I followed the discussion on BARC while in Brisbane recently, and wish to
add my perspective.
I am a birding/natural history guide of some 25 year¹s experience. Most of
my clients are Americans, many very experienced birders. For some decades I
also worked as a biological consultant carrying out avifaunal (and other)
surveys across the Top End and in the NW of WA. I led teams researching
Gouldian Finch and their habitat across central and southern Top End.
I¹m also the author or co-author of a number of bird books (more about this
in a later email), and I lecture on birds for the University of NSW study
Yet a few years ago, my sightings of birds I know well but were out of
normal range, were rejected by the local Atlassing committee. One, a
Silver-backed Butcherbird, I spotted at Daly Waters in the Wet Season. I
must admit, I was rather taken aback.
On a recent trip down the Tablelands Highway, I saw flocks of Little Curlew,
and Fork-tailed Swift, and noted Pictorella Mannikins and a Golden-backed
Honeyeater. But given this past experience, and others I won¹t go into
here, there is little incentive for me to submit any sort of official
record. After all, if an authority believes I can¹t recognise a common bird
such as Silver-backed Butcherbird, why should I waste my time?
I would prefer to stick with my birding clients, who seem happy with my
efforts, help my semi-traditional Aboriginal relatives preserve their
occupancy of outstations in Arnhem Land, and try to do something about the
spread of Gamba grass, a transformer species, that has the potential to wipe
out more avifauna than you could shake a stick at.
Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
1/7 Songlark Street
BAKEWELL NT 0832
Ph. 61 08 89 328306
Entrant in Women Entrepreneurs:
18 Inspiring Stories of Small Business Success.
A publication by the Australian Government¹s Office
for Women and Small Business.
on 18/12/07 6:55 AM, Keith Weekes at wrote:
> 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.
> (eg http://users.bigpond.net.au/palliser/barc/SUMM459.htm)
> 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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