Saturday, 15 March 2014

Annual Bird Reports

Recently published is The Birds of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and the West Midlands - West Midland Bird Club Annual Report No. 78.  It covers the year 2011 and so has taken more than two years to complete, a timescale that has become the norm in recent times, which is perhaps hardly surprising given the scale of the task.

The recording area of the West Midland Bird Club (WMBC), covering four counties, comprises a total area of 7,331 square-kilometres, much of which is quite densely populated with both birds and birdwatchers.  Almost 1,000 individuals, plus 21 groups, societies and web-based sources contributed a total of around 300,000 records, which have been distilled into a report of 276 pages.  Fortunately, a high proportion of those records came in a relatively user-friendly format via the BTO’s BirdTrack but they still had to be dealt with.

A team of 14 volunteers wrote the species accounts that make up the bulk of the report; a further nine individuals were involved in adjudicating on records of rarities.  The whole thing was brought together and produced by the WMBC’s Report Editor, Dave Emley making it the 13th of these publications that Dave has produced having started in this volunteer post in time to edit his first for 1999. 

Whilst Dave may have breathed a sigh of relief to see this latest one completed, we can be sure that he will already be working on the 2012 Report and probably that for 2013 as well!  Such is the lot of the Report Editor!  He and all his helpers are certainly to be congratulated on this latest publication and can be assured that all those hours of toil were worthwhile.  Of his predecessors, only John Lord, who was Editor from 1952 to 1971, produced more Annual Reports than Dave has.

The Club’s first Annual Report covered the year 1934, ran to just 32 pages and covered only Warwickshire and Worcestershire (which in those days before boundary changes, included parts of what is now the West Midland County).  It listed 25 members and ‘correspondents’ and these were presumably the total of the contributors.  The Editor then was H G Alexander, one of the founders of the WMBC, who could surely not have imagined how the scale of bird recording would take off to where we are today.

From time to time, questions have been asked about the need to publish an annual bird report with particular reference being made, of course, to the cost of printing it and mailing it to hundreds to members.  Here in Portugal, the Anuário Ornitológico is the equivalent publication, which is produced by Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA) and covers the whole of the country.  Already the decision has been made on the grounds of cost not to produce a printed version and it is only available via the SPEA website. 

Although the recording area (Portugal) is obviously much bigger than that of the WMBC, the number of bird records to be dealt with here must be far fewer and one might think that as a result the overall task would be rather less onerous.  However, fewer people seem to be involved and the production schedule is currently even further behind than that of the WMBC.  The latest Anuário Ornitológico was published towards the end of 2012 but covers the years 2009 and 2010. 

The emphasis in Portugal is very much on rarities.  Anuário Ornitológico Volume 8 contains 155 pages but 50 of those are devoted to the report of the Portuguese Rarities Committee (PRC) and more than half of that relates to the Azores and Madeira.  The section that deals with records of non-rarities runs to only 41 pages and of those, 9 are devoted to the islands.  Records relating to non-rarities in Mainland Portugal for two years are condensed into 31 pages - just 20% of the total.

The section on non-rarities is kept short by including in it only the following: a) species that are scarce but not actually rare enough to be dealt with by the PRC; b) species about which there is little published information; c) records of unusual numbers, dates and locations; d) reports of individuals with atypical plumage.  There are no counts of common species and virtually no reference anywhere to any ringing activity or data.

It is interesting to note the contrast between the approaches of WMBC and SPEA to their respective bird reports.  Although they have differing issues to contend with, in spite of all the hard work, in each case the result is a report that is published much later than anyone would really want.    

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