of the Thomas Brothers atlas. For the bird atlas, we have taken each township and divided it into quadrants, so that each atlas square contains nine sections, three on a side.

Because the Public Land Survey is based on markers set by survey crews long before the days of the global-positioning system and other high-tech satellite-based gadgetry, the lines are sometimes a little crooked (in part to accommodate the curvature of the earth), so many of the "squares" are not exactly square. Also, the ranchos and pueblo lands granted during the era of Mexican rule in California were never surveyed. The atlas squares in these areas are computer-generated extrapolations of the Public Land Survey.

The atlas squares fit the county line exactly along the eastern and most of the northern boundary of the county. But along the coast and Mexican border such a fit isn't possible. Small slivers of squares have been combined with adjacent squares to yield more practical blocks. The end result is 477 squares that we will attempt to cover.

Each square is identified by its township, range, and quadrant, by a simple index system (L7, U28, etc.), and by a brief name recalling notable localities in the square (San Elijo Lagoon, Jacumba, etc.).

Volunteer Questionnaire