Print

Print


Greetings from Maryland,

We have been reading the kite/rare bird reporting discussion from afar and
would like to offer our comments as formerly more active members of the
Vermont Bird Records Committee (VBRC) and birders who have submitted a fair
number of reports for review by committees in Connecticut, New York and
Maryland, as well as Vermont.

First, state record review committees function only as keepers of 'official'
state lists, which have some scientific basis. When observers report a rare
bird that is not accepted by the committee, it does not mean that the
observer must strike the species off their personal list(s). Records
committees are not the "List Police". The ABA may stipulate that only
officially accepted species may appear on an observer's state list, but this
only applies to first records of species, any species already accepted on a
state list is "fair game" for inclusion in a list regardless of a record
commitee's opinion of a subsequent report after the first record is
accepted. Also, this only applies to reports sent to ABA, a personal list is
just that, a personal list.

Second, a record that is not accepted by a committee is not rejected - it's
a subtle difference in terminology, but an important one. Rejection implies
an omniscience not in the possession of records commitee members, and also
implies a permanence of record status that is untrue. Any record, accepted
or not accepted, is open to future review based on new evidence, they are
never closed. If a photo or more thorough description ever comes to hand,
the not accepted can be accepted; sadly, the reverse should also be an
available alternative.

Many other state committees put considerable effort into documenting why
individual records were accepted or not accepted - see the New York example
at http://www.nybirds.org/NYSARC/Reports/NYSARC2002.html. The treatment of
the Hermit X Townsend's Warbler hybrid on Long Island in Autumn 2002 is an
excellent example of the NYSARC's care in reviewing, revising initial
identification missteps, and explaining the decision-making process to the
public. At the time that we relocated to Maryland and could no longer easily
attend VBRC meetings, the committee was just beginning to move in this
direction and we hope that now there is a VBRC web site, the effort will
progress. However, birders must recognize that members are volunteers (and
also enthusiastic birders, who would rather be birding) who often do not
have the time they might like to devote to the endeavor. Improved
communication between the committee and the birding public could go a long
way to reduce birder suspicion and committee defensiveness.

As far as commentary on individual reports to VTBird goes, people should
regard them more as educational opportunities. If an observer reports a
species two or three weeks earlier than the published record supports,
without any note recognizing that fact or giving details of the sighting, it
is natural for others to query the sighting. They should be polite and
respectful in the way they ask, but there should be no anger at their
curiosity. By way of example, perhaps an original poster who said they heard
a pewee in their back yard didn't realize that starlings are adept pewee
mimics, so the early-April heard-only pewee may have actually been a
starling. Having someone offer this as a possibility adds to the birding
knowledge of everyone on the list.

It is also a problem that Spring Migration comes after Autumn Migration in
the cycle of the year. In autumn, migrants can often trail off over a matter
of several weeks, with occasional reappearances long after the migration
peak due to lingering and reversed migration. In spring, migrants originate
from the tropics and are governed by hormones that "instruct" them when to
leave and only come under the influence of the weather in North America when
they arrive on the Gulf Coast only a week or so ahead of their northern
average arrival date. Spring migrants from the tropics therefore only very
rarely exceed their normal arrival date by more than a week, due to
extraordinary circumstances such as wintering in Florida or arriving early
on the Gulf and getting encouraged northward by a strong southwesterly
frontal system.

Birding is a very pleasant and entertaining activity. E-mail lists such as
this are a testament to that. Records committees do not exist to make
birding less fun. Records committees exist to help birders contribute to the
science of bird distribution in a meaningful way.

Regards,

Nancy Martin & Walter Ellison
New England Regional Editors, North American Birds, Autumn Season

23460 Clarissa Road
Chestertown, MD 21620
phone: 410-778-9568
e-mail: [log in to unmask]

"A person who is looking for something doesn't travel very fast" - E. B.
White (in "Stuart Little")

"Are there *ever* enough birds?" - Connie Hagar as quoted by Edwin Way Teale
in "Wandering through Winter"