One of the objectives of the Arkansas Audubon Society is to contribute to the knowledge of birds in Arkansas through the permanent maintenance of bird records for the state. The Arkansas Bird Records Committee (BRC), comprised of five members chaired by the Curator, is responsible for reviewing and vetting reports of birds in Arkansas that are out of range, out of season, difficult to identify, or otherwise significant for the state. The intent of this peer review process is NOT to validate an individual's sighting or personal list, but rather to establish a standard for which rare bird reports can be used as scientific-quality data. Accepted records are posted online in the Bird Records Database and published in the AAS newsletter, Arkansas Birds; especially notable sightings and photos may be published in North American Birds magazine. Records are also used to periodically update the official checklist of Arkansas birds.
Brief history of the Arkansas Birds Records Committee
(Submitted by Joe Neal, 2009)
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.
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.