birding-aus a birder's responsibility

Subject: birding-aus a birder's responsibility
From: Rod Gardner <>
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 1999 11:10:00 +1000
A birder's responsibility to report birds

As one of the 'culprits' who has been guilty of adding to the flood of
reports of seabirds of the NSW coast, both recently and previously, I'd
like to add something from the point of view of an observer rather than a
receiver of records. (I realise that Tony and David have submitted their
share of records, but they've written their recent messages from the record
receiver's perspective.)

First, there are currently no guidelines in Australia that I am aware of
for what makes a good report. I have had a look at the BARC webpage, which
is excellent, and see that there is an as yet unfinished page that will
provide those guidelines, which is great. An alternative is to study some
of the amazingly detailed reports that are published in, for example,
British Birds.

There remains, though, a problem when it comes to seabirds. There is rarely
the opportunity, from land or from a boat (unless the bird is captured), to
write the kind of feather by feather description that one finds, for
example, for some of the waders that can be studied through a telescope at
a few metres for sometimes hours on end. When it comes to seabirds, either
they flash past the rocking boat, or you're trying to stand steady as a
bird weaves in and out of the waves. From land the main problem is
distance. It is rare indeed to see a seabird close to shore, and even
though there is solid land beneath your feet, the best birds tend to come
in howling winds, high seas, with salt spray everywhere.

The next point, then, is about how you can be sure that you've seen what
you think it is. That brings in the 'local patch' phenomenon, whether it be
the garden, the local park, or the local cliffs. If you visit an area often
enough you get a feel for the birds, and a glimpse is often good enough to
be sure of what you've seen (the old 'jizz' phenomenon), but there's no way
you could write up a satisfactory report on it. This is just as true for
seabirds, although they do provide, I think, one of the biggest ID
challenges not only in Australia, but anywhere. However, spend (literally)
hundreds of hours looking at them, and you sense it when something is
unusual. It's usually only partly the plumage; more important is flight,
structure, and a general feel for the birds.

Finally, and a bit defensively, I have to say that I only make public (on
birdline, birding-aus) birds I'm 100% sure of (well, maybe the odd 99%er
gets through). I've seen birds such as Grey Ternlet or Streaked Shearwater
that I haven't reported simply because I was only 95% sure.

This is not, though, a plea not to submit detailed records. I've been tardy
in the past, but they've always got there, and as far as I know never been
accepted! But at least _I'm_ sure of them.

Rod Gardner

To unsubscribe from this list, please send a message to

Include ONLY "unsubscribe birding-aus" in the message body (without the

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU