The 2015-2016 OBRC is just getting started on rare-bird related issues. This will be my fifth year as a voting member and sixth in a row with involvement in the OBRC (I did a mediocre job as secretary during my mandatory year off). I first served as chair for the 2012-2013 period, and wanted to do my best to improve the committee to better serve the birders who take time to submit reports and materials. It was an interesting learning experience! I found that the 90% of the community didn't really seem to care, but 9% had some serious complaints, and 1% had some great ideas on what could be improved (90-9-1). Many things were changed and some were shot down on site... Overall I would say that the internal process has seen the greatest improvements, largely thanks to one person. Things will evolve over time, but for now I was hoping to write a bit about what may be the most common complaint/issue with the OBRC and how there may be no way to fix the issue.
CMFs vs OBRC - Mega rare birds and the review process.
I'm going to use my own experiences to prove that no matter what, things aren't going to go your way. A common variant on the "rejected record" complaint (now insufficient evidence) is:
"The OBRC members are all buddies, they accept their own but reject everyone else's records unless they get a photo".
I know it is a select few who feel this way, but I found my own situation interesting enough to blog about. I went through and made a tally of my "best" bird finds, not just OBRC reportable, but the rarest of the rare, and created a tally of Accepted/Non-accepted Photographed/not photographed. Here's how it shakes down:
Neotropic Cormorant x 4
Partially Accepted -
(Leach's) Storm-Petrel (not accepted to species level)
(Kamchatka) Mew Gull (only accepted as Mew Gull)
Not Accepted -
Neotropic Cormorant x 4
Not Photographed -
Kamchatka Mew Gull
Let's run the numbers:
My fully accepted rate: 54%
Fully or partially accepted rate: 69%
Rejected rate: 31%
Accepted when photographed: 86%
Accepted when not photographed (partial): 50%
Accepted when not photographed (fully): 17%
Another interesting element would be the "single observer" element, which I feel dramatically decreases the odds of having a report accepted. I do a lot of birding on my own; but my photography acts as the "proof" in many of my records. It was one of the original reasons why I started taking pictures in the first place. If I had been alone, and without a camera - I shutter to think how many of these records would have been accepted at all.
So what's the purpose of this blog post? They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, but even a 1000 word OBRC report may not be enough to save your sighting. It kinda sucks, but it's true. Looking back through the database, there are several "single observer, no photo's" type records that automatically raise suspension, based on those two facts alone. I often have two trains of thought when thinking about the issue:
For my personal records:
"Why are my photographed birds identified correctly and accepted, but my sight-only records insufficient and rejected? Does the committee think my eyes are faulty?"
then I switch to this:
"Why do we keep track of written-only reports in the first place"?
I don't want to encourage anyone from NOT writing reports. Keep on doing it! But I can't deny the value of material evidence seems much greater than a written account. If anything, the writing should be in support of material evidence. Perhaps a media-only bird records database is a topic for another time...
I hope this serves as proof that this issue is not only real, but it (now) affects everyone nearly equally during the review process. Bad records get accepted and good birds fall through the cracks. I've thought about taking my ball and going home, but that doesn't help anything. After all, it's just bird records.
Does this change your perspective at all on the review process? Anyone have similar thoughts/issues that aren't discussed here?