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Rare and Scarce Species Records Reporting Guidelines

Scarce and Rare Species or Species recorded on unusual dates or at unusual sites
The species considered by the SOSRC appear annually in the back of the Sussex Bird Report and can also be found by clicking here: List of Rare and Scarce Species 2009 . Those species that are dealt with by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) are all those species which do not occur on a regular basis within the county and are not included in the SOS list of scarce and rare species (Click Here: Distinctively marked rare subspecies or races are also considered and published either by SOSRC or BBRC, depending on species and the Committee responsible for their adjudication.

Acceptance and publication of records by the SOSRC in the Sussex Bird Report implies that the species observed was correctly identified and was considered to be of natural occurrence, unless otherwise stated or placed within the “Escapes and Ferals” section. It should be emphasised that acceptance by BBRC does not necessarily ensure that the individual originated from within the geographical range of that species or subspecies. BBRC acceptance means only that it showed all the characters of, and none contradictory to the identification of that species or subspecies. Records submitted to either SOSRC or BBRC may, if additional information comes to light, be re-assessed and the original decision reversed, however this is not a common occurrence, especially with regard to records assessed by SOSRC. Full details of species considered by BBRC and its procedures can be found at the BB Website at

Submission of records
Observers are encouraged to submit records as soon as possible after the observation via e-mail to the Recorder ( This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ) or on paper – the former being the much preferred and easier to manage method. Records are scanned and saved or directly saved onto disc and so electronic submissions are far easier to circulate round the Committee. For inclusion in the annual Sussex Bird Report, SOSRC-adjudicated records need to have been accepted by May of the following year and therefore all records should be submitted by the end of March at the very latest. BBRC records will need to be submitted earlier – see the “Annual Cycle” below for more details. All records whether for SOSRC or BBRC should be submitted via the Recorder so that the records can be checked, logged, scanned and forwarded to the relevant Committee. Consideration by the SOSRC is conducted by circulation in small batches of records via e-mail and usually takes between two and three months depending on the number of records in the batch for consideration. The process will be longer if a recirculation is necessary as this is likely to be assessed at the next SOSRC Meeting. Prompt submission is essential to ensure inclusion in the relevant annual report, this is particularly important in the case of records that require forwarding to BBRC as their circulation process can take six months or more.

It greatly helps the Recorder and the Committee if any on-paper records are typed (or written) in black ink on an SOS submission form or BBRC form (available from the BBRC Secretary or on the BBRC webpage) or on A4 paper using its format as they have to be scanned. This ensures that the Committee(s) know(s) all the circumstances of the sighting and allows for easier preparation and archiving of records.

If photographs are available, these are required to assist the assessment task, and sketches (no matter how poor artistically) are often more precise than words. The Committee also encourages the submission of original field notes (or copies), as these are invaluable in the assessment of some rarities.
If there is good reason for confidentiality over site and/or observers names, this should be requested when the record is submitted.

All scarce and rare bird descriptions should, along with the bird’s behaviour and plumage, provide the following background information:

  • Species Observed
  • Location the bird(s) were seen at
  • Date and time of Observation
  • Duration of Observation
  • Distance from the bird(s)
  • Direction of movement if a flight only record
  • Type of Optics used during the Observation
  • Behaviour

Records which do not provide all the relevant details may mean that members of the SOS or BBRC Committees consider that they cannot make an informed decision on the identification, occurrence or provenance of a sighting and this could result in the record either not being assessed or the record being rejected on grounds of insufficient detail. Examples of previously accepted descriptions can be found by Clicking Here: Example Descriptions and give some idea of what the Committee is looking for.

Assessment of records
Records are assessed in two different ways.

  1. Fast-track circulations: This is done for certain species listed as such on the SOSRC Scarce and Rare species list. These records are considered by 4 of the Committee members. If all four members accept the record the record is accepted; if three or four members do not accept the record it is deemed not proven. If two or three of the four members accept the record (i.e. one member does not accept) it goes to a full circulation. If there is any disagreement in this process or particularly pertinent issues are revealed during the initial circulation, the record also goes to a full circulation.
  2. Full circulations: Records are circulated by e-mail to all Committee Members (in a changing order) in small batches. Recirculated and pended records are usually dealt with at the bi-annual SOSRC meeting or during circulation of other batches of records.

A comments sheet is attached to each record for members’ comments and votes (Accept, Not Proven and Pend, if further clarification is required). Members use a pass vote if the record is one of their own or more unusually if they lack knowledge of the species involved and they feel unable to vote at that stage in the circulation.

For a record to be accepted on first circulation the record must receive 5 out of 6 votes for acceptance. A vote of 4:2 in favour of the record would mean the record would be recirculated on first circulation (or in very rare circumstances adjudicated upon solely by the Recorder). If the record remains at 4:2 after the recirculation the record would be deemed as not-proven. A first circulation vote of 3:3 or worse would mean the record was deemed not acceptable or not proven. Any member may request that a record be pended for further discussion or for additional information to be provided and only one Pend vote is required to effect this action. After circulation, all records, comment sheets and relevant correspondence are retained permanently on file whether or not the record is accepted. All comments and the votes of individual members are confidential, although an observer may request to see the anonymised comments from the Recorder.

Unfortunately many records of scarce and rare birds are often lost as the observers do not submit a description or details of the sighting and therefore the record cannot form part of the official avifaunal record of Sussex or the UK. It is also not wise to assume that descriptions have been provided for individual scarcities or rarities as every year birds observed by many observers and in no doubt as to their identity are almost (or actually) lost as no formal record has been submitted. A list of those records where descriptions have not been provided may be published on the SOS website each year so that those with relevant information can submit details for assessment and eventual publication in the annual Bird Report.

Advice of decisions
All decisions (accepted or not accepted) are notified to the observer if the observer has requested such notification on the submission form, either by post or via e-mail. Those species adjudicated upon by the SOSRC are forwarded to British Birds periodically for publication in their annual Scarce Migrants, Rare Breeding Birds and Non-native Breeding Species Reports. The reasons for decisions are not normally given but these may be discussed with the Recorder if so requested in the case of SOS records. In most cases when a record is not accepted it is not that the record did not involve the particular species, but is simply that the record submitted does not fulfil the criteria for acceptance or does not provide the level of detail required or note the identification features that the Committee needs to make an acceptance. In such cases the Recorder is reluctant to ask for further details once the observer has consulted the guidebooks, as it is then too easy to “remember” what was not initially recorded.

Decisions are also published on the SOS website on a regular basis, Click Here: Record decisions, and all accepted records are published in the annual Sussex Bird Report published by the Society.

Reconsideration of earlier records
If there is new evidence or any other legitimate reason, the SOSRC may reconsider any record on request; however the majority of reconsiderations concern reviews of records of a species where there has been a significant advance in established identification criteria or more commonly additional information has come to light. The reversal of a decision of a previously accepted and published record is regarded as a serious matter and requires careful consideration for a change in the decision. Records previously not accepted may also be reviewed, however this will usually be dependent on original additional information coming to light and not for example simply because an observer disagrees with the committee's decision. Reconsideration of previously accepted/not-accepted records is a process undertaken far more commonly by BBRC for the species they consider than those records considered by SOSRC.

Withdrawal of accepted records
Any observer has the right to withdraw a past accepted record, at any time, by communicating this wish to the Recorder of SOSRC. The observer is under no obligation to explain why, although such explanations would be welcomed. However, the Recorder will endeavour to ascertain whether or not there was any question of the record having not been properly assessed at the time or whether any impropriety by observers was involved. In the case of a record in which more than one claimant was involved, care must be taken to ensure that the withdrawal is supported by all parties involved. If only the one observer wishes to withdraw, further investigation may be necessary.

The Annual Cycle
SOSRC circulation of records continues year-round but for inclusion in the annual Sussex Bird Report records need to have been accepted by May of the following year and therefore all records should be submitted by the end of March at the very latest. Records accepted after this date may be too late for inclusion due to the record circulation process and the lengthy production time of the Annual Report. Adjudication by BBRC commences in August, following completion of the previous year's BBRC report. Records received after March are unlikely to be dealt with in time for inclusion in that year's BBRC report (and therefore likely to be too late for the SOS Report as well). Records for either Committee should be submitted as soon after the observation or as soon after the last date that the bird was recorded for those individuals that remain for a period of time.

Accepted SOSRC and BBRC records are published in the annual Sussex Bird Report. Observers are acknowledged after most records that have required a description. The committee also publishes both SOSRC and BBRC accepted records on the SOS website which is updated regularly. Accepted BBRC records will be published in the relevant issue of British Birds. It can be assumed that all records published in either the SOS or BBRC Annual Bird Reports have been fully authenticated and accepted by the relevant Committee. In the case of the Sussex Ornithological Society a record will not be published in the Sussex Bird Report unless it has been deemed as publishable by the County Recorder. Records shown as accepted on the SOS or BBRC websites are for reference only and until published in the relevant report should not be taken as having been officially accepted into the Society’s database or county avifaunal record as mistakes sometimes occur or additional information may come to light which affects the record outcome.

Published notes on rarities and identification papers
Some particularly good accounts of description (and sometimes non-description) species and useful identification papers may be published in the annual Bird Report, the Society’s quarterly newsletter or on the SOS website.

To aid members in submitting records to the Committee a selection of accepted descriptions are published on the website, and where applicable notes are sometimes included to highlight areas which are important to consider when submitting records. When submitting a record all observers should remember to base their description on what they actually saw and not what they think they should have seen or later found in a book, photograph or on the internet. All the descriptions published Here: Example Descriptions have been accepted by the Committee, although not necessarily unanimously, and should only be used as a guide on the style and format of submissions and what information should be included.

Escaped birds
The Committee publishes all records of escaped or exotic species where the possibility of captive origin is either definite or most likely in the “Escapes and Ferals” section of the annual Bird Report. Birds which are of “unknown origin” but of likely feral/escaped origin will be assessed by the relevant committee and published as such in the Report, and in most cases this will mean inclusion in the “Escapes and Ferals” section, rather than the main body of the Report. Certain rarer or more unusual escaped species, or those which have very similar looking species, may require a description to ensure the species claimed is the correct one.

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