Thursday, 5 December 2013

Laboratory birding

So the BOU have removed Slender-billed Curlew from the British list. The 1998 Druridge Bay bird is no longer considered acceptable by today's standards. Those last three words are quite revealing. Does this mean that as each generation of birders comes along there will be a forensic examination of all the past rarity records so that all which remain are those that satisfy the up-to-date criteria?

If anybody had the time, a trawl through all of the rarity descriptions (pre-digital photography) would reveal plenty of description only accounts. And many of these would be for species that were still poorly understood as far as their identification in the field. If today's high standards were imposed on these older records, how many would survive intact? As we carry on in the era of splitting, there are times when to see a bird very well is not going to ever be enough. We will need mp3 recordings and DNA sequencing to get records accepted. I think there is a danger of imposing today's standards on records that were scrutinised (by experts remember) in days gone by. Unless one of these old records has irrefutable photographic evidence that clearly shows a mistake has been made then we ought to leave well alone.

I know the Curlew has always been contentious, but why is it only now being overturned? It is fair enough to assume that the '10 rare men' who initially accepted it did so by studying the facts in front of them and were happy to give it the green light of acceptance. So, what's changed? (By the way, I didn't see the bird in question.)

Will we ever get to a time when, along with your optics and a notebook, to be considered a red-hot birder, you will have to carry test-tubes and a microscope into the field to make sure that your finds will be accepted?

8 comments:

  1. Genitalia examinations are the way forward. ;-)

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  2. Steve, the Druridge Bay SBC saga was all the more extraordinary considering the extreme rarity of what was a globally threatened species and the implications of the original decision. However, if BBRC & BOURC can take a positive from the situation it is that it did stimulate a search, albeit fruitless, for the SBC`s breeding grounds. I suppose I can consider myself fortunate to have seen SBC in Morocco in the 70`s, a bird that is now quite likely extinct, although I fear that as this century progresses one or two more will follow it into oblivion. Paul

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    1. You're showing your age again Paul!! I can vaguely remember the Dodo.

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  3. Steve,
    If I might quote John Hollyer "Every generation feels the need to re-invent the wheel!" This meddling with past records is not unique to birding - angling has endured many similar phases. Oh, and yes I do remember the Dodo and Great Auk with much affection - Dyl

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    1. Yes of course, I remember seeing you at the 1787 Shellness Great Auk twitch!

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  4. I'm pretty certain there will be some sort of multi-point recognition programme built into optics at some point in the nearish future. Three seconds of a moving bird should be all the programme needs to sort us out an infallible identity. Won't be long, you'll see...

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