Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bird Documentation in the Digital Age: Introduction

At the beginning of this year, two Ivory Gulls appeared in eastern Massachusetts. Since both birds stayed for a while, crowds of birders got to see them; not only local birders but twitchers from far away. I was among the twitchers, as two friends and I made a memorable day trip to Plymouth and saw the bird. By the time we went for the bird, many photos had been posted online to Flickr and other sites, and many of those photos were taken at invitingly close range. When we were there, however, the gull stayed out on the jetty and even farther out in Plymouth Harbor. We did get to see it, though, and it was a lifer for all of us.

Once I got home, I knew I should be a good birding citizen and submit a writeup on the bird to MARC, the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee. As usual, however, I didn't get to it as soon as I wanted and several weeks passed before I e-mailed a description taken from my field notes to the MARC Secretary. The reply I got startled me: I was informed that I was the only person who had submitted written details on the bird up to that point. Granted, with such wonderful photos so easily available, MARC's acceptance of the record was unlikely to hang on my details, but I would have assumed that somebody else, somewhere, would have written some sort of description (and perhaps someone has, in the long interim between my submission and the writing of this post).

The process of bird documentation has undergone a sea-change since I started birding. This begins a series of posts intended to examine this phenomenon in more detail: where we've been and where we're going, and some of the issues that have arisen as a result. Although documentation of rarities may seem like an uncommon situation to many birders, I see that kind of documentation as the tip of the iceberg that is really how we as birders record all birds that we observe.

Next: What, exactly, is a bird record?

The photo that illustrates this post was taken by Jason Forbes in Plymouth on 24 January 2009 (the day I was there) and is under a Creative Commons license. Jason's blog is Brewster's Linnet and he also has a Flickr stream.


Rick said...

Much looking forward to this series.

Jennifer Hanson said...

Thanks, Rick. I've been meaning to blog about this topic for a while and am finally getting around to it.