birding-aus documenting rarities

Subject: birding-aus documenting rarities
From: "Peter Menkhorst"<>
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 1999 09:40:21 +1000
I too hesitate to enter this debate but feel compelled to present a case
from the point of view of a 'user' [rather than simply a receiver] of such

>From reading the various responses to Alan Morris' original posting I have
concluded that there are two basic groups of birders
 - those who view birding purely as a recreational activity, and who are
content with their own judgement of the validity of their identification
- those who also recognise and value the potential contribution that their
recreational birding can make to our understanding of the ecological
requirements and conservation status of species.

Those in the first category understandably find the documentation required
by rarities committees, bird report compilers or State database managers to
be an unjustified chore, and are not inclined to contribute. Those in the
second usually acknowledge the need for a level of scrutiny of their
identification decisions if they are to be used as evidence in landuse
decisions etc. Thus, they are more prepared to go to some trouble to ensure
that their information can be put to best use.

This need is neatly captured by the current issue of the proposal to use
ironbark trees from Goonoo State Forest to produce charcoal, and the claims
that this will adversely affect various species eg Regent Honeyeater.
During the debate about this proposal somebody, probably from the State
Govt wildlife agency, will have to provide senior bureaucrats or Ministers
with an assessment of the validity of the claim that Regent Honeyeaters
will be adversely affected. Part of this will involve assessing whether or
not there are reliable records of Regent Honeyeaters from the area.  If a
record has already been documented in some detail, and assessed by a
reputable body such as BARC or the NSW Field Ornithologists Club, or
accepted into the BA Atlas, then it immediately carries more weight than if
it is just a second hand unpublished report that 'Joe Bloggs claims to have
seen one '. You would be amazed at the number of reports of 'Regent
Honeyeaters' that turn out to be New Hollands.

Therefore, I submit that the Alan Morris's of this world, and the observers
who go to the trouble of carefully documenting their interesting sightings,
make a very significant contribution to the efforts to conserve our fauna.
I for one would be far less effective in my role without their efforts.

Regarding the value of documenting sightings of 'vagrants', let me simply
say that it is impossible to know whether a species is a vagrant or not
without a long series of documented records. In ornithology, vagrant means
occurring rarely and irregularly, ie without a pattern. The only way to
gain an understanding of patterns of occurrence is to document all records.
You may ask who cares whether Bulwers Petrels are vagrants or regular
visitors in very small numbers? One answer is that State and Federal
wildlife laws care. If a species can be shown to be  a regular visitor to
Aust or its waters then it is treated legally as part of the Aust fauna,
and regulations and $ can then be brought to bear to help conserve it eg
International Agreements, regulations limiting long-line fishing,
threatened species recovery efforts etc.

Therefore, I suggest that if you really care about the future of our fauna
you should try to ensure that your important sightings are recorded for
posterity in an authoritative publication or database. [and with the utmost
respect for the excellent Birding-Aus archive, I don't include an email
chat line in that category because the long-term security of the archive is
probably doubtful]. Unfortunately, for species which are difficult to
identify in the field, this can involve a bit of work, and sometimes pain,
if the 'experts' feel you haven't quite clinched the identification.

Peter Menkhorst
Flora and Fauna Program
Dept of Natural Resources and Environment

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