Date: 1/11/18 5:50 pm From: Jon King <jonking271...> Subject: Re: Documenting unusual records in eBird
Henry's point brings to mind a similar conversation on the value of bird records committees. This conversation can be found on the blog of the *American Birding Association*. One of the points made (by Steve Howell I think) was that when doing research it is helpful to have records pre-evaluated. He is the one of the authors of *Rare Birds of North America* (Princeton University Press, 2014), and in doing research on patterns of vagrancy, they relied extensively on the work of state and provincial records committees. Otherwise the time required to do their project would have been prohibitive. Time constraints are a reality for many projects.
If the documentation supporting a record does not pass with eBird reviewers, it's unlikely to pass in most scientific analyses either, even if the scientists themselves were willing to sort through all of it. If anything review by locals (i.e. the Kansas review team) is the most lenient method. We at least know many of the local birders and if a description is severely lacking (happens a lot), we can sometimes take into account that observer's record of past successes provided the identification is not too terribly difficult. Review of eBird records by outsiders would be very objective as the person performing it would look solely at the documentation provided. In other words a persons reputation wouldn't count for anything and they'd better hope they'd written a paragraph describing the bird in question and eliminating all possible identification concerns from the mind of the external reviewer. In my experience many descriptions fall short of that.
Also worth considering here is the eBird website. Never before has visualization of broad-scale patterns of status and distribution been so easy. Returning to the *Spizella* sparrows for an example, the winter distribution of Chipping Sparrow can be known in great detail at the click of a mouse (see below). From looking at this map it's apparent that Chipping Sparrows winter commonly to abundantly in some areas, uncommonly in others, rarely but regularly in others, and very very rarely elsewhere. If local reviewers did not remove the many unsubstantiated records submitted in the northern and central USA and Canada, the pattern on this map might be partially-obscured by reports of mis-identified American Tree Sparrows. After all *Spizella* sparrows are confusing for many beginning birders.
My point is not to bash any eBird users who submit documentation. I hope this response illustrates the value of scrutinizing records, whether by it's by eBird reviewers, journal editors (e.g. *North American Birds*), CBC compilers, or by state and provincial records committees. In essence, sightings must be judged so that others can retrieve information in an efficient manner without having to dedicate exorbitant amounts of time to it. I hope this message also further highlights the importance of documenting records.
Jon King Lawrence, KS
On Thu, Jan 11, 2018 at 7:06 PM, Henry Armknecht <whatabirder...> wrote:
> "Thorough documentation enables users (e.g. researchers, field > ornithologists, > birders) from in-state or out-of-state, who are not familiar with the > local birding scene to decide for themselves what sightings are credible > and which ones aren't" > > Except that e-bird filters and reviewers are taking that decision out of > the hands of the majority of potential users of the data. Why not leave > the flags in place, but stop hiding the sightings from the majority of > users of the data? > > Henry A > Hays > >