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Listing - suggestions for a way forward (1 Viewer)

mikeprince

Well-known member
Following some heated debate after the BBC4 Twitchers programme, and in particular on "that thread", this message was posted recently on the UK400 Club forum. It summarises current methods of listing and their pros and cons. Rather than just moan about certain individuals as seems to be the case whenever this subject is raised, it tried to suggest some options for improving the way listing is carried out in Britain and Ireland. Surprisingly considering the interest the subject seems to create it received no public response (and just two in private). Now Birdforum is never short of an opinion or two ;) so we thought we'd try again. This is indeed an attempt at a constructive solution so please try to keep comments that way too!

Original message (edited slightly):
Like many of us, I guess, I've been following the BBC4-fuelled debates over the last few days with a probably unhealthy fascination. Be that as it may, I thought I'd have to add my twopenneth, if only to say, in the distant future, "I was there, in the great twitching debate of 2010". Anyway, the message below has developed into something a bit longer than intended. I'd like to offer a few thoughts on listing "systems", and open a debate on a constructive way forwards.

As most folk on these threads will know, there are currently three main approaches to competitive bird listing in Britain/UK. Each of these have advantages and disadvantages. In no particular order, these are:

UK400 club
Advantages
  • aims to include as many people as possible (or at least those with lists over 400)
  • attempts to guard against false claims (either cases of deliberate fabrication, or genuine mistakes)
  • easy for participants as they don't need to do much (or anything!) to be included
Disadvantages
  • many people feel aggrieved to be included without their say
  • many people do not like their records to be judged by a self-appointed arbiter
  • appears non-transparent to the outside at least
  • pay to view
  • (and for Lee at least,) very labour intensive for one person to maintain
BUBO Listing
Advantages
  • people only participate if they want to
  • non-judgemental
  • after the system is set up, less labour intensive for the organisers
  • transparent - easy to query and cross-compare full detail of people's lists
  • free
Disadvantages
  • current observer-controlled approach makes it hard to exclude false claims (again, either deliberate or due to genuine mistake)
  • does not include all listers so not a definitive tally of Britain's top listers
  • initially takes more time to enter details of your records
Surfbirds
Advantages
  • people only participate if they want to
  • non-judgemental
  • after the system is set up, less labour intensive for the organisers
  • free
  • quick to enter your list total
Disadvantages
  • current observer-controlled approach makes it hard to exclude false claims (again, either deliberate or due to genuine mistake)
  • does not include all listers so not a definitive tally of Britain's top listers
  • does not contain much detailed data - can't see what the make-up of a list is so not really transparent.
So, the million dollar question - is it possible to come up with a system that combines the best of all worlds? I'm not sure, but it may be worth a little thought if it reduces the polarisation and antagonism that is so evident in recent (and many earlier) communications on this subject. A few minutes scribbling produced the following questions that need to be resolved to design a better listing system:
  1. Need to be able to resolve the issue of the baselist (what do you count as an acceptable taxon?)
  2. Need to resolve the geographical extent involved (do you mean GB, UK, B&I?)
  3. Need a system to guard against false claims (accidental or deliberate)
  4. Need to balance the desire for a complete list of listers, against the desire of some of these listers not to be involved in any such organised system.
  5. Need a system which is transparent, user-friendly, (fun?!) and easy to use, both for participants and organisers.
  6. Need a system that allows examination of individual species claims on a list (not just the bare total)
  7. Need to decide to what extent system should be free or pay-to-use.
There may be others - suggestions welcome. For now, I'd like to float thoughts about question 3. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears that most antagonism to the UK400 approach comes from the fact that Lee has taken it on himself to be the arbiter of other listers' records. At the same time, Lee's main objection to BUBO is that there are some listers claiming totals which are unjustified. We acknowledge the fact that at least one high lister on BUBO has been widely accused of being fraudulent, but have found it hard to reconcile our open/transparent approach vs just chucking him out on the hearsay of others (we've never met the guy ourselves, so it seems a bit, er, executionerish, to do so!) For the time being, we've erred on the side of leaving in the odd "bad apple", set against the feeling that he is very much the exception that proves the rule. However, we would like to decide on a reasonable way of dealing with potential fraud.

So if we need to judge records, but don't like the job falling to Lee alone (and by Lee's admission, he sometimes wishes someone else was there to do it?), what can we do? It occurs to me there are two options.

A) Firstly, we could have judgement by committee. The BBRC is a model which is widely accepted as a way of judging whether individual birds were of the identity being claimed. There could, in theory, be a separate committee to judge on listing. It's definitely not something I'd personally want to do, but if there were sufficient people interested in sharing Lee's "job" then that would be a possible way forward. There could be discussion on how to appoint such folk (local representatives probably?) and how they would vote on contentious claims. Personally, I'm fairly sure this wouldn't be a great idea! But that's just my opinion.

B) Secondly, the power of the internet opens up new ways to democratise the system. In short, all claims could be voted on by other listers. We might consider a system where anyone's claim to recording a particular species was considered "innocent until proven guilty". However, a system could be set in place where people could either give a record their backing (i.e. vouch for someone having seen a particular bird), or vote against a record (i.e. register a concern that either a mistake had been made, or that a fraudulent claim had been made). Such a system would be likely to result in a situation where the majority of listers' list entries were assumed OK, others were given credence by peers, and others were flagged as dodgy. Rules could then be devised to decide which species contributed to a total, for the purposes of list comparisons. For example, we might say that as long as a record had garnered more "thumbs up" than "thumbs down", it would count for comparative purposes. There would clearly still be potential problems with cliques, and mass-hallucinations, but in theory this approach would seem to be worthy of further consideration.

I hope it's clear from this message that it is not an attempt at point-scoring. It's a genuine attempt to work towards some sort of common ground. It may be doomed. If so, then it's no big deal and we'll keep on doing what we're doing. Would be interested to hear any constructive thoughts though.
Cheers

Andy Musgrove (and Mike Prince)
Disclaimer: we're the folks behind BUBO Listing
 

Pariah

Stealth Birder
Hi Mike,

An always interesting (and Thorny) subject.

Like, I dare say, most people, I would not put much weight in the UK400club or any of its practises. The Idea of ANYONE determining who saw what, where and when is, fundamentally, ridiculous.

I am not a "national lister" in Ireland. What that means is that I do not take the same "care", (being tactful here) of my Irish list as many others do, often choosing not to go for birds which do not interest me ( E.G. Large gulls) and not adhering to any national bodies rulings on what species are yet split/ countable. (I count both tundra and taiga bean geese for example.)

For me, I have often run up against this attitude of "Because I publish my list, I am therefore competing with other people". Which is again, ridiculous. I do not compete with other birders with my list and have no interest in competitive listing.

So I would dearly love to see a little check box function on Bubo, that defines ones list as being "Non-Competitive".

As for the general topic of determining who saw what and when...well that is an impossible task at the best of times. And I would be a proponent of leaving the control of one's own list in one's own hands.

Love Bubo. Very versatile site which easily allows me to accurately keep tabs on what I have seen on my various patches. Keep up the good work.

Owen
 
Last edited:

acipiter

Well-known member
Making a list for your "own" personal use is ok I suppose, but taking it so serious as to drop everything at a moment notice, and put this before your family or wife I find very very sad.
 

Parker

Uncomfortably Numb.
Making a list for your "own" personal use is ok I suppose, but taking it so serious as to drop everything at a moment notice, and put this before your family or wife I find very very sad.

We are all different acipiter, what you think is sad others find addictive. Oh & didn't the OP ask for constructive comment!

An interesting idea Mike. I'm not sure that a committee should be local, unless the person who's being assessed is anonymous. It could be very dificult finding enough people that can be objective & not judge others without prejudice. How about a committee of non twitchers?

It's certainly a tricky subject, the more you look at it the more questions arise. It'll be interesting to read other peoples views on this.
 

acipiter

Well-known member
The sad bit was in reference to more important then family or wife, and I doubt very much if a non twitcher would be interested. in joining a committee.
 

lewis20126

Well-known member
All, ref

"BUBO Listing
Advantages
people only participate if they want to
non-judgemental
after the system is set up, less labour intensive for the organisers
transparent - easy to query and cross-compare full detail of people's lists
free
Disadvantages
current observer-controlled approach makes it hard to exclude false claims (again, either deliberate or due to genuine mistake)
does not include all listers so not a definitive tally of Britain's top listers
initially takes more time to enter details of your records"

Perhaps some of the top listers (top 20?) could be encouraged to post their lists (esp the UK+I+IOM!)- make it easy for them by providing an excel spreadsheet and NOT requiring details of rarities; this would get the totals and species on but not the details. They would have an option of adding details later at their leisure. Lists would be marked as "details to be provided". This would provide better currency at the top end and likely more motivation for the "championship" contenders to add later..

cheers, alan
 

mikeprince

Well-known member
So I would dearly love to see a little check box function on Bubo, that defines ones list as being "Non-Competitive".
I don't really see much merit in this - just because you have a list on BUBO does not mean you are competitive, and in fact I'm sure the vast majority are not. Having such a flag wouldn't really mean much.
Perhaps some of the top listers (top 20?) could be encouraged to post their lists (esp the UK+I+IOM!)- make it easy for them by providing an excel spreadsheet and NOT requiring details of rarities; this would get the totals and species on but not the details.
We do suggest that locations and dates of rarities can be approximate if necessary so you can enter, for example, "Norfolk; 1 Jan 1980" with a suitable comment such as "Cannot remember details - will update later". We can also import lists for people from various formats - this I think is better than providing an Excel spreadsheet since it then still may be a lot of effort for someone to enter into this from however they keep their records currently. If any high lister has currently been put off by the effort to enter their list (although it's really not that bad!) then hopefully they'll take up one of these two options.
 

Mike Shurmer

Well-known member
Hi Mike

There is obviously a place for both the UK400 club and for Bubo, depending on your objective. If you want to know what the very top listers have seen then having one person who effectively takes it upon himself to find out is the only way this is going to happen. Very few of the real top listers have added their totals onto Bubo and I see no reason why this will change. So the UK400 club is the best way to measure this at present.

For someone like me, Bubo is a better approach. I have never submitted a list to the UK400 club despite having probably seen something over 450 species. Not because I have anything against the club or Lee, but more because I do not see myself as a competitive twitcher and am not that interested in being in the rankings. If I did want to let people know what I had seen then Bubo looks to be an easy way to do this and many people I know use it.

However, if by putting my bird lists onto Bubo they would end up being judged by either of the two processes you describe I would quickly remove them. I do not think that there is a real enthusiasm amongst birders to have others judging their lists. I think you also have to appreciate that a lot of birders are like me and go and see new species because they enjoy looking at new birds, rather than a desire to reach a certain number of species. A lot of them would also hate to be called listers.

In short I think there is no real need to change anything.

SC
 

Pariah

Stealth Birder
I don't really see much merit in this - just because you have a list on BUBO does not mean you are competitive, and in fact I'm sure the vast majority are not. Having such a flag wouldn't really mean much.
We do suggest that locations and dates of rarities can be approximate if necessary so you can enter, for example, "Norfolk; 1 Jan 1980" with a suitable comment such as "Cannot remember details - will update later". We can also import lists for people from various formats - this I think is better than providing an Excel spreadsheet since it then still may be a lot of effort for someone to enter into this from however they keep their records currently. If any high lister has currently been put off by the effort to enter their list (although it's really not that bad!) then hopefully they'll take up one of these two options.

I would agree that it is really very little effort to set up lists on Bubo.
If you want to set up multiple lists, I would start with say, a western pal list, and then when you want to set up others you can simply use the "Copy from existing list" function and delete the species that don't apply.

Owen
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Speaking as birder in the US, perhaps you need an organization more like the ABA. They have a non-permanent member committee vet all the 1st records for the continental US and Canada, and rely on state committee's to vet "less special" rarities. They also keep track of things like life lists and Big Years, and the countability of exotics. They DON'T deal with taxonomy and common names, but rather leave that to the AOU (scientists).

While their has been recent controversy, most of it has been on the management of the organization and future goals.

Of course the US is a bit different from Britain in regards to things like Big Years (I don't see as much competition between year listers, if only because an ABA big year is such a monumental task that few can afford to do it).

At any rate, looking at the ABA might at least give a few ideas
 

mikeprince

Well-known member
Speaking as birder in the US, perhaps you need an organization more like the ABA. They have a non-permanent member committee vet all the 1st records for the continental US and Canada, and rely on state committee's to vet "less special" rarities. They also keep track of things like life lists and Big Years, and the countability of exotics. They DON'T deal with taxonomy and common names, but rather leave that to the AOU (scientists).
This is related to the option A we highlighted above. In Britain we already have the BOURC and BBRC, plus county level ornithological committees, dealing with record acceptances at different regional levels. So whether a bird can or cannot be counted is generally down to the acceptance of the relevant committee. However what these organisations do not do is track people's personal lists. Option A is pretty much saying that we could have a committee to deal with this, rather like the ABA I presume. The particular issue that seems to get certain people animated is with the "proof", or otherwise, that someone has actually seen what they say they have. There certainly does seem to be some level of fraud going on so a system relying purely on trust is not perfect. Do you know how the ABA deal with similar issues? (Or is competitive listing a much happier game over there;))
 

MSA

I may be relaxed but I'm not drunk....
I don't know if this is relevant to any of the above, but the main reason I keep my own records on spreadsheets rather than posting onto (say) BUBO is the fear, maybe irrational, of finding that the site has closed down (or been "hacked") and all my records have been lost!
 

Andy Musgrove

Well-known member
I don't know if this is relevant to any of the above, but the main reason I keep my own records on spreadsheets rather than posting onto (say) BUBO is the fear, maybe irrational, of finding that the site has closed down (or been "hacked") and all my records have been lost!

We have all of the BUBO database backed up every night so should be pretty safe. Always sensible to keep backups yourself, of course - easy to do in BUBO as we have a little "export" button at the top of each list.

Cheers

Andy
 

wolfbirder

Well-known member
I use BUBO and think it is excellent to be honest. Its a great place to keep a list of birds you see.

I too agree that very few birders are seriously bothered about their ranking, but I do want to keep lists for my own records. Not vaguely interested in what others have seen, and I doubt if anyone is interested in what I have seen.

I think the non-competitive tick box is a good idea actually, infact you could then opt out of the league table position if so required. I simply want to log into my own records but have no desire to share them.

I think i am very isolated in that whilst i understand the scientific need of BOU lists, i want to keep lists that include wild birds i have seen such as the Lancs Eagle owls. I do not want to include proven escapes, but i do want to include "unproven" (as opposed to rejected) BBRC birds such as the Radipole Hoody, or even the Devon House Finch. I am not interested in cheating as i do not want to compete with anyone. The list i wish to keep is simply ones of birds I see living wild that are "clearly not escapes" (so i do not want to include Gilston Pine grosbeak but do want to include those I mentioned above). This is different to birds naturally occurring as wild birds in the uk (BOU list), and i am happy with this. I believe BUBO allows you to create phantom lists such as these, where i could list as seperate Black-eared kit and Two-Barred Greenish warbler.
 

Steve Webb

Well-known member
When I held the British BOU year-list record in 1979 and 1980 at the end of the year I published my year list which was sent out to numerous people. It listed every species I had seen and for each rare/unusual species the time of the sighting (e.g. early morning, mid-morning) and a witness to confirm that I had seen the bird. If I knew no one at the site I would ask a stranger to help me and I normally found this worked fine.

I am not suggesting that everyone should fill in their Bubo lists to this level of detail but perhaps Bubo could have an optional box for the time of day along with perhaps a non-competitive tick box. If someone is going to string a bird, to put in a time of day would deter them somewhat because there is a high chance that they will be found out.

The netfugl website (i.e.
http://www.netfugl.dk/ranking.php?id=wp&mode=ranking&language=uk ) holds western Palaearctic lists on it. If you click on the observers’ total it will give a breakdown including location and date of the rare birds. Originally this site did not make dates and location compulsory for these species, and then about 2 years ago it requested that birders included this information. If someone did not supply the information then every bird on their list without this information was grubbed off their website. A well-known UK top-lister found their list was hence heavily reduced.

Whilst I would like to see some kind of web based voting system this could be abused as well so I am not sure how it would work in practice. It would have to be transparent to have any chance of working.

Someone mentioned on this thread that if you want to know who are the top-listers then look at the UK400 list totals. Evans knows full well that some of UK400 list totals are “inaccurate”.

Cheers, Steve
 

James Emerson

Norwich Birder
With regards to excluding false claims, I don't think there is anyway it can be done, short of having an individual investigating every record. As has already been pointing out, some birders may also think twice about putting their lists online if someone else is going to adjudicate on their records. Would it be possible to have an extra optional column that listed whether a bird had been submitted/accepted to the relevant committee? That way people who wanted their lists to be compared with others could note that rarities have been accepted by the county rarities committee or BBRC. Personally I have gone through most of my records and written in the comments whether they have been accepted or not!
 

Pariah

Stealth Birder
I use BUBO and think it is excellent to be honest. Its a great place to keep a list of birds you see.

I too agree that very few birders are seriously bothered about their ranking, but I do want to keep lists for my own records. Not vaguely interested in what others have seen, and I doubt if anyone is interested in what I have seen.

I think the non-competitive tick box is a good idea actually, infact you could then opt out of the league table position if so required. I simply want to log into my own records but have no desire to share them.

I think i am very isolated in that whilst i understand the scientific need of BOU lists, i want to keep lists that include wild birds i have seen such as the Lancs Eagle owls. I do not want to include proven escapes, but i do want to include "unproven" (as opposed to rejected) BBRC birds such as the Radipole Hoody, or even the Devon House Finch. I am not interested in cheating as i do not want to compete with anyone. The list i wish to keep is simply ones of birds I see living wild that are "clearly not escapes" (so i do not want to include Gilston Pine grosbeak but do want to include those I mentioned above). This is different to birds naturally occurring as wild birds in the uk (BOU list), and i am happy with this. I believe BUBO allows you to create phantom lists such as these, where i could list as seperate Black-eared kit and Two-Barred Greenish warbler.

I have to say I agree with all of this post!

Owen
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
well...if the sole issue if how valid another person's sightings/list are, then I don't see anyway that can be fixed. There is a certain amount of honor system inherent in birding.

Personally I don't even comprehend the idea of cheating (I bird for myself, so it's really a personal matter if I feel comfortable ticking something or not). Mis-identifications occur, but it boggles the mind that a new birder would immediately start a year list or enter "competitive" birding.
 

mikeprince

Well-known member
I think the non-competitive tick box is a good idea actually, infact you could then opt out of the league table position if so required. I simply want to log into my own records but have no desire to share them.
We have considered implementing "private" lists which would not be viewable by anyone else. However this sort of goes against our (admittedly naive!) view that no-one should have any issue publishing their lists for all to see. Private lists and being non-competitive though aren't quite the same thing: I'm personally non-competitive with all my lists (as are the vast majority of listers) but am quite happy for them to be in the public domain.

Mysticete said:
There is a certain amount of honor system inherent in birding
You share my naive view! It is clear though that there is a level of fraud and this is particularly annoying to the competitive minority of listers. That's really the crux of this thread: how (and I'm not referrring specifically to BUBO, but in general) can we eradicate or at least minimise the impact this has?
 

Pariah

Stealth Birder
There is nothing that can be done about fraud. There is no feasible way to guard against it that wont damage the system for all the rest of the birders using BUBO.

At the same time, the same old doubters out there will in all likelihood rally against records that are likely to be perfectly genuine. Give them an outlet to do so and you can guarantee they will use it.

Owen
 

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