Chronicles

Annotation Bird List
by: Mike Lushington

        There have been times in writing this column over the years that I have been struck by coincidences. The latest of these has just occurred. Last week I wrote about some of the frustration experienced by some people in reporting rare birds that they have seen. I concluded that column by promising to write this week about the work of the provincial Rare Bird Committee.

        Between the writing of the two columns, a Long-tailed Jaegar appeared in Kedgwick. Unquestionably, this is one of the rarest birds ever seen in northern New Brunswick. Fortunately, the person who first recognized it for what it was got a couple of photographs. Fortunately, too, the bird stuck around for a couple of days, allowing several other birders to see, identify, and photograph it before disappearing. In this regard, the jaegar was as cooperative as the Great grey owl that we had back in February; much more so than a couple of other birds that I had fleeting glimpses of within the past year - and that mirrored the behaviour of those other frustrating experiences to which I alluded last week.

        Both the Great grey owl and the Long-tailed jaegar records will be submitted to the New Brunswick Rare Bird Committee for its evaluation before either bird will be officially accepted as part of the provincial Annotated Bird List.

        I had the privilege of sitting on that committee for four years, so I have some sense of how it works. It meets once a year - usually in November. Usually there are five voting members who are chosen from around the province for up to four years before they must step down. Members sit down with submitted reports of rare bird sightings, together with whatever documentation the submitters are able to provide, usually photos and quite thorough verbal descriptions. members of the committee go through each report individually and write private opinions on whether or not it should be accepted. It is done in this way so that no one feels pressured to "agree with the majority."

        Each member is asked to make a decision to accept or reject the rare bird sighting. If a sighting is rejected, it is to be done so for one of the following reasons:

        1. The documentation is incomplete in one way or another. It may be that the observer seems not quite certain on what he or she may have seen, or that he or she has failed to consider another, much more likely species with which the reported bird may be easily confused. (This happens surprisingly often, especially with inexperienced, or nonbirders.)

        2. There may have been only one observer who did not get photographs. No matter who the observer is, his or her word will not stand on its own. this is simply to prevent the habit forming of simply accepting a report "because so-and-so said it was." In other words, even the most experienced and reputable birders in the province have to be able to provide objective proof for what they saw (or think they saw.)

        3. The identification of the bird may be valid, but there is some legitimate question as to how the bird happened to get here in the first place. Birds that might have escaped from captivity, for example, are not accepted. this can be a really problem with some hawks, waterfowl, and songbirds that are often kept as cagebirds for awhile and then escape or are released. For the same reasons, dead birds are not accepted.

        It is, in all, a thorough exercise. Occasionally, a member feels that he or she is rejecting a good sighting simply because the evidence is not conclusive. Still, it is better that that be the case than to have what is supposedly an official list that is found to have a number of fantasies in it. Our Annotated Bird List is a good one; it will remain so, so long as members of the RBC continue to accept or reject reports fairly, thoroughly, but conservatively.

        **Webmaster's Note: The NB Annotation Bird List can be purchased at the Restigouche Museum in Dalhousie**

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