Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New OBRC question

A bit of a "less popular" topic about the ORBC ---- is there a problem with the continued trend of getting photographs, but no supporting details... The goal is documentation of the occurrence, not just trying to decide if the correct ID was made.....

This post (below) was put on the record committee listserv a while ago, and I really liked the idea:

(the bold/underline was done by me)


This won’t help Martin’s situation in NV since the GA Checklist & Records Committee does have a governing organization (the GOS). But, we had a similar problem in GA with a decline in rare bird report submissions in the early – mid 2000’s, coinciding with the wide adoption & availability of digital photography equipment and the proliferation of Internet photo-sharing sites. Birders just did not see the value of going through the process of “officially” documenting their sightings when the photos are readily available for a much wider audience to review.

The Editorial Committee of _The Oriole_, the GOS’ scientific journal, established a policy in the latter part of the decade that a review species would not be included in the popular seasonal summary feature (entitled “From the Field” or FTF) unless a rare bird report was submitted to the GCRC…the report was not required to have proceeded through the review process, it just had to be submitted (FTF is written many months prior to a report being circulated). This policy helped reverse the decline in GCRC rare bird report submissions.

When an observer submits a report, a tracking number is assigned, along with a cc: email to the FTF editor (as well as our state eBird reviewer) for their awareness. A publicly-viewable web page is also updated with the tracking number & sighting information. The review species sighting then generally qualifies for inclusion in the FTF accompanied with the tracking number, so that an interested reader can follow-up to see whether the record was accepted or not.

The resulting number of GCRC submissions/year doubled after the policy was enacted. Our FTF editor still has to track down some reports every season, but we log the review species that we hear about (mostly via the state listserve and increasingly via eBird) on a web page (also publicly viewable) as soon as we get a few crucial details (makes tracking the sighting a little easier for the FTF editor).

Take care.

Jim Flynn
Forsyth Co., GA


So what do you think? No more including a record in the annual report unless it is accompanied by some form of written documentation? 

Good idea? Bad idea? Any other ideas to try and improve the quality of submissions to the OBRC?


  1. I just want to know who saw or heard the Blackpoll and the Connecticut today, August 7.
    That's all, just give me their name.

  2. Fred,
    Sean Jenniskens who lives near Watford east of Sarnia.
    I think he is 16, but very keen. I don't doubt it tooo much! Connecticut rather early though.


  3. Brandon,
    If I follow you right, a stand-alone photo sent to the OBRC without any written documentation whatsoever would not be included in the final report (record?) at all.
    It would certainly reduce the number of accepted records.
    Some people just cannot be bothered to write a report (or are just lazy!), so I don't know what the incentive is to get people to take a bit of time to write up a report. Others simply don't care about this stuff!
    Of course, some that do, as we have seen, give virtually no description of the bird which renders the report unacceptable even though we probably know the bird is valid.
    I guess it is a matter of opinion.
    A photo submitted without written documentation leaves the OBRC to determine the dates of occurrence, and details of the bird through various sources which creates more work.
    Maybe the idea would be good and that might encourage some people to take a little time to write in some details.

    1. Hey Blake,

      If I've understood it correctly, (and maybe not) - but they'll accept a record with just a photo and add it to the archive... But they won't make any note of it in the final report(?) ... Not sure if they have a different policy than the OBRC when it comes to how the publish their records and what "validates them" - but maybe we too would see an increase in useful written documentation?

      Sort of stirs the question - are we just trying to say "yes, this was a Little Blue Heron" - (eg,/ via photo only) - or is our goal to fully document these occurrences? We could almost make the case that a photo alone isn’t a high enough level of documentation to be accepted by the OBRC???

  4. Perhaps it would be helpful if there was a template which described a "good" report. I would guess that many people think that a photo is BETTER than a report; especially if they are not comfortable trying to describe in scientific terms the various features they observed. What feedback is offered in response to a submission? Does everyone who made a submission get a response? As was aptly described in the quote....people are now able to obtain some excellent and detailed feedback from various forums (and thereby learn from the process of submission). What does an OBRC record submission offer in return? I would guess that most people don't submit them to be published in a report. Perhaps it's time for the submission process to go digital, and include the details of the review. The process will still suffer from the associated timeline versus instant validation in informal circles. But the advantage might be a more detailed understanding than some might typically obtain. Then it's a win win...with more educated and experienced eyes developed, and better records obtained.

    1. Hey Peeter, It's funny that you bring this topic up, as there have been attempts in the past to promote/educate that a "good" report involves... Including pamphlets, sections on the ofo website (a “How to”), and even the online report form (http://www.ofo.ca/obrc/reportform.php) ---- which I might add, is pretty bad…….
      But for some reason, they really haven’t been able to “stick” very well… I’m not sure if it’s because they aren’t user friendly, or an easy read? Or just not publicized often enough… But many don’t seem to use them.. I know that personally I used Peter Burkes guide a LOT when I first started writing reports (http://www.ofo.ca/obrc/guidelines.php#short) ..

      As far as a “response” goes – I know that anyone whose record is not accepted gets a written response from the Chairperson that year, along with the member’s comments about the record… Unfortunately when you vote on 150+ records a year, the members comments are often less than personal or considerate and it often seems to get people upset with the whole process when they receive them.

      I also think that new areas of feedback would improve the process… I know that New Yorks annual report has a HUGE amount of detail involving every record submitted (http://nybirds.org/NYSARC/Reports/NYSARC2010.html - example) --- and I think it’s fantastic… But then there is also the problem of time… The OBRC has a hard enough time writing the final report as it stands now --- never mind trying to get someone to actually spend the time doing that extra writing!

      So what do you think? Would New Yorks methods work well for us??? I also toyed around with the idea of the OBRC starting a blog --- where we could post all manner of things OBRC related on an irregular schedule --- but would be an easy way to get feedback from the Ontario birding community…. But I think I’ve already written enough here for now!


  5. You can BS a written record, but a photo gets ripped to shreds in 24 hours or less.

    The general birding public isn't
    familiar with minute features and can't write a report.
    The guys with a lot of experience are IDing by "jizz" in
    2 seconds. They don't necessarily break it down unless they
    have a photographic memory.

    As for fall Connecticuts and Blackpolls on August 7 without
    a photo, you don't do your rep any good. The guys birding for 30-40 years won't buy it.

    1. Hey Fred,

      I don't think we'll stand much hope of dealing with sabotage attempts with written reports OR photos, and are just sort of crossing our fingers when it comes to honesty...
      It’s also funny that you mention the “2 second ID” on impression, which is often correct… However I think the OBRC needs to decide if we are just trying to tell if an ID is correct (or not) ---- and if we are looking for a higher level of documentation to be put on file at the ROM --- regardless of “ID is correct or not”……
      I can say from a personal story that my “Pink-sided Junco” from Pelee this spring isn’t sitting well with me. ( http://www.blog.peregrineprints.com/2012/03/first-obrc-report-of-year.html ) I have no doubts about the ID from a personal stand point, but I wasn’t able to get any photos of the bird. I completed a detailed sketch and written report, and submitted it… But at the same time, I have to ask myself --- should this difficult to ID subspecies be “acceptable” to the OBRC without photos? I mean, really… Juncos are a huge pain, and can look really odd sometimes…

      Anyways… Just some rambling from me.. It’s not like there are any hard set answers to these OBRC-related questions, but it’s great to get some response from a wider audience!! (And they will be very useful when the OBRC has a policy meeting later this fall)


  6. I find more people these days who actually seek out rare birds care less about population trends and accepted records by the OBRC then about fluffing out their year/life lists. Or in the case of some photographers, getting a picture of a bird that they would otherwise have to travel to Florida/New Jersey to see. Not that there`s anything wrong with that, but most new birders aren`t into the science I find, they`re into the race. At least that`s what I find when I go out to see rare birds. No one else seems to care about the numbers of the other birds around the rare bird, they all seem upset when they see a flock of MODOs around a rare Dove or a couple of chickadees around a Titmouse. In a report you would discuss how you eliminated those commoner species. Just my observations though. No doubt there are people out there who do care.

    1. That is an interesting observation.... Maybe we need to show people that there is still benefit to the OBRC besides science (even if that is the main goal, it wouldn't hurt to appeal to a wider audience)...

      I know when I first started birding, reading old OBRC reports was extremely exciting, and dramatically increased my learning curve when it came to “rarities” in Ontario!

  7. Brandon,
    I had some difficulty in following what Jim Flynn was trying to say, but maybe your assumption is correct. Whatever they did, must have worked.
    I didn't have much of a problem voting on just a photo, but I remember a couple of cases where details would have been more helpful. In one case I rejected it because of lack of details! (i.e. ticked me off!)
    We need more user-friendly forms for documentation. I hate online stuff, and although I haven't looked at the OBRC online form recently...I didn't like it. There was talk of revamping it, but perhaps that is yet another thing that fell be the wayside.
    Some just don't seem to have the ability to write up a detailed report, so we have to just accept that fact.
    There may be no one good answer, but I think some different approach is needed.

    1. I think the OBRC online form is still the same as it was (bad) --- and yes, there was some talk about re-doing it, but it hasn't happened! (Yet!)

      Hopefully getting input from a wide audience will continue to churn up some more great ideas, and we'll see what the final result is!