Thursday, May 24, 2012


Here's a comment left by Fred on a recent blog posting (about some potential "new" species for the provincial list) that were hard to ID... It was good enough that I thought it deserved its own post:


Do you mean it's never been seen in Ontario or
it's never been described to a record committee?

Because whatever I see or hear is my reality,
and I would not bother having it voted on by
people who I have seen make mistakes at Pelee.
(Not you personally).

And birds do pop their heads out the leaves at
Pelee for 10 seconds and are never seen again. 


I was going to reply in the comment section, but I thought I would do an entire post!

In direct reply - I can say that the article was based solely on the flawed process of the OBRC review. There is one thing to be said about "experts" - if you think you don't make mistakes when identifying birds, then well, you're mistaken. 

With that said, it really is the best option we have to document these things. There is nothing wrong (at all) with  taking the approach that "I bird for myself, and I don't care what other people think" --- but at the same time, it doesn't help anyone else either.  I can speak from personal experience that reading past OBRC reports (especially older copies from the 80's - before I was born) were of extreme interest to me, and allowed me to expand my knowledge of birds/birding/vagrants in Ontario far beyond what I would be able to know without them. I think this resource is more valuable (especially to the younger/starting birders) than most people give it credit for, since these records would start to fade away over time without the reports. 

There seems to be a fair bit of negativity regarding records committees at times, and I understand it completely. I (personally) think the best way for the OBRC to move forward and be more accepted is to openly admit that the process is flawed to a degree, that mistakes are made, good birds are voted down, bad records are accepted, etc and that the only way to improve it is to be comfortable with the "flawed process" idea..

In short, we should all try to have short term memory loss when something happens we don't approve of - deal with it - and move on. Deciding to "no longer submit" because person X said something you didn't like is very likely going to hinder someone down the road (who has no knowledge of your current "beef"). 


I was going to hold this off for a while, but I figure it can't hurt to do it multiple times. 

As chair of the 2012 voting year, I can say that this fall we are going to have an OBRC policy meeting! There will be a huge list of things to discuss. As a sample: 

-- What do we do with potential hybrid OBRC rarities (like plegadis ibis hybrids) 

-- the duties of the chair, the secretary, and potential duties to be added for voting members

-- deciding on if we need a policy to re-review records (accepted and rejected) by past years) 

Which all sounds great... But a MAJOR focus is going to be how to make the OBRC more friendly to the general birding population.. And no, I don't mean updating the online report form... I mean things like:

--- How do we get people contributing "again" - after giving up on the process years ago? 

--- How do we make the process of "rejecting" a record better for the person who submits it? (I can speak from personal experience that it !&%#*$& sucks to read the comments on a personal record that has been rejected). 

--- how do we make the OBRC voting process more open to the public? 
(as some examples)


Hopefully there will be a post about this in the future on Ontbirds --- but a GREAT way for the OBRC to become more user-friendly will be to hear DIRECTLY from birders in Ontario

PLEASE feel free to leave a comment, or email me directly ( to let the OBRC know exactly how you feel about the job we've been doing (negative responses may help more than positive ones!) 

All responses that I get will be printed and circulated at the policy meeting. Heck, even if you just want to rant about something that has happened in the past, please send it!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Has the OBRC ever considered splitting the "North" into more than one section with different and more appropriate review species? In a biogeographic sense, it seems odd to lump NW Ontario with the James Bay lowlands.

    If I were to observe Common and King Eiders, Purple Sandpiper, Red Phalarope and Smith's Longspur on a highly improbable outing in the Thunder Bay District, none of this would merit the attention of the OBRC even though each is unknown or very scarcely known in these parts.

    What about splitting the "north" into "far north" (e.g., north of the 51st parallel) and "near north"?

    Here's how far north might be mapped:

    What say you OBRC?

    1. Hey Michael,

      I agree 100% that combining Lake Superior with James&Hudson Bay isn't right. They're both of major significance on a continental scale for bird concentrations, but obviously for different reasons!

      I actually drew up a map (for fun) prior to the 2011 OBRC meeting that had Ontario split into FOUR areas... And you can only imagine the response that got ;)

      At the very least, it will be on the agenda for discussion. If you have any any further ideas/thoughts/etc on the subject - be sure to send them along! Although I make no promises, since there is a reason it is a 7 member group (and majority rules).


  3. Michael,

    The same could be said about ANY province or state. Yet I believe Ontario is the only entity in North America that has two separate reporting regions.

    Long ago this was thought out very carefully, and due to its massive size it was decided that Ontario would be divided into two reporting regions --- North and South.

    Your arguments could apply equally to any other entity. For example, Pink-footed Shearwater is abundant in California coastal waters, but it is highly accidental inland and possibly there is no inland record for California at all. But the California Records Committee would argue that they are the CALIFORNIA records committee, and as such they only deal with the status of species that occur within the state boundaries AS A WHOLE.

    Same with Ontario, we are the ONTARIO bird records committee. Yes a Common Eider in Thunder Bay District would be highly unusual, but that would be a LOCAL rarity and as such needs to be dealt with via a LOCAL committee (if one exists).

    The North/South format must remain as is, otherwise where does it end? I could argue that Pileated Woodpecker is absent in SW Ontario and thus should be reviewed by OBRC when seen at Point Pelee. Or how about a Hooded Warbler in Algonquin Provincial Park? Again these are LOCAL or REGIONAL rarities, and in the large scheme of things do not merit review by the OBRC.

    Just some input, for what it is worth.

    1. Then why have the north/south split at all? I'm not saying it necessarily should be removed, but I'm interested in the reasoning behind 2 regions, rather than 1, 3, or more. Why is a Common Eider or Smith's Longspur at Thunder Bay considered a local rarity but not a Field Sparrow or Lesser Black-backed Gull?

    2. I was actually thinking today about how two areas would (maybe) be better served having the James/Hudson Bay Lowlands as the "north" and everything else (Boreal + Great Lakes) as the south..

      Heck, I think its New York that does it by county? And also has time of year? (Eg,/ A Yellow Warbler in December is a review bird?) I think that's pretty cool...

      Although it probably opens the door for more records to be reviewed and more upset people :|

    3. You shouldn't be looking at these areas in ecological terms, but rather as "chunks of land" as part of the North American continent.

      Strip away province and state names from a map of North America, and it becomes obvious that dividing the land mass of Ontario into "North" and "South" areas makes sense --- at least it makes sense if you are trying to monitor the status and distribution of rarities across the entire continent.

    4. Reuven,

      Because Field Sparrow is rare THROUGHOUT northern Ontario.

      Because Lesser Black-backed Gull is rare THROUGHOUT northern Ontario.

      In contrast, the other two species you mention actually breed in extreme northern Ontario. In other words, they are regular within that chunk of land that we call northern Ontario.

      To tell you the truth, I would rather see a Lesser Black-backed Gull at Thunder Bay, rather than a Smith's Longspur!

  4. Michael,

    Looking at your map, I can see instantly why it would not work. For example, a Common Eider, King Eider, Purple Sandpiper, Red Phalarope or Smith's Longspur seen at Pickle Lake (inside your "Far North" region) would be just as significant as if seen in Thunder Bay, but would not qualify for OBRC review.

    Thus the observer in Pickle Lake might petition for yet more regions, ad infinitum.

  5. Michael,

    One last comment on your original post. Birders should never think solely about the OBRC when it comes to documenting sightings.

    If you see a Sage Thrasher at Marathon, obviously it should be documented. The results should be sent to OBRC.

    If you see a Common Eider in Marathon, again it should be documented. The results this time should be sent to whatever entity might be interested in such a record -- compiler of Thunder Bay District Records; Ontario editor of North American Birds; even the Ornithology Department of the Royal Ontario Musuem (where your documentation WILL be archived for future researches, just like a specimen is archived).

    The important point being ALWAYS document your significant sightings if you have an interest in having your significant sightings published at some point in time.

  6. Well, what if you don't care about having significant
    sightings published, you just want to beat Wormington's

    Anyway, excellent responses and blog.

    1. Fred,

      Then its no longer ornithology or bird study, but rather a game LOL!

    2. Speaking of games, what if you just want the Rangers to crush the Devils? (so off topic, but still... disclaimer: Rangers suck too, Devils more)

    3. Jacob,

      Those are fighting words, as you will soon find out from the boss!

    4. Fred: that shouldn't be too hard, regardless!

    5. Hey Jacob - I'm sorry we can't be friends anymore

    6. I'm on Jacobs side...and since the Rangers sucked balls tonight...go Kings!!!

  7. One thing I wonder to this day, how does one access the records. I have no idea how to make use of this resource despite contributing..

    1. Peter,

      You are not a member of OFO?

      Previous OBRC Annual Reports are available in PDF via the OFO website.

    2. Hey Peeter - here's the link to the pdf files of past published reports (by year/report):


      Although I do think that we could improve the accessibility (or ease of use) when it comes to the records. Michigan has a superb online search function:


      Although it would be great to have this for Ontario, it raises the question of "who is going to do it"? I'm speaking for myself here, but I have a hard enough time getting my own photos edited - and some of the projects we have in mind for the OBRC would be very time consuming (Alan can attest to that)

  8. A few things:

    1. Clarifying the purpose of the OBRC. Specifically, that it is NOT determining whether the committee believes you saw what you're claiming too, but whether there is enough proof that that is what you saw.

    2. Some sort of user-friendly way to access past records. Merging the past OBRC reports into one document and giving each species a web page would be one possibility. The past annual reports are difficult to find on the website, with no obvious link from the menu, and at the very least making these easier to find would help, as I'm sure many don't know they exist there.

    3. A list of existing local reporting areas and contact info does not, as far as I know, exist anywhere.

    1. Hey Reuven

      Point #1 is something I was really hoping to improve on. The "purpose" is listed at the start of each annual report, but I too feel like the message is totally lost on the vast majority of Ontario's birders. Although now I'm going to have to figure out how to "get the word out" on that one...

      #2 - I did a quick reply about that to Peeter above... In short, I agree as well

      #3 - once again, I agree. There has been some discussion at the last two OBRC meetings about how we can better use the local editors/compilers for a region, the compilers for North American Birds, or eBird for many rarities that do not fall into the OBRC reporting guidelines.

      I remember a list appearing somewhere about who the "local" compilers are, but like you, I have no idea where it is (and couldn't find it on a quick search)!

      If you or anyone has any ideas on good ways to make some of these points a reality, don't hesitate to email them ;) ! And many thanks for all the comments/ideas!


    2. Reuven,

      #3 -- Contact information for all local compilers across Ontario has been posted several times to OntBirds. Here is the latest one announcing the end of the Winter Season:

      At the end of the Spring Season (May 31) I will be making another post to OntBirds that will again include a list of all local compilers in Ontario.

    3. Thanks, I remember seeing that now.

    4. Alan/Reuven - looks like we will have to get that info online (ofo website?) to make it easier to find when need be!

  9. What proof. You look at a bird for 10 seconds, and it's
    gone forever. Even if you write down every detail, there's
    no proof.

    Someone could take a scientific description from a book, put
    it in their own words, and send it in. There are millions
    of liars in the world, and cognitive illusion is a normal
    state of affairs.

    Best of luck.

    1. Fred,

      Specimens can be faked as well, thus I don't see your point. If data can not be trusted, then we better throw into the garbage all regional bird books that have been published over the decades.

      It is not a game unless someone wants to make it a game. Rather it is a SYSTEM where birders can have their significant sightings published and permanently archived for the benefit of future researches. It has nothing to do with listing.

    2. Hey Fred -- I think that just goes along with the assumption that it is an imperfect system, but if we want to make it better for ourselves (and others, including those in the future) - then we'll have to do the best we can with the information we receive. (We'll just keep our fingers crossed that people are going to be honest!)


  10. Here's a comment with a different slat.

    Personally when I submit documentation to the OBRC, I do it not for the OBRC but rather for MYSELF!

    After making a significant observation, I want to ensure that my sighting is "accepted" and then made available to whoever might be interested in it in the future.

    Having a rarity simply "ticked off" on a checklist serves no one, except the person making the sighting.

    But that person will be dead in 100 years, and the sighting will likewise be dust if it has not been submitted and properly archived.

    1. It's starting to look like it might be fun to do a list of "reasons to document with the OBRC"

      --- listing

      --- preservation of your observations

      --- providing information for future study (personal and scientific)

      --- ?

    2. These could be the reasons LOL:

    3. haha... See?! Even I didn't know that was there....

    4. Although I will admit, that list doesn't sound very friendly...

  11. Just out of curiosity...where does Ebird fit into this? With more and more people adding their sightings to Ebird and one of the key places researchers now go for population datas for example, on what legs does the "not valid in 100 years" claim go for the undocumented rarity sighting?

    1. While I'm not involved with the inner workings of ebird at all, (for further reading see: Burrell, Mike) - I know that ebird currently awaits OBRC decision for all review species before officially adding them to the "ebird database" - that is viewed to the public..

      So if I entered a Lesser Frigatebird into my ebird account, it shows in my personal account and list totals etc --- but does not get entered into the grand database until the OBRC reviews the record. If it is accepted by the OBRC - it goes into ebird... If it doesn't, then it just stays on your personal list alone...

      I'm sure we'll reach a problem someday where someone has photos of a Lesser Frigatebird, enters it into ebird, and never sends anything to the OBRC... Hopefully it doesn't happen - so I guess we'll just have to wait and see how that would play out...

    2. I should have added that I think it is a really great thing that ebird is doing here in Ontario!