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Instructions for Reporting Louisiana Bird Observations

by Steven W. Cardiff, J.V. Remsen, and Donna Dittmann


       How do you decide which bird records are worth reporting? How should they be documented, and when, where, and to whom should they be sent? Start by reviewing a species' status as given by the bar graphs in Louisiana Birds (Lowery 1974). Although these bar graphs are 23 years out-of-date, they still give a reasonably accurate representation of the status of most species. So, please consult these bar graphs as you search through your field notes at the end of each season.
       Of primary interest are records of almost all species during times of the year when they are considered "rare" (palest shading in Lowery's bar graphs), "very rare" (dots), or absent. There are several exceptions to this. For example, when the bar graphs were published, Great-tailed Grackle was very rare anywhere in Louisiana in winter; now it is at least fairly common north to 1-10 and east to Lafayette Parish year-round. Because we already have that information on file, we don't need reports on this species from the above area (but other areas are still interesting, especially range expansion to the north and east). Brown Pelican is once again becoming a well-established resident along the Louisiana coast, but we would still like reports documenting breeding. Other species for which we no longer desire reports (except when the species is listed as completely absent) are: Anhinga (except N. LA in winter), Osprey (except summer), Cooper's Hawk (except summer), Peregrine Falcon (except late or early records), Merlin (except late or early records), Black-necked Stilt (winter in S.W. LA), Herring Gull (except breeding), Ring-billed Gull, Inca Dove (S.W. LA), Horned Lark (except coastal or breeding records), Barn and Cliff swallows (except breeding range expansions and late or early records), White-eyed Vireo (except N. LA in winter), Philadelphia Vireo (pale-shaded spring period in Lowery), Wilson's Warbler (except for spring, or N. LA in winter), Lapland Longspur (except coast and S.F. LA).
       At the other extreme are species for which ALL records, or all records from certain seasons, should be reported even though listed as more common than "rare" by Lowery: American Black Duck, Greater Scaup, Yellow Rail, Long-billed Curlew (spring), Red Knot (winter), Semipalmated Sandpiper (Oct.-Mar. only), Baird's Sandpiper (spring), Common Tern (Dec.-Mar.), White-winged Dove (except Cameron Par. and winter in Plaquemines Par.), Common Ground-Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Whip-poor-will (spring), Willow Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher (except Cameron Par. during mid-Aug. thru Sep.), Least Flycatcher (spring), White-breasted Nuthatch (outside Shreveport and Tensas River N.W.R. areas), Bewick's Wren, Gray-cheeked Thrush and Veery (on coast in fall), Philadelphia Vireo (in fall prior to late Sept.), Warbling and Bell's vireos, Nashville Warbler (spring in S. LA), Cerulean Warbler (fall), Prairie Warbler (south of breeding areas in spring), Louisiana Waterthrush (early or late fall migrants before mid-July or after mid-Aug.), Swainson's Warbler (in fall after mid-Aug.), Canada Warbler (spring, and after Sept. in fall), Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow (inland), Lark Sparrow (coast, or breeding), and Western Meadowlark.
       For declining-but-regular species such as American Bittern, Reddish Egret, Wood Stork, Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Gull-billed Tern, etc., multiple records for a particular season can be listed on the back of a single card to conserve space in the card file.
       Also interesting are records of late spring or early fall migrants of many species that are otherwise common breeders in Louisiana. Because Lowery's bar graphs did not distinguish between the migration and nesting periods for Louisiana's summer resident neotropical migrants (e. g., Acadian Flycatcher, Kentucky Warbler), they appear as "common" or "uncommon" from when the first ones arrive in spring until the last ones depart in fall. Generally, records of definite (away from breeding areas) migrants of these species from late spring or early fall are important.
       Finally, please report other noteworthy observations that do not readily fit into the above categories: unusual concentrations and migrant "fallouts," population trends, range expansions, abberantly plumaged individuals, or species that may be unusual in a particular region of the state even though considered regular elsewhere (e.g., species such as Barred Owl, Red-bellied and Red-headed woodpeckers, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, or Eastern Bluebird on the immediate coast, or species such as Neotropic Cormorant, Mottled Duck, or Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow well-inland from the coast).
       There are four general documentation categories that can be used alone or in various combinations to properly support everything from first state records to sightings of local interest.
1. Bird Observation Details Cards. For decades, Louisiana observers have submitted observations of unusual species on these standard pre-printed 3" x 5" cards. The card file database is housed at the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science (LSUMNS) and is accessible (by appointment) to anyone interested in Louisiana bird distribution. Records on 3" x 5" cards should be sent to the state subregional editor for the ABA/NASField Notes Central Southern Region (currently Steven W. Cardiff, Museum of Natural Science, 119 Foster Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803-3216). Records must be submitted on cards, not by electronic mail.
       At the end of each season, these cards are organized, copied, and sent on to the Regional Editor to be included in that season's summary of bird activity in the region. The card data are also used as the basis for seasonal summaries that periodically appear in the LOS News. The LOS News reports provide a more detailed Louisiana perspective than can the Field Notes summaries, which must digest thousands of records from a six-state area. Please refer to the schedule in Table 1 for season definitions and deadlines. To keep things uncomplicated, the schedule is the same for both the LOS News and Field Notes. "Late" cards should still be submitted as soon as possible because they can sometimes be incorporated into reports right up to the last minute. In any event, it's never too late for a card to be filed in the permanent card file database at LSUMNS.
       For the sake of consistent treatment of all records, please do not send data directly to the LOS News Editor, or to the Field Notes regional editors; these data must be routed through the subregional editor. Cards can be requested in writing or by calling the state subregional editor (see above). Alternatively, you can make up your own 3" x 5" cards that list species, parish, locality, date, # of individuals, observer(s), and significance of the species being reported. We encourage observers to provide descriptive details on the back of these cards, especially for species that are well out-of-range or out-of-season.
       The 3" x 5" cards are also preferred for reporting most unusual (boldfaced) species found on Christmas Bird Counts (CBC's). Details are mandatory for boldfaced species. Do not use 8 1/2" X 11" details sheets except for review list species (see below). The cards should be completed by observers preferably on count day, and turned in to the CBC compiler. "Phoned-in" details on cards that are written by the compiler are unacceptable. CBC Compilers should submit the originals of all rarities documentation to the Louisiana CBC Editor (currently Steven W. Cardiff, see address above); details sent to New York stand a greater risk of being lost and are not evaluated by the NAS CBC staff. Compilers should submit their documentation no later than mid to late March.
2. Rare Bird Report Forms. Records of species on the Louisiana Bird Records Committee (LBRC) Review List, or unrecorded in LA, should be submitted to the LBRC on a rare bird report form; forms and Review Lists are available from the LBRC Secretary. The Review List consists of species that, on average, are seen in LA four or fewer times per year. The Review list is periodically updated by the LBRC and published in the Journal of Louisiana Ornithology (JLO) and or the LOS News ; Review List species are also denoted with an asterisk on the LOS field checklist. Although these records should also be submitted on standard 3" X 5" cards so that they are represented in the card file database, the card documentation does not by itself constitute a report to the LBRC except as a last resort. Refer to the article "How to document rare birds" by Donna Dittmann and Greg Lasley (Birding June 1992, Vol.24, No.3, pp 145-159) for a discussion of how to document rarities.
       Any photographic or tape-recorded supportive documentation should be clearly labeled with information on species, date, locality, and photographer/recordist. Photos, videos, or tapes will be permanently placed in the LBRC files at the LSUMNS. Selected photographs that have not been published elsewhere may be printed with LBRC reports that appear in the JLO. Photos or tapes of other unusual species, or of other ornithological significance, can be deposited in the LSUMNS photo or tape archives. Recognizable photos of rarities that are submitted by the appropriate deadlines stand a good chance of being published in Field Notes or possibly in future issues of the JLO.
       The LBRC does not review other kinds of records, e.g., out-of-season or out-of-range within Louisiana, except by special request.
       Completed rare bird report forms and accompanying documentation should be sent to the LBRC Secretary, currently Donna L. Dittmann, Museum of Natural Science, 119 Foster Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803-3216, phone 504-388-2009, email ddittma@lsuvm.sncc.lsu.edu
       Decisions of the LBRC are periodically published in the JLO. See JLO Vol.3, No.1, pp 16-42, for the Seventh Report of the LBRC; the Eighth Report is in preparation.
3. Nest Record Card. If you find nests of even the commonest species, they can be reported on preprinted cards issued by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Nest Record Card Program. Cards and instructions are available from Dr. J. V. Remsen at LSUMNS. See Remsen 1985 (LOS News No.109) for additional details. Please be sure that you return the completed cards to Dr. Remsen so that the data can be copied for the Louisiana files before they are sent on to Cornell. See LOS News No. 175 for the most recent nest record summary by David Wiedenfeld. Contact Remsen if interested in becoming the state coordinator for this program. Important breeding records involving fledglings or evidence other than an actual nest should be reported on standard 3" x 5" bird observation details cards, not nest record cards. Likewise, please do not submit actual nest data on 3" x 5" cards.
4. Specimens. Donations of salvaged specimens of any species are important and appreciated by many scientific institutions. The LSUMNS has all state and Federal salvage permits necessary to receive such specimens, which are periodically reported to the LA Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Although state and federal law prohibits the possession of most wild birds without special permits, there is generally no danger of running afoul of the law if your intent is to deliver the specimen to a scientific institution in a timely fashion. Dead birds that are in reasonably good condition (e.g., not completely flattened or not yet decomposing), or moribund birds that succumb before, during, or after rehabilitation efforts, can be placed in a sealed plastic bag and kept frozen until they can be delivered to a museum. A label with information on species, date when found location where found and collector (so that you get full credit for finding the specimen), should be placed in the bag with the bird ("frozen specimen data slips" are available from LSUMNS). Carcasses of any unusual (or suspected unusual) species should be saved, regardless of the specimen's condition.
       Please keep these guidelines for reference until further notice. Revisions will be issued as necessary. Many thanks for your cooperation and participation.

Table 1. Bird Report Scheduleback to text
SEASONDATESDATA DEADLINE
Summer1 June-31 July31 August
Fall1 Aug.-30 Nov.31 December
Winter1 Dec.-end Feb.31 March
Spring1 March-31 May30 June


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