As a few people know, over the past few months the Atlas team has been discussing the option of extending the atlas for an additional year to ensure we achieve good coverage of the entire state. About a month ago, we concluded that a big push this year would suffice. We have now changed our minds.
The current pandemic spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus, which causes the covid-19 disease, has changed everything. In light of both the Governor’s executive order and – perhaps even more important – the accumulating scientific evidence, we feel it necessary to implore everyone to heed the current guidance on social distancing and to stay home in order to reduce the risk of continued spread of the disease in the community.
Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of you, your families, and others in society. Given the highly contagious nature of this virus, and the fact that we know so little about its true prevalence in the human population (some estimates suggest that less than 10% of cases have been identified), we feel it is not prudent at this time to take risks.
Consequently, we have decided to add another breeding season of data collection during 2021. This will enable everyone to worry about truly important things right now; keeping yourself and your families safe, rather than traversing the landscape birding. It also means that, if you felt that this spring was your last chance to find a displaying woodcock or a nesting red-tailed hawk in your block, then you can put those concerns aside.
Prior to the exponential increase of covid-19 cases, we were developing guidance and priorities for the 2020 breeding season that we had planned to distribute about now. Should things change, we will distribute that document, but in the meantime we will work on mining the current data so that we can better focus everyone’s efforts when normalcy returns.
In the meantime, we are not suggesting that you should forget about the Atlas entirely. Simply that everyone should stay home and local, as the disease experts are telling us. But, please continue to look for evidence of breeding birds in your immediate surrounds – especially behaviors that confirm breeding (confirmed breeding records are what the atlas lacks most). If robins and cardinals are not confirmed in your block – this is the time to look for their nests in your yard. If house sparrows and starlings are not confirmed, then sit in your car for an extra five minutes while at the grocery store and see if you can see birds going back and forth to a nest.
This unique situation provides a great opportunity to spend a lot of time birding (very) close to home. As the weather continues to improve, we are all going to have spring fever, particularly while complying with requests to shelter at home. Before you step out to get fresh air, familiarize yourself with the species that are still unconfirmed in your block and pay particular attention to those species to see if you can observe them carrying nest material or something similar. You never know, you might see a red-tailed or a red-shouldered hawk carrying sticks, which would confirm them as local breeders.
In the meantime, we hope that you and those around you stay safe and well, and that we can all get back to our plans to visit out of the way, unsurveyed blocks before too long.