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Arkansas Bird Records Committee
One of the objectives of the Arkansas Audubon Society has been to contribute to the knowledge of birds in Arkansas through the permanent maintenance of bird records for the state. The Arkansas Bird Records Committee, a committee of five members chaired by the AAS Curator, is responsible for determining the validity of reports of birds in Arkansas that are rare in the state, difficult to identify, or seen out of season. Noteworthy records that have been accepted by the ABRC appear in the Curator’s report, published each quarter in the AAS newsletter, Arkansas Birds. The ABRC also maintains and periodically publishes the official Arkansas State Bird List.
Brief sketch of the Arkansas Birds Records Committee
I recently went through some files that Doug James has kept on Arkansas Audubon Society, dating back to the beginning in the mid-1950s. Among many items is this report by Doug in his role as the society’s first curator: "1955-56 report of the curator of the Arkansas Audubon Society." The report noted that 60 people (named in the report) had contributed 3,600 sight records that were curated on 3 X 5 inch index cards within the last year. This file eventually grew to 40,000 records, and these formed the basis for the book Arkansas Birds (1986).
As curator, Doug made all decisions about what records were, or were not, acceptable. In terms of how he treated great rarities, most of the older hands from that time agreed it helped a lot to get a record accepted if Doug got to see the bird! Arkansas had many fewer genuinely skilled birders in its early days. Doug’s caution and experienced skepticism helped to maintain the society’s credibility.
Now forward almost 30 years: in the spring of 1984, AAS amended its bylaws and created its first bird records committee. Joe Neal was curator, and the first BRC consisted of William Shepherd, Charles Mills, Max Parker, and Doug James. In a letter (May 21, 1984) I addressed to this first BRC, I wrote, "The purpose of the committee is to help the curator with difficult records. Your yes or no on the records will decide whether or not certain records become a permanent part of our file of bird sightings." This first BRC operated without bylaws.
Under Max Parker’s leadership as curator, the BRC began to operate under bylaws in 1996. These bylaws are reproduced below. Other than founder Doug James, Max Parker was the longest serving curator. Max’s tenure was from January 1986 to October 2007.
Currently, Richard Baxter is the Curator. He can be reached atMembers of the BRC are Doug James, Charles Mills, Kenny Nichols, and Chris Kellner.
A Recent History of the Electronic Data Base
When Max turned over the society’s files to me in fall 2007, he told me the following: "It’s better to reject a good record, than to accept a poor record." He attributed this statement to Art Johnson of Conway. He followed this philosophy and encouraged me to do the same.
A major component of files Max turned over to me were paper documents -- rare bird documentation forms. Nearly 1000 had been submitted over the years. Since that time, the number has grown to at least 1,015. Accepted documents receive a sequential number, which can then be used as a citation in a scientific paper (e.g., AAS no. XXXX).
All bird records submitted to the curator since 1986 have been entered into a database and all of these are easily searched by visiting the AAS website. Since early 2008, all records are self-service: submitted online by observers, vetted by the curator, then uploaded to the searchable database.
The society also has a collection of documentary images. In past years, these were slides and prints. Since early 2008, most documentary images have been submitted electronically (.JPG files). These images are stored on a hard drive, along with rare bird documents, which are now also electronic rather than paper.
The Bird Records Committee has never had regular meetings of any kind. Meetings, such as they occur, are informal, typically at a society spring or fall convention. The committee’s work was once all done by mail or telephone. Today, most of it is done by email.
-- submitted by Joe Neal May 2009
BYLAWS OF THE
ARKANSAS BIRD RECORDS COMMITTEE (1996)
I. Name and affiliation
A. Name. The official name of this organization shall be the "Arkansas Bird Records Committee," hereinafter referred to as the "ABRC".
B. Affiliation. This is a committee of the Arkansas Audubon Society, Inc.
A. Determine the validity of reports of birds in Arkansas that are rare in the state, difficult to identify, or seen out of season.
B. Maintain permanently the original documentation of reports submitted, and all results of committee votes and comments for future use by interested parties. [After a reasonable length of time, the material may be deposited in the University of Arkansas Library.]
C. Publish in ARKANSAS AUDUBON SOCIETY NEWSLETTER (a quarterly publication) at least minimal information on all reports receiving a decision.
E. Establish high standards of observation and reporting that will set a positive example for, and encourage, other field observers.
F. Maintain, update and periodically publish the official Arkansas state bird list, following the nomenclature and sequence of the current edition of the AOU Checklist and its Supplements.
A. Number and Definitions. The ABRC shall consist of the Curator, who shall serve as chair, and four other members. The Curator is an elected officer and board member of the Arkansas Audubon Society. The other four members are appointed by the Curator, approved by vote of the Arkansas Audubon Society Board of Directors, and serve at the pleasure of that Board and the Curator. Each member of the ABRC shall have one vote on such reports of birds as shall come before the committee.
1. The Curator will receive and evaluate Verifying Documentation of bird reports; for those requiring action by the ABRC, the Curator shall circulate copies to all Committee Members.
2. All five members shall vote on all documents circulated. A member may not abstain from voting.
C. Alternates. The Curator shall select one or more knowledgeable people to serve as alternate members whenever the committee is considering a report submitted by one or more of the regular members.
D. Votes. Votes shall be to accept or not accept bird reports. A vote not to accept must be accompanied by comments explaining reasons for that vote.
IV. Bird Records
A. Definitions. For purposes of the ABRC and these Bylaws a "report" is a written documentation submitted to the curator to substantiate the identity of a bird that has been sighted, heard, banded, collected, tape-recorded or photographed within the boundaries of Arkansas.
B. Verifying Documentation Form. The ABRC has prepared a preferred form, which is attached. All reports of extraordinary bird records should be submitted on the official form.
C. Policy. Documentations received by the Curator will not necessarily require circulation. All "First, Second and Third State Records" shall be circulated to the ABRC members, but in the case of other documents, discretion of the Curator will determine the necessity for circulation.
A. A Verifying Documentation that has been circulated shall be considered accepted if it receives no more than one "Not Accepted" vote, or at least four "Accepted" votes; otherwise it is rejected.
B. A Report that has been rejected may be recirculated if the Curator receives additional identification material. All documentation of rejected reports shall remain on file.
C. A Report that has been accepted will be considered a usable record with respect to the official Arkansas State Bird List.
D. On the initiative of the Curator or of any two members of the committee, the committee may re-examine the evidence for any accepted record. In such a case, the standard for retaining/ rejecting the record shall be the same as for a new report, i.e. at least four votes to retain/accept.
A. Bylaws. These Bylaws must be approved by a majority vote of the Committee Members.
B. Changes. These Bylaws may be changed or amended by a majority vote of the Committee Members.