Re the subject of an "elite" group of birders- it depends very much on how you define the word "elite". Each of us may have a different definition(s) for that word.
Do we mean by "elite" there are a group of birders with superior birding skills? Absolutely, and I'm glad that's true. They do a good job documenting rarities, etc., so the rest of us know what is going on regarding bird species and populations in the state.
If by "elite" we mean only members of a closed group are informed of rare sightings, based on my many years involved in the Arkansas birding community I would say that does not exist. There are a number of folks who have let it be known to other active chasers that they would like to be included by e-mail/text/twittertweets/whatever when rarities are reported. And while I've not made such a request myself, I've never heard of anyone being intentionally excluded. My own definition of "elite" doesn't include a group of folks who welcome others who have expressed an interest to receive such avian news flashes.
If "elite" means a group of folks who refuse to share rare sightings with others, I don't believe it. About 1985 I going on Audubon chapter field trips. What immediately drew me in was a willingness on the part of other birders to help beginners like myself improve my birding skills. These past 32 or so years I've never gotten a feeling I was being excluded from reports of rare birds I may not have seen. I say that as someone who has served almost 30 years, and still do, in a variety of volunteer positions in both an Audubon chapter and the state society.
There are example after example of rare birds reported during those years that folks who chase birds quickly learned about, and were able to go see. I say "those who chase birds" because I'm not a chaser or a serious lister. Others find joy in that, and good for them. I'm happy to spend all my birding time observing the same species out our back windows in our woods and around our small pond observing their behaviors. Sometimes I witness something new.
Example of a rare bird report- many years ago, early 1990's maybe, a Fork-tailed Flycatcher was spotted by a carload of birders on their way back to Little Rock from Holla Bend NWR. Now, this was long before the day of smart phones, texting, etc., but somehow through the Rare Bird Hotline funded by ASCA for many years and by other means many birders from around the state and even other states made pilgrimages to see the Fork-tailed Flycatcher. As I recall, it stayed and was documented along a state highway for close to a week- hardly a secret- until a bitter cold front came through. The bird was not seen afterwards.
Im my opinion Karen Rowe of AGFC has made a solid case for why the birding community was not made aware of the two Whooping Cranes. I would add that given the immense effort and cost on the part of federal, state, local and non-governmental organizations to bring this species back from the brink of extinction justifies taking special precautions. To me the fact that local folks traveled the nearby road, probably oblivious to the cranes for the most part, is irrelevant. Had vehicles filled with birders been pulled over by the side of the road with spotter scopes set up looking at the cranes, I have no doubt some yahoo with a gun would have thought it a great idea to shoot them. That view is based on reports of other crane shootings in Louisiana, etc. Even if I was a chaser who just had to add Whooping Crane to my state or life list, I would still be glad the state and federal agencies kept their presence under wraps. To me that was the right decision, and an easy one to make even knowing some birders might get their feathers ruffled by the news embargo.
From the deep woods just west of Little Rock,