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Priority Species Database has arrived!

By Ashley Peele

An image of a blue winged warbler; one of the priority species in the database

Blue-winged Warbler (Bob Schamerhorn)

It has happened, Atlas Birders, the Priority Species database has arrived!  A quick reminder: the VABBA2 is first and foremost a conservation tool for assessing bird populations in Virginia.  To that end, an important goal of the Atlas project is to collect additional information on a subset of ‘Priority’ species.  Some of these are prioritized because they are of conservation concern, while others are interesting from an ornithological perspective (e.g. species that have recently expanded their range into Virginia).

Additional data on these species will be housed in a simple new database accessed through the VABBA2 web page (  This tool exists in a different online system, because we would prefer these data NOT be housed within the public eBird system.  In fact, we actively encourage Atlas contributors not to post precise breeding location data for priority species via the eBird portal.  While we hope all birders will use appropriate care when out birding, we also don’t want these species to incur undue stress and disturbance, as a result of this project.

The Priority Species database can now be found on the Atlas web page under the ‘Submit Data‘ page.  Please use this tool to report your breeding observations of Priority Species (possible, probable, or confirmed codes only) to the project.  Include videos, photos, or audio recordings to provide evidence of the species identity, as you would in the eBird system.  Note: not all sightings of every species on the Priority list need to be reported to this system.  We’ve provided additional species-specific guidance, also on the Submit Data page of the website.  See ‘Priority Species Database Use Guidelines‘ and ‘Species-specific Guidance‘.

See below for some pointers on using this new tool.

Entering Priority Species observations

Step 1: Enter Information

  1. This step requires a subset of background information, including name, eBird username, and email.
  2. Select the Observed Species, which are listed in taxonomic order.  Note: you can only enter one species at a time.
  3. Record Observation Date, Number (estimates are fine), and Age/Sex if known.
  4. Select a breeding code and note HOW you detected the bird.
    • Did you see or hear the bird?  Both?  If you didn’t record how you detected the individual, just choose ‘Not Recorded.’
  5. The next several sections allow you to record notes for different types of observations:
    • Description of Bird – if you are attaching a photo, video, or recording of the bird, you can skip this section.
    • Behavior notes – here is where you can document any interesting behaviors, e.g. a neat courtship display, odd begging behavior by a fledgling, etc.
    • Additional comments – record anything else you want us to know about the observation
    • Location Description – be brief!  This section allows you to describe the location, if you’re not certain of the point you plotted.
    • Habitat Description – Not required, but we’d be interested to know your observations of the habitat you observed the bird in.  Forest, meadow, swamp, bog?
  6. Finally, attach any media files of the bird you observed.  Note that you can upload up to 20 mb per report.  This can be split amongst several or one large file.

Step 2: Select Location

You have several options for entering where you observed the bird(s)…

  1. Search by an address or a place name
    • Click the ‘Locate me’ button, if you’re location settings are enabled on your computer (or phone) and the map will navigate to your current location.
    • Once you have navigated to the correct area on your map, zoom in and plot you location as precisely as possible by clicking the map.
    • Given the need for location accuracy, location coordinates are preferred to this method.
    • Note: the map used in this tool is the same Atlas block map used on the Atlas Block Explorer Tool.
  2. Enter your precise location coordinates (latitude/longitude).
    • Once you’ve typed in the coordinates, click the ‘Set Location’ button.
    • A pin will appear on the map, which matches the coordinates.
    • Be sure to zoom in and makes sure the pin is where you actually were!  It can be easy to mix up a digit here or there, when entering coordinates.

Step 3: Complete Form

Be sure to actually click the ‘Submit Entry’ button, when you have completed the form.  If  you forgot any required info, the form will automatically jump to that section.  When all info is entered, you will get a pop-up window notifying you that you’re done!

Thanks for your participation and remember to email your regional coordinator with questions.

-Ashley Peele, PhD, VA Atlas Coordinator

  • September 7, 2016