I don't think anyone is suggesting the committee members are "evil". They
are all widely respected birders and/or twitchers and as I understand it
mostly with appropriate scientific qualifications. I also understand the
rationale of being very cautious in accepting records.
But, whether or not it's true, there is clearly a perception that BARC is a
bit of a club and that you shouldn't bother submitting interesting sightings
unless you have irrefutable evidence of them (not just your own sighting,
but photos, measurements, videos, DNA samples and so on) or you're a member
of the club. That's quite understandable of course. I think people also need
to inject a sense of reality into things and realise that it's appropriate
for BARC members to treat a report from someone they know for a fact to be
excellent at identifying birds in the field as more authoritative than a
report from an unknown.
However, reading the reports there does seem to be a bit of a skew towards
trying as hard as possible to rule sightings out. It seems that there is an
attitude of "we're 99% sure but can't rule out x" so we're not allowing it.
I have no idea, but maybe a few more "false positives" in areas of
uncertainty and where it's not a "first sighting" would be of more
scientific value than the current system which seems to:
(a) tend towards excluding records (possibly incorrectly); and
(b) discourage people from reporting.
Also, there is an impression that even detailed field notes and observations
often don't seem to cut it. I know that if I ever come across a possible
American Golden Plover I'm just going to shoot the thing and submit the
On 17/12/2007, Nikolas Haass <> wrote:
> What is wrong with Australia's birders' attitude toward Rarities
> 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
> "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 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."
> "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
> > 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
> > 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
> 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 to science.
> 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
> 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 e-mail above)
> > As for the committee members, many do it for their own ego, and nothing
> 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 ridiculous.
> 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
> 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 appropriate committee.
> 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 studies.
> Nikolas Haass
> Sydney, NSW
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