That listing thing

I’ve not had much to post recently, having spent five days nursing a trapped nerve in my back. I have many things in my backlog (so to speak) that I needed to catch up on. Four years of odonata sightings to put on complicated reporting forms for each trip out; data from my QC breeding bird survey square to finally put on yet more forms and still c10,000 entries to put into eBird, so how would I spend my enforced down, as in not out in the field, time? I would sort out my life list!

I’ve done this several times before, swimming with the splits and hiding from the lumps. For those who have no idea what I am talking about. A split is when a species that has a large range and that has sub-species in that range that show proof of speciation get their own badge so to speak.  Lumping is when a species formerly considered good, get their ‘own gang’ privileges withdrawn and then the non-species sometimes face extinction because they are too common to worry about when the odd, isolated population is being built on. You may guess from this that I am more inclined to think that a species is good if it looks and sounds different or if it is geographically isolated from its congeners and that I also don’t worry if sometimes a few date their close relatives. I could rant on about self-serving avian biologists stringing out publishing ‘known’ species splits to keep themselves in jobs but what is the point. In my (amateur) view we have 20,000+ bird species and not the c10,000 science tells us we currently have but won’t have in 50 years’ time unless we change our thinking.

A few years ago the good folks at the International Ornithologists’ Union (formerly the International Ornithological Committee) decided to try to standardise bird names (in English at least) and offered an Excel download of the birds of the World. I went for it and spent hours wading through notebooks and sorting out what I’d seen and where. I carefully followed every update (usually two per year) although each time it happened it was necessary to delve into the split/lump source to find out exactly what had become what. Then I started using eBird who follow a different set of English names and don’t follow the same taxonomy, Audubon we have a problem!

I have a number of other eBird ‘problems’ but I know that they are working on it constantly and will, eventually resolve all of their issues but, until they do, then sorting out your IOC versus eBird list can be time consuming. ebird taxonomy doesn’t follow the IOC splits or lumps and it doesn’t give any track-changes on names that have changed. It would be so useful if you could have eBird pro so to speak that would give extra information on each bird instead of the adjudicator having to email you saying that the species you entered in Ecuador is now considered to be something entirely different – quite humorous really when the original identifier of the bird was the guide we had in Ecuador and, you guessed it, is now the Ecuador eBird adjudicator!

To do the sort, I went for an alphabetic eBird vs. IOC list. I downloaded my life list from eBird, copy-pasted my life list from the IOC spreadsheet, sorted and then went back and forth on anomalies using Google to furnish me with the relevant split-lump info. I could then flag the species that I have yet to enter into eBird and label the pending splits. Now I’m good until the next IOC update comes out or eBird alters their species names without introducing a track-changes option. I could just adopt the eBird list as my life list from the point when all my records are entered but then I’d miss valid splits because the eBird taxonomy does not keep pace with the real World. Roll on the universal adoption of the Phylogenetic Species Concept (PSC), then we would be moving on.

For my next project I plan to add all sub-species to my list and add range details in anticipation of PSC becoming mainstream, although my task would be made easier if I could actually download an existing Excel file of said World list but it does not seem to exist. For those interested in the IOC list and to get the Excel file, follow the link http://www.worldbirdnames.org/

Back to the birds and I did visit the pits yesterday with Richard Yank, one of Quebec birding’s ‘golden generation’ along with Bannon, Macintosh & Barnhurst et al. We were odeing, see http://quebecodes.wordpress.com for the write up, but it was quite good bird-wise too. The first Purple Finch for the site this year, an American Bittern out in the open and some shorebirds, both yellowlegs, Least Sand and a couple of Solitary Sands were good to see. Water levels are dropping again and some mud is appearing and so I expect to have a good autumn shorebird passage, Willet anyone?

Below a Least Sandpiper from yesterday.

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