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NMOS Field Notes Database

We request that all potential users of the New Mexico Ornithological Society (NMOS) Field Notes Database read through the following text in order to gain an understanding of what is available in the database and to promote the appropriate use of these data. At the end of this explanation is the Official NMOS Field Notes Database Disclaimer and a button to click to indicate that you have read and understand this explanation.

What is the NMOS Field Notes Database?

The NMOS Field Notes Database is a compilation, in a searchable database format, of the data on bird observations in New Mexico as published in the NMOS Field Notes, beginning in 1962. These data are already publicly available through the NMOS Field Notes. This database simply provides an alternate format that is searchable and hopefully easier for the user to access on line. Information about the particular fields of data that are available, commonly asked questions about querying the database, and means of submitting corrections to the database are available when you enter the database website.

Process by Which Data Become Part of the NMOS Field Notes Database

1) An observer somewhere in the state of New Mexico records personal observations of birds. The observer decides that some/all of the observations are worthy of note and submits them to the state compiler for North American Birds, who is also the editor for NMOS Field Notes.

2) The editor assesses all submissions and determines which records represent biologically interesting or significant data that add to our knowledge base and are worthy of inclusion in NMOS Field Notes. Due to the limitations of space, these "worthy records" from multiple contributors are compiled, summarized, and published as important records for the state.

3) The person in charge of data entry for the NMOS Field Notes Database reads an issue of NMOS Field Notes and enters the published records into the database using a standardized, formatted Sighting Entry Form.

Issues Related to Process that Affect the Data

  • The data available in the NMOS Field Notes Database are the product of the observations and data recording/submission practices of many individuals.

  • The quality of the data is dependent on the skills of the observers, and these skills vary considerably.

  • Misidentifications occur in spite of the best intentions and in spite of diligent screening of submissions by the NMOS Field Notes editor and proofing of data by the person responsible for data entry into the database.

  • In many cases, submitted observations are not a product of standardized or well-described field data collection methods.

  • The data in NMOS Field Notes, and therefore in the database, do not offer a comprehensive depiction of bird observations for the state of New Mexico, but rather represent a small subset of those data. In other words, the data are not appropriate for creating detailed range maps for most common New Mexico species. Both the original observers and the NMOS Field Notes editor make numerous "filtering" decisions about which data to include. Perhaps the largest gap in the database is consistent data on the most common species and data on species in expected locations. In other words, the most likely data to be submitted and published are data about rare or unusual species in rare or unusual locations. Example - records of American Robin or House Finch in some areas of the state may not be included because either the original observer or the NMOS Field Notes editor deemed those data "not biologically significant." By comparison, over the past decade, records of Eurasian Collared-Dove observations have been more consistently reported.

  • Lack of data does not necessarily mean lack of birds; patterns in bird data in a particular location may not necessarily correspond to actual changes in bird numbers or presence/absence. This could be for a number of reasons associated with observers. It may indicate a lack of observers in a locality or region. The number and/or quality of observers in a particular area also may have changed over time. Examples - (1) a long-time observer who submitted many reports from a particular area may move or no longer be able to submit observations, (2) a new observer may begin submitting reports in an area from which reports were previously rare, or (3) an observer's skills may improve or decline over time.

  • The information on the observation location is of varying quality and specificity. Especially for early observations, prior to the common use of standardized maps or GPS units, the locations were frequently very general and/or difficult to understand or relocate. Examples - (1) a local name for a location that is applied in more than one place in the state (e.g. Water Canyon or Red Lake), or (2) very general location descriptions (e.g., "south of Farmington", or "in the grasslands in the northeast part of the state"). As a result, the database locality information shows the same variation in level of detail.

Taxonomic Issues

  • In some cases, a species' taxonomic status has changed (sometimes several times). This has resulted in different forms that were once considered to be the same species are now considered separate species, which may mislead the casual user.
  • For example, Western Screech-Owls (Otus kennicottii) were once simply considered Screech-Owls (Otus asio; AOU 1953), but were split by the American Ornithologists' Union in 1983. (This situation may be further confused by the recent assigning of most New World Otus to the genus Megascops; 44th Supplement to the AOU Checklist). Therefore, all records of Otus asio from New Mexico prior to 1983 should be presumed to refer to what is now the Western Screech-Owl, Megascops (Otus) kennicottii unless otherwise noted. Records after 1983 of Megascops (Otus) asio should refer to what is now considered to be the Eastern Screech-Owl, but users should carefully consider the evidence used in documenting the record.
  • Users also need to be aware of other recent taxonomic changes for which only one taxon occurs in the southwest, e.g., Dusky vs. Blue Grouse, Juniper vs. Plain Titmouse, etc. and the confusing nomenclature changes by which the Olive-sided Flycatcher Nuttallornis borealis became Contopus cooperi.

Official Disclaimer

The NMOS Field Notes Database does not provide comprehensive, definitive data on the presence, absence, components, or condition of avian assemblages in any part of New Mexico. The database includes the information as known by and summarized in NMOS Field Notes, presenting biologically important records for birds in New Mexico. It provides only a partial picture of the avian assemblage, reporting records that are deemed to expand on current knowledge or are significant for other reasons. The database is a tool that should be used in a manner consistent with the characteristics and limitations of the data and in conjunction with information from other publications and expert sources. It may be useful for documenting the change in statewide distribution or abundance over time of rare or unusual species (e.g., exotic species, endangered species, or native species that are expanding or contracting their ranges). It is not useful for creating distribution or range maps for most New Mexican bird species and NMOS does not recommend its use for that purpose. There is no substitute for site-specific field data collection where comprehensive, consistent data on avian assemblages and distributions are required, such as for environmental assessments.

By clicking "OK" below, the user of this database acknowledges an understanding of the values, limitations, and constraints associated with these data.

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Last Updated June 8, 2010