Please keep all comments related to this post civil and informative.
This morning the UBRC announced changes to the records committee, welcoming new members and re-electees, and thanking those who vacated their posts. The records committee is somewhat nepotistic in the sense that the core members always seem to be the same people, with one or two different individuals every couple years. After someone has served two terms they are forced to sit out a year, before they are inevitably voted back in. The committee decides who they are going to vote for within themselves—it’s not really democratic and the general birding public has no say in who should or shouldn’t be accepting and not accepting records for the state. Aside from this there also seems to be some serious question as to why and why not records are accepted based off the information provided in sighting reports.
Birder Jeff Bilsky and Committee Member Colby Neuman Birding in Harmony
Over the years I have seen a number of birders distance themselves from the committee by no longer submitting records to this group. Many question the validity and need for such an organization, aside from the nepotism mentioned above. I stopped submitting records almost two years ago for a number of reasons.
First and foremost I became disillusioned with the idea of a committee in general. I personally have no need to prove my sightings to anyone but myself. If I was submitting a record, I was actually doing a favor to the committee. Without that record they would not have that species on their checklist, or in their records. It isn’t a matter of I don’t feel the record is important—it is a matter of I don’t feel the decision of the committee is important. That is to say there are better ways to keep track of these records.
Secondly, the burden of proof that was required for a non-members record seemed to be higher than that of a member. Every person submitting a record should be held to the same standard. That means that for any first state record photo, video, or sound evidence, or a specimen should be required to accept a record. A detailed write up is not sufficient in any case by any observer. That however is not the case. I always try to put images with my reports, but in some cases it is impossible to get a picture when you are trying to watch the bird—and in many cases the sighting is so brief that time for a picture was not available.
Thirdly, it became apparent that some of the members were not only not experts in bird identification, but the extent of what they knew about birds was limited to what they had read in books and what they knew from the areas they birded most. I know a lot about birds of Utah because I bird here more than anywhere. And I know even more about the birds of Salt Lake County because I bird here more than anywhere in the state. And I know even more about the birds of Lee Kay Ponds, and the South Shore, and the canyons because those are places I go a lot—and so on and so forth. There are hundreds of local experts that have intimate knowledge of local areas and the birds that are found there.
Lastly, I just stopped caring. The combination of the above elements jaded me. And with it my care for submitting records disappeared. The “I don’t care” issue
is probably one that most birders can relate too. Most I have talked to say their biggest issue is with “feeling judged”. Committee members will tell you that it isn’t like that, and argue that even an unaccepted record is important. But to most birders, their record is their word, and for many their reputation. When a record is not accepted they take it as the committee does not believe them and therefore they aren’t credible. I have submitted records knowing they wouldn’t get accepted—and even with that knowledge it still bothered me. Feeling judged leads to people not caring.
This turned into something longer than I anticipated, so this will be part 1 of a 2 part series—in the second half I will cover why eBird is the solution for records committees.
Photos: possible Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and possible Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Copyright Tim Avery
Labels: commentary, eBird, rare birds