The Bestwood Scop’s Owl
Some of you will know that I have been adding historical Nottinghamshire records to eBird in order for the county to have a searchable species county list there. The process is slow and not without its moral dilemmas, especially when you read a record and think, no, not really. Keen students of Nottinghamshire birds will know exactly what I mean, others will learn in time.
For those who do not know what eBird is, it is the system we craved when we had to write down our sightings monthly and mail them off to the county recorder. Once you get into the swing of it, it makes bird recording very simple. It is not without issues, one being that escapes when entered are counted as ticks, but that is just a minor issue (to be fixed) as eBird is a recording system, with list keeping a by-product. If you are interested enough to get through the next bit there is more of an explanation of what eBird is later.
I will not be adding the following records to the eBird database for the following reasons:
Great Bustard: Collingham, April-23rd to 24th 1906. This was not an identification by the observer but a ’best fit’ by Whitaker. There was also a tenuous link to a Norfolk re-introduction scheme, so the escape possibility has been raised, so if it was a bustard it was an escape anyway. Either way it is not a strong record and should be considered interesting but not conclusive. This is the only Nottinghamshire ‘claim’.
Gull-billed Tern: Netherfield, five! September-6th 1945. These were seen by John Raines, the society has his original notebooks and the painting he did has them looking like Sandwich Tern, and five Sandwich Terns would be remarkable anyway. Everyone knows how rare this species is in the UK and the majority of people who read off this record know it is a load of old toot, at best a mistaken identity.
Greater Short-toed Lark: Nottingham Sewage Farm (Bulcote), July-30th 1950. Raines again, one observer of a July bird inland. There are precious few July Greater Short-toed Larks anywhere in the UK, this was a misidentification pure and simple.
Icterine Warbler: Colwick, July-13th 1945. Raines again, yes there is a theme here. Identified at a time when Icterine Warbler was considered very hard to separate from Melodious (and I’m sure that those who saw the Tiln bird will agree). A misidentification of a species, one with very few inland records and even fewer of singing birds.
Woodchat Shrike: Thoresby Park, a male shot in May 1859. Collected by a supplier of birds to the gentry. My position is that some of the old records based on collected birds, may have come from sources that supplied the collector with skins and that those skins may not have originated where claimed. There is no skin available to examine and the collector was prolific in supplying rare birds.
Spotted Nutcracker: There are two undated records of this species that did not occur during influxes. The two Clumber birds of 1883 may be good but the details are not and so, as they used to say, in square brackets for this record.
Little Bunting: Nottingham Sewage Farm, October-23rd 1950. Raines again and, while the date is good for what is a very rare species inland, the observer’s claim that it was with two Ortolans! give ample grounds for doubt (of both records).
Everything is open to reasonable debate although these records, along with a slew of other unsupportable ones, should have been dealt with by review years ago. Indeed the records of the 1940s-1950s should never have made print but it seems that nobody would question them fully at the time. The omission of these records reduces the Notts list in eBird, as compared to the last published annotated county list, by six.
I have entered a number of contentious records including the Egyptian Nightjar (saga) and others. These records will be removed from eBird if they ever get formally reviewed and rejected. I assume the pending avifauna will deal with these issues but have no information regarding the progress or publication date.
And now how eBird works: You get an account – free. You click on a map where you went, some sites will already be there as hotspots. You enter the date, how long you birded, how far you went (estimate, I do) and how many were in the group. The next click opens a checklist and you enter the birds you saw. If you saw a species but did not make a count, enter an ‘x’. If you took a photo, click media and add it to your checklist, similarly a recording. When you are done you can share it with the others in your party and they can edit the checklist to add or remove what they saw. You can do this at home or using a mobile app, easy.
What eBird gives you is a life, year and month list for anywhere you specify. It tells you how many checklists you’ve submitted, complete or incomplete, and it gives you access to everyone else’s public sightings too, great when you are visiting somewhere new, strapped for time and just want somewhere to have a quick wander and see a few birds. In Notts there is a small uptake in eBird use (I resisted way too long) but it is growing and will continue to do so. Traditionally Notts elects a county recorder, eBird has its own reviewer* for the county. At present there is no communication between the two and Notts misses out on eBirder records unless the observer sends the records separately. The Notts recorder does not accept eBird shared records, I have asked why but had no satisfactory answer, even though I am still, and always will be, a member of the Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers.
There is much more available via eBird, such as the ability to download records, make spreadsheets and pie charts/bar graphs etc., great for annual reports.
eBird is operated by Cornell University in the US but it is global, go and take a look and you will see what I mean. Just because it is American don’t let this put you off, you drive a Japanese car and look through Austrian binoculars, your shoes are Chinese and you love curry.
*The eBird reviewer checks checklists. Rare or scare species or out of date range or high counts trigger an alert. For rare and scarce species you have toad them to the checklist. The filters are a continual work in progress as the eBird database grows and population situations change, hence the need to add Ruddy Duck every time.
And finally you may ask why someone in Canada is taking such an interest in Notts. I am from Notts and the birds of Notts will always be close to my heart. I served my committee time and contributed, especially when I was at Colwick Park for fifteen years. Notts has some excellent and enthusiastic birders and, for an inland county, a bird list to be envied. It matters that progress is not ignored and my contribution via eBird is all I can offer, that and my continued support.