Rare Bird Alerts

To: Russell Woodford <>
Subject: Rare Bird Alerts
From: David Stowe <>
Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2010 08:33:27 +1000
Russell - All good points that i think are the main reason why i personally wouldn't pay for the service. Chances are there may only be one decent rarity per month and even more likelihood of it being too far away for me to be able to get to due to the time/work/family/ budget contraints. I do appreciate the time and effort it sounds like Simon is going to, to make sure its "real" etc. I also agree that its great to communicate with other birders - I also phoned Steve Elsom as we were literally driving past the area by fluke when the BBsandpiper was reported and found him to be a great and helpful birder. I agree with Frank though that none of that would probably have changed the outcome. I think Martyn's system sounds like a great one where you pay per sighting almost rather than per month.

Simon - please don't take this as just trying to be negative towards your system - just wanting to give feedback from one persons perspective. Whilst not a new discussion it is certainly one i find interesting.

David Stowe

On 26/07/2010, at 11:15 PM, Russell Woodford wrote:

Hi everyone

This is an interesting issue, and probably a frustrating one for a lot of people. In the "information age" we are used to getting the information we want immediately, so it is understandable that people expect this sort of service from rare bird alerts. And sometimes they will get it - whether it's from email, SMS, recorded message service, pager, Google Wave, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The potential for getting information out to a wide audience is better than it has ever been, and is likely to improve with every new technological development.

The skill level of the average birder is probably better now than it has ever been - not the "elite" birder, of course, but common garden variety birder now has access to better field guides, online image banks like ABID, online calls like those at Birds Australia and the ABC, and all the communication tools mentioned above. More people have better optics and high-end digital cameras, and this "average birder" probably takes multiple shots in the field to fine tune ID later.

So we should have a flawless, reliable rare bird alert system? No! That's where technology won't make that much difference. OK, there are possibly more birders than ever before, looking for birds in better- documented places. But apart from the increased number of birders in the field, that doesn't make it much more likely that an unusual bird will (a) be seen (b) correctly identified and (c) notified to birders all over the country - particularly in a country the size of Australia. Consider the numbers - 1,000 birders scouring the coastline of Australia doesn't really improve the hit rate over 200 or 300 doing the same thing. It might mean we hear about a handful of rarities where once only one or two were reported. That's where the rare bird alert breaks down - we still don't have enough birders with the requisite skills covering enough the suitable habitat enough of the time. The trickle of rarities coming through is nice, and will always be nice, but until technology gives us a way of DISCOVERING these rarities then it won't matter how good the alert system is: the chain breaks down at the thinnest end, people seeing and identifying a rarity.

We can expect things to improve little by little as more of these common garden variety birders adopt the communications tools available. 10 years ago, there were plenty of birders who didn't carry a mobile phone. Now there are very few. 10 years ago almost none had email access away from home - now many do. In ten years time I'd guess that almost every birder will be online no matter where they are. This will help the get the rare bird messages out quicker - whichever method they use - but I can't see it will make much difference in finding the rare and unusual bird in the first place. We might have to wait a further 10 years for THAT sort of technology!!

Russell Woodford
Birding-Aus List Owner

Geelong   Victoria   Australia


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