Mike Patterson
1338 Kensington Ave
Astoria OR 97103
mpatters@pacifier.com

Nov 20, 2010

To: Oregon and Washington Christmas Count observers and compilers

The following is a set of evaluation standards for your guidance in determining whether certain species require written description to be accepted on CBCs in the region. Suggestions for changes are welcome. Included also is a question and answer section that may help answer common questions about CBC rarities and the editing process.

Q: What exactly is "regular unusual" bird?
A: Any species that is out place for the season or the location, but not unusual under other circumstances can be classified as regular, but unusual. Many of these species can be confused with more likely species. Some may be misidentifications by observers unfamiliar with the seasonal variations in occurrence. In all cases, documentation provides a kind of quality control that makes more sense in hindsight. CBC researchers 30 years from now will be able to evaluate our contributions more reliably if we provide proper details today. To help observers and compilers, a list of birds is provided below that includes birds that regularly occur during spring or fall migration or breed in our region, but are supposed to leave before December and therefore require details .

Q: Gee, Magnificent Frigatebird is not on your list for details. Does that mean no details are required?
A: Birds considered rare any time of year also require details. These would include BROWN BOOBY and LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL to name a few that have already popped up this season. Please do not assume that, just because they've been around for awhile, the same bird was reported last year or "everyone knows about them" that they don't need details. If you are in doubt, please feel free to ask.

Q: Are there any "regular"unusual birds for which we don't have to write a description?
A: When the compiler enters a species into the NAS database he/she has the option of checking the box indicating that the species is "unusual".  The system will AUTOMATICALLY flag this entry as possibly needing further details.  But many locally unusual species are not regionally unusual and therefore DO NOT require details.
These species are considered sufficiently regular and/or easy to identify that descriptions are no longer required for acceptance anywhere in the region: Green Heron, Eared Grebe, White Pelican, American Bittern, Eurasian Wigeon, Wild Turkey, Eurasian Collared Dove, Barred Owl, Scrub Jay, Townsend's Solitaire, Orange-crowned Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Harris' Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow. Local compilers may still ask for details if they wish, but the regional editor will not. See the following list for more detailed guidelines.

Q: How are reports of rarities evaluated?
A: If the report is accompanied by a clear photograph, I accept it and it does not undergo further review. Examples of these include the Bullock's Oriole in 1995 and the Skylark in 1998. If the report is in writing it may be sent to selected regional experts for their opinions.  The National Audubon Society has greatly shortened their editorial window making review by committee for all rarities nearly impossible.  This leaves the regional editor (me) the lonely task of deciding whether the record should be included.  In most cases, I will include a record with an editorial comment regarding the quality (or lack thereof) of the details.    It should be noted that I try very hard to evaluate all written details using the same criteria, independent of who submitted them.

Q: How were the review standards developed?
A: Alan Contreras prepared them after examining several years of counts and consulting with experts from both states, I have made some very minor changes. The standards are reviewed periodically.

Q: As a compiler, can I ask for details on a species even if the compiler does not require them?
A: Absolutely!  As compiler, you have the right and the even the obligation to secure adequate documentation for all species reported from your count.  The regional editor has his requirements, but compilers are encouraged to go above and beyond those expections when deemed appropriate.

Q: Are there any species that always get rejected if there are no details?
A: In theory, any species for which a description is required but not provided may be summarily rejected by the regional editor. In practice the editor may choose to mark a record "no details" but allow it to be published. I will always reject House Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Swainson's Hawk, Yellow Warbler, Wilson's Warbler and other "summer" warblers if submitted without details. Please do not assume these species will never be accepted, however.  If you believe you saw one of these species, write thorough details and get a photograph if you can.  When possible, rejected records will be downgraded rather than expunged (eg. Swainson's Thrush to Catharus sp.; Yellow Warbler to warbler sp.).  I am also inclined to reject Northwestern Crow (since there are no agreed upon fieldmarks for identification), but the convention in Washington has been to count them as crow sp. I will continue to do this for Washington records.

Q: What are the most common mistakes people make when they write up an unusual bird?
A: Some people list their qualifications, and experience with the species, but no description.  Some people describe the habitat and viewing conditions, but not the bird. Some people say it looks just like the picture in the book, but include no actual description.  Some explain why it cannot be a similar species without actually describing the bird they saw. Others fail to say why the bird was not something more common and yet fail to adequately describe the bird so reviewers can eliminate similar species. For example, they fail to distinguish a House Wren from Winter Wren or Marsh Wren. Still others send notes explaining why details shouldn't be necessary.  Please understand (and help others understand) that requiring details is not meant to impugn anyone's ability or competence.  Details are about quality assurace.  Even the Regional Editor has to write details.  Count Compilers can help by sitting down with those who are uncomfortable about writing details and write them together.  A more detailed discussion about writing details can be found at:
         http://home.pacifier.com/~mpatters/details/details.html

And now...
the list.

Species               Are details required?
Any species that would be considered rare or unusual any time of 
year requires details for a CBC.
        
Yellow-billed Loon      Yes, if away from coastal Washington.
Other loons             Compiler's descretion if east of the Cascades away from 
                        the Columbia River
Red-necked Grebe        Yes, if away from usual wintering areas
Eared Grebe             No
Clark's Grebe           Yes, except on coast, and expected inland concentrations.
Sooty Shearwater        Yes, to distinguish from more regular Short-tailed
Short-tailed Shearwater Preferred
American White Pelican  No
Brown Pelican           No
American Bittern        No
Green Heron             No
Snowy Egret             Yes, except on Oregon coast from Lane Co. southward, where 
                        it is regular in small numbers.
Trumpeter Swan          Yes, if reported south of Lane Co. in western Oregon or at 
                        a location where it is unusual.  Compilers need to keep 
                        regional editor informed of changing winter status in this 
                        species.
Emperor Goose           Yes
Blue-winged Teal        Males accepted without review if stated as such, females 
                        need description.  Females accompanying males may be treated 
                        as the same species.
Cinnamon Teal           Males accepted if stated as such, females need description.  
                        Females accompanying males may be treated as the same species.
Eurasian Wigeon         No.
Greater Scaup           Not on coast or along major waterways, but exercise care 
                        in reporting uncertain birds away from coast.
Long-tailed Duck        Not on coast, needed elsewhere.
Red-breasted Merganser  Yes, if east of the Cascades.
Barrow's Goldeneye      No, except in lowland southwestern Oregon.
Turkey Vulture          No
Osprey                  Not needed west of Cascades, needed on east side.  Becoming 
                        more regular in winter west of Cascades.
White-tailed Kite       Not needed if west of the Cascades in Oregon.  Needed in 
                        Washington if away from Willapa Bay or Gray's Harbor. 
                        Needed in eastern Oregon. Advise regional editor of changing 
                        status.
Northern Goshawk        No, except on the coast.
Red-shouldered Hawk     Details still expected east of Cascades.
Swainson's Hawk         Yes.  Unlikely to be accepted without photographs.
Ferruginous Hawk        Not needed east of Cascades, needed west of Cascades.  
                        Some birds winter most years locally in eastern Oregon 
                        and southeastern Washington.
Golden Eagle            All coastal counts should provide description to distinguish 
                        from imm. Bald Eagle, which is more common in these areas.
Prairie Falcon          No
Gyrfalcon               Yes, on any Oregon count except Columbia Estuary and in 
                        western Washington counts where not usual.
Wild Turkey             Absolutely NOT
Sora                    Not needed in Rogue River counties or on the Oregon coast; 
                        elsewhere counts should indicate how identified.
golden-plovers          Yes, needed for all species.  Not sufficiently regular or 
                        simple to identify under poor conditions.
Lesser Yellowlegs       Yes, photos preferred.
Willet                  Yes except on coast.
Wandering Tattler       Yes.
Whimbrel                Yes except on coast.
Long-billed Curlew      Yes to distinguish from Whimbrel.  Not needed from Willapa 
                        Bay or Gray's Harbor, where regular.
Ruddy Turnstone         None needed on coast.
Western Sandpiper       No.  Exercise care in identifying this species at inland 
                        locations.  Rare in western Oregon, very rare east of the 
                        Cascades
Short-billed Dowitcher  Yes.  Unlikely to accept without voice differentiation.
Red-necked Phalarope    Yes.  Extremely rare in winter.
Red Phalarope           Preferred if away from the coast except during major wrecks.
Heermann's Gull         No on coast.
Western Gull            Yes if away from coast and major interior gull sites.
Glaucous Gull           Not needed in Washington or in coastal and northwestern 
                        interior Oregon, needed elsewhere in Oregon.
Black-legged Kittiwake  Not if on coast, needed inland
Tufted Puffin           Yes, with emphasis on elimination of Rhino Auklet
Band-tailed Pigeon      Not if west of the Cascades
E. Collared Dove NO, NO and NO
Snowy Owl               No, owing to ease of identification.
Burrowing Owl           Not needed if in western Oregon
Barred Owl              No
Rufous Hummingbird      Report as selasphorus, sp. unless description excludes 
                        Allen's, i.e. an obvious male Rufous.
Black Phoebe            Not needed in western Oregon or SW Washington.  Compilers  
                       
are asked to adviseon local status as range is expanding  
                       
northward west of the Cascades.
Say's Phoebe            Not needed east of the Cascades or from Douglas County 
                        south in w. Oregon.  A few winter in most years.
Tree Swallow            Not needed west of the Cascades; needed elsewhere.
Violet-green Swallow    Enough description to distinguish from much more likely 
                        Tree Swallow.
Barn Swallow            No
Western Scrub Jay       No.
Northwestern Crow       All Northwestern Crows from Washington will be reported 
                        as crow sp.  Northwestern Crow is not acceptable in Oregon.
House Wren              Yes. This species will not be accepted without thorough details
                        eliminate first-winter Marsh Wren and Winter Wren.
Townsend's Solitaire    No.
Swainson's Thrush       Yes, unlikely to accept without photographs.  Only one confirmed 
                        (by photograph) winter record from the region.
Northern Mockingbird    Not needed in southwestern Oregon, preferred elsewhere.
Sage Thrasher           Not if east of Cascades.
Bohemian Waxwing        Not if east of Cascades or from Puget Sound north of Seattle.  
                        Preferred elsewhere.
Loggerhead Shrike       Not if east of Cascades or in Rogue Valley, yes elsewhere.
Orange-crowned W.       No.
Nashville Warbler       Yes
Yellow Warbler          Yes
Black-throated Gray W.  Yes
Hermit Warbler          Yes
Palm Warbler            No (though preferred inland).
MacGillivray's Warbler  Yes
Common Yellowthroat     Yes, except in western Oregon.
Wilson's Warbler        Yes
Chipping Sparrow        Yes, except in the Willamette and Rogue Valleys.
Clay-colored Sparrow    Yes.
Vesper Sparrow          Preferred.
Sage Sparrow            Not needed from Great Basin counts; needed elsewhere.  
                        Can be regular in some mild winter years.
Savannah Sparrow        No.
Swamp Sparrow           Not if west of the Cascades; needed on the east side.
White-throated Sparrow  No.
Golden-crowned Sp.      No, except in counties bordering Idaho.
Harris' Sparrow         No.
Lapland Longspur        Not if on coast or in Klamath County, Oregon.  Preferred 
                        elsewhere.
Snow Bunting            No.
any oriole              Yes.
Western Tanager         Preferred.
Black-headed Grosbeak   Yes, away from the south Oregon Coast
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  Yes.
Range changes for this species are poorly understood
and changing rapidly.
                       
Yellow-headed Blackbird Not if within breeding range.
Cassin's Finch          Not if within breeding range or adjacent lowlands.  
                        Required west of the Cascades.  Status in southwestern 
                        Oregon not clear.
Pine Grosbeak           Yes, west of Cascades, except in irruption years.
White-winged Crossbill  Yes, if away from the eastern mountains.
Common Redpoll          Yes, west of Cascades, except in irruption years.