[Tweeters] FLBC's - a mediocre system for field note taking? SLBC's a better system?

Kathy Andrich chukarbird at yahoo.com
Fri Mar 27 13:56:39 PDT 2009



Hi Tweeters,

OMG, here we go again...I guess it has been way too long since this subject has come up. I'm a keepin my opinion to myself.

My birding sure sign of spring arrived this morning. At 6:08am I heard a White-crowned Sparrow (which will remain codeless) was belting it out in a planted traffic spacer. I could hear it through my window while I waited for the light to change.

Kathy
Roosting in Kent, near Lake Meridian
(chukarbird at yahoo dot com)
Any driving directions contained within this message are given as a courtesy, beware, author is directionally challenged and will not vouch for them.


--- On Fri, 3/27/09, Mason Flint <masonflint at hotmail.com> wrote:


> From: Mason Flint <masonflint at hotmail.com>

> Subject: [Tweeters] FLBC's - a mediocre system for field note taking? SLBC's a better system?

> To: tweeters at u.washington.edu

> Date: Friday, March 27, 2009, 12:13 PM

> I know many are big fans of using four-letter bird codes

> when taking notes

> in the field. Well known practitioners of this include Matt

> Bartels (his

> nearly illegible scrawl adds new meaning to the word

> "code"). The system was

> apparently developed by the USF&W Service ;) for bird

> banding. The concept

> is good - why waste time writing out long bird names in a

> notebook when

> you'd rather looking at the birds. As a software guy

> I'm reasonably good at

> understanding coding systems but had not taken the time to

> learn the

> four-letter coding system until recently. I wasn't

> starting from scratch

> having had peers explain it to me. I was assured that the

> system is pretty

> simple overall. You just need to understand a few rules:

>

>

>

> 1. Codes for names with only one word are formed by

> using the initial

> letters: GYRE (Gyrfalcon), MERL (Merlin) etc.

>

>

>

> 2. Codes for two word names are formed by using the

> first two letters

> of each word: BUOW (Burrowing Owl), CATE (Caspian Tern)

> etc.

>

>

>

> 3. Codes for three-word names where only the last two

> words are

> hyphenated, are formed from two letters from the first word

> and one each

> from the last two: WESJ (Western Scrub-Jay), EAWP (Eastern

> Wood-Pewee) etc.

>

>

>

> 4. Codes for other three words names are formed from

> one letter each

> from the first two words and two from the last word: WTSH

> (Wedge-tailed

> Shearwater), ATFL (Ash-throated Flycatcher) etc.

>

>

>

> 5. Codes for four word names are formed from one

> letter from each

> word: BCNH (Black-crowned Night-Heron), BTBW

> (Black-throated Blue Warbler,

> (BTGW) Black-throated Gray Warbler

>

>

>

> Simple, right? J As long as you know where the hyphens are

> in the names of

> the 957 species recorded in the ABA area you're good to

> go! Well.not quite.

> Some of you noticed an error in coding examples above. It

> turns out that

> using the rules above would result in two birds with the

> code BTGW -

> Black-throated Gray Warbler and Black-throated Green

> Warbler. Ok, no big

> deal. Just remember that exception and you're set,

> right? Well.not quite. It

> turns out that there are more than 100 collisions like

> this. I'm not a

> mathematician but my back of the envelope calculations

> shows that about 1 in

> 10 species seen in the ABA area are exceptions to the rules

> outlined above.

> Worse, there are 12 three-way collisions - meaning three

> species would share

> the same code using the rules above - and 58 two-way

> collisions.

>

>

>

> I figured there must be another set of rules that define

> how the collisions

> are handled so I searched around to find them. It turns out

> that the Bird

> Banding Lab's rules for handling collisions are

> somewhat arbitrary. In cases

> where one name is much more common than the other, the more

> 'common' name

> gets the expected code and the less common one gets a

> different code. For

> example, Barrow's Goldeneye gets to use BAGO because

> Barnacle Goose (BRNG)

> is much less common. When both species are common, neither

> gets the expected

> code and each species gets a different, unique code.

>

>

>

> Wow.

>

>

>

> While I'm sure that everyone on Tweeters is more than

> capable of memorizing

> all of the exceptions and never making a mistake in coding,

> others may not

> be as smart. As I looked into this more online I found that

> there's a pretty

> robust debate regarding the use of FLBC's. A critique

> by a guy named John

> Shipman can be found here:

> http://infohost.nmt.edu/~shipman/z/nom/bblcrit.html. He

> argues that

> erroneous coding is quite common even in scientific

> settings. Imagine a

> field scientist mistakenly using CAWR for Cactus Wren

> instead of CACW.

> Others using those records for study would be using bad

> data.

>

> The downside of a recreational birder making a mistake

> isn't as big but as

> bird records are increasingly shared on the Web the

> cumulative effect of

> small errors here and there could be significant.

>

>

>

> A better way?

>

> Mr. Shipman and others recommend a coding system using six

> letters that has

> big advantages. The true test for me was whether I could

> read the rules

> once and automatically know how to correctly code 99% of

> ABA birds.

>

>

>

> SLBC's are simpler. No worrying about whether names are

> hyphenated or not.

> Just remember four rules:

>

>

>

> 1. As with FLBC's, codes for names with only one

> word are formed by

> using the initial letters up to six: GYREFAL (Gyrfalcon),

> MERL (Merlin)

> etc.

>

>

>

> 2. Codes for two-word names are formed from the first

> three letters of

> the first word and the first three letters of the last

> word. Hyphenated word

> are always treated as separate word: BUROWL (Burrowing

> Owl), CASTER

> (Caspian Tern) etc.

>

>

>

> 3. Codes for three-word names are formed from the

> first two letters of

> each word: WESCJA (Western Scrub-Jay), EAWOPE (Eastern

> Wood-Pewee) etc.

>

>

>

> 4. Codes for four-word names are formed from the

> first letter of each

> of the first two words and the first two letters of the

> last two words:

> BCNIHE (Black-crowned Night-Heron), BTBLWA (Black-throated

> Blue Warbler),

> ATTOWO (American Three-toed Woodpecker)

>

>

>

> Better yet, six letters reduces the number of collisions

> from over 100 to 9.

> Better yet, when there are collisions the six letter system

> never uses the

> "expected" code for either species to avoid the

> confusion in the FLBC system

> where sometimes one species uses the "expected"

> code and in other cases

> neither do. In these cases each is given a code that

> clearly differentiate

> them from each other. It could be just me but remembering

> nine collisions is

> a lot easier than remembering 100. A full list of

> SLBC's can be found here:

> http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bbowman/birds/sixlettercode.html

>

>

>

> For the record, the collisions and proper codes using the

> six-letter system

> are:

>

>

>

> Wrong: BAROWL

>

> Right: BRDOWL (Barred Owl

>

> Right: BRNOWL (Barn Owl)

>

>

>

> Wrong: BLAWAR

>

> Right: BKBWAR (Blackburnian Warbler)

>

> Right: BKPWAR (Blackpoll Warbler)

>

>

>

> Wrong: BTGWAR

>

> Right: BTGYWA (Black-throated Gray

> Warbler)

>

> Right: BTGNWA (Black-throated Green

> Warbler)

>

>

>

> Wrong: COMRED

>

> Right: COREDP (Common Redpoll)

>

> Right: COREDS (Common Redshank)

>

>

>

> Wrong: GRBRMA

>

> Right: GNBRMA (Green-breasted Mango)

>

> Right: BYBRMA (Gray-breasted Martin)

>

>

>

> Wrong: LESTPE

>

> Right: LEACSP (Leach's Storm-Petrel)

>

> Right: LEASSP (Least Storm-Petrel)

>

>

>

> Wrong: PALWAR

>

> Right: PALMWA (Palm Warbler)

>

> Right: PALLWA (Pallas's Warbler)

>

>

>

> Wrong: WILWAR

>

> Right: WILSWA (Wilson's Warbler)

>

> Right: WILLWA (Willow Warbler)

>

>

>

> Wrong: YEBRBU

>

> Right: YBREBU (Yellow-breasted Bunting)

>

> Right: NBROBU (Yellow-browed Bunting)

>

>

>

> If you've made it this far you're hardcore. This is

> where I ask for people

> much more knowledgeable than me to explain why the FLBC

> system is superior

> and point out drawbacks to the SLBC system that I don't

> see.

>

>

>

> Thx.

>

>

>

> Mason Flint

>

> Bellevue, WA

>

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