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
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**