Traveler Readers Invited to "Test Drive" Prototype Website For Birding in the National Park System

National Park Service staff are developing a web-tool to help you learn more about species in the parks. The current prototype revolves around birds.

OK, Travelers, this is your chance to add your input to how the National Park Service develops its websites. A prototype that revolves around birding in the parks is now in the testing phase, and we encourage you to see if it meets your demands!

As envisioned, this site can be a great tool for birders. Basically, you can view certified species lists, click on column headers to sort by that criteria, and download the data.

The detailed grid shows order and family in addition to the columns in the simple grid. If you click on a species name, it opens another page with information about that species. On that species page, the above-the-line NPS-specific information will include maps showing what other Park Service units that species is present or absent in, and there are additional buttons to search the NPS taxonomy service for other names, and the NPS documents catalog for documents, datasets, maps, images, about that species, either in that particular NPS unit, or in any NPS unit.

Additional links will lead you to external, but trusted, sources of information about the species, such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

At first blush this seems like a great resource...although the technical woes that have troubled the Park Service's websites of late can test one's patience. Another possible shortcoming that hopefully can be addressed is a lack of images. While there are links that will take you to other sites that carry photographs of the birds in question, it'd be nice to see a photo next to the basic information provided for the species so you don't have to leave the NPS site.

So....check out the site, and leave your comments below. We'll see that the proper Park Service personnel see them.

Once the final version is developed, individual parks will be able to add a birding page that's specific to their park.

Comments

The NPS website must not be awake yet, this Monday morning (7:50 A.M. Eastern Daylight time).

I can't seem to get to the websites sited inthe article. Sounds very interesting.
I'll try them again later.

Danny
http://www.hikertohiker.com

Yep, the system certainly seems to be off to a bad Monday morning start. Hopefully it'll come back to life soon (7:46 a.m MDT).

Yup; Welcome to my life.

All of science.nature.nps.gov (the I&M website) is not responding.

I'll politely ping the IT folks.

I apologize, folks.

Folks--

The science.nature.nps.gov server is back up. I'd appreciate suggestions on the prototype.

When we make a production version of this (available for all NPS units), it will be hosted on a different, allegedly more reliable server.

Looking forward to getting a look at it when the website is cooperating. One question from the get go...will it be available in mobile web format? I'd probably be a lot more inclined to use it in the field if I can access it from my iPhone, like I can with field guides and other bird related websites.

It gives both too much and not enough.

(a) too much: The scientific name and the order are not necessary. Most birders carry one or more bird guides which give the scientific names.

(b) not enough: What is meant by an entry for a given species under Abundance? Is it an averaging of how abundant a species is throughout the year. If so, then the information is useless when considering how the degree of abundance can vary throughout the year, particularly for birds that are not year-round residents. Abundance should be given for each of four seasons.

If you want an immediate comment - the page I am looking at right now (www.nationalparkstraveler.com plus the invitation) has a problem with readability - both the announcement text and the reader comments are showing up so wide that they protrude into the green band at right. I am sure this is not your intent. It is possibly a browser issue but should be rectified before you go live. I am using Firefox 3.6.8 on a Mac iBook G$ running OS 10.5. Haven't looked further yet.

The links at the species pages I checked weren't working, eg, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and eNature. Since the content at your pages is limited, having these work will be very helpful. I'm assuming you're linking to www.allaboutbirds.org at Cornell or possibly to each individual species account. This is a great idea and will be well worth the hassles once it is up and running. Thanks!

Maggies.mom,

You could be encountering one of two problems.

1) If you're using Internet Explorer 8, it could be a compatibility problem that can usually be resolved by clicking on "compatibility view" under the icon "view pages."

2) What resolution is your screen set at? Some folks run into the problem you describe if their resolution is just 1024 pixels wide, while things look fine at 1280 pixels wide. Also, are you looking at the page through a window on your browser, or at "full screen"? If you're viewing it through a window, try moving to full screen. That should solve things.

I've also found that if the above solutions don't work, you can adjust the view by using the Zoom In and Zoom Out buttons on your browser.

Please let me know if one of those suggestions resolves your problems. We certainly don't want to make it difficult for you to read the Traveler.

Access issues aside (when will this ever be fixed!), pertinent birding information web access for a particular park would be helpful if:

1. Lists are up to date. So many checklists in parks are based on old sightings and contain spelling errors or outdated common names.

2. A universal (to all parks) seasonal coding system reflecting when a species is actually present as well as consistently and accurately depicting local population status. For example, it would be helpful to know if a species has been known to breed in a park.

3. Provide the ability to download info in PDF format. Example: the Oregon Birding Trail site provides excellent resources about birding sites statewide as well as the birds most likely to be found in them...and all available in a PDF format.

4. mobile app for iPod, iPhone?

Most any birder serious about using such online data already has a field guide of choice so photos of a bird as well as scientific names are not necessary. They will likely be familiar with a bird's preferred habitat. Rather than duplicate what other organizations - like Cornell have already established online - use of trusted links will reduce the need to duplicate such info. Many states already have electronic discussion lists which contain up to the minute bird sightings.

My wife and I are full-time RVers who travel to locations around the country based on bird activity. Our experiences with park personnel providing useful and up to date info have been all over the board, often frustrating. An online access which provides consistent and accurate information would go a long way to provide park personnel with an easy tool to pass on to birders (also a nice marketing tool for the parks!)

Web site not working for me right now for the most part, but ditto what Tom said. It would be really nice to have 4-season checklists standardized across the system most of all as well as birding-specific info (i.e., hotspots) for parks. Other stuff like photos not necessarily needed but certainly OK to have. The Cornell site (www.allaboutbirds.net) is fine to link to, but oddly in some cases is missing certain obviouls species (i.e., clay-colored sparrow) and of course it doesn't cover rare species that might draw birders to certain parks.

For an example of a park that does a great job with catering to this crowd, check out Big Bend, which produces 4-season rare bird reports. http://www.nps.gov/bibe/naturescience/bird-sightings.htm

Thanks, all, and keep those suggestions coming!

External Links: I tracked down why the links worked for some but not for others: DOI changed the mandatory redirect notice for links to non-NPS sites, but failed to announce the changes or even post information about the new redirect. The redirects are supposed to show the disclaimer page that you are leaving NPS, then auto-redirect in 5 seconds unless you have autoredirect blocked. The autoredirect should now work, but at least for my ie8 it doesn't pause the 5 seconds bu goes directly to the external site.

The links should go directly to that individual species page at a site. I obtained permissions for the deep linking, but have to build the urls on the fly. AllAboutBirds bases species urls on AOU common names, which can have issues when common names have apostrophes. Also, not all species are covered at AllAboutBirds, for instance Buller's Shearwater doesn't have a page.

Mobile App: This is a good idea I hadn't though of. I expect that the science learning centers will build this core into a mobile app format, at least for their bigger, more visited parks. However, it can't be a detailed birders guide application, as there are at least 3 different commercial mobile apps for birding that have requested (and received) the NPS data. [These data are public data and are available by request now, and will be available via an NPS website portal soon, as soon as the authentication/sensitive data issues are finished.]

Current Observations: The species lists will be hitting the live certified species list data, so they will be up to date on species confirmed to be in that NPS unit. They will not be what species have been seen in the last 2 weeks or even last year; neither the parks nor I&M have the resources to track observations. I believe that there are several birding resources that track recent observations. If you have suggestions for websites I might build links to, I would appreciate the suggestions. I think recent observations is only a bird issue: plants, mammals, fish, and herps tend to be more consistent in their occupancy. Despite what Kurt said, the prototype actually is more about plants and mammals and herps; birders have many more and better resources available to them. Some of the larger, more resourced parks may be able to supplement plants with flowering phenology.

The real website will have a help page with definitions of the residency, abundance, and nativity classes. It will also have PDF as an alternative to csv for downloading the data; pdf is one of the standard reporting formats for the NPS-internal version with the live data. It will also have the ability to generate a map of what other NPS units that species is found in, and to query the NPS database of reports, maps, and datasets for any involving that species, and again, the maps and lists of reports will be available as pdf documents.

Basically, the feedback I'm hoping for is whether something like this would be a useful addition to individual park's websites (think Fort Bowie and other small units, as Yellowstone will be able to do their own much better version), what other external links should there be, and of course the bugs and usability issues that I can't easily test from inside the firewall.

I like this website and it will become a great source for me when I head to other parks. I agree that the family and order information is too much and I immediately when to the simpler view. It would be nice to have a picture on the NPS page instead of clicking through the links to find one. I already have an app on my iPod (ibirdpro) that helps me when I'm birding and this will be a great companion to it. It lets me know what birds I'm looking for in a park instead of an entire region. I can't wait for it to be complete. The bird list we have here at CARE is very outdated (in fact I wasn't even born yet) and I'd love to use this site to help update it.

For me the big thing is standardization. Some park sites don't even have a bird list or it's very hard to find (I think the USGS also has some bird lists for parks, but they may be old). So it would just be really cool for each park to have a standardized format/location for the lists on the parks.

Agree current sightings is impossible to do, and it would be better to point visitors to places where they can get more info (www.ebird.com/state lists).

Also like the idea of being able to see other species like mammals.

RangerLady--
You can get what we have for CARE by going to http://nrinfo from a computer on the NPS intranet, the portal we're populating for all the NPS data we have. Click on the biology tab, then select search for NPSpecies data. The bird list was certified September 15, 2006 and has 242 species plus 6 unconfirmed; I don't know if that's more recent than what you have.
The references tab lets you search all NPS documents & datasets by keywords, units, etc..

MikeD--
We have certified species lists for birds for roughly 271 NPS units, those with significant natural resources. This prototype is for a simple public-facing component that appears to be part of each unit's website. When the authentication & sensitive/restricted data issues are completed, there will be a public-facing equivalent to the nrinfo portal, that you let you grab data for one or more units at once.
Your previous comment about BIBE is correct: some units have additional data on seasonality for birds. I hope that the Learning Center of the American Southwest (http://dev.southwestlearning.org) will modify my production tool to also serve their seasonality data, or build their own website hitting the same data services.

I like scientific names, so I'm glad they're included in both the detailed and simpler formats. The links didn't work for me. What I want is a list I can search. Maybe I want to know, as a fairly knowledgeable birder, whether a particular park has Say's Phoebes. Although the author states above "On that species page, the above-the-line NPS-specific information will include maps showing what other Park Service units that species is present or absent in, and there are additional buttons to search the NPS taxonomy service for other names, and the NPS documents catalog for documents, datasets, maps, images, about that species, either in that particular NPS unit, or in any NPS unit." I couldn't see that when I looked.

I'm pretty sure that this new page is just a new front end to the NPSpecies database that could be addressed for quite some time now directly or through the SpeciesSelect sites. People who know their way around the Inventory & Monitoring parts of the NPS web sites have had access to all the data before.

A nice front end makes information retrieval easier for the general public and it is good to see that the NPS sees its mission to make the vast amounts of data as accessible as possible. Thanks for the good work.

MRC--
Bingo. This demo doesn't hit the live NPSpecies database, but the production version will. I'm trying to get better design ideas, especially for links to reliable external resources, and have everything ready to go for a public-facing application within a week of the authentication/sensitive data component of IRMA.

Jude--
I can't provide the ability to search what parks a particular species is found in in my demo, because I can't yet hit the full, live database on a public-facing server yet. The links to the searching NPS reports and datasets about a species are the same way. I hope to have a simple map applet on the internal NPS site in October, so it, too, will work when a public-facing site can go live.

I'd also note that the order (i.e., by order/family) doesn't go in the order most bird guides use. Looks like it arranges it alphabetically. I'm sure this is something you could add pretty easily though.