RE: birding-aus Records Appraisal

To: "'P.J. Milburn'" <>, "'Birding-aus'" <>
Subject: RE: birding-aus Records Appraisal
From: "Geering, Andrew" <>
Date: Thu, 22 Jul 1999 09:38:01 +1000
I must say I agree with many of Peter Milburn's sentiments.  It is
interesting to know that we get the odd Franklin's Gull in Australia, but
what value are these records, other than adding to someone's list?  I don't
think this record adds much to our understanding of the biology of the bird,
other than knowing that sometimes they read their compass wrong!  The record
probably does not indicate that the species is colonising Australia, nor
does it make a statement about its conservation status.  We shouldn't
generalise, as many rare sightings are of genuine scientific importance, but
a lot of sightings of rare birds are also inconsequential.

Regards, Andrew Geering  

> -----Original Message-----
> From: P.J. Milburn [SMTP:
> Sent: Wednesday, 21 July 1999 19:29
> To:   
> Subject:      birding-aus Records Appraisal
> I am afraid I have to wade into this mire.  Even though it is probably a
> subject best avoided because people often have very strong feelings in
> this
> area.
> I  don't see why anyone should be compelled to submit Rare Bird reports
> unless they really want to.  In exactly the same way people should not be
> compelled to report bird sightings on Birding_Aus unless they want to.
> The
> latter method of reporting seems to be much more popular than the former.
> One might ask why?
> Firstly, Birding_Aus provides its subscribers with a simple and quick way
> of keeping up to date with events.  Posting observations of sea watches
> may
> be dodgy information in some circles but to others it is exciting enough
> to
> dash out of work with telescope in hand.  Perhaps the difference between
> seeing a new species or finding out about it when it is too late.  Hence
> there is a reciprocal ultruism that develops rapidly.   If the results of
> the seabird trip at the end of June from Wollongong had not been
> publicised
> then dozens of people would have missed out on the fun of going to sea in
> recent weeks.  The same applies to the reports of sightings from Sydney's
> Headlands.  Similar examples are numerous.  For the most part this type of
> reporting satisfies the immediate needs of people who enjoy going birding.
> Secondly, posting to Birding-Aus is relatively quick and painless where as
> writing detailed descriptions of a bird sighting is time-consuming and
> boring by comparison.  For the most part people who do not believe
> postings
> to Birding_Aus are polite enough not to publicly denegrate the reporter
> (perhaps in private but thats OK) where as public rejection of formal
> records may be embarassing.
> I have been a county recorder in the USA and assiduously submitted record
> for years but now I am completely cynical about the whole process.
> The cycnicism arises from statements such as this:
> "if we are happy to broadcast our observation, then we should also take
> the
> trouble to provide a written description for others to determine if that
> is
> what was seen! "
> Small wonder people don't place submitting records at the top of their
> list
> of things to do today!  To me this implies that there are those whose
> remote but infinite wisdom supercedes the credibility of those who
> actually
> made the observation of the bird.  Surely the philosohpy should be only to
> determine how reliable the record is.  To compund matters one all to
> frequently receives a letter informing one that the identity of the bird
> in
> question was not established, i.e. that the observer is a hopless joke who
> should find another pastime.
> It would be very easy to write a perfect description and even supply
> photos
> in order to have a record accepted by an appraisal process.  This does not
> establish the record beyond doubt.  Also, in my experience one has to
> reject records that are real because the report is inadequate and one has
> to maintain standards.  Therefore, how does this whole time-consuming
> process purport to establish any sort of reliable data base?  It simply
> doesn't, it is really just a sub-discipline of the hobby of birdwatching
> for those with a taste for it.
> My feeling in this area is that all records should be accepted gracfully
> such that the contributor feels that the efforts of submitting the record
> have been of value AND encouraged to do so again.  The record itself is
> then appended with a reliabilty score (determined by assesment committee)
> in a data base for research purposes.  The reliability score would be open
> to review subject to subsequent patterns of occurence etc.  The contibutor
> does not then have to face rejection of a report which should have been
> accepted in their view.  After this happens a few times most people don't
> bother any more!!!!  The result is that the overall utility of the whole
> process decreases enormously because most people don't bother to report
> things any more.
> Why have there been no submissions of Bulwer's Petrel reports from NSW
> waters?  I think the answer is rather obvious.  In the absence of
> excellent
> photographs there is no chance that these records would be accepted under
> the current regime.  I actually have taken excellent photographs of
> Bulwer's Petrel but not of the particular bird that I observed off
> Wollongong.  Absolutely nobody believed that record at the time, with the
> exception of Carl Loves who also saw the bird (Record reliability score =
> ABSOLUTE ZERO- observer should be locked up).  Indeed, there were some
> rather uncharitable comments made...... (I probably deserve them but not
> in
> this specific case).  Subsequently, however, Bulwer's Petrel were reported
> from both Sydney and Portland (individual Record Reliability Score 0.2,
> review reliability of previous record) and, indeed, brief views of
> additional individuals were made from Wollongong but these were not
> reported on Birding-Aus because they were not 100% certain (review
> reliability of series of records form different observers).  One or two
> people actually came around to thinking that perhaps there was an unusual
> passage of Bulwer's Petrel down the East Coast of Australia that
> spring!!!!
> This will never be "officially recorded" if the system cannot be made to
> be
> more flexible.  Until this happens I don't see the point of wasting both
> my
> time and that of a committee of busy people!  Presumably the individuals
> who made the observations from Sydney were of the same opinion.
> Some species are only considered to be major rarities in NSW simply
> because
> the system never accepts any records of them, e.g. Kerguelen Petrel!!!!!!
> Beyond all this I don't really see that it matters how many times a
> species, e.g. Blue Petrel, has been recorded in New South Wales.  New
> South
> Wales is just a political concept after all and hardly relates to  Blue
> Petrel biology.  It seems to me that every so often a few turn up and it
> is
> a bit of fun to go out and see them so actually arguing over which ones
> are
> "countable" is irrelevant. Did anyone seriously disbelieve that there are
> numbers of Blue Petrels in NSW waters this year until one had the
> misfortune to wash ashore?
> Surely it is far more important to spend our time studying and documenting
> birds which actually occur in NSW under normal circumstances rather than
> indulging in the intellectual charade of trying to have reports of rare
> birds accepted.  I would love to have the time to write up reports for
> every "rare" bird sighting that I make but instead I fill out atlas sheets
> or enter transect surveys into a data base or complete banding data
> requirements for ABBBS.  I would have to submit over 30 NSW rarities
> reports of seabirds since the end of June alone!!!!!
> AND YES I probably could have written at least one in the time it took me
> write this!
> I don't mean to offend anyone, it is just my point view at the moment
> which
> may swing back to enthusiastic Rare Bird Report submission in the future.
> I feel that rarities are just a bit of fun amidst far more important
> recording activities such as the Regent Honeyeater, Swift Parrot and Atlas
> Projects.
> cheers
> Milburn
> Dr.Peter Milburn
> Biomolecular Resource Facility
> The Australian National University
> GPO Box 334 Canberra ACT 0200  AUSTRALIA
> Phone No.  <61> <2> 6249 4326
> Fax No.    <61> <2> 6249 4326
> E-mail Address  
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