We are very lucky to live in an age, where most birders carry a digital camera out into the field. If a rare bird appears, it can be quickly and definitively photographed and the pictures shared across the internet in a matter of minutes. Obviously in the old days, this wasn’t possible. Birders didn’t commonly lug cameras into the field, the camera’s were not nearly as good as they are now and you still had to develop the picture, which if you didn’t do it yourself, could take a couple of days. This often meant the bird was gone before anyone knew what it was.
Recently I’ve been reading old reports from The Kingbird (www.nybirds.org) from 1950 on, about my home region (Region 8) in Eastern New York. While it has been fascinating to learn about certain species which used to occur in certain places (but certainly don’t anymore), every now and then a report makes the list (Which implies confirmation) which makes you just go huh?
remember there were no Avian Bird Record committees then. If it made it to the Kingbird it was likely discussed by the editor of the region and the person who made the sighting. In many cases, no details were given, but phrases such as “Convincingly described” or “Almost certainly this species” were used. There are species reported and “Convincingly described” which would never be accepted by a records committee today.
With that in mind, how do we treat these historical records with little or no details? Your thoughts?