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Atlas Introduction -- How You Can Help

On January 1, 2002, the Maryland Ornithological Society (MOS), in cooperation with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and other conservation groups, begins its second five-year Breeding Bird Atlas Project. This project will map in detail the distribution of bird species in Maryland and the District of Columbia (DC), primarily with volunteer help. This is one of the Society's most important activities with immense long-term value.

For purposes of this project, Maryland and DC are divided into 239 quadrangles based on U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps. Each quad is divided into sixths, which are called blocks; in some counties they are further divided into quarter-blocks. Blocks are assigned to field observers. Covering a block for five years searching for evidence of breeding is an unparalleled opportunity to learn many aspects of the nesting cycle firsthand. Without question, extensive time in the field will produce treasured memories.

Although field observers are needed in all parts of the state and DC, every MOS member can and should contribute sightings, even if he or she never leaves his neighborhood or is a relatively inexperienced birder. A sample of possible sightings which could be seen in almost any suburban or rural yard might include a begging fledgling American Robin following an adult, Northern Cardinals feeding young in a nest in a shrub, Barn Swallows attaching their mud nest to a beam in a carport, a House Finch incubating eggs in a hanging potted plant, Carolina Wrens making repeated trips with nesting material to a half-empty cardboard box under a deck, or a House Sparrow carrying nesting material into a vent. Whenever you observe breeding activity outside your assigned area, pass such information to the local County Coordinator with date, exact street location, and your name.

Another way any MOS member can contribute to the Atlas Project is by granting land permission for field observers to survey tracts of land you own, or by obtaining land permission from people you know or groups to which you belong. Atlasing requires finding breeding birds in all habitats in a block. A few blocks contain ample public land. Many do not. For that reason, access to privately-owned land in any block can range from helpful to essential. Because trespassing on private property is not only illegal but violates the American Birding Association's Code of Ethics, the cooperation of many people will be needed to help provide controlled access. Advise the local County Coordinator if you can help with land permission.

The Atlas Committee plans to provide a page of information in most issues of The Yellowthroat during the five years of the project. Your contributions to this page are welcome. Especially valuable would be articles (maximum 1000 words) or short suggestions as to how to confirm certain species. Atlasing is not a glorified nest search project. The Atlas Committee discourages activity which involves repeated trips to a nest or harassing a bird in a nest search. Many people have evolved useful methods to track down breeding species-whether or not a nest is ever found. Share these ideas. Forward observations, tips, and experiences to:

Walter Ellison
State Atlas Coordinator
23460 Clarissa Road
Chestertown, MD 21620