|Minutes of the MBRC Meeting
26 June 2011
Members present: Phil Chu, Chairman; Adam M. Byrne, Secretary; Lathe Claflin, Jim Dawe, Louie Dombroski, Skye Haas, Scott Hickman, Brad Murphy, and Dave Slager
The meeting was called to order by Chu at 1312 EDT.
Some minor wording changes were made to the minutes from the meeting on 28 December 2010 and then the amended minutes were approved unanimously.
Monroe Co., Pointe Mouillee State Game Area
2 June 2011
photos: Jerry Jourdan
2011-4430-01 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Keweenaw Co., Copper Harbor
12-16 May 2011
photos: Max Henschell, J. D. Phillips
2011-4430-02 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Chippewa Co., Sault Ste. Marie, Scenic Drive
15 May 2011
photo: Mark Armstrong
2011-4430-03 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Keweenaw Co., Eagle Harbor
5 June 2011
photos: Bill Deephouse
2011-5520-01 Lark Sparrow
Baraga Co., Baraga
6 May 2011
photo: Matti Hakkila
2011-5520-02 Lark Sparrow
Berrien Co., St. Joseph, Tiscornia Park
11 May 2011
photo: Tim Baerwald
From Round 124:
1965-0210-01 alcid species
Sometime during 2010, the observer submitted a recollection of a specimen he collected from the Lake Michigan shoreline in 1965. At the time, the bird was identified as an Ancient Murrelet and deposited at Hope College. The written summation described the bird as being black and white with a band of prominent black-and-white bars or stripes on the hind and side neck and a white band immediately anterior to the barred/striped area. The bird’s feet were said to be webbed. Unfortunately, however, a Hope staff member discarded the specimen, apparently because he felt it was just a rotten Pied-billed Grebe.
Dissenting members were bothered that the details were based solely on the observer’s memory of an event 45 years ago. Some members acknowledged an unwillingness to trust their own memories on birds that they had seen in the past, so how could they put much trust in someone else’s recollection of something more than 45 years ago? Also, it bothered at least one member that the specimen was discarded based on the premise that it was just a badly decomposed Pied-billed Grebe. What if it really was a Pied-billed Grebe? Some speculated that if the specimen was in very poor shape, then perhaps areas of missing feathers could have created a black-and-white plumage impression.
In contrast, supporting members found the combination of black-and-white plumage, webbed feet, and second-hand info on bill shape (chicken-like) to be sufficient for acceptance.
2010-0530-01 California Gull
All agreed that the observer’s photos showed traits suggestive of a California Gull: yellow legs, dark eye, intermediate size, black and red spots on the bill, heavy head streaking, and a slightly darker mantle.
Dissenting members felt the bird could not be aged based on the photos provided, meaning that the bird’s dark eyes, black on the bill, and heavy head streaking could be indicators not of species identity but of subadulthood. There was some disagreement on this issue, with at least one member feeling that the bird was an adult because its upperwing coverts appeared uniform; most members, however, felt that the photos were too poorly resolved to make such a claim. Also, the observer did not notice a darker mantle in the field, only later when viewing his photos. Some argued that the impression of a darker mantle could be due to the bird’s position relative to the camera, as certain other gulls in the photo also looked darker mantled.
Supporting members felt that the photos were convincing, not merely supportive, and noted in addition that the bill shape (long and thin) was right for a California. However, bill shape is incredibly variable in large gulls, so much so that several members were unwilling to rely on it to substantiate the identification.
2010-3120-01 Band-tailed Pigeon
The observer described a large pigeon with gray back and wings, tan-brown body and head, yellow bill and feet, a white stripe on the nape just in front of a black patch, and a gray tail basally with a narrow black band and broad white tip.
Most members felt these details were acceptable for a Band-tailed Pigeon and that any inconsistencies were outweighed by the supportive features (head pattern, size, upperpart coloration, and bill and foot coloration).
Conversely, dissenting members focused on the inconsistencies. One member noted that the tail’s terminal band should be gray rather than white, and two were concerned about the description of the head and body as being tan-brown.
Members shared their experience with the species in question, both from the field and from photos acquired online. Most felt the tail pattern really wasn’t a concern, but the debate over the tan-brown body and head coloration persisted. Eventually, one dissenting member asked someone to forward photos of Band-tailed Pigeons that show tan-brown underparts; if such evidence could be provided, he said, he would be willing to reconsider. The concern, of course, is that if a reviewer is presented with a mix of correct and incorrect traits, then how can he upweight the correct ones and downweight the incorrect ones? Supportive traits shouldn’t carry more weight than non-supportive traits.
2010-6121-05 Cave Swallow (one individual only)
Two swallows were observed flying down the Lake Michigan shoreline. These were documented by photos and brief written details, but all were in agreement that the latter offered little of substance; therefore, discussion focused on the former.
Of the photos, some showed two different birds, but were of such poor quality that no field marks could be discerned on one of the two; conversely, another photographer took some stunningly good photos, but each of the latter showed only one bird in the frame. So, in the first round of review, one individual was accepted, but the second one resubmitted.
Some members argued that the very good photos showed two different birds, with one having different breast markings than the other. Most, however, were unconvinced and argued there was no way to be certain that more than one bird was depicted. Further, the written details actually stated that one observer “got good shots of the CASW”, which, if taken literally, would mean that only one bird was definitively photographed.
2010-5880-04 Spotted Towhee
All were in agreement that the Benzie County photos showed a Spotted Towhee or Spotted-like intergrade. The dissenting members were troubled by the amount of white visible at the primary bases, feeling that the white was too extensive for a pure Spotted. Other members, however, felt the extent of white was well within the Spotted’s range of variation.
Claflin agreed to visit the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology and photograph some Spotted Towhee specimens from the western portion of their range, focusing on those that show the most white at the primary bases. If any specimens matche (or exceed) the white shown by the Benzie County bird, then dissenting members were willing to reconsider their stance. However, if none show white to the same extent, then some supporting members would reconsider.
From Round 125:
2010-2080-01 King Rail (one adult only)
In previous rounds, an adult and two juvenile King Rails were accepted, with a second adult resubmitted.
The main concern was that no observer ever saw or heard two adults together; moreover, though there are multiple photos taken over a range of dates, it is not possible to use the photographed plumage details to determine if more than one adult was present. However, others disagreed, asserting that if there were flightless juveniles, then the basics of sexual reproduction mandate the presence of two parents, not just one.
There was a sub-discussion about date ranges. Some thought that if a female’s eggs were fertilized and the male then disappeared before the date of the first report, then by accepting four birds we would be misrepresenting the number of birds actually present during the given date range. One member tried to account for this possibility by suggesting that the start date could be changed to "spring 2011," but others thought it would be better to keep the existing date range.
Members had differing philosophies on what kind of evidence should lead one to vote for a record, but, in the end, all agreed that - regardless of the number of birds accepted - the presence of dependent juveniles was enough to confirm breeding, and readers of the actions article could come to their own conclusions about how many adults were present.
2010-5080-01 Bullock’s Oriole
Two members had dissented on this record, and both dropped their dissent. One was originally concerned about the bird’s coloration (feeling there was too much orange), but now feels his interpretation of the color was not accurate. The other questioned how one could rule out a possible Bullock’s Oriole x Baltimore Oriole hybrid, but now agrees that there are no signs of intermediacy.
The remaining members continued to support the record, feeling that all field marks clearly pointed towards Bullock’s Oriole; thus, in the end, the entire committee supported the identification as a Bullock’s.
From Round 126:
2010-1860-02 Plegadis ibis
Before discussing this record (which required Byrne, Chu, and Murphy to excuse themselves), one member asked if there was a policy detailing how the Committee handled hybrids. This issue, especially with respect to ibises in the genus Plegadis, has been bantered around for some time now. Byrne and Chu pointed out that the Committee decided to change the designation for unidentified dark ibis records from Glossy/White-faced Ibis to Plegadis ibis for this very reason: if a dark ibis defies specific identification, then one simply cannot exclude the possibility of a hybrid, and “Plegadis ibis” accommodates this possibility whereas “Glossy/White-faced Ibis” does not [policy adopted at July 2009 meeting]. However, there are no official guidelines on how an individual member has to vote on a suspected hybrid. Additional concerns were raised, but it was felt they should be addressed under New Business (see below).
Discussion on the record centered on how to deal with a bird that was felt to be a hybrid. One dissenting member stated he was unwilling to vote for a known hybrid under the designation Plegadis ibis, since such an individual would not actual belong to either species in the genus. Others felt comfortable accepting the record as a Plegadis ibis, as long as the actions article explained the possibility that a hybrid was involved. It was concluded that the actions article must mention if the bird is possibly or clearly a hybrid and that a policy discussion should ensue with the entire Committee to discuss issues surrounding hybridization.
88-6680-01 Townsend’s Warbler
Rohwer and Wood (1998) provided a hybrid index based on eight characters, and those characters can be used when reviewing Townsend’s Warbler records. The characters are thought to be independent of each other, i.e., they are thought to be unlinked.
Much discussion centered around these characters and how important each one is. According to the hybrid index that Rowher and Wood designed, a given specimen could possess the Hermit Warbler state for one of the eight traits and still be classified as a “pure” Townsend’s. This flexibility was troubling to some members. If one of the traits did not meet the Townsend’s Warbler condition, then how could one endorse such a bird as a pure Townsend’s? For example, what if you had a putative Townsend’s Warbler that looked good in all respects but was described as having a back that was gray rather than olive? Thus, most members felt that all of the characters needed to fit the species described, otherwise a possible hybrid/intergrade could not be eliminated.
For the record at hand, two of the eight characters listed were unclear. First, the extent of the bib corner was not described. Second, the upperparts were described as dark, but “dark” could be consistent with either the olive-green of a Townsend’s Warbler or the gray of a Hermit Warbler. So, given these uncertainties, most members were unwilling to endorse the bird in question as a pure Townsend’s.
96-6680-01 Townsend’s Warbler
Much like the previous record, there were several characters that were described too vaguely or incorrectly. The extent of the bib corners was not noted, making it unclear whether the black broadened out from the throat to reach the shoulders. Moreover, the extent and boldness of the flank streaking were unclear, as was the amount and intensity of yellow on the underparts. All of these inconsistencies left most members uncomfortable endorsing this record as a pure Townsend’s Warbler.
Byrne presented an updated list of status changes, effective as of the end of 2010.
New Additions (as Accidental):
Casual to Regular:
Accidental to Casual:
Saltmarsh Sparrow record
Chu reminded everyone that we will soon be reviewing a historical record of a Saltmarsh Sparrow based on a specimen housed at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.
Review of this record was deliberately delayed so we could assess other records with known labeling problems (ie., Purple Gallinule, Eskimo Curlew, and Black-billed Magpie). In these latter examples, the labeling was problematic because of apparent contradictions. For the gallinule and magpie, the specimen labels indicated that the specimens were part of the Sager collection from southeast Michigan, but neither was mentioned in a published list of the Sager-collection birds. For the curlew, there were two labels, one giving the locality as Michigan but the other giving the locality as Missouri.
For the upcoming Saltmarsh Sparrow record, the specimen bears a label stating the collection locality to be Michigan, and there is no contradictory information, only a feeling that the label should be questioned because a Saltmarsh Sparrow in Michigan would be highly unusual. Efforts to track down additional information on the collector and/or origin of this specimen have been unsuccessful. So, Chu simply wanted to prepare members for the task soon to be presented, hoping each member would start to think about how confident he will be with information on specimen labels.
In our current procedure, members are allowed to serve two consecutive three-year terms, with membership for a second term depending on re-election by the Committee. However, Chu felt that this procedure was nonsensical if the Committee simply rubber stamps willing members into their second term. Why even bother with a re-election process if its outcome is predetermined? To make the process meaningful, a loss by th e incumbent should be possible, meaning that an incumbent member should be treated similar to any other nominee.
If elections are conducted this way, then how the Committee handles the discussion of nominees should be reevaluated. Should incumbent members be allowed to sit in on discussions of other nominees? Or, should incumbent members excuse themselves during this process? Members were split on this issue, with some feeling that the incumbent members may have valuable insights on other candidates and others feeling that incumbents who participate in the discussion gain an unfair advantage (they would have input whereas other, nonmember, nominees would not).
Regardless, it was felt by all that we should not simply rubber stamp incumbents for a second term.
Voting on physical evidence at meetings
Byrne raised concerns over the current practice of reviewing and voting on physical evidence (photographs, audio recordings, specimens) at meetings. Byrne was bothered that records submitted at a meeting end up being reviewed and voted on over a period of 10-15 minutes, whereas any record submitted in a formal round is at a member’s disposal for 30 days. Why should some records be rushed through the system, even if they are relatively straightforward? Further, it is not always clear what records are “easy”, as each member’s comfort level varies from record to record. Given that most photos and many audio recordings are now digital, it is now easy - and so now seems logical - to just include physical evidence in formal rounds for review. Specimen records pose a unique problem, but it was discussed that the Committee could still view and discuss specimens at one of our annual meetings. Review of these specimens would then take place in a subsequent round and could be accompanied with photographs taken during the meeting. Of course, to officially change this practice, a formal bylaws proposal needs to be drafted and presented before the next meeting – Byrne agreed to prepare such a request.
There was again discussion on how the Committee should handle records of possible or known hybrids that involve two species on the review list. Since this topic was discussed thoroughly at the December 2010 meeting, a summation of that discussion was provided. The only new development to arise from this new discussion was a list of categories to possibly reevaluate in the future. While all the categories are primarily based on phenotypic similarities, it was agreed that some may not be necessary and members agreed to mull things over before the next meeting.
Category A – higher order groups
Aechmophorus grebe, Fregata species, sulid species, Plegadis ibis, ibis species, ptarmigan species, alcid species, and Selasphorus species
Category B – species pairs
Black-bellied/Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Arctic/Pacific Loon, King/Common Eider, Sooty/Bridled Tern, Common/Thick-billed Murre, Smooth-billed/Groove-billed Ani, Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbird, Pacific-slope/Cordilleran Flycatcher, Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird, Scissor-tailed/Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Chestnut-collared/McCown’s Longspur, Nelson’s/Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Boat-tailed/Great-tailed Grackle
Fall 2011 meeting
Chu brought up the possibility of having our fall meeting over either the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays.
The meeting was adjourned at 1712 EDT.
Adam M. Byrne, Secretary, MBRC