What defines a "sighting" that isn't just heard? Not so simple!

30 Jun 2009 10:48 #188 by Mymm Ackley
Hi All!

(I wanted to write in BOLD but the B doesn't work apparently and just gives me a lot of letters I don't want.)I'm hoping there are some U.S. listers on BUBO who have also "seen" the Sinaloa Wren, down near Patagonia, AZ. I had a heck of a time with it just recently--as EVERYBODY does!--and would like to share my experience in the interest of opening up a discussion over how people categorize for listing, hard to see birds like this. Since I actually did "SEE" the bird when it paused at the nest briefly,just before popping in (or I guess I should say popping UP!) I am NOT listing it as a heard bird. Technically and very narrowly I DID "see" it--though poorly in terms of actual field marks! (But I KNOW along with everyone else who was watching the nest that day, that what we briefly saw was IT going in!)
However,in my heart of hearts I'm hardly kidding myself over it's BASIC status as a HEARD bird! And beautiful and copious as the song was, that alone doesn't cut it! And yet the addition of the song makes the wren a lot more solid sighting than a few other birds I've listed such as Yellow Rail, for example. All THAT amounted to was a little grayish/yellowish ? SMEAR flying very fast right past me! But since everybody ELSE seemed satisfied at having "SEEN" it--they all clapped and cheered and headed right back to the van--I listed it too! (And it wasn't even HEARD! Yet the trip leader down at Anahuac couldn't understand why I was so dissatisfied. "What're YOU complaining about?" he said. "It flew in YOUR direction!" So reluctantly I listed it.
Since ALL birders have these BVDs and/or heard birds they'd like to get RID of, I'm curious to know how OTHER PEOPLE deal with it. If I dropped them all I'd NEVER reach my goal of 700 ABA!! (Since heard birds ARE legit)Still I feel kinda crummy sometimes...hope somebody responds! Mymm Ackley from Pueblo, Colorado USA

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22 Nov 2010 21:33 #553 by Phil Bull
Totally agree. For my part if a "heard only" sighting (?) is clearly and categorically the species in question I count it.
No worries but would hope to maybe see it later.
If I'd count it when doing a BTO survey it seems reasonable to count it.
Similarly if its a poor sighting but I know I've seen the bird and have seen something that points to the ID I'll count it, even if I would be unsure without the support of other observers.

There are one or two that I have counted but still feel, like you, a little dissatisfied.
A couple that I feel I could count but frustratingly feel I cant count.
Then one or two that I've seen well and although some listers have counted, I believe are posssible escapes and wont count unless they are BOU certified.

There will always be borderline cases.

I enjoyed finding and identifying Emperor Goose & Bahama Pintail :) (which absolutely cant count even though they'd be firsts for Britain), rather more than a fuzzy distant speck of a Marmora's Warbler (which I did :blush: ).

Just relax, be honest with yourself and enjoy your birding (BTW I would guess you're score is at least 3 times my mediocre tally so well done :) )

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28 Nov 2010 01:17 #554 by John Martin
Most listers seem to be horrified at the thought of ticking a bird that is heard only and dismiss it out of hand. I’m not really sure why, other than tradition/common practice. In the excellent ‘The Sound Approach to birding’, Mark Constantine argues that it is the accuracy of identification that matters rather than the sense with which you have identified the bird. This does make a certain amount of sense and sound identifications can be just as solid as sightings, especially now decent digital recording equipment is available at reasonable cost. I personally still don’t count heard only birds but I was especially tempted once, with a Yucatan Poorwill at Uxmal in November 1996. I was with two birding mates and the poorwill was close by somewhere, calling back to a tape on a warm Mexican night - though we could not see the bird it was still great value and seemed to deserve a tick! I can see it would be sensible to count these heard birds, but for now I’ll keep them on a separate list, and hope to see them as well one day.

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28 Nov 2010 07:52 #555 by Mymm Ackley
Dear Phil,

Thanks for responding to my message about the difficulties of deciding when to count something! The only reason I know you responded is 'cuz your message was forwarded to my e-mail! I wrote that thing so long ago I'd forgotten all about it! But our counting difficulties with all the frustrating NOT clearly delineated "gray areas" of decision making remain, don't they! I'm glad somebody else--besides me--sometimes "sneaks" in a few borderline birds! We'd never get anywhere if we didn't! This is specially true of pelagics, which I've had to do quite a few of lately to reach my goal of 700. The only reason I listed Band-rumped Storm Petrel, for example, was 'cuz the tour leader assured me I was truly "on" it, (judging by my description in the midst of the fray) and was able to STAY on it, till it left the grouping on the water. BUT would I be able to pick it out again....? I doubt it! As with you, I have several birds that I've only seen "a piece of"--the long head plume of a mountain quail, the rufousy undertail coverts of of a Colima Warbler, the eyeshine ONLY of a goatsucker! Still, like you I KNEW I'd "seen" all I was going to get of my lifer! So I counted it! For me the bottom line is this: if you've done THE BEST YOU CAN under the circumstances on a difficult bird, and the odds are very high that you're probably NEVER going to get a better look at that particular bird--like a Yellow Rail for instance--THEN COUNT IT! But if you're fairly sure that you eventually CAN do better with a bird...then let it go and hope for better luck next time!

I don't have to concern myself with counting 'em anymore anyway--since I've REACHED MY GOAL of 700 ABA! HOORAY! Mymm Ackley

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29 Nov 2010 04:42 #556 by Phil Bull
Actually that's the perfect solution... separate lists.

After all by writing this message you have counted the bird in a sense anyway.

I'm tempted to create a list of "Birds including uncountables" as I said identifying a self found bird that's not all that commonplace and not even on the Western Pal list is fun too. If it matters at all, then honesty is the key thing, even if it's about being honest with yourself.

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29 Nov 2010 04:57 #557 by Phil Bull
Well done, I'm just raising a glass to your 700th.. :) .of course now the targets's 750 I suppose.

When I was a youngster I believed that there were a maximum of 212 that I could ever hope to see in the UK. So when I actually started listing a few years ago that was a big target for me. I maybe had a field guide with that many spp in it. My list is still at a humble 240 but I'm now aiming for a more taxing, though not particularly stretching

50% of British List currently that would be 326 spp
50% Western Pal 492 spp

and 1000 worldwide

Rather frustratingly I saw a group of 9 small birds fly overhead at the weekend. The 2 guys who emerged from the field they had flown from a few minutes later had ID'd them as Lapland Buntings, which would have been lifers. Sadly as I had no idea what they were... I wont be counting them.

Hey Ho

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29 Nov 2010 14:41 #558 by Mymm Ackley
Dear Phil,

How sweet of you to raise a glass to my 700th ABA bird! It doesn't even show across from my name on the BUBO front page yet, 'cuz two of my final hurrahs were splits--unfortunately. (Which BUBO hasn't quite caught up with yet...but they will.) Don't feel bad about not having longer lists...the size of one's list has very little to do with one's birding prowess--as I have learned to my sorrow! I USED to think years ago that when I got to 500 or 600--let alone 700!--I'd be too hot to trot. But now that I've actually reached these exalted numbers I'm still just as poor at gulls and pelagics as I ALWAYS was.(And always WILL be!) Anyone can get to high numbers with a lot of perseverance, a little luck, and a sizable amount of cold cash. BUT THEY ARE NOT NECESSARILY GOOD BIRDERS. (BETTER birders, to be sure. But certainly not good enough to lead tours!)

And no, I am NOT going for 750! I'd have to spend YEARS hanging out in Alaska season after season to do that--and I have neither life enough left nor money! If I do any more birding my focus will probably shift to cleaning up a few BVDs that probably should NOT have been counted...or possibly adding a few in lieu of. Or I might try to break 300 on my lowly county list--but no more serious North American targets!

Odd you should mention Lapland Buntings. (We call them Lapland Longspurs) I've been looking for those near my home close to the college the past few days, 'cuz they've mowed the fields extensively and flocks of Horned Larks are showing up. Sometimes a couple of LBs will join the larks...but I'd have to see one well on the ground to count it on my local birds afoot list. I'm no good AT ALL on flyovers! If you REALLY want to see LBs go to Alaska in the summer! They're like junk birds up there, there're so many underfoot! Mymm

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01 Dec 2010 15:16 #559 by Nick Moss
Sorry its a bit late to add my thoughts - guess I can only add the same thoughts regards issues that crop up in my thinking. However, as you specifically ask about "sightings" not "heard birds" then in my opinion they should be seen, irrespective of what bodies say - it is a different purpose to say heard birds are ok for bird counts - there is a different purpose to that.

As long as you know you have seen a bird (and you are personally satisfied it is what you think it is) then add it to your list. Quality of sightings will always be variable. This is part of the challenge of birding, and you can always strive to get better views. But with some ticks you will never get those sort of views that reveal detailed plumage detail. But you know it is the bird in question through flight profile, call, basic colouration etc. Some people tick Quail in the UK through sound only. I think this is profoundly wrong. However, it is ultimately individual choice. Who am I to judge?

I am not entirely sure I would tick something if others tell me that is a bird unless you are 'reasonably' confident your self. Take each case in isolation - you can be still be satisfied in certain circumstances. I recall seeing a clear tern in Bangor harbour, Wales several years ago in December (a time when no terns are around). I thought it had a very good chance of being the suspected Forster's Tern and a few minutes later a few others nearer to the passing bird confirmed it was it, These sort of sightings leave you cold, but it is still a tick for me. But I did not enjoy good views to positively i/d it my self. I have seen them subsequently thank goodness in Canada, otherwise despite the tick it leaves a deep sense of disatisfaction. I guess some would not tick this bird, you make your own choice in such circumstances.

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01 Dec 2010 18:46 - 01 Dec 2010 18:48 #560 by Phil Bull
Just one more little thought to add here.
Over the years I have gradually become significantly deaf ( I suspect as a result of decades as a motorcycle courier with a poorly soundproofed helmet..yes really).
I'm not that old just 53, and was not aware to any great extent that I had a problem compared to most people.
A few years ago I had hearing aids fitted I now realise that whilst I can now (just) make out a Gropper or a Savi's until that time I'd have probably struggled to hear a Cetti's or maybe even a Pheasant or Herring Gull. I certainly would not have heard Curlew, Redshank or Oystercatcher unless quite nearby.
So for me a heard only record is actually quite special, rather than "profoundly wrong". Though as you say clearly not a "sighting" as such.

Of course I prefer to see the bird too, sometimes not easy, as my bionic hearing does not have the same directional quality as natural hearing, so even when I hear the bird I find it difficult to locate.

And anyway, it's my list. :)
Last edit: 01 Dec 2010 18:48 by Phil Bull. Reason: punctuation..I'm a pedant !

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02 Dec 2010 01:37 #561 by Nick Moss
Absolutely, a bird only heard can be exciting.

But it is not a sighting, that was my point.

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02 Dec 2010 02:19 #562 by Phil Bull
But by the same token a list is a list of whatever you wish to list, be it "sightings" or "observations". Equally valid.

Given the difficulty of ID in some instances, Dusky Warbler or even Chiffchaff v Willow Warbler you could argue that seen only is insufficient. Indeed having seen but not heard a Dusky does sometimes trouble me a little.

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