Saturday, 2 July 2011

From the Armchair

The other day I was moaning to Mrs L that I hadn't any ticks for, like, ages and ages. What a terrible terrible shame she agreed [note that this is not necessarily a true depiction of events - Ed.]. Two hours later I was sat in my armchair when Nigel Hudson alerted the world to the availability latest BBRC Work-in-Progress file. Hurrah!

For those that don't know, the BBRC is the committee of birding bods/gods that adjudicate on whether rare birds in this country were real or not. First of all they have to decide whether the bird in question was the bird in question; was the ID correct, and was the bird a figment of the observer's imagination (heaven forbid) or not? In the case of the bird that roused me from my armchair, was the bird actually a Lesser White-fronted Goose, and not some dodgy bread-guzzling hybrid? Yes it was a Lesser White-fronted Goose, and yes it really existed as loads of people saw it. That hurdle passed, they move on to the difficult stuff. Where was it? When did it turn up? What birds did it arrive with? What birds did it leave with? When did it leave? What did it do while it was here? What did it eat? Did it say anything? All crucial questions, the sum of which are used to come to an informed decision about the wild provenance of the bird. Assuming the majority of the committee then call the toss correctly, the bird is accepted as a record onto the almighty British List.

Or one of the British Lists. There are several, maintained by different people, and you can follow whichever one you want. I can't remember the real name of the one I use, but it now has the Goose on it, whereas the one I don't use doesn't have the Goose on it. Although you will find this hard to believe, the various list-keepers can come to entirely different conclusions when presented with the same facts. You could argue about this all day long, and it's just possible that some of that does go on. Thankfully though it happens behind closed doors where the public can't see what a bunch of socially inept losers birders really are.

Moving swiftly on before this post takes a large downhill turn, every quarter the BBRC tells the world how they're getting on with rare bird records they have been tasked with judging. Rabid twitchers everywhere open the file and eagerly scan down the list of birds, which is presented taxonomically.

"Ooooh, Black Scoter, did I see that?!"
"What about that Blue-winged Teal with a ring on it from Cambs somewhere?"
"Oh, I wonder if they've accepted that Goose?


The specific entry you are looking for is "OK". OK means it has passed all the tests and is adjudged to be a real non-fictitious bird. There are other entries as well. "IC" is a popular one, and means in "In Circulation", ie they're still looking at it. They can sometimes look at it for a very long time. For example, they're still looking at a Great Reed Warbler from Dorset in May 1961. I'm all for being careful, however fifty years on, with the observer almost certainly (and unfortunately) in Green Italics, it's time to make your mind up. I suggest that a quick "NP" here would be ideal, as there is likely nobody left to chunter about it. NP stands for "Not Proven", which is a nice way of saying you were wrong, and you didn't see a real bird. Personally I'd prefer to see "Bollocks" next to an improbable record, as that is what most sceptic birders would say when they first got the news, but I'm not on the committee. And possibly never will be.

Anyhow, Goosy-Lucy is no longer in circulation, she is "OK". Back in January, when I saw this wild, wary, pure and unringed bird consorting with a classic carrier species in a historically plausible location, I was extremely restrained. Usually I speed home, there to open Bubo and bung the bird on immediately. In this instance I waited, just in case the powers that be decided in their wisdom that the bird was plastic. Happily it has been given the benefit of the doubt, and so, feeling virtuous from the comfort of my armchair, I have been able to tick it off my little bird-spotting list, and need never look at one again. Phew.

Here is the first Lesser White-front I ever saw. It didn't cut the mustard for some reason.


  1. In the final photo, where is the LWFG from the Pink-foot?!

  2. Er yes, good point. Presumably it is hiding behind the Pink-foot....