05 August 2012

Commentary on Erroneous Bird Observation Reporting

The fall field report for the period of August to November 2011 was recently issued in the Nebraska Bird Review. This article is filled with facts about the species of birds and, often, the number that occurred at a particular time and place. It is a regular feature of this publication.

It is also wrought with errors, in particular those reports issued about personally contributed observations. None of the records provided were published correctly, though a detailed tabular format rendition of observations was submitted to the person preparing the report.

The first notable item was an omission. A peak count of 48 Wood Duck was indicated for the Jack Sinn WMA, on August 4th. Not considered was a similar number, 48 at Carter Lake on September 5th. There were also larger numbers seen within the area of focus, with 143 noted at Desoto NWR on November 2nd, as well as 112 on October 19th and 67 on November 9th at the same place.

Each of these counts are significant, yet not reported. Desoto NWR is a part of Nebraska, so the results of the seasonal bird surveys conducted, should be considered.

Considering a peak number for American Coots, the published report conveyed a peak of 5700 at Carter Lake on October 28th.

Upon reviewing my database records, this value is nowhere near the largest number of coots at this lake. Also, a waterbird survey was not even done on this date, so any attribution of a record is dubious, if not an outright figment of reality.

Details for this locale during the period of interest convey these actual details for the number of American Coots:

October 24: 5800
October 27: 6200
October 29: 7800
November 1: 8200
November 4: 8100
November 7: 8285
November 11: 8200
November 14: 6462
November 17: 5050

There were additional counts made on subsequent dates. The particular point is that the number reported — 5700 — is fictitious.

Other errors are associated with a wrong designation for a locale. On October 28th, a visit was made to the Horseshoe Lake Flats, where some grand views occurred. This place is east of Fort Calhoun, Washington County, and not in any way within Douglas County.

Notations given in the Nebraska Bird Review, attribute the observations to Douglas County. This is the case with details regarding the American Golden-Plover, large number of Killdeer and the exquisite view of two Snow Buntings, as documented by a photograph.

The locale was the Horseshoe Lake Flats, which has always been denoted to Washington County.

Another item to consider is the peak number given for the Purple Martin gathering at the Nebraska Medical Center campus in Midtown.

The reporter, apparently taking what detail were available on the NEBirds online forum, indicated the greatest number of 50-55,000 on 27 August.

There were more martins present, on other dates, based upon counts made with another observer at the roost:

  • August 31: 60,000
  • September 1: 65,000
  • September 2: 60,000
  • September 3: 40,000

These numbers were not reported online, but than again, no effort was made to inquire about count details. After these days, there were lesser numbers as the birds moved onward during their seasonal migration to the south.

The value of the NBR report is lessened by indicating erroneous details. If details from one observer are all incorrect, it raises a red flag for other information being presented. This regular report provides essential details for the history of ornithology in Nebraska, so it is an imperative requirement that every detail be accurate.

The preparer's task is onerous, and done on a volunteer basis, so thanks to the preparer, but if a completely accurate account cannot be presented, the value of the details is obviously questionable.

Based upon the particulars relative to personal observations, the information is basically useless because the details are wrong.