What is wrong with Australia’s birders’ attitude toward Rarities Committees?
To my earlier post, I got several private responses which seemed to be driven
rather by anger than anything else:
“As for the committee members, many do it for their own ego, and nothing else.”
“To be told I need to look at feather length when plumage colour varies is
“How can a group of people who weren't there say you didn't see a particular
“It seems to me that if you don't have a camera or aren't part of the 'in'
crowd, i.e. know someone on the committee then your record will almost
“This is not a good system. It only serves to encourage the who gives a shit
about the committee attitude.”
“This is also not helped by such comments as xxx's on the topic (of the magpie)
who basically said don't bother putting in a submission form for the magpie as
he will reject it.”
“Yes we need a system of checking claims, but we need one that either works or
that people have confidence in (preferably both). At the moment we do not have
such a system.”
“While the committee always treats submissions with respect that has not been
the level of conduct of some members.”
Here some of my comments in response:
> How can a group of people who weren't there say you didn't see a particular
> bird? It seems to me that if you don't have a camera or aren't part of the
> 'in' crowd, i.e. know someone on the committee then your record will almost
> certainly fail.
> This is not a good system. It only serves to encourage the who gives a shit
> about the committee attitude. This is also not helped by such comments as
> xxx's on the topic (of the magpie) who basically said don't bother putting in
> a submission form for the magpie as he will reject it.
> Yes we need a system of checking claims, but we need one that either works or
> that people have confidence in (preferably both). At the moment we do
> not have such a system.
Again I can only speak for the many committees I have experience with and the
three committees I worked for. You said "How can a group of people who weren't
there say you didn't see a particular bird?". I agree it is difficult, but of
course they can - it all depends on the quality of your report. Ideally you
submit photographs, but usually you don't necessarily need to. If you report
all the key field marks you observed, maybe draw a sketch pointing out
important observed features and explain how and why you ruled out other similar
species, your record should NOT fail! To my experience (which is an
international experience), only a small minority of records are rejected - the
idea is NOT to reject records, the idea is to make observations scientifically
valid. Typically only very bad descriptions which don't rule out other more
likely species or reports proving that the seen species is not the reported
species (e.g. an accompanying photograph clearly
shows another 'common' species) get rejected immediately (if all members
agree). All 'tricky' ones will be discussed by all members of the committee and
in many cases more experts will be asked for advice. Of course the committee
members are humans and it can happen that a member looks at a perfect picture
of a 'common species' which has been sent in as a 'rare species' and says
"Bullshit". But this rare event shouldn't discourage good birders to contribute
It is also not true that the committees ignore escapees and releases - again I
am speaking for other Rare Birds Committees, because I have no experience with
BARC. These birds just end up in another category - one for released and
escaped birds (e.g. if you saw a Flightless Cormorant [from Galapagos] in
Australia it would end up in such a category). If populations of released or
escaped birds are self-sustaining for a certain period (typically 10 years or
so) these species will enter another category - one for self-sustaining
populations of escaped or released birds (e.g. Eurasian Blackbird, ...).
I do agree that the system is not ideal. But it is the best system we were able
to come up with. BTW all members of the committees are volunteers. They spend
their personal time and money (for travelling) to do this job. I really don't
think those people are evil.
> So you are telling me to take a camera or don't bother submitting a report?
I was telling you exactly the opposite: I said that typically if you report all
the key field marks you observed you DON'T necessarily need a camera! (see
> As for the committee members, many do it for their own ego, and nothing else.
That's absolutely wrong for all the committees I know. All of us do this job
without any advantage - however, we are putting quite some time into this
volunteer work. I don't see any advantage for any kind of 'ego'. Especially
since no committee member is allowed to review his/her own record (of course!).
> To be told I need to look at feather length when plumage colour varies is
That is not ridiculous. Many field guides are misleading regarding plumage
colour. In many cases the RELATIVE length of certain feathers is an important
key (e.g. tail projection, wing projection, primary projection etc.)
And again: everybody can have his own personal list at home and no one would
bother. However, I believe that it is a pity that many not reported sightings
are lost for science. Therefore I still think it is the best to report to the
My original post:
I "give a shit what Rare Birds Committees think"! I can't speak for BARC.
However, in my "American life" I was a member of the New Jersey Rare Birds
Committee (NJBRC, the New Jersey counterpart of BARC) and in my "German life" I
was a member of the Hessen Rare Birds Committee (AKH) and the
Schleswig-Holstein Rare Birds Committee (AKSH) (two German counterparts of
BARC). The idea of Rare Birds Committees is NOT to 'kill' a tick on someone's
'list'. No, the most important job of Rare Birds Committees is to peer review
the documentation of a 'rare bird' (reports and photos, sketches, sound
recordings - or whatever you submit), to collect, publish, and archive the
records that prove that a 'rare bird' occurred. Therefore, documentation must
eliminate any other species that might be confused with the claimed rarity.
Some documentation is clear cut, such as a good photograph which shows
identification characters. Some documentation is less clear cut, and that's why
there is a large committee with a variety of specialties, opinions,
and skills to vote on the evidence. To learn about recent range expansions of
certain species it is also important to get an idea if a bird came on its own
or was released by someone.
Serious scientific journals only use data that were accepted by the responsible
Rare Birds Committee for their analysis. That's why I'd like to encourage
observers of a 'rarity' to document it, so that it can be used for scientific
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