January Bar Chart Challenge!

Even if you are not an eBird contributer there is a good chance that if you're a birder you use the data that eBird provides.  The bar charts can be particularly interesting to peruse when planning a visit to somewhere new. A Maine birder that joined the 2019 5MR Challenge mentioned that one of his goals for the year is to work on filling in gaps in various hotspot bar charts which is a great idea.

I took a close look at the bar charts for some of my favorite 5MR hotspots to see what was missing.  Here is a sample of the bar chart for Columbia Springs Fish Hatchery (named Vancouver--Biddle Lake in eBird):

Each month is broken up into 4 sections.  The first week is the 1st-7th, second week 8th-14th, third week 15th-21st, and fourth is 22nd through the rest of the month (varying lengths).  The thick green bars represent birds submitted on complete checklists.  The little green dashes (like the Gadwall from the first week of April) are usually birds submitted on incomplete checklists.

Scanning through the chart I saw all of March is void of checklists and in general there are a lot of random gaps.  There was no data for the last week of December so I went over there this week to take care of that (which is reflected in the chart above now).

 Great Blue Heron...check

 Rough-skinned newt...check

 Pied-billed Grebe...check

 The rain was becoming harder to ignore so I made my way back down the trail, stopping to check for the newt again.  Then I heard that funny little chuckle of an American Dipper.

What!  This is a VERY good bird in my 5MR.  I saw one at this same fish hatchery last December also so maybe the dippers do an elevational migration for winter.  This is definitely a spot to check again in January!

Back in May I created a new eBird hotspot for David Douglas Park, an interesting neighborhood park uphill from my regular birding patch.  Here's a sample from its bar chart so far:

This spot needs a lot of work and I was glad I managed to get over there twice this month.  I tend to visit other locations over this one because it lacks a water source and doesn't have a ton of habitat diversity.  Even still, my visit this week had surprises.

Merlin!!!  Always a good bird (Hotspot bird #43)

I walked around the paved trail noting the usual chickadees, kinglets, robins, starlings, and then a new sound:  the croak of a raven!  I ran up the trail to glimpse the bird as it cruised low over the tree tops.

Hotspot bird #44

This is a bird I have only seen once before in my 5-mile radius though it's not an uncommon bird in the county.  An excellent reminder that random birds can appear at any time!

So far what I've shown you are bar charts for very underbirded hotspots.  Now look at a sample of the Ridgefield NWR auto tour (the most eBirded hostpot in my county) bar chart and you will see how much more useful it is when there's a lot of data.

The widths of the green lines change throughout the year to better represent the frequency of each species.  My little hotspots are probably never going to look this good, but that's ok.

 ** Fun side note here, I just noticed that American Wigeon x Mallard hybrid shows a tiny mark in January.  That was a bird I photographed in 2011!  I went to find the checklist for it and realized it was linked to a photo that had been deleted from my Flickr account.  So then I dug out my old hard drive to find the actual photos.  Neat bird.

Anyway, my point is that the eBird bar charts are neat and useful and could probably use all of our help to improve, which brings us to our January Bar Chart Challenge*.

The goal is to submit checklists to fill as many gaps as you can in the eBird hotspots in your 5-mile radius.  One super sneaky way of doing this is to make sure to create some new hotspots which will each have 4 gaps to fill (Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 as described above).  But definitely only use this method if you plan to bird the spot throughout the year.  Don't just make weird hotspots to win this contest.  The prize is not that good.

*This first challenge is admittedly for eBird users only, but I promise they won't all be like that.

*Edit: If you bird with another person at a hotspot that is in both of your circles, and your shared checklist is filling a bar chart gap, you BOTH get one point. 

 Thanks to everyone who has joined in the 2019 5MR Challenge!  If you want to participate make sure I have your name, email address, and county/state/country (leave a comment or send an email to 5MRbirding@mail.com).  There are 48 participants so far with 15 states being represented, along with two Canadian provinces, and one Australian state.  Amazing!! Good luck to all in 2019!!


  1. I love those little American Dippers - so cute and so cool to have in your 5MR! Would definitely be one I would want to see if I was every over that way :)

    I'll be checking my 5MR hotspots for overly grey bar charts ;)

    1. Yesss dippers are the best! Good luck with the grey bars!

  2. My bar chart has a huge hole right in the middle! There is only one hotspot in the 5 MR I have chosen...so I guess I just gotta get busy. I was able to draw my circle and it's a much larger area than I thought. I joined the FB group today and I see all sorts of activity, you are now a celebrity!

    1. Awesome, I'm glad you're gettin ready for it. I agree that it's much larger than it seems like it would be. Plenty of space for good birdin.

  3. So helpful! I am nowhere near being a contributor to eBird, but your introduction to the site and its features is pushing us from hikers who love to look at birds -- and who know the names of maybe a dozen -- to people who are willing to slow down from hike-mode to really examine and identify who's hopping-flapping-flying-soaring out there. And! We thought we knew all the local hiking/walking spots in this area. Not! EBird has us checking out a half-dozen new-to-us places. Thanks, big time.

    1. Oh that's very cool to hear! I swear every time I study Google Maps closely I find a new pond or greenway to check out. So many hidden gems out there.

  4. Yes! This is a great challenge to kick off the year. Let's fill in those gaps.

    1. Thanks for mentioning your goals this year! Such a good idea!

    2. I really need to get on Facebook, but until then this link shows an image of how I set up my spreadsheet for keeping track of eBird Hotspots in my 5MR based on species, complete checklists, and now barchart data.


    3. Thank you for sharing that, makes my notebook of scribbles look pretty amateur hour.


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