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Sightings, Reports and Records

SAAS Bird Records Committee Reorganizes, 2005

Grace's Warbler
Suppose you are out birding somewhere in Bexar County and come across a “good” bird, let’s say a Grace’s Warbler. You check your field guide and are convinced that the bird you saw is a Grace’s Warbler. Recognizing the rarity of the bird, you tell other birders in the field of your find. When you get home, you call the SAAS Bird Report number (210-308-6788) or fill out the report form on the SAAS web site, and then post a report on SATXbirds and/or Texbirds. Your reports generate a great deal of interest, and other birders flock to the area. They find a Yellow-throated Warbler, but nobody can re-find the Grace’s Warbler.

What do we make of this all-too-common situation? Was a rare bird present, or was this a case of mistaken identity? Who decides and how? This is the function of the Bird Records Committee.

We are re-vitalizing the San Antonio Audubon Bird Records Committee to help resolve situations like that above, and to establish and maintain records of bird occurrences in Bexar County and the surrounding area. The committee currently consists of Bob Doe, Dodge Engleman and Steve Hawkins, with two additional members to be appointed [members Georgina Schwartz and Helen Rejzek were later appointed]. Starting October 1 [2005], the committee will review reports of unusual birds and will vote to ACCEPT, NOT ACCEPT, or REJECT the report, based on the details available.

A vote to ACCEPT the report indicates that the committee agrees with the identification and the report becomes a record indicating that the species did occur at that point at that time. A vote to REJECT the report indicates the committee believes the identification is in error, based on the information provided. For example, if your description of the “Grace’s” Warbler included a white patch on the sides of the neck, the committee would likely reject the report in favor of Yellow-throated Warbler. A vote to NOT ACCEPT the report indicates that the committee generally agrees that the identification is likely correct, but details are such that another species cannot be eliminated, or descriptions of the “same” bird from different observers are in conflict, so that the species cannot be determined.

The committee believes that the vast majority of reports are, in fact, correct identifications, and the committee will keep all reports in their database, even if there is insufficient detail to accept the record. Over time, multiple reports, even though they are unsubstantiated, can suggest that the species does actually occur. As records and reports are accumulated, the committee will publish “expected” arrival and departure times for our migrants, list nesting species, etc. The database will be available for any members or researchers. If anyone has records of historic sightings in the area, please contact a committee member, so that we may use or copy your records.

What can you, as a birder, do to improve the process? By all means, continue to make reports of the birds you find. Tell other birders in the field of your finds. Call the Bird Report Tape [210-308-6788], use the SAAS website, make postings on SATXbirds or Texbirds, call Bob Doe (830 438 8399) or any other Bird Records Committee member, or mail a report to Bob Doe (748 Copper Rim, Spring Branch, TX 78070). Prompt reporting makes it possible for other birders to corroborate and confirm your find.

When you make a report, please include at least a brief discussion of field marks observed and used to establish the identification. If the bird is very unusual, include as complete a description as possible. The more information you include initially, the greater the chance of having your report accepted as a record. But only include what was actually observed in the field. In general, you should report any bird that is ACCIDENTAL or does not occur on the current Bexar County checklist, any bird listed as RARE or VERY RARE for the season observed, or any bird “of special interest” (decreasing populations such as Cactus Wren, unclear status such as Mute Swan, Monk Parakeet, etc).


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