Advice from the MBRC on documenting rare birds
The MBRC wishes to assist observers in documenting rare birds in order to improve the quality of knowledge on the distribution and abundance of the birds of Michigan. Documenting a rare bird is a valuable exercise. Scrutinizing and recording unbiased details is simultaneously the most important and time consuming step in documenting a rare bird. Written documentation provides the exact details as the observer perceived them, which is key when being evaluated by another party. While technology has recently allowed for easy retrieval of photographs of rare birds, it has caused many birders to become overly reliant on photos alone. On the one hand, photos often make a record easily evaluated, especially with distinctive birds like a male Vermillion Flycatcher. On the other hand, in many cases photos can be difficult to judge due to effects of lighting, the position of the bird, and poor quality of the photo. This matter is complicated when there are no accompanying written details and the species in question has similar congeners.
Before you write your documentation of a rare bird, we encourage you to read this analytical paper by Donna Dittman and Greg Lasley on how to document rare birds and why it is important. Then, please critically reflect on their advice.
Next, this article by Dave Irons visually demonstrates how photos can be misleading and why it is necessary to supplement photos with written descriptions.
Finally, this article from the Maryland and Washington D.C. Records Committee gives some great examples of records submitted to the committee and their actions on the records. Be sure to read the Franklin’s Gull example and the committee’s reasons for their ultimate decision on the record.
Here is a list of other valuable resources. You are likely to see some redundancy to the previous articles, however each of these has something to add. This group of links shares further information on rare bird documentation:
These two pages give instruction and examples of field notes and sketches: