Oregon Breeding Bird Atlas
The Oregon Breeding Bird Atlas Project is an official project of Oregon Field Ornithologists (OFO, [http://www.oregonbirds.org ], a statewide nonprofit birders organization. The project was initiated and administered by an informally-assembled committee of scientists and birders who were members of OFO. This 8-member, autonomous "steering committee" operated in consultation with the OFO Board of Directors and met 1-2 times annually. The committee and especially its coordinator (Paul Adamus) were responsible for volunteer recruitment, fundraising, budgeting, publicity, liaison with related projects and groups, annual production and distribution of atlas materials, maintenance of volunteer address database, procurement of relevant data from secondary sources (e.g., government agency databases), some of the data entry, data quality assurance, and conceptual design of the CD-ROM. The majority of the data entry was performed by volunteers at the Oregon Natural Heritage Program, with supervision and assistance from ONHPís Eleanor Gaines.† The majority of the programming of the CD was accomplished by Kit Larsen.
Recruitment of Volunteers
The success of this project is due in large measure to the substantial number of birders who became involved, and the mostly personalized approaches that were used to recruit potential participants. Initially the project coordinator sent general announcements to newsletters of local Audubon Society chapters, to the statewide birders journal, Oregon Birds, and to the American Birding Associationís Opportunities for Volunteers.
Simultaneously the coordinator used Oregon Birders On-Line (OBOL), an Internet-based discussion group for birders, to publicize the project generally and send personalized invitations to individual birders. At the time the atlas project began, OBOL had fewer than 100 subscribers whereas by the end of the project the number exceeded 500. OBOL became a crucial tool not only for recruiting volunteers but for answering atlasing questions, fine-tuning the geographic coverage priorities, prompting tardy participants, soliciting breeding data from other sources, and promoting a camaraderie unusual among projects involving hundreds of independent participants scattered in far corners of a state. The project coordinator also phoned over 100 persons known to be birders not connected to OBOL, to invite them to participate.
Membership lists of the American Birding Association and some scientific groups were also used as a basis for recruiting participants, either by mail or phone. A toll-free phone line was maintained for the entire duration of the project, to minimize the hassle of volunteering for the first time or requesting additional atlas materials. One member of the steering committee (Lynne McAllister) put together a slide show that members of the steering committee presented at several meetings of local birding groups in further efforts to recruit more volunteers. Another member (Greg Gillson) created and hosted a project home page on the Internet. Posters seeking volunteers and soliciting observations were placed on University bulletin boards and in selected campgrounds. The project coordinator gave presentations and took along sign-up lists to annual meetings of OFO, Oregon Chapter of the Wildlife Society, and other instate scientific groups, as well as publishing project information and progress summaries in Oregon Birds (annually), Wildflier (newsletter of Oregonís Wildlife Diversity Program), and other publications.
Allocation of Atlasing Effort
Equally important to the success of the project were the ambitious attempts we made to distribute efforts of hundreds of atlasers among the 844 atlas units (432 hexagons + 412 squares). At the project outset, we realized that atlas projects in many states had failed to provide even minimal coverage of all their atlas units, and even the very best had efforts skewed towards atlas units located near populous areas where most birders lived. Given the geography of Oregon, where 80% of the stateís population is concentrated in the western one-third of the state, effecting even a roughly equal coverage of units became a lofty challenge.
Just before the beginning of the second field season we distributed to all atlasers some maps of the entire state showing priorities for the upcoming field season, based on what had not been accomplished during year one. On the maps, each square and hexagon was shaded as high, moderate, or low priority for coverage in 1996, and the percent completion to date was indicated. Atlasers were asked specifically to visit and survey the units considered to be higher priority. We also published these maps in Oregon Birds. In every subsequent year of the project, we distributed and published updated priority maps to all atlasers. In the final two years of the project, our assignment of priorities was determined not only by the progress toward meeting target values of the unit, but also the absolute number of expected species still not found, and the number of atlasers that had visited the unit previously.
We also used "travel grants" to encourage a more even distribution of effort among atlas units. For atlasers who signed an agreement in advance to spend at least 2 days in June/July covering specified units (our highest-priority, most remote ones), we reimbursed for expenses of gasoline purchases and, when necessary, for rental of or use of their own 4 wheel-drive vehicle, upon submittal of their receipts. We had sufficient funds to support 10-20 travel grants during each of the final three years of the project, and this provided for coverage of many units that otherwise would barely have been covered at all.
Also, to boost coverage, midway through some of the breeding seasons we phoned persons who had volunteered to cover some of the weakest-covered units or sent them "reminder cards" or email reminders.