New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

County & State Listing Last Updated 12/1/17

County & State Listing of Pelagic Sightings

by Carena Pooth
October 2015

New to NYSOA County & State Listing for 2015 is the long-awaited Pelagic Zone (PZ). The PZ is a new, unique entity. It is not equivalent to a county, nor is it equivalent to a Kingbird Region. Using it in your report will not require you to change or rearrange any of your past county entries (unless sightings were assigned to the wrong county in the past).

In 2011, the New York State pelagic region/zone was defined by NYSARC as beginning 3 [statute] miles from shore and extending to the 200 nautical mile mark, with state boundary lines calculated using the NPoL/CPoL (Nearest/Closest Point of Land) method. For a discussion of this method and its effects on NYS pelagic zone sightings, see Nate Dias's discussion and map on the ABA website.

On the County & State Listing form, you can now enter your Pelagic Zone life total immediately following the 62 counties. Enter your life total for your offshore sightings in the Pelagic Zone (beyond the 3-mile mark from shore, within NYS pelagic boundaries).

Consistent with eBird and ABA protocols, each Pelagic Zone observation should be assigned not only to the Pelagic Zone but also to the county having the nearest point of land (NPoL) to the sighting location. If you record the sighting location accurately in eBird (using coordinates or an existing hotspot when appropriate), eBird will automatically assign it to the correct state and county.

In short, each NYS Pelagic Zone species should be counted (a) on your PZ list, (b) on at least one of the three candidate county lists (Queens, Nassau, Suffolk), and (c) on your Region 10 and NYS lists.

Note that Brooklyn will not be assigned any pelagic sightings beyond the 3-mile line, because Queens includes the Rockaways peninsula all the way west to Breezy Point, and the waters west from there, south to NJ waters. Even so, Queens doesn’t have a big piece of the PZ either, nor does Nassau. Here is a link for a handy (albeit somewhat unofficial) google map with county lines shown:   LINK CHANGED 12/1/17

Total Ticks will continue to be calculated as the sum of your 62 county totals only (to prevent double-counting).

Pelagic Example:

An interesting exercise is to “Explore” pelagic sighting history on eBird and look at the maps.
For example, look at the eBird map showing were Wilson’s Storm-Petrel has been reported.
Zoom in until you can see the individual pins in the ocean. If you click on any pin, you will see what county that location is assigned to. As you move across from west to east, you will see where the NJ line is (roughly) as well as the RI line. It shows that pelagic trips leaving Suffolk may very well be in RI or even MA waters during part of the trip.

Useful links:

eBird Pelagic Protocol

Discussion of east coast pelagic boundaries, with offshore pelagic map (by Nate Dias):

Google map showing county lines in New York State:


Pelagic Zone FAQ

Q1: How do I choose a county for a sighting made while I'm on a boat doing a pelagic trip? Do I use the boat's point of departure?

A1: No. The point of departure is irrelevant. What is relevant is where the bird was observed. When you think about it, using the point of departure for pelagic sightings is like using your home address for all birds you see after you drive out of your driveway. To assign the right county (and state!), you need to determine where the closest point of land is from the sighting location. Whatever state and county that point belongs to is where the observation should be assigned. This is the way eBird does it. In fact, if you use your (or someone else's) cell phone GPS capabilities (which don't require cell access), you can determine the latitude/longitude coordinates and enter those in eBird, and then the correct county will be assigned automatically.

Q2: What about pelagic species I observe from land?

A2: In almost all cases, those would be assigned to the county from which you observed them, but NOT to the Pelagic Zone, since the PZ begins 3 miles offshore. The only time they would be assigned to a different county is when you are standing near a county line and looking out diagonally onto the water that is closer to the adjacent county.

Q3: Do I need to remove past pelagic trip sightings from my county lists?

A3: No. Sightings in the Pelagic Zone (more than 3 miles from shore) should be included in your lists for the PZ, the state, Region 10, and the county that has the closest point of land to the sighting location. You will want to add your past Pelagic Zone sightings to the PZ, but they should remain on your county, region, and state lists as well.

Discussion on Inland Water Body Boundaries
Guidelines for County Listing
by Berna Lincoln
published in New York Birders, October 1999

Inland waters: DeLorme is the standard for boundaries on all enclosed water bodies, such as the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Hudson River, etc. (I know, it doesn't do a thorough job on Lakes Ontario and Erie but I think you can figure it out.) An important point to remember is that boundaries in these waters aren't always "in the middle" and you really do need to consult a map. A very good example is the south shore of Oneida Lake where Onondaga and Madison counties include the shoreline but none of the lake's waters. When I stood on that shore and saw Snow Buntings flying over the water, they were in Oswego County until they chose to land near my feet in the parking lot in Onondaga. Had they veered off before crossing the shoreline, well, no tickie in Onondaga. Which brings up that old question, sometimes still raised. The answer is: It's where the bird is, not where the observer is.
Google map showing county lines in New York State:

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