The Committee would always much prefer to receive adequately detailed descriptions of all species on our rarities list, regardless of their relative scarcity or the observer’s familiarity with them. Our function is not only to adjudicate on records and reach a decision about their acceptability or otherwise, but also to document and archive the records for the future. An accepted record (i.e. the observer’s notes/description plus our comments and decisions) should be able to stand scrutiny/review in the future. Similarly a rejected record should stand as a rejected record. (There is always the possibility of review, of both accepted and rejected records). If the observer is known to the committee member(s) to be a good (or poor) observer, this should be stated and it should carry some weight. But it is not sufficient simply to say “he said he saw this species and he’s a good birder so it’s acceptable” - the physical documentation submitted by the observer must establish the identification.
However, there is a danger that if the Committee rejects everything that has little or no description, this may distort the patterns of occurrence, which are really more interesting than the individual records.
Therefore, the Committee should be prepared to accept less detailed records in the following instances of records submitted by competent observers:
1. More regularly reported species
We probably include more frequently-seen species on our rarities list than the equivalent for e.g. the British Bird Rarities Committee. Unless the workload due to these records becomes impossible to cope with, we should continue to assess records of these birds, firstly to document migrants in what is a poorly-documented geographical area, and secondly because there is always the possibility of similar, rarer species which the observer has not considered; such species might come to light as a result of their claim of a commoner species. Also there is the possibility of long-term changes in status, which it would be useful to document.
2. Species by far the most common in a group
It may be immediately obvious on the skimpiest detail, that the observer has seen say, a pipit, a gull or a hirundine.
The Committee should be prepared to accept records of the commoner one (e.g. Tree Pipit), with less detail than would be required for the rarer ones (e.g. Red-throated Pipit), from experienced observers. This policy implies a greater reliance on the observer’s competence, rather than the written description, than for the majority of species. In theory, there would be a greater chance that records accepted as the commoner species (e.g. Tree Pipit) are misidentified than those of rarer species (e.g. Red-throated), and perhaps we ought to include a slight caveat to the effect in any published work, if we do have this policy.
In view of the above, less detailed records from competent observers may be acceptable for the following:
1. Little EgretEgretta garzetta
More than three quarters of vagrant egret records to date have been Little Egret. A combination of size and leg colour may be sufficient.
2. Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus
Leniency should apply to the Aldabra Group only, where about 80% of all sightings to date have been made. A brief description of plumage and large yellow bill may be sufficient.
3. White WagtailMotacilla alba
Extremely familiar to many visiting birders though the committee should be aware of the possibility of confusion with Citrine Wagtail M. citreola by less experienced and/or less aware observers.
4. Northern WheatearOenanthe oenanthe
A familiar bird to most European visitors, and the third most commonly reported species in records submitted to SBRC. However, Pied, Isabelline and Desert Wheatear have occurred and descriptionless claims of Northern Wheatears are not accepted.
5. Spotted FlycatcherMuscicapa striata
The only known vagrant flycatcher, and very familiar to European visitors. It is reported most frequently from Aldabra (over 80% of records), where leniency may be particularly appropriate.
3. Species very familiar to the observer
Many observers are from areas where many Seychelles rarities are common (i.e. mainly Europe), and even rather inexperienced observers will be very familiar with them and will “know” them, maybe without getting very good views which would enable a good description to be made. We should be prepared to accept that identification may in many cases be established completely confidently under such conditions. However, we have to be convinced that the observer does really know the species. It is not enough to have someone just say “I know this species and it was one”. Some supporting detail is needed.
Ideally (as with all rarity records) the observer(s) should explain why it was identified as this species and not as something similar. This allows us to assess whether they took into account similar species which might be rarer in Seychelles and/or where the observer normally goes bird watching.
However, it is probably too much to expect some observers, particularly experienced ones, to produce a detailed description of all records of commoner species, especially if they see them regularly.
4. Species reported more than once by the same observer
We frequently receive reports of the same species seen on separate occasions by the same observer, who will often assume that having already proved he or she knows the species once, doesn’t need to keep repeating the same information. The Committee should exercise more leniency in such instances, but always having care to do this with reference to the circumstances of each particular sighting.