Photo: Yves Guillot
Frequently asked questions
On this page, you will find answers to many of the questions that we are frequently asked by people who are thinking about registering as an atlasser, or who are already registered. The following information is taken largely from the Guide for Atlassers, which contains all the instructions and details that atlassers need to participate in the project. You can also download and print the PDF version of the guide by clicking here.
- When did the atlas project start? and how long will it last?
Although spring 2010 marks the start of the project for most participants, data collection officially started on the 1st of January 2010 (as certain species start nesting during the winter). Data for the project will be collected over a period of at least five years (2010 to 2014).
- Is the atlas project only for experience birdwatchers? No. Birdwatchers of all skill levels can make a valuable contribution to the atlas, and we invite anyone interested to participate. During fieldwork for the first atlas, many people new to birdwatching got involved, and enhanced their skills over the course of the project. The answers to many of the following questions will help you to determine how best you can contribute to the projectNon. Tout observateur d’oiseaux, qu’il soit expérimenté ou débutant, peut participer au projet d’atlas. Cependant, la contribution que pourra faire un observateur débutant sera nécessairement moins importante. Les réponses aux questions suivantes devraient vous aider à savoir dans quelle mesure vous pouvez contribuer au projet.
- Can I participate as a “casual” atlasser? Yes. However, you must still register as an atlasser. If you are new to birdwatching and feel that your ornithological skills are not sufficiently developed to allow you to contribute to the project, we encourage you to team up with a more experienced birdwatcher so that you can learn certain techniques from him or her. Your regional coordinator should be able to put you in contact with someone.
- What is the sampling unit for the atlas? As was the case in the first atlas, the province has been divided into 10 km by 10 km survey squares (100 km2), While data will be collected across the whole of Québec, one of the main priorities is to adequately survey the area of southern Québec (i.e., south of 50º 30' north), which is comprised of 5509 survey squares.
- Are there priority squares for the project? Yes. For the project, 1089 survey squares have been designated as “priority” squares. This has been done in an attempt to distribute observation effort and strengthen the data collected. It will also facilitate data analysis, and the interpretation of the results.
- Can I collect data in any survey square I want? Yes. You can collect data in any survey square. Nevertheless, we strongly encourage you to complete one or more of the priority squares in your area first.
- If I register as an atlasser do I need to take on an entire survey square? No. For example, you can help out in a square, or submit “casual observations” from anywhere in the province.
- What is the main aim of the project? The main aim of the project is to collect sufficient data on the distribution and relative abundance of birds nesting in the 1089 priority squares situated in southern Québec.
- What sorts of data are required? The main types of data that atlassers will be collecting are breeding evidence and point count data. The different breeding evidence codes used for the project allow the behaviour of a given bird to be classified, and so determine whether or not the species is actually breeding in a given survey square (e.g., the presence of a singing male, nest building, or the observation of an adult caring for recently fledged young). The five-minute point count surveys, conducted from precise locations, will serve to determine the relative abundance of certain species. This surveying technique requires a certain aptitude and is reserved for experienced birdwatchers.
- What tasks will atlassers be asked to complete? The main task of atlassers is to visit the different habitats found within a given survey square to collect breeding evidence for the largest number of species possible. If you can identify most of the birds nesting in your region by ear, you are also encouraged to conduct point count surveys. This will enable the relative abundance of the species present to be determined. As not all atlassers are able to identify birds by ear, conducting point counts is optional.
- If I understand correctly, I do not have to do point counts to participate? This is correct. You can participate as an atlasser without conducting point counts.
- If I want to participate, do I need to be able to identify birds by ear? No. As an atlasser you do not have to be able to identify birds by ear. However, although not essential for atlassing, the ability to identify the birds in your region by their songs and calls (i.e., by ear) is a valuable asset.
- Are there tools that I can use to learn or revise the songs and calls of birds in my region? Yes. You can learn or revise the songs and calls of birds in you region using recordings (e.g., CDs and mp3 files) or a range of computer programs. There is also a website entitled “Dendroica” that has been developed specifically to help birdwatchers learn the songs and calls of species found in North America. You can find out more about this free website by clicking here.
- When is the best time to collect data for the atlas? Generally speaking, June and July are the best months to look for breeding evidence. This period corresponds to the period of the year when the majority of bird species in Québec nests and rear their young. Nevertheless, for certain groups of species, it is possible to start fieldwork much earlier in the season (e.g., in April or May).
- How many hours do I need to devote to a survey square? We recommend that you spend a total of about 20 hours in a given survey square, after which, it is better to direct your efforts towards another square.
- How many species can be found in a typical survey square? The number of species breeding in a survey square varies considerably with latitude, altitude and habitat diversity. However, in general, survey squares in southern Québec contain between 70 and 80 nesting species, so you are probably likely to find at least 50 species during the recommended 20-hour survey effort.
- Can I take several years to complete a survey square? Yes. Fieldwork for the atlas will span at least five years (2010-2014); therefore, you do not need to complete the survey of a given square in a single breeding season. For example, you can decide to visit your survey square in June and July one year, and return earlier in the season the following year to look for breeding evidence of species that nest earlier (e.g., owls), and for which you would not have found breeding evidence the year before.
- Is a given survey square attributed to a single atlasser? No. The atlas is a team effort and survey squares are not the property of any one atlasser. As a consequence, atlassers are encouraged to provide data from any square that they visit during the project, even if the visit is only a brief one. Nevertheless, given the large number of survey squares and the low population density in many parts of Québec, many of the survey squares will only be visited by a single atlasser during the course of the project.
- Does a survey square need to be covered each year? No. What is important is to devote sufficient time (approximately 20 hours) to cover the survey square adequately during the course of the project (but it does not matter when during the five years you do this) and to find breeding evidence for the majority of species that normally nest there.
- As an atlasser, do I have access to certain resources to help me conduct my work? Yes. All atlassers have access to a range of tools and resources that have been developed to assist atlassers during the project. The website and the Guide for Atlassers feature among these, as do the maps (e.g., region and survey square maps), the data forms (which are for noting your observations in the field), the Calendar of nesting chronology (which indicates the period of the year when you can hope to find nests containing eggs or young of a given species), and the discussion group. Finally, it is important to highlight the fact that atlassers can also rely on their regional coordinator and the Atlas Team for support and advice.
- What is a regional coordinator and what is his or her role? The regional coordinators are volunteers who have taken on the responsibility of overseeing the atlas work in a given region. They play a key role in the planning of fieldwork, and they are able to supply information and support to atlassers. They are thus an extremely important resource for atlassers. For example, they can supply useful complementary details about the project, and they can suggest the best way for you to participate given your skills and the time you have available. They can also point atlassers to survey squares that have not yet been covered, or towards those that need additional time spent in them.
- Do I have to contact my regional coordinator? No. However, if you have identified one or more survey squares for which you hope to collect data, we encourage you to notify the respective regional coordinator so that he or she can take this in to account when determining survey squares for other participants. This will allow the atlassing effort to be better distributed in your region, and in Québec as a whole.
- Where can I find out more about the atlas project and the atlassing methods? The different pages of this website contain a wealth of information about the project, and the Guide for Atlassers, which is part of the “Atlasser’s Kit” sent to all registered atlassers, contains all the instructions and details that you will need to participate in the project.
- Where can I register? You can register as an atlasser by clicking here.