Re: BARC: when either/or seems good enough

Subject: Re: BARC: when either/or seems good enough
From: "Frank O'Connor" <>
Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 23:40:40 +0800

"Robert Inglis" <> wrote :
> .........
> Case 385 is similar in that it refers to a claimed
> sighting of a Needletail Hirundapas sp. over
> Christmas Island.
> The observation apparently was of brief duration and
> identification was made down to the possibility
> of Silver-backed Needletail (C. cochinchinensis) OR
> Brown-backed Needletail (C. giganteus).
> The Case Summary on the BARC web-site at:
> <>
> states the Verdict as: "Accepted (as either
> H. cochinchinensis or H. giganteus)" but it also says in
> the text "Nevertheless, as stated by the observer, the
> identification remains in doubt."
>'t that seem like having things both ways?
> As a sighting of either species would, once again, appear
> to be a 'first' for Australia don't we have to be a bit
> more precise?
> I accept that identifying swifts can be difficult especially
> when we are talking about those species which are seen out of
> their 'normal' range and the observer is inexperienced with
> those species. My own experience with swifts is limited to
> some but not all of the species listed in the Australian
> field guides.
> However, swifts are not the only group of birds which
> present identification problems. I would suggest that some
> of the 'sea-birds' would present a few problems for all but
> the real experts; even then great care is needed and usually
> practiced.
> However, I would venture to say that many a true pelagic
> birder would be horrified to hear other birders reporting
> that they had definitely seen a probable Slender-billed Prion
> OR a Fairy Prion off the coast of South East Queensland.
> And even more horrified to hear that that sighting brought the
> particular birder's total up to the magic 600 mark!!
> Also, what about the various species of wagtail
> increasingly reported throughout Australia?
> Do we accept that the sighting may have been this or that?
> It would appear not!
> And so it should be.

I argue with a shadow of a doubt that we do "accept that the sighting has been this or that". That is what the observer has claimed, and that is what BARC has accepted. What is the problem with the truth? As for whether you count it on your list or not, who cares? Your list is your list. You should never be "horrified" about another person's list. It is not your list, it is their's.

Let me give you my personal example.

On a tour to Christmas Island we observed a Pond Heron over four or five days. We have full frame photographs of it, and lots of notes. No one doubts that it is a pond heron. BARC accepts that it is a pond heron. However, which one? It was an immature and it could theoretically have been a Javan Pond Heron or a Chinese Pond Heron. I feel that it was almost certainly a Javan Pond Heron (Java is close by), but the Chinese Pond Heron is apparently more migratory (?), and there are records for this species on Java (so I have been told), and so it could theoretically turn up on Christmas Island.

For me it doesn't really matter greatly at this stage. I don't have a world list. I do have an Australian list and I count it on MY Australian list. A problem for me will only occur if I happen to see a second one! If this were to happen, then I would only count one, even if they may be different species.

For BARC and the official Australian list, it is also simple. The species list should not include the specific species, but any reference books should report that a Pond Heron species has been recorded on Christmas Island (a second one has been seen since). Similarly for the two swift / needletail sightings.

i.e. Simply report what is known. I know that I have seen a pond heron. BARC knows that a pond heron has been seen, but is not 100% certain of the species.

Think about the last Australasian Grebe that you saw. Are you certain that it wasn't a Little Grebe? For me it doesn't matter. I haven't identified a Little Grebe in Australia, so I am happy to record them as Australasian Grebes. To date, I haven't been URRFed on any Atlas forms that I have submitted for Australasian Grebe, so it doesn't seem to matter to the Atlas organisers either.

What will happen if / when the albatross species are split? I know I have identified some of them down to current sub species level, and so I will be able to change over to the new list. But a Wandering Albatross in Tasmania was a long way behind the boat. It would have remained on my Tassie list as a "Wandering Albatross" type species, except that on a subsequent trip I saw gibsoni

So BARC has done the right and obvious thing. And for the person who has seen the prion, they should count it on their list if they wish to, but they should probably drop it when they positively identify an individual prion species.

Life is not black and white, and we should not expect it to be. Don't impose uniformity on something that is not uniform.

Frank O'Connor           Birding WA
Phone : (08) 9386 5694 Email :

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