British Birds Rarities Committee


British Birds Rarities Committee


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The British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC), established in 1959, is the recognised national bird rarities committee for Britain. It assesses claimed sightings of rare birds ("BB rarities"), based on descriptions, photographs and video recordings submitted by the observers. Its findings are usually published in "British Birds" magazine.

A total of around 250 species are covered by the BBRC; these are selected based on a numerical threshold and the degree of difficulty of identification. A number of species have become more common, or have become recorded more often, during the committee's period of existence, resulting in many species being removed from the committee's list to be classed as "scarce migrants".

The committee has ten voting members, a chairman and a secretary, and a number of other people serve in an advisory capacity. Since its inception, a total of 67 people have served on the committee as assessors.

In addition to reviewing records of rare birds on an annual basis, the committee has also conducted a number of re-reviews of batches of records on a species-by-species basis, to ensure that only records which tie up with advances in knowledge of bird identification are regarded as acceptable, or to establish the racial identification of accepted records. A number of species have proved problematic for the committee to assess, some extreme examples taking over twenty years from initial occurrence to acceptance. Seabirds have proved particularly difficult, and this has led some observers to criticise the committee for setting too high a standard. The committee has also received criticism for its approach to assessing records where only one observer was present, for not publishing reasons for record rejections, and for putting undue weight on detail when assessing bird descriptions.

BBRC's role and status

The "Rarity Records Committee" (as it was originally known) was established in 1959 by the editors of the journal "British Birds".Anon (1959) Editorial: Records of Rare Birds "British Birds" 52(8): 241-4] Its original purpose was to provide a means whereby uniform assessment standards could be applied to all rare bird records across Britain, rather than each record being assessed according to different standards by local bird recording organisations, as had happened prior to then. [Dean (2007), page 150]

The most recent statement of the British Birds Rarities Committee's role is given in Bradshaw, Harvey and Steele (2004): "BBRC aims to maintain an accurate database of the occurrence of rare taxa in Britain, in order to enable individuals or organisations to assess the current status of, and any changes in, the patterns of occurrence and distribution of these taxa in Britain."

Contradictory information has been published regarding the exact nature of the committee's status. On its website, [ [http://www.bbrc.org.uk BBRC website] (retrieved 19 Sept 2007)] BBRC describes itself as the "official adjudicator of rare bird records in Britain" (although it does not say on what basis it has this status). In "Birders: Tales of a Tribe", [Cocker (2001), page 134] author Mark Cocker describes the committee as a "statutory vetting body" (i.e. that it has been established by an Act of Parliament). BBRC's constitution states that it "has no automatic or legal expectation that birders submit records". [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/constitution.htm BBRC constitution] (accessed 26 October 2007)]

BBRC is sponsored by the German optical equipment manufacturers Carl Zeiss, an arrangement instigated in 1983. [Lansdown (1987), page 487]

The committee does not assess records of birds from Ireland; that task is carried out by the Irish Rare Birds Committee, which publishes its decisions in "Irish Birds". For many years, records of IRBC-assessed rarities were included in the BBRC's annual reports, but this ceased in 2002, at the request of IRBC. [BBRC report for 2001, pages 476-8]

pecies covered

Around 250 bird species in Britain have either a breeding or wintering population or migrate through in large numbers, and a further 50 are "scarce migrants"; the remaining 250 species are those which the BBRC assesses. [Preddy, Steve (2007) Rarities in Britain "Birding" 38(4):10-12] A list of the species which the committee assesses (known as "BB rarities" [Cocker (2001), page 158] ) is on its website, [ [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/currentrarespecies.htm BBRC website, Current rare species] ] although this has not been updated to take into account the most recent changes. Apart from one species, Parrot Crossbill, the committee considers only records of species which are rare enough to meet its criteria for inclusion on the BBRC rarities list, based on a numerical threshold (Parrot Crossbill has a breeding population in Scotland, [Summers, R.W. (2002) Parrot Crossbills breeding in Abernethy Forest "British Birds" 95: 4-11] but is also on the committee's list).

This threshold was revised in 2006: in order to qualify for inclusion, a species either has to have been recorded fewer than 200 times in Britain ever, or it has to have been recorded on 100 or fewer occasions in the last decade.Announcement: BBRC says goodbye to birders' favourites "British Birds" 99(1):52; [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/120106.htm BBRC press release, 12 January 2006] ] As a result of this decision, a total of 17 species were dropped from the list which the committee considers: Ferruginous Duck, Wilson’s Petrel, Great White Egret, Black Kite, Red-footed Falcon, American Golden Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, White-winged Black Tern, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-throated Pipit, Subalpine Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Radde's Warbler, Arctic Redpoll and Rustic Bunting.

Prior to this, a higher threshold had been in place, but a number of species/subspecies, over the years, had increased in frequency and had therefore been removed from the committee's list: Black Brant (in 2005); [Rarities Committee news: BBRC dumps Black Brant "British Birds" 98(6): 336; [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/070605.htm BBRC press release, 7 June 2005] ] American Wigeon, Black-crowned Night Heron and Rose-coloured Starling (in 2001); [Rarities Committee news: Night Heron, American Wigeon and Rosy Starling to be removed from BBRC list "British Birds" 94(6): 290; [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/300701.htm BBRC press release, 30 July 2001] ] White-tailed Eagle and Kumlien's Gull (in 1998);Bradshaw, Colin (1999) Rarities Committee Announcements "British Birds" 92(2): 113-4; [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/121098.htm BBRC press release, 12 October 1998 (1)] ; [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1210982.htm BBRC press release, 12 October 1998 (2)] ] Ring-necked Duck, Short-toed Lark and Little Bunting (in 1993); [Lansdown, P. G. and the Rarities Committee (1993) Rarities Committee news and announcements "British Birds" 86(9): 415-6] Green-winged Teal (in 1992); [Lansdown, P. G. and the Rarities Committee (1992) Rarities Committee news and announcements "British Birds" 85(7): 330-3] Surf Scoter, Little Egret, European Bee-eater, Pallas's Warbler and Woodchat Shrike (in 1990); [Lansdown, P. G. and the Rarities Committee (1990) Rarities Committee news and announcements "British Birds" 83(10): 411-4] Common Crane and Ring-billed Gull (in 1987); [Lansdown, P. G. and the Rarities Committee (1987) Rarities Committee news and announcements "British Birds" 80(9): 421-36] Cory's Shearwater, Purple Heron, White Stork, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Richard's Pipit, Tawny Pipit, Savi's Warbler, Aquatic Warbler, Serin and Common Rosefinch (in 1982); [Grant, P. J. and the Rarities Committee (1982) Rarities Committee news and announcements "British Birds" 75(7): 337-8] Long-tailed Skua (in 1979); [Grant, P. J. and the Rarities Committee (1979) Rarities Committee news and announcements "British Birds" 72(10): 487-8] Cetti's Warbler (in 1976); [Grant, Peter J. and the Rarities Committee (1977) Rarities Committee news and announcements "British Birds" 70(7): 306-8] and Red-crested Pochard, Snow Goose, Pectoral Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull, Sabine's Gull, Melodious Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Goshawk, Golden Eagle, Red Kite, Kentish Plover, Crested Tit, Bearded Tit, Marsh Warbler and Dartford Warbler in 1963. [BBRC report for 1962, p.394] Records of the last eight species had been considered only outside their "normal" British range (e.g. Crested Tits outside Scotland, and Red Kites outside Wales). Note that Savi's Warbler was re-admitted to the committee's list in 1998, due to declining numbers of occurrences.

Once removed, a species is classed as a "scarce migrant": "British Birds" publishes a separate annual report summarising the occurrence of these species. [The most recent report, for 2003, was published in two parts in 2006: Fraser, Peter A. & Michael J. Rogers (2006) Report on scarce migrant birds in Britain in 2003 - Part 1: American Wigeon to Wryneck "British Birds" 99 (2): 74 - 91; Fraser, Peter A. & Michael J. Rogers (2006) Report on scarce migrant birds in Britain in 2003 - Part 2: Short-toed Lark to Little Bunting "British Birds" 99(3): 129 - 147] Data for these species is also presented at [http://www.scarce-migrants.org.uk/ www.scarce-migrants.org.uk] . Cetti's Warbler, Little Egret, Long-tailed Skua and Mediterranean Gull have become so common that they no longer qualify even as a scarce migrants. [Fraser, Peter A., Peter G. Lansdown & Michael J. Rogers (1999) Report on Scarce Migrant Birds in Britain in 1996 "British Birds" 92(1): 3-35; Fraser, Peter A., Peter G. Lansdown & Michael J. Rogers (1999) Report on Scarce Migrant Birds in Britain in 1997 "British Birds" 92(12): 618-658]

BBRC structure and personnel

Thr committee has ten voting members, [The "ten rare men", Cocker (2001), page 158] a chairman (who may be one of the ten, or may be another, non-voting individual) and a non-voting secretary. BBRC was assisted in its assessment of seabird records by a Seabirds Advisory Panel from 1987 to 1996. [Dean (2007), page 154 and Appendix 1, pages 174-5] In 1999, the BBRC set up the "RIACT" (Racial Identification Amongst Changing Taxonomy) group to advise on how records of rare subspecies should be treated.BBRC report for 1998, pages 555-556] RIACT published its first report in 2006, setting out the subspecies which it believed were sufficiently diagnosable and which occurred infrequently enough to justify being assessed by the rarities committee. Prior to this, a partial selection of rare subspecies had been routinely included in BBRC reports; the RIACT report aimed to bring consistency to the selection for future years. [Kehoe, Chris, on behalf of BBRC (2006) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/Riact.pdf Racial identification and assessment in Britain: a report from the RIACT subcommittee] "British Birds" 99(12): 619-645] Where a record is of a species which has not previously been recorded in Britain before in a wild state, BBRC deals with assessment of the bird's identification, and then passes the record to the British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee, which decides whether the species should be included on the BOU's British Bird list.

The committee has two permanent posts, a Chairman and a Secretary: they are appointed by the board of "British Birds".Lansdown (1987), page 488] Prior to 2008, there had been no fixed term for these appointments, however, with the change of chairman in that year, a three-year fixed term, with a maximum limit of ten years, was introduced. [ [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/040507.htm New chairman for BBRC] , BBRC Press Release, 4 May 2007] BBRC has had six chairmen:Dean (2007), Appendix 1, pages 174-5] Philip Hollom (1959 - 1972), Ian Wallace (1972 - 1976), Peter J. Grant (1976 - 1986), Peter Lansdown (1986 - 1993), Rob Hume (1993 - 1997) and Colin Bradshaw (1997 to date). Bradshaw's intention to retire was announced in 2007; [Rarities Committee news: New chairman for BBRC "British Birds" 100(5): 315; [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/040507.htm BBRC press release, 4 May 2007] ] his successor, from April 2008, will be Adam Rowlands. [Rarities Committee news: BBRC appoints a new chairman "British Birds" 100(8):513; [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/230707.htm BBRC press release, 23 July 2007] ] The committee's secretary is Nigel Hudson, appointed in 2007. [Rarities Committee news: BBRC appoints new secretary "British Birds" 100(4):254; [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/190307.htm BBRC press release, 19 March 2007] ] Its previous secretaries were G. A. Pyman (1959 - 1961), Christopher M. Swaine (1961 - 1963), Denzil D. Harber (1963 - 1966), F. R. Smith (1966 - 1975), J. N. Dymond (1975 - 1977), J. O'Sullivan (1977 - 1978) and Mike Rogers (1978 - 2006).

At least one (usually the longest-serving) record-assessing member retires every year, in order to balance experience with 'new blood'. [Lansdown (1993), page 420] The committee usually nominates its own replacement candidate, but also invites nominations from others, and if any are received, holds an election among county bird recorders and the bird observatory network. A set of criteria for membership has been developed - currently, these are "a widely acknowledged expertise in identification, proven reliability in the field, a track record of high quality submissions of descriptions of scarce and rare birds to county records committees and BBRC, considerable experience of record assessment, the capacity to handle the considerable volume of work involved in assessing upwards of 1,000 records per year and the capacity to work quickly and efficiently". The following 67 individuals [Dean (2007), Appendix 1, pages 174-5 contains a list of members to the end of 2006, with dates of service; for members retiring/joining since then, see Rarities Committee news "British Birds" 100(3): 176 and BBRC press releases from [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/010207.htm 1 February 2007] and [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/070108.htm 7 January 2008] ] have served on BBRC in a records assessment capacity (a number of other individuals have served as the committee's statisticians, museum consultants, archivists and avicultural consultants, or on the Seabirds Advisory Panel or RIACT.): The committee has stated that it has a desire to be made up of members of "all age ranges and both sexes"; [BBRC report for 1999, page 513] however, all BBRC members to date have been male. Measures are in place, however, to ensure that the committee has a geographic balance amongst its membership - BBRC's constitution states that it "should attempt to provide a reasonable geographical spread with members having a detailed knowledge of each of the following areas: Wales, Scotland, Northern England, the Midlands, the Southwest and the Southeast of England".

Record reviews

BBRC reviews 1200 to 1500 records each year (when it was first set up, the figure was around 200 per year).Cocker (2001), page 158.] Of these, approximately 85% are accepted: this acceptance rate has remained steady for many years. [Lansdown (1987), page 489; BBRC report for 2004, page 628-31] Species which have caused particular problems include Black Kite, Great Snipe, Gyrfalcon, Gull-billed Tern and North Atlantic Little Shearwater. [Dean (2007), page 162] Peter Grant estimated that, during his tenure as chairman, the approximately 2% of accepted records are incorrectly accepted, and 5% are incorrectly rejected.

Re-reviews

From time to time, BBRC has re-reviewed records which it has previously accepted, to ensure they are acceptable in the light of improved knowledge of the species in question. [Lansdown (1987), page 490] These reviews are carried out on a species-by-species basis. Old World warblers have proved particularly in need of re-review. A review of Greenish Warbler records was initiated in 1983. [BBRC report for 1982, pages 476 and 515] The purpose of this review was to re-examine establish whether records, particular those in late autumn and winter, of drab grey "Phylloscopus" warblers which had previously been accepted as Greenish Warbler, were in fact this species, or were Common Chiffchaffs of the Siberian race "tristis". 48 records between 1958 and 1970 were examined; of these, 20 were rejected. [Dean, Alan R. (1985) British status and identification of Greenish Warbler "British Birds" 78(9): 437-451] A review of Arctic Warbler records was begun in 1991, [BBRC report for 1990, page 450] with the aim of determining whether any Greenish Warblers had been mistakenly accepted as Arctics.BBRC report for 1993, page 504] The review was completed in 1994, although as of 2007, the results had not been published.

A review of Spectacled Warbler records was initiated in 1984. [BBRC report for 1983, page 506] This review resulted in the species being removed from the British list; of the three accepted records, one, at Spurn, Yorkshire in 1968, was re-identified as a first-year female Subalpine Warbler, while descriptions of the other two, at Porthgwarra, Cornwall in October 1969 and on Fair Isle in June 1979, were not considered sufficiently watertight to permit their continued acceptance. [Lansdown, Peter (1991) Status of Spectacled Warbler in Britain "British Birds" 84(10):431-432] Spectacled Warbler has since been re-added to the British list following an individual at Filey, Yorkshire in 1992, [Thomas, Craig C., Richard E. Harbird and Peter J. Dunn (1998) Spectacled Warbler in North Yorkshire: new to Britain and Ireland "British Birds" 91(6):225-230] and there have been further subsequent records. [Pitches, Adrian & Tim Cleeves (2005) Birds New to Britain 1980-2004 ISBN 0-7136-7022-3 page 190] In the late 1990s, BBRC reviewed some of the accepted records of Moustached Warbler, and concluded that one, from Sussex in 1979, was unacceptable, [BBRC report for 1998, page 595] but that one other, from Buckinghamshire in 1965, should stand. [Bradshaw, Colin (2000) From the rarities committee's files: The occurrence of Moustached Warbler in Britain "British Birds" 93(1):29-38] Two further records, from Hampshire in 1951 and Kent in 1952, were reviewed as part of the 1950-1957 review, and found to be unacceptable. Following these rejections, the Buckinghamshire record, and the remaining record, a breeding pair in Cambridgeshire in 1946, previously accepted as Britain's first, were scrutinised by the BOURC and found to be unacceptable, leading to the removal of Moustached Warbler from the British list; it has not re-occurred. [Melling, Tim (2006) Time to get rid of the Moustache: a review of British records of Moustached Warbler "British Birds" 99(9):465-478]

A review of Olivaceous Warbler records commenced in 1986, [BBRC report for 1985, pages 527, 571-572] and continued through the 1990s. The results of this review were published in 1999: six of the previously accepted records were rejected as not meeting modern identification standards. [BBRC report for 1998, pages 595-6] In 2003, following the split of Olivaceous Warbler into two species, the accepted records were all reviewed again to ascertain which of the two they were - all nine proved to be Eastern Olivaceous Warblers.BBRC report for 2002, page 594] Following the split of Bonelli's Warbler into two species, the committee reviewed all the 121 accepted records, and concluded that 51 were Western and two were Eastern; for the remainder, not enough evidence was available to make a firm decision. [Rogers, Michael J. (1998) Rarities Committee news & announcements "British Birds" 91(4): 121-123] The committee had previously stated that it would regard as Western Bonelli's Warbler all except proven Eastern Bonelli's Warblers, [BBRC report for 1996, page 503] however, this announcement rescinded that decision. In 2003 - 4, all Desert Warbler records were reviewed, and it was concluded that all were referable to the newly split Asian Desert Warbler, rather than African Desert Warbler. [BBRC report for 2003, pages 606-7]

A review of American and Pacific Golden Plover records was begun in 1991,BBRC report for 1990, page 450] with the purpose of evaluating whether any individuals previously accepted as "either American or Pacific" could now be definitely assigned to one species or the other (and vice versa). The results (a small decrease in the number of accepted American Golden Plovers, and a small increase in the number of accepted Pacifics) were published in the committee's report for 1996, [BBRC report for 1996, pages 469-471] with a comment that a detailed paper on the subject was being prepared, although as of 2007, this has not been published. A review of Isabelline Shrike records commenced in 1986. [BBRC report for 1985, page 527] This review, the results of which were published in 1989,BBRC report for 1998, page 553] established a racial identification for a number of adult Isabelline Shrikes previously accepted to species level. A further review, with the same aim, was begun in the late 1990s. A preliminary set of results of this review was published in 2003; [BBRC report for 2002, pages 600-1] four previously accepted individuals were rejected, including one, in Cambridgeshire in 1978, which is now thought have been a hybrid with Red-backed Shrike. The full results of this second review were published in 2007; [BBRC report for 2005, pages 92-4] some of the previous racial attributions were withdrawn, but the committee felt able to confidently assign a race for a number of more recent individuals, although it stressed that this could only be done with adult birds (the committee's 2005 report mentions that a further article is in preparation). A review of Black-eared Wheatears was conducted in 2002 - 4, with the aim of assigning individuals to the eastern and western races where possible; this was possible with nine records; both western "hispanica" and eastern "melanoleuca" were shown to have occurred. [BBRC report for 2002, pages 589-90; BBRC report for 2003, pages 598-9]

A review of Semipalmated Sandpiper records took place in the 1970s, resulting in seven of the twelve records being rejected.Wallace, D. I. M. on behalf of the Rarities Committee(1979) Review of British records of Semipalmated Sandpipers and claimed Red-necked Stints "British Birds" 72(6):264-274] A review of Black-headed Wagtail records was initiated in 1983. [BBRC report for 1982, pages 476-477] The results were published in 1994 and 1995, and nine previously accepted records were judged to be unsound, due to possible confusion with Grey-headed Wagtail. [BBRC report for 1993, page 543; BBRC report for 1994, page 530] A review of Rufous Turtle Dove records took place in 1994, and concluded that three of the eight accepted records should no longer stand. [BBRC report for 1993, page 536] A review of Lesser Kestrel records, begun in 1994, [BBRC report for 1993, pages 503-5] and completed in 1995, concluded that six accepted records of this species should no longer be regarded as acceptable. Five or the six were from autumn, whereas the overwhelming majority of records which the committee decided should continue to remain acceptable are from the spring/summer period. [BBRC report for 1994, pages 505-6] All 24 spring records of Siberian Stonechat were reconsidered in 2002 - 4, in the light of new information on the variability in appearance of European Stonechats in spring; the committee decided that all but five should remain accepted. [BBRC report for 2002, pages 588-589; BBRC report for 2003, pages 596-7; BBRC report for 2004, page 672] In 2003, the committee revised its assessment criteria for male Pine Buntings, allowing some birds which would previously have been regarded as hybrids to be regarded as acceptable, but requiring an overall greater level of precision in descriptions, and reviewed past records in the light of these changes. [BBRC report for 2003, pages 620-621]

As of 2007, the following reviews are underway: a review of past records of Macaronesian Shearwaters, [BBRC report for 2004, page 640] a review of all Royal Tern records, [BBRC report for 2006, page 721] a review of Great White Egrets to establish if any are of the Nearctic race,BBRC report for 2003, page 625] a review of sandplovers, a review of records of the eastern race of Redstart, a review of Orphean Warbler records aimed at determining the race of each, and a review of Subalpine Warblers to determine which individuals are ascribable to the race "albistriata". [BBRC report for 2002, pages 595-6] A review of Redhead records is planned. [ [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/311007.htm BBRC requests images prior to a review of records of Redhead in Great Britain] ] It has also been suggested that reviews should be conducted of records of Great Snipe, as older records show a very different temporal occurrence pattern than more recent birds, [BBRC report for 2005, page 41] the large numbers of Gull-billed Tern records from the English south coast from the 1960s, [Hume, R. A. (1995) Rarities Committee News and Announcements "British Birds" 88(8):378-80] and Desert Wheatears, to establish racial identifications. [BBRC report for 2003, pages 599-600]

Problematic records

Most records received by the committee are processed within a year and published in its annual report in "British Birds" magazine, usually in the November issue. Some records prove problematic, and for some species, it has taken the committee many years to come to a decision. This has particularly been the case where the species or subspecies in question was new to Britain - examples include Northern Harrier (Britain's first, in Scilly in 1982, accepted in 2007), [BBRC report for 2006, page 707] Long-toed Stint (Britain's first, in Cornwall in 1970, accepted in 1994), [Round, Philip D. (1996) Long-toed Stint in Cornwall: the first record for the Western Palearctic "British Birds" 89(1): 12-24] Least Tern (Britain's first, and to date only record, accepted in 2005, after first occurring in 1983), [BBRC report for 2004, pages 661-2] Black Lark (Britain's first, from Spurn, Yorkshire in 1984, accepted in 2004 after a second set of notes came to light), [BBRC report for 2003, page 590] Sykes's Warbler (the first three records, from 1959, 1977, and 1993, accepted in 2003), [BBRC report for 2002, pages 594-5] Iberian Chiffchaff (the first two records, from 1972 and 1992, accepted in 2000), [BBRC report for 1999, page 560] and Hume's Leaf Warbler (the first 27 records, the earliest from 1966, accepted in 1998). [BBRC report for 1997, pages 507-8]

The first three field records of Blyth's Pipit, including an atypical pale individual on the Isles of Scilly, [Evans, L. G. R. (1993) The Isles of Scilly Blyth's Pipit "Birding World" 6(10):398-400; Page, Doug (1997) From the Rarities Committee's files: Problems presented by a pale Blyth's Pipit "British Birds" 90(10):404-9] proved difficult, but following the occurrence of trapped individuals, on Fair Isle in 1993 and Suffolk in 1994, these were accepted. [BBRC report for 1994, pages 528-9; BBRC report for 1995, page 512; BBRC report for 1996, page 493; BBRC report for 2002, pages 584-5] Some records of Citrine Wagtail [BBRC report for 1996, pages 494-5] and Short-toed Treecreeper [BBRC report for 1992, page 523] were accepted only after prolonged consideration. Prior to the publication in 1984 of Jonsson and Grant's stint identification paper, [Jonsson, Lars & Peter J. Grant (1984) Identification of stints and peeps "British Birds" 77(7):293-315] a number of stints ("Calidris") proved difficult to assess; a paper covering four such cases was published in 1986. [Grant, Peter J. (1986) Four problem stints "British Birds" 79(12): 609-621] It included accounts of a bird on Fair Isle, originally thought to be Britain's first Red-necked Stint, but which was in fact a Sanderling, and a bird in Suffolk, The "Felixstowe Stint", which most observers at the time believed to be a Western Sandpiper, but which was in fact a Semipalmated Sandpiper. A previous paper details four early claims of Red-necked Stint, none of which proved acceptable.

As of 2007, records of Wilson's Snipe (from 1985 and 1998), [Mitchell, Dominic, editorial comment in response to Mike Buckland (2007) Wilson's on the record "Birdwatch" 185:20-21] Elegant Terns (from 2002), a number of eastern Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats, and several apparent North African Chaffinches, are still under consideration. The occurrence in Britain of southern (i.e. South Polar / Brown) skuas is also unresolved. A series of reports of South Polar Skua, from 1982 to 1993, were all eventually rejected after being assessed for several years. [BBRC report for 1996, pages 453-5, 518-21; BBRC report for 1997, pages 515-7; BBRC report for 2003, pages 623-625] Three other birds (from Dorset in 1996, Scilly in 2001, and Glamorgan in 2002) [BBRC report for 2006, page 694-5] await a decision.

BBRC has had particular problems with some other rare seabirds. The "Chalice Petrel", a dark-rumped storm-petrel seen and photographed in the Southwest Approaches in 1988, and believed by its observers to be a Matsudaira's Storm-petrel was eventually rejected as other similar species could not be ruled out. [Hume, R. A., P. Harrison, H. W. Wallis, Keith Cutting, S. A. Young, Peter Charles, T. M. England, J. R. Ward (1997) From the Rarities Committee's files: 'The Chalice petrel' "British Birds" 90(8): 305-313] A petrel seen from Dungeness, Kent and believed by its observers to be Britain's first Herald Petrel was rejected, although the committee noted that the bird was clearly "an amazing seabird". [Bradshaw, Colin (2002) From the Rarities Committee's files: Rare seabirds and a record of Herald Petrel "British Birds" 95(4): 156-165] This decision sparked a number of letters to "British Birds" questioning whether the committee's stance is too strict.Walker, David and Owen Leyshon (2002) The Dungeness petrel - a response from the observers "British Birds" 95(9): 459-460; Ferguson, David (2002) The Dungeness petrel "British Birds" 95(9): 460; Duff, Andrew (2002) The Dungeness petrel "British Birds" 95(9): 460-1] Fea's Petrel is now officially accepted as having occurred, but for many years, the identification of these birds was accepted only as Fea's/Zino's/Soft-plumaged Petrel, followed by a period where they were referred to Fea's or Zino's; however, following BOURC acceptance of two birds in Scilly waters as Fea's Petrels, BBRC published a paper in which argued that all birds are likely to have been Fea's. [Steele, Jimmy (2006) From the Rarities Committee's files: Do we know what British 'soft-plumaged petrels' are? "British Birds" 99(8): 404 - 419]

Occasionally, decisions have been delayed due to non-ornithological factors, perhaps most notably with the loss by the Royal Mail of a file on Britain's first Lesser Short-toed Lark. [Hume, Rob, Editorial comment following Dickie, I. R. and K. E. Vinicombe (1995) Lesser Short-toed Lark: new to Britain "British Birds" 88(12): 593-9]

The Druridge Bay curlew

The BBRC conducted a detailed review into the controversial identification of a curlew seen at Druridge Bay in Northumberland in 1998, coming to the conclusion that it was, as had been believed by many observers, a first-summer Slender-billed Curlew. This identification was accepted by the British Ornithologists Union's Records Committee, leading to the addition of this species to the British List. [Steele, Jimmy and Didier Vangeluwe (2002) From the Rarities Committee's files: the Slender-billed Curlew at Druridge Bay, Northumberland, in 1998 "British Birds" 95(6):279-299]

Review of 1950-1957 records, and the Tiree Ascension Frigatebird

A BBRC subcommittee was set up in 1997 to undertake a review of rare bird records from the years immediately prior to the committee's establishment. The rationale for this is to ensure that all records from 1950 onwards (the cut-off date for Category A of the BOU British List of birds) have been subjected to a similar level of scrutiny. The most notable outcome of this review was the reidentification of a frigatebird record from Tiree in 1953. Previously identified as a Magnificent Frigatebird, the BBRC review concluded that the bird was in fact an Ascension Frigatebird, the only individual of this species ever identified in Europe (Walbridge, Small & McGowan 2003). [Walbridge, Grahame, Brian Small and Robert Y. McGowan (2003) "From the Rarities Committee's files: Ascension Frigatebird on Tiree - new to the Western Palearctic" "British Birds" 96:58-73] The full results of the review were published in 2006.Wallace, D. I. M., Colin Bradshaw and M. J. Rogers (2006) A review of the 1950-57 British rarities. "British Birds" 99(9):460-464] Of the total of 126 records which were reviewed, 37 were rejected as no longer acceptable. These included a claimed White-tailed Eagle which broke into a chicken-run in a garden and stole a chicken, three Little Crakes, three European Scops Owls, the only late December record of Tawny Pipit, three Black-eared Wheatears, a record of two White's Thrushes together in April, a spring Lanceolated Warbler, two Moustached Warblers (see below) and a Pine Grosbeak. Also, issues were identified with the identification of Britain's first Western Sandpiper, on Fair Isle in 1956, [Garner, Martin (2005) The Fair Isle sandpiper "British Birds" 98: 356-364] and these led the BOURC to reject this record;British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee (2007) [http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1474-919X.2007.00727.x British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee: 35th Report] "Ibis" 149 (3): 652-654] Western Sandpiper has been recorded several times subsequently in Britain however, and remains on the national list.

Criticism

The committee has been criticised on a number of grounds, including the level of detail it requires in record submissions, its approach to the assessment of single-observer records and its level of openness.

Wallace (1973) addressed a number of criticisms including that it provides too little information on the reasons for rarity rejection. [Wallace, D. I. M. Current developments in the work of the Rarities Committee "British Birds" 66(8): 329-30]

In 1996, Alan Vittery raised the question of whether the level of detail required by the committee for a description to be acceptable was too high.Vittery, Alan (1996) String theory "Birdwatch" 47: 13] Similar points were made by Keith Vinicombe and Mike Pennington in 2001. In the light of the rejection of a record of Blyth's Reed Warbler on Shetland in 1997, Vinicombe and Pennington wrote to "British Birds" to question the decision. They suggested that the committee was becoming too focussed on minutiae in assessing bird descriptions, ignoring more obvious evidence, Vinicombe saying that "the Committee has prevaricated to the point where it 'cannot see the wood for the trees'". [Vinicombe, Keith (2001) The Unst Blyth's Reed Warbler "British Birds" 94(6): 291-3; Pennington, Mike (2001) The Unst Blyth's Reed Warbler "British Birds" 94(6): 293-4] David Walker and Owen Leyshon, David Ferguson, and Andrew Duff have criticised the committee on similar grounds in relation to its approach to the assessment of rare seabirds, citing the Dungeness Herald Petrel claim as an example. Vittery, and Moss Taylor [Taylor, Moss (1996) Solo rarities "Birdwatch" 48:64] both expressed concern that BBRC was adopting too strict an approach for records of birds seen only by their finder.

In 1998, BBRC explained its approach to the assessment of single-observer records. The committee explained that while it understood that geographical and social circumstances make it likely that some people are more likely to find rare birds on their own, it is "very cautious about observers with a high proportion of single-observer records" and that its policy is to watch patterns closely and reviewing those observers' past records on a regular basis. [BBRC report for 1997, page 456] This approach has attracted criticism. Former BBRC chairman Ian Wallace and others have written about the subject in "Birdwatch" magazine. Wallace believes that the committee has a blacklist of observers, from whom it will automatically reject records, unless there are other observers able to corroborate the sighting; he mentions two specific observers, both of whom live in remote parts of northern Scotland.Wallace, Ian (2005) Questions that won't go away "Birdwatch" 153: 19-20] Ken Shaw, a former BBRC member, has claimed that BBRC would not accept a single-observer record of a species new to Britain without photographic evidence, regardless of the track record of the observer. [Shaw, Ken (2005) Singled out? "Birdwatch" 151: 18-21] Graham Bell, another former member, writing in response to Shaw's article, has accused the committee of adopted unfounded suspicions, arguing that just because a competent observer moves to an underwatched part of the country, their abilities do not change. [Bell, Graham (2005) Negative attitudes "Birdwatch" 154: 14] One of the observers who Wallace claimed was blacklisted, Alan Vittery, also contributed to the debate, stating that he had been informed by the BBRC that they would not consider any single-observer record he submitted, unless supported by a photograph. Vittery contrasted the BBRC's attitude with that of other national rarities committees, and arguing that the result of the approach is to distort rarity statistics. [Vittery, Alan (2005) A single mind "Birdwatch" 151: 22-3; Vittery, Alan (2005) Give lone birders a chance "Birdwatch" 157: 22-3] Vittery invited the BBRC to reply in public, but this request was declined.

Alan Vittery and Sara McMahon [McMahon, Sarah (1996) Tell us why "Birdwatch" 49:64] have both argued that the committee should inform observers whose records are rejected of the committee's reasons for doing so. This view also has the support of the editor of "Birdwatch", Dominic Mitchell, who has made this the topic of editorials on a number of occasions. [Examples include the editorial in issue 116 (page 4).]

BBRC has from time to time published material illustrating its assessment process in an attempt to explain to a wider audience how its decisions are arrived at. Much of these has appeared in a series called "From the Rarities Committees files" in "British Birds" magazine. [The first article in this series "Isabelline Wheatear in Scilly" by Alan R. Dean was published in 1993: "British Birds" 86(1): 3-5 ] Another short series was published in "Birdwatch" magazine: entitled "You: The Jury", it featured six fictitious rarity accounts, with, in the subsequent issue, accounts from two rarities committee members stating how they would vote. ["You: The Jury" commenced in the April 1993 edition of "Birdwatch" (vol. 2, no. 4, page 39) and ran for six further issues (vol. 2, no. 5, pages 46-7; issue 12, page 27; issue 13, page 49; issue 14, page 43; issue 15, page 65 and issue 16, page 43). ]

Footnotes and references

Bibliography

Principal works


* BBRC, [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/constitution.htm BBRC constitution] (accessed 26 October 2007)
* Wallace, D. I. M. (1970) The first ten years of the Rarities Committee "British Birds" 63(3): 113-29
* Lansdown, P. G. (1987) Rare birds — the work of the British Birds Rarities Committee "British Birds" 80(10): 487-91
* Lansdown, P. G. (1993) Rare-bird recording and the Rarities Committee "British Birds" 86(9): 417-22
* Cocker, Mark (2001) "Birders: Tales of a tribe" ISBN 0-224-06002-3
* Mairs, David (2003) The record breaker "Birdwatch" 131: 40-1 (an interview with Colin Bradshaw)
* Wallace, Ian (2004) "Beguiled by Birds", pages 97-105 ("The winding road of national review")
* Wallace, Ian (2005) Questions that won't go away "Birdwatch" 153: 19-20
* Bradshaw, Colin, Paul Harvey and Jimmy Steele, on behalf of BBRC (2004) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/230505.htm What does the British Birds Rarities Committee do?] "British Birds" 97(6): 260-3
* Dean, Alan R. (2007) The British Birds Rarities Committee: a review of its history, publications and procedures "British Birds" 100(3): 149-176

BBRC annual reports

* 1958: G. A. Pyman on behalf of the Rarity Records Committee (1960) Report on rare birds in Great Britain and Ireland in 1958 "British Birds" 53(4): 153-73
* 1959: G. A. Pyman on behalf of the Rarity Records Committee (1960) Report on rare birds in Great Britain and Ireland in 1959 "British Birds" 53(10): 409-31
* 1960: G. A. Pyman on behalf of the Rarity Records Committee (1961) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in i960 "British Birds" 54(5): 173-200
* 1961: C. M. Swaine on behalf of the Rarities Committee (1962) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1961 "British Birds" 55(12): 562-84
* 1962: D. D. Harber and C. M. Swaine on behalf of the Parities Committee (1963) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1962 "British Birds" 56(11): 393-409
* 1963: D. D. Harber and the Rarities Committee (1964) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1963 "British Birds" 57(7): 261-81
* 1964: D. D. Harber and the Rarities Committee (1965) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1964 "British Birds" 58(9): 353-72
* 1965: D. D. Harber and the Rarities Committee (1966) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1965 "British Birds" 59(7): 280-305
* 1966: F. R. Smith and the Rarities Committee (1967) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1966 "British Birds" 60(8): 309-38
* 1967: F. R. Smith and the Rarities Committee (1968) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1967 "British Birds" 61(8): 329-65
* 1968: F. R. Smith and the Rarities Committee (1969) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1968 "British Birds" 62(11): 457-92
* 1969: F. R. Smith and the Rarities Committee (1970) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1969 "British Birds" 63(7): 267-93
* 1970: F. R. Smith and the Rarities Committee (1971) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1970 "British Birds" 64(8): 339-71
* 1971: F. R. Smith and the Rarities Committee (1972) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1971 "British Birds" 65(8): 322-54
* 1972: F. R. Smith and the Rarities Committee (1973) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1972 "British Birds" 66(8): 331-60
* 1973: F. R. Smith and the Rarities Committee (1974) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1973 "British Birds" 67(8): 310-48
* 1974: F. R. Smith and the Rarities Committee (1975) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1974 "British Birds" 68(8): 306-38
* 1975: J. N. Dymond and the Rarities Committee (1976) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1975 "British Birds" 69(9): 321-68
* 1976: O'Sullivan, John and the Rarities Committee (1977) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1976 "British Birds" 70(10): 405-53
* 1977: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1978) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1977report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1977] "British Birds" 71(11): 481-532
* 1978: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1979) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1978report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1978] "British Birds" 72(11): 503-49
* 1979: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1980) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1980. "British Birds" 73(11): 491-534
* 1980: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1981) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1980. "British Birds" 74(11): 453-95
* 1981: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1982) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1981. "British Birds" 75(11): 482-533
* 1982: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1983) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1982report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1982] "British Birds" 76(11): 476-529
* 1983: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1984) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1983. "British Birds" 77(11): 506-62
* 1984: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1985) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1984. "British Birds" 78(11): 529-89
* 1985: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1986) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1985. "British Birds" 79(11): 526-88
* 1986: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1987) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1986. "British Birds" 80(11): 516-71
* 1987: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1988) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1987. "British Birds" 81(11): 535-96
* 1988: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1989) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1988. "British Birds" 82(11): 505-63
* 1989: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1990) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1989.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1989] "British Birds" 83(11): 439-96
* 1990: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1991) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1990report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1990] "British Birds" 84(11): 449-505
* 1991: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1992) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1991report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1991] "British Birds" 85(10): 507-54
* 1992: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1993) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1992report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1992] "British Birds" 86(10): 447-540
* 1993: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1994) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1993report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1993] "British Birds" 87(11): 503-71
* 1994: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1995) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1994report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1994] "British Birds" 88(11): 493-558
* 1995: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1996) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1995report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1995] "British Birds" 89(11): 481-531
* 1996: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1997) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1996report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1996] "British Birds" 90(11): 453-522
* 1997: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1998) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1997report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1997] "British Birds" 91(11): 455-517
* 1998: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (1999) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1998report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1998] "British Birds" 92(11): 554-609
* 1999: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (2000) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/1999report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 1999] "British Birds" 93(11): 512-67
* 2000: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (2001) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/2000report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2000] "British Birds" 94(10): 452-504
* 2001: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (2002) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/2001RevA.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2001] "British Birds" 95(10): 476-528
* 2002: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (2003) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/2002report.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2002] "British Birds" 96(11): 542-609
* 2003: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (2004) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/2003.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2003] "British Birds" 97(11): 558-625
* 2004: Rogers, Michael J. and the Rarities Committee (2005) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/BBRC2004.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2004] "British Birds" 98(12): 628-94
* 2005: Fraser, P. A., Michael J. Rogers and the Rarities Committee (2007) [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/BBRC2005i.pdf Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2005 part 1: non-passerines] "British Birds" 100(1): 16-61 and [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/BBRC2005ii.pdf part 2: passerines] "British Birds" 100(2): 72-104
* 2006: Fraser, P. A. and the Rarities Committee (2006) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2006. "British Birds" 100(12): 694-754
* 2007: Hudson, Nigel and the Rarities Committee (2008) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2007. "British Birds" 101(10): 516-577

External links

* [http://www.bbrc.org.uk/ BBRC website]
* [http://www.scarce-migrants.org.uk/ Scarce Migrant Birds in Britain]


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