Reporting rarities

Subject: Reporting rarities
From: "Frank O'Connor" <>
Date: Tue, 04 Jul 2006 17:45:33 +0800

It is very frustrating when you see a rare bird and it is not accepted. I have experienced this with Spinifexbird and Forest Kingfisher in the north east Kimberley of WA, and a few others such as Grey-faced Buzzard on Boigu Island. The important thing is that you report them. The record is still there, even if it is not accepted. A record that is not accepted, is usually because not enough information has been provided, and only very seldom because the experts think that you got it wrong.

However, as the Sightings Officer for Birds Australia WA, I regularly see the other side. Reports such as Pheasant-tailed Jacanas (lots of them!!) at Karratha turned out to be Banded Lapwings. Long-billed Dowitcher near Bunbury was probably a Bar-tailed Godwit. The number of SW trip reports that list Little Crow, Kelp Gull, etc. The key is always the lack of a description. For instance, the Long-billed Dowitcher was compared to a Common Greenshank, with no mention of Asian Dowitcher or even a godwit.

Some reports are almost certainly correct. e.g. a report of a Barn Swallow at the Eyre Bird Observatory. The overseas observer said they were certain because they know this bird from Europe where they live. But no mention of the variations that can occur with Welcome Swallow, and no written description of the bird.

A key is often whether the observer knows at the time that the bird is a rarity at the location. Hence my comments above about various species regularly reported by overseas and some eastern states birders in the south west. I have completed Atlas records for Brush Bronzewing at Kalbarri and White-browed Scrubwren at Yalgoo. I certainly did not think that they were out of range at the time, and so I took no notes. When I received the Atlas URRF (query) a year or more later, I could not give any information about the sightings. I remember the bronzewing flushing from the low heath as I was looking for Rufous (Western) Fieldwren, and immediately thinking Brush without even putting my binoculars on the bird. This is unusual as I normally always assume a bronzewing is a Common. I couldn't even remember the scrubwren and whether I saw it or put it down based on call (something I rarely do for this species as Inland Thornbill can often sound similar).

As Alan Morris says, a photograph helps enormously. An Olive-backed Oriole at the Eyre Bird Observatory probably would have been accepted anyway, but 20 seconds of video puts it way beyond doubt. A White-fronted Honeyeater at Cape Leeuwin this year would have been hard to believe, but the photograph was conclusive. A Wandering Albatross just south of Perth could easily have been written off as a gannet (this mistake is fairly often made), but a series of point blank photos is conclusive.

But sometimes, it does come down to the reputation and experience of the observer. There was no photo of the Night Parrots last year in the Pilbara, but there was enough of a description, and the observers involved were well known enough for the record to be easily accepted. The observers certainly knew the significance of their sighting!!

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

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