You are encouraged to take careful notes in the field and submit records of your sightings promptly at the end of the year to the appropriate County Recorder. Please enter your records onto WMBC record slips, available at indoor meetings or by post from your County Recorder (enclosing a SAE). Please submit your records by the end of March at the latest, with slips in Checklist order and using different slips for different counties as well as for each species.
This is where the Checklist helps. It includes all species and well-marked subspecies recorded in the Region (Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands and Worcestershire).
Each species is then coded to indicate the type(s) of information required for the Annual Report. These Record Codes are intended as guidelines only. Additional material is always useful and your efforts will not be wasted. Even negative returns (e.g. "no count", or "apparently absent") are valuable. Dated records are infinitely more useful than vague references to seasons or months. Be specific about sites: give grid references for lesser-known localities; use names given on current 1:50,000 O.S. maps; for census data indicate the area or distance concerned, if possible in metric units.
Whenever possible, comment on sex, age, and state of plumage (e.g. non-breeding adult; first-winter male). Records concerning habitat and food (preferred, atypical etc.), aberrant plumage (e.g. albino) and moult (e.g. passage wader) are useful, and indications of changes of status and distribution are particularly valuable, if supporting data are given. Please give arrival and departure details (dates and totals) for the regular summer, winter and passage migrants, and submit dated records of unseasonal migrants with supporting identification details. Counts of visible migration and hard weather movements should include the time and duration of the count and the direction(s) of flight, and an indication of the size of migrating flocks. Dated records of all feral species and presumed escapes should be submitted with descriptions sufficient to eliminate similar exotics. Records of hybrids, which are particularly frequent in wildfowl, should include details to support the identification of parentage.
Because records of rare or unusual birds can be contentious, fuller guidance on these is given below.
Data from special studies, such as wildfowl counts, Common Bird Census and ringing are extremely valuable, but County Recorders do not receive these directly from the Wildfowl Trust or the British Trust for Ornithology. Will you please, therefore, send them your records. However, information on individually marked birds should be sent direct to our Ringing Secretary. In addition to all recoveries of birds ringed conventionally under the BTO scheme, he welcomes records of any birds wearing coloured rings, wing-tags or feather dye (but please note colours, positions and letters/ numbers).
The most important thing is to take a description and send it to your County Recorder straight away — do not wait until the end of the year. You might also like to notify our telephone hotline. Records of nationally rare species (code A (BBRC)) will be assessed by the British Birds Rarities Committee , via your County Recorder (from whom special forms for submitting your description can be obtained — please enclose a SAE, or download them here ). Local rarities (codes A and B) will be assessed by the WMBC Records Committee. In order to convince either committee, your description must be complete enough for the assessors to recognise only one species in that description, even if it were not named. Too many submissions fail to satisfy this criterion.
Although most observers accept that reports of scarce or unusual birds submitted by inexperienced birdwatchers require substantiation, they sometimes question why more experienced observers are requested to supply descriptions. There are two reasons for this:
Committee — such as that operated by the WMBC — claims no superior expertise in its own right, but merely executes a consistent standard of assessment, which has been slowly established nationally as the result of the accumulated wisdom of birdwatchers as a whole. Every individual can contribute to the refinement of this process by co-operating with the records committee, both local and national.
To establish beyond doubt precisely what has been seen. Many observers submit totally inadequate documentation of their records. Some records, however, cause problems and these fall into two categories:
Many modern field-guides and bird books provide guidance on identification and note-taking. Not every description need be equally detailed of course, the amount of detail required being to some extent a function of the status of the species involved and the degree of difficulty in its identification. An exhaustive description of an unfamiliar bird, however, should contain the following elements:
The golden rules are to:
Nowadays, with so much popular literature on identification, this requires much greater objectivity and self-discipline than is generally realised. Too often assessors recognise the description submitted as coming more or less verbatim from one of the popular field-guides. Such descriptions are virtually useless as evidence in favour of a claimed sighting of a rare bird. What is required is a more considered and interactive response to the unusual and rare bird.
In describing shape and structure, vague and potentially ambiguous terms such as small, large, long, short etc. should be avoided in an unqualified form. It is much more precise and less prone to error to evaluate the various structural elements by comparison with easily understood "standards" e.g. bill length as a fraction of head length or compared to the distance from base of bill to eye; length of exposed primaries in relation to total length of wing or to length of tertials (primary projection); etc.
Equally, colours should, if possible, be related as precisely as practicable to the feather tracts concerned. With a little practice it is possible to discern and name the main feather-tracts quite easily and, by habitually describing plumage in an ordered manner, the possibility of potentially key features being missed is considerably reduced.
The major part of taking a description is thus an exercise in analysis. It is important, however, to try to convey the overall appearance of "jizz" of the bird, and this is an exercise in synthesis. In identifying birds it soon becomes apparent that every species has a character which is more than the sum of its constituent parts. Species are recognised not just by the discrete colour components of their plumage and the absolute shapes of the various parts of they anatomy; but also by less palpable, but frequently quite individual, manner in which these and other features combine into the characteristic mien or "jizz" of each particular species.
After taking an objective, analytical description it is worth spending a few minutes considering how the various components of shape, structure, pattern and behaviour combine to produce the individual character of the species. It is often this section of a description - when present - which can be the most convincing, as it is rarely available in books and can demonstrate that the observer really has seen the species claimed. Jizz takes as many forms as there are species, and it is impossible to break down into a few simple categories. Questions of the following kind, however, illustrate the concept involved:
The list is endless but the key is to adopt a literally inquisitive approach!
Record slips for the submission of sightings can be obtained at indoor meetings or by sending an S.A.E. to the County Recorder. Please submit your records by March at the latest. Arrange slips in checklist order and using different slips for different counties before sending them to the appropriate County Recorder. Please make sure that you include your surname and initials and the grid reference of lesser-known localities. You can also submit records by e-mail, and we are running an electronic record keeping trial — you can submit detials of birds you have seen in Staffordshire, using your computer, in a number of formats.
To help you with your submission of records of local or national rarities, below is a list of points to supplement your description. As far as the description itself, see the section entitled "what should my description include", above.
Ornithology in Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire & the West Midlands county, since 1929.
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