Published by the Somerset Ornithological Society Rarities Committee (SOSRC)
Revised – November 2015
Collecting records is one of the core activities of any ornithological society and we are therefore keen that all birdwatchers send records of their observations to the Recorder. The purpose of these notes is to encourage more people to become involved with record submission and to highlight the kind of records that are suitable for holding in the Society's archives.
All records received are entered onto a computer database. You can either submit your records electronically by e-mail, on a disc or on paper but it makes life easier for the recorder if you use the standard Recording Form. If the bird you have seen is scarce, or out of season, then a description may also be required. Don't be put off by this, the vast majority of records will be accepted without the need for a description - it's only if you’re lucky enough to have seen something really unusual that we will need a description of it from you.
2: WHY ARE RECORDS REQUIRED?
The annual Somerset Bird Report is compiled from the many observations submitted. It is the only up-to-date account of the county's avifauna with data on occurrence, distribution, populations, breeding success and unusual records. It augments and updates the information on the county's avifauna contained in the Society's publication, the ‘Birds of Somerset’ (Somerset Ornithological Society,1988), the ‘History of the Birds of Somerset’ (Ballance, 2006) and the recent ‘Somerset Atlas of breeding and wintering birds 2007-2012 (Somerset Ornithological Society 2014). Together, they are valuable sources of information for general reference and are dependent on the amount and accuracy of reports received from birdwatchers in the county.
Records provide information on the numbers and distributions of birds breeding in or visiting the county. This information is important because:
- Baseline information can be generated against which future changes in populations can be matched;Changes in the distribution of a species may be the most sensitive measure of changes in population numbers;
- The habitat preferences of a particular species can be identified and this knowledge can be applied for the conservation of that species;
- The relative values of sites of conservation importance can be assessed from a knowledge of their bird fauna;
- Valuable information can be provided in response to planning enquiries to assess the environmental impact of proposed land-use changes; Distribution maps for a species can be matched to land use; and
- Provides opportunities for future use that we don’t even realise yet!
3: WHAT IS A RECORD?
A record is a statement of the details of an observation of one or more birds of a particular species.
Every record must contain four essential key pieces of information:
- Number seen (use only one number: terms like "many", "numerous", “hundreds” and "more than usual" are hard for the editors to interpret and have no meaning to computers. If a range is given the lower number will be selected). A guess or estimate is fine provided it is clear that this is the case.
- Date of the (first) observation.
- Precise location of the site, by name and, if possible, an appropriate Ordnance Survey (OS) Grid Reference.
Without any one of these, the information has much less value and sometimes cannot be used at all.
Additional useful information could include:
- Age and sex, with number in each category.
- Breeding status (Confirmed or Probable) and success, with number of young.
- Date of subsequent and last observation(s).
- Direction of flight, with number in that direction.
- Notes on interesting features of the record.
4: SUBMITTING RECORDS
Ideally all records should be submitted, even of the commoner species. With the decline in numbers and ranges of many common species in recent years it is becoming increasingly important to be able to monitor the health of all bird populations, particularly of declining or threatened species. What were once common may soon become even scarcer. Furthermore, with the increasing number of requests for data from Environmental Consultants etc. concerned with land-use changes, even records of common species at the 6-figure grid reference level are becoming increasingly important. Therefore, while it may be impractical to record every common bird seen, some measure of judgment is necessary - if in doubt, send it in (with as much detail as possible)!
Irrespective of the above, we would like to receive ALL records of:
- Species rare, scarce or unusual in Somerset (Description species).
- Exceptionally early or late migration dates, for which a written description may be required.
- All national rarities considered by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC).
METHODS OF RECORDING & SUBMITTING OBSERVATIONS
Records can be submitted in the following ways (in order of preference by the Recorder)
Completion of the Recording Form using the column layout as shown in link which contains examples. Ten columns showing: species; site; grid reference if it is not a well known site; first date; last date only if it is different from the first; number; c if circa (estimate); age and sex if known; comments and notes you may wish to add, your name. This should be saved and sent by e-mail to the Recorder (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As above, but sent by disc or memory stick in the post to the Recorder
On paper using one of the Somerset Ornithological Society (SOS) recording forms or the Scarce Records Form. These may be obtained either (a) from the Recorder, or (b) copied from the SOS website link. In order to ease the task of inputting such records they should be sent to the Recorder regularly, at preferably quarterly intervals, NOT all at once at the end of the year.
For all records please enter the SITE NAME, but only use site names that are shown on the OS map (preferably 1:25,000) and avoid unpublished local or generic names. For less well known sites enter a GRID REFERENCE, preferably to 6-figures. This is most important for single bird and breeding record observations.
If either the grid reference is not given or the site name is not recognised, the record may not be useable.
5: RARE, SCARCE AND UNUSUAL BIRDS
Birds which are rare or scarce in Somerset are defined in ‘The list of species requiring descriptions’. This list is periodically reviewed by the Somerset Ornithological Society Rarities Committee (SOSRC) against the current status of the Species in Somerset. Those for which a description is required should be submitted on the Society's Scarce Records Form. They will then be considered by the SOS Records Committee for acceptance before publication.
Birds which are rare nationally are considered by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) for acceptance and publication in 'British Birds' ('BB'). Descriptions for these species should be submitted on a Scarce Records Form or a BBRC form to the Recorder and NOT direct to BBRC (so that the Society has knowledge of the event for its own records). The Recorder will always forward them to the BBRC for consideration.
If you are lucky enough to find any rare or unusual species not on ‘the list of species requiring descriptions’, a scarce records form will also be required.
In all the above cases, the County Recorder could be contacted to discuss releasing news of the sighting if appropriate; however the welfare of the bird(s) and the views of landowners will always be considered as a priority.
Records of exceptionally early or late migration dates should also be submitted. Arrival and departure dates of migrants are published in the annual Somerset Bird Report. Birds which are either feral or escapes from captivity and correspondingly unusual or scarce should also be recorded. A description is not normally required for these (but one might be requested if identification or origin is problematic).
Descriptions should be sufficiently detailed both to identify the bird to the species claimed and also to eliminate any similar, confusion species (with which it should be compared). It should be based on notes taken and any sketches and photographs made or taken at the time (a copy of which could be appended to the record), NOT after referral to a field guide.
All scarce bird descriptions and records for review are circulated to members of the SOSRC by the committee’s chairperson. The Records Committee consists of four members, with specialist knowledge of the County's birds and the Recorder. They may, at times, ask advice of others who have more knowledge of some rare species. Records will only be accepted if a majority of the Committee agree that the description is adequate. The criteria used by the committee are necessarily strict to maintain the credibility of the Annual Report and the data bank. The Recorder makes the final decision based on advice from the Records Committee. Records may be reviewed at a subsequent date if new information becomes available.
6: DESCRIPTION WRITING
WHO SHOULD WRITE THE DESCRIPTION?
It should normally be the responsibility of the initial finder(s) to submit a description of a scarce species. Don’t assume that ‘someone else’ will submit a record; it sometimes happens that no description is submitted for birds seen by large numbers of observers.
It should be regarded as an obligation by all observers, of whatever experience, that they submit a description of a scarce bird. The Recorder would rather have several descriptions of the same bird than none at all.
WHAT SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN THE FULL DESCRIPTION?
Descriptions must be as full as possible, based on observations made at the time. They should, preferably, be submitted on the Society's form. This should ensure that all the necessary information is given.
The front of the form requires details of the species claimed, the date of observation, the exact location, and the name, address and telephone number of the observer.
In addition, the following additional information should be given: the time of day, visibility, direction of the light in relation to the observer, distance from the bird, optical aids used, whether is was photographed or ringed, the presence of other observers, and comments on previous experience of this and similar species.
The reverse of the form is for the description. This should start with a brief account of the circumstances leading up to the discovery, including details of the habitat occupied. An overall impression of the type of bird, its general coloration and size, and its ‘jizz’, should follow with, if possible, details of other birds present against which it was compared.
The amount of detail in the description will depend largely on the species and its distinctiveness. For national rarities, only a complete description will be sufficient. As many notes as possible made at the time of observation, and a sketch with the main features indicated, should be used to compile the account. It is probably best to start with the head, bill and eyes and then work towards the tail. It helps to be familiar with the correct names for different parts of the bird and its feather tracts but always describe what was seen and state if any features could not be observed. If possible, take a photograph and submit a copy with the record.
Details of behaviour, particularly feeding, can be very useful and any calls heard should be described in detail. Flight behaviour and appearance in flight may also be crucial to making a positive identification.
Records may not be accepted for various reasons. This does not necessarily imply that the SOSRC considers the identification was incorrect; it is more likely that the reason was insufficient detail to identify adequately or distinguish the species claimed from a similar species. It is better that all the information related to a record is submitted initially, because the SOSRC is reluctant (excepting in exceptional circumstances) to enter into lengthy correspondence prior to deciding on records.
WHAT SHOULD BE PROVIDED IN THE SHORT NOTES
For those species requiring ‘Short Notes’ just a few lines describing the circumstances and identification points should be provided – this will vary depending on the species, where and when it was seen. For example a Shag seen from Hurlstone Point in the Autumn would not require much, if any, additional information as they are regular here at that time of year, however, one on an inland reservoir would require some supporting information to rule out Cormorant.
- Ballance, D. K. (2006) A History of The Birds of Somerset. Isabelline Books. Penryn.
- Somerset Ornithological Society (1988) Birds of Somerset. Alan Sutton. Gloucester.
- Somerset Ornithological Society (2014) Somerset Atlas of breeding and wintering birds 2007-2012. Short Run Press Ltd, Exeter.