Manhattan Bird Alert — @BirdCentralPark on Twitter

These tweets provided the first news of the Swainson’s Warbler appearance in Central Park on 28 April 2016 and were featured in the New York Post.

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I developed and continue to manage this Twitter-based system for quickly sharing information about birding in Manhattan, which has been in use since May 2013. It works on ALL phones, not just smartphones. Alerts can be sent and received as simple SMS text messages. (Smartphone users who want to tweet directly from their Twitter apps are encouraged to do so.) You can put crowdsourcing to work and observe more birds while helping others do the same.

View the most recent alerts at twitter.com/BirdCentralPark.

Issue an alert for any observation or comment you believe may be of interest to active Manhattan birders. No species are off limits. (In particular, owl reports are welcome.) That said, alerts primarily should be of rare, uncommon, or noteworthy wild birds in Manhattan.

As new migrants arrive throughout the year, even common ones like Wilson’s Warbler and Wood Thrush, users often alert their first and subsequent next few appearances. Doing so is helpful and encouraged, but use your judgement regarding when to stop. Ask yourself: would birders want to go out of their way to see my bird?

During daylight hours photos are acceptable ONLY when they accompany a current bird alert. At night this rule is relaxed, but posts purely to show a photo should be infrequent (and the photo should be extraordinary or relevant to an ID issue) — this is not a photo-sharing site. Keep in mind that many users of this service receive the tweets only as SMS text messages. If you want to show your birding photos, a better option is the New York Birders group on Facebook. Alternatively, use Twitter but skip the #birdcp hashtag.

Links will be unusable for many, particularly non-smartphone users. As much as possible you should write out what you want say. If you need to attach a link, please explain what it is. Never send an alert that consists only of a link.

If you feel moved to respond to someone’s alert, do so by tweeting at the sender, NOT by issuing an alert in response.

These alerts are NOT a place for ads, general questions, discussions, complaints, or personal attacks. Followed users who send inappropriate #birdcp tweets will be warned first via direct message. If the problem continues, I will unfollow and perhaps block you.

How it works

The system works by using a  re-tweeting service (GroupTweet) based on the hashtag #birdcp. When accounts followed by @BirdCentralPark tweet using this hashtag, GroupTweet makes @BirdCentralPark automatically re-tweet, which triggers a text message or alert to followers. This eliminates the need for each user to follow every other user.

How to set it up

1) If you don’t already have a Twitter account, make one. They are free and easy to create. See these directions.

For those who do not like Twitter, once you set up your account, you will never have to interact with Twitter again.

2) Follow @BirdCentralPark from your Twitter account and the alerts will appear on your Twitter feed, effective immediately. If this is all you want, you are done.

3) If you want the privilege to also SEND alerts to all followers, you need to request it by first tweeting a mention of  @BirdCentralPark (or sending a direct message) and asking to be followed. If I know you or know of you, I might follow you without your asking.

4) If you are approved for sending alerts, @BirdCentralPark will attempt to follow you. You must allow it to do so before you can have your alerts re-tweeted.

How to set up alert notifications on your device

The power of this alert system is that it is very fast — essentially immediate — allowing you the chance to reach a bird before it is gone. To take advantage, you want your mobile device to notify you when a bird alert is issued.

If you have a smartphone, you should enable “push notifications” on your Android or ioS Twitter app via your app’s settings.  Then skip to step 2 below.

If you have a non-smartphone, you need to receive these tweets as (SMS) text messages so that your phone alerts you as they arrive.

1) Log into your Twitter account on the web. Go to

https://twitter.com/settings/devices

Enter your mobile number (if it is not there already) and check the box for “Tweets from people you’ve enabled for mobile notifications.”

2) Again on the web, go to

https://twitter.com/BirdCentralPark

On the upper right side, immediately right of “Following,” you will see three tiny circles stacked vertically for “More user actions.” By selecting this option, you can then turn on or turn off mobile notifications of tweets  from the account. You will want to keep these ON for @BirdCentralPark.

If you do this step on your Android phone instead of on the web, select the @BirdCentralPark account and then click on the bell icon so that it appears with a check mark. Make sure you are following the account if you have not already done so.

How to send an alert

An alert is simply a “tweet” sent with the hashtag #birdcp, which can appear anywhere in the body of the message. See the examples below.

If you use a smartphone, you should tweet from the Twitter app. See Twitter support if you need help with this.

If you use a non-smartphone, tweet by sending a simple text message (SMS) to the Twitter short code 40404. (Instead of using someone’s cell number as the recipient, you enter the number 40404.)

When sending an alert, DO NOT MENTION @BirdCentralPark IN YOUR TWEET. If you mention it, your tweet often will NOT be re-tweeted.

That’s all there is to it. There should be only a few seconds of delay between when you send your tweet and when users of the system receive it. If you tweet before @BirdCentralPark follows you, your tweet might not be re-broadcast at all, though it will appear on Twitter.

Tweets are assumed to refer to well-known Central Park birding locations unless you indicate a different Manhattan park. Wondering what those locations are? See my map of Central Park birding locations.

If you have questions or comments on these alerts, contact me here.

Examples

  • Solitary Sandpiper working the SE end of Turtle Pond. #birdcp
  • Excellent raptor flight viewed from the Great Hill. Kettles of Broad-winged Hawks and some Sharp-shinned. #birdcp
  • Over a dozen warbler species including Tennessee and Blackburnian, north end of Strawberry Fields. #birdcp
  • #birdcp Orchard Orioles singing in trees by the soccer fields, E end of Inwood Hill Park.

Troubleshoooting

My SMS alert notifications sometimes arrive delayed by minutes or even hours. How do I fix this?

Occasionally the fault is on the Twitter end. Their servers can get jammed during periods of very high tweet volume. These delays should be less than a minute.

More likely, particularly with longer delays, the fault lies with your mobile service provider. Most providers give so-called “short code” text messages (those from Twitter to you) lower priority than mobile-to-mobile text messages and may even limit the number you can receive in a day, even if you have an “unlimited texting” plan, as most people now do.

If you have a smartphone, the solution is to go to the Twitter app. Select the “Settings and privacy” tab, then “Notifications,” then “Push notifications.” Turn these push notifications on and choose the ones you want to receive.

Once you are sure that the push notifications are working, you can log into your Twitter account from the web and turn off the SMS notifications you previously set up.

Push notifications should arrive almost immediately after an alert is issued, solving the problem. They do cost you a small amount of data, which is why they work better than SMS — cell providers can charge you for data, as opposed to SMS which consumers now expect to get for free.

What if you experience SMS alert delays on a standard phone (not a smartphone)? You might try calling your cell provider’s customer service and complaining. Another option is to look for a provider that promises priority handling of short-code SMS.

My best advice is to consider upgrading to a smartphone and using push notifications. Using a spartan data plan, it is possible to purchase no-contract smartphone mobile service (the least expensive way to buy mobile service) for $30/month with the major carriers; some smaller mobile providers offer no-contract service for even less, but be sure you are OK with their terms. After discounts, mobile providers can offer some very good Android smartphones for $100 or less, sometimes as low as $50, even with a no-contract plan.

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