On several occasions over the past twenty years or so the Irish Rare Birds Committee (IRBC) has reviewed the official 'Rarity List' and removed species that it deemed no longer required formal ratification. At a meeting held in Dublin on 11th December 2004, the IRBC decided to radically review the Rarity List and introduce fundamental changes to its methods of record assessment. The primary objective in so doing is to facilitate a more complete official record of rare and scarce bird occurrences in Ireland, and in particular, minimise the unnecessary 'loss' of data. The changes have been made in recognition of the vastly improved means of verifying most rarity records nowadays than was possible in the past. Before describing the changes in detail, it is appropriate to outline the background to these decisions.


Since the publication of the first Irish Bird Report in 1953, the birdwatching scene has changed beyond all recognition. The major advances in bird identification made in the intervening period are reflected in vastly superior field guides and in numerous magazines, topical journals, dedicated internet websites and news groups. The quality of optics used in the field is continuously improving. Observers have become much more mobile, both at home and abroad, allowing them to gain experience of more unusual species and apply this confidently to their observations. All of these factors have led to improved observer competence with regard to many species formerly regarded as "difficult".

Another very significant development in recent years has been the advent of "digi-scoping" - the use of digital cameras and telescopes to obtain photographic images that would previously have been impossible. This is having dramatic and positive implications for the recording of rare birds as the majority of the rarities found in Ireland are now photographed. In many cases the photographs are available for public viewing via websites within hours of the observation. Publication of photographs on the internet on such a large scale has had the indirect and very positive effect of shifting the assessment of a majority of rarity records into a broader, more public domain. Usually, the identification of a rarity is confirmed on the basis of just one or two photographs. Controversial or tentative records are usually discussed openly by observers through email groups such as the Irish BirdNet (IBN). In practically all cases where photographs are published, a broad consensus is reached without the record ever having been submitted to a rarities committee.

At the same time, there has been a significant decline in the willingness of observers to submit written documentation of rarities. Especially in the case of photographed rarities, this reluctance is quite understandable. The net result, however, has been that the picture presented for many species in the annual Irish Bird Report has become increasingly incomplete. For example, in 2002 a record number of Rose-coloured Starlings Sturnus roseus was claimed. The various bird-news sources indicated that approximately 35 individuals were seen that summer, but only 12 were officially added to the records, as no documentation of any sort was made available to the IRBC for the other claims. As a result, with potentially over 60% of the records missing the significance of the invasion of that year is effectively lost. This case is perhaps one of the more dramatic examples of how much we are losing, but the shortfall in documentation of rarity claims has grown unacceptably high in recent years. In the past, attempts have been made to retrieve 'lost records' but the response to IRBC appeals (Irish Birds 5: 353 and 5: 477) has fallen well short of what was required.

This phenomenon is not unique to the Irish birding scene - throughout Europe and the USA national and state rarities committees have reported increased difficulty in motivating observers to submit documentation of rare birds and, as a consequence, significant occurrences have had to be excluded from the official record. This trend seems likely to continue, and quite possibly accelerate, if measures are not taken to counter it.

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Revision of the Rarity List

For some time the IRBC has been considering ways in which it should adapt its way of working to one that will not be so adversely affected by the dramatic fall-off in the formal submission of records and, at the same time, can capitalise on the positive developments of the past few years. It has identified two primary means of achieving this objective:

  1. Placing greater reliance on available photographic evidence and
  2. Reducing the number of species which, even in the absence of photographs, require formal submission and assessment

In the case of many regularly occurring (and apparently seldom misidentified) rarities it is believed that the official record would be better served by removing the requirement that claims be formally documented and assessed by the IRBC. With this premise in mind, the case for retention (or removal) of every species and subspecies on the existing Rarity List was considered individually, with particular reference to the following criteria:

  • Number of records and frequency of occurrence.
  • Difficulty of identification.
  • Propensity for records to be deemed unacceptable.
  • Likelihood of photographic evidence being obtained.
  • Ratio of undocumented claims to documented records over recent years.

All species and identifiable subspecies with 10 or less accepted records up to the end of 2004 are retained on the 2005 Revised Rarity List. With a few exceptions, no species that has occurred more than 20 times is retained on the list. Where a species has been recorded between 10 and 20 times the decision to retain or remove it has been based on an assessment of the latter four of the above-listed criteria. Species with a particularly high ratio of rejected claims, such as Goshawk Accipiter gentilis and Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus are retained, at least for the time being. Where there is a particular risk of erroneous claims e.g. albinistic Common Gulls Larus canus or Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla being mistaken for Ivory Gulls Pagophila eburnea, the species is retained. A few further exceptions have been made where the total number of records exceeds the lower threshold, but few have been recorded in recent years. For example, Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus is now extinct as an Irish breeding bird (and was last recorded back in 1990), while Scops Owl Otus scops has been recorded 14 times in total, but only four times in the past 20 years. Finally, Canada Goose Branta canadensisis retained on the 2005 Revised Rarity List pending a better understanding of the particular (sub)species involved in records of presumed vagrants.

The 2005 Revised Rarity List comprises species and subspecies for which claims must still be assessed and accepted by the IRBC before the records will qualify for publication in the Irish Bird Report (IBR). The Revised Rarity List will come into effect as of 1st January 2005. Where the validity of the claim is confirmed by photographic evidence (published in the popular birding press, posted on the internet or submitted directly to the IRBC), additional documentation, such as a written description will not be required (though of course any such material that is made available will be gratefully received, and will be filed with the record). In the absence of adequate photographic evidence, alternative substantiating material such as written notes, field-sketches or sound recordings will have to be assessed and accepted in the usual way for the record to qualify for inclusion in the IBR.

With regard to claims of species or subspecies on the Rarities List up to the end of December 2004, but now removed (see Appendix 2) observers will be encouraged to make available verifying photographic evidence on one or more of the popular birding websites, as has been happening routinely in recent years. In the absence of photographs or some other form of supporting information, records will not qualify for inclusion in the IBR where:

  1. The circumstances and/or source of the claim is unclear (e.g. vague second or third-hand reports). Anonymous claims will not form acceptable records.
  2. The identification is known to be controversial or
  3. The record falls well outside the known pattern of occurrence e.g. Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea in County Westmeath, Fea┬┤s/Madeiran Soft-plumaged Petrel Pterodroma feae/madeira in January, 15 Surf Scoters Melanitta perspicillata off the Wexford coast.

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Accreditation of records in the IBR

Up to now, accreditation of records in the IBR has been limited to species on the Rarity List. Obviously, there will continue to be accreditation for species/subspecies now listed in the 2005 Revised Rarity List. However, even though it potentially represents a troublesome additional burden to the editor of the IBR, the intention at this point is to retain accreditation for records of all species removed in this latest revision of the Rarity List (see Appendix 2), most of which, by any standards, are still quite rare. This change of policy is not intended simply to gratify observers who like to see their names associated with their records. The name(s) of the observer(s) is an integral part of the record and should, we feel, be recorded for posterity. In addition, the IRBC is conscious of how important the topic of accreditation of records has been to at least a minority of active observers in Ireland, as evidenced by the lengthy debates on the subject on the IBN and at IRBC open fora. In theory, a new, more flexible system will permit more appropriate accreditation than in the past, since there will no longer be an absolute requirement for the finder/identifier to provide documentation of some kind for their name to be published with the record in the IBR. As indicated above, records of these 'accreditation species' will not be published without the source of the claim being known to the committee. We know from past experience that information on precisely who is responsible for particular records is often omitted in day-to-day communication, and can be surprisingly difficult to establish afterwards. Consequently, if the proposed new system of accreditation is to succeed there will have to be more input from the wider birding community on this particular aspect of the record than there has been in the past.

The following system is proposed:

At regular intervals, the IRBC will post a provisional list of all claims of species listed in Appendices 1 & 2 on its web page with the location, first and last dates, age(s) of bird(s) where known, and any other information that is considered relevant. There will be a column showing the names of principal observers associated with the record, by which we mean the observer(s) primarily responsible for the finding/identifying of the bird. It is anticipated that word of mouth communication will permit the compilers of this list to enter the correct names in the majority of cases, but inevitably there will be some gaps and it is likely that where there is less clarity in the reporting, the provisional accreditation may occasionally be incorrect. Birders will be invited to inform the IRBC of any errors they notice in this list so that corrections can be made prior to definitive publication, in the IBR. If no one volunteers information on the identity of the principal observer(s), the record will be credited to whoever supplies photographic documentation. If no photographic or other documentation is available for public scrutiny, and no one takes responsibility for the claim, it will not qualify for publication in the IBR. We anticipate possibly having to make some minor adjustments to this system as we put it into practice. If it fails, proves too complicated or divisive, the IRBC/IBR editor will consider modifying it in ways that eliminate difficulties - ultimately, however, its success will depend on the active participation and constructive input of members of the birding community it endeavours to serve.

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Appendix 1: 2005 Revised Rarity List

Species Scientific name
End of Appendix 1
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus columbianus
Tundra Bean Goose Anser fabalis rossicus
Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
American Black Duck Anas rubripes
Redhead Aythya americana
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus
White-billed Diver Gavia adamsii
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris
Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii
Macaronesian Shearwater Puffinus baroli
Swinhoe's Petrel Oceanodroma monorhis
Madeiran Petrel Oceanodroma castro
'Continental' Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
Frigatebird sp. Fregata sp.
American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus
Black Kite Milvus migrans
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni
Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus
Sora Porzana carolina
Little Crake Porzana parva
Baillon's Crake Porzana pusilla
American Coot Fulica americana
Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax
Great Bustard Otis tarda
Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola
Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva
Sociable Plover Vanellus gregarius
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis
Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata
Stilt Sandpiper Calidris himantopus
Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata
Great Snipe Gallinago media
Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus
Eskimo Curlew Numenius borealis
Hudsonian Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus
Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
Ivory Gull Pagophila eburnea
Franklin's Gull Larus pipixcan
Baltic Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus fuscus
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans
Thayer's Gull Larus thayeri
Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
American Black Tern Chlidonias niger surinamensis
Elegant Tern Sterna elegans
Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis
Brünnich's Guillemot Uria lomvia
Pallas's Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes paradoxus
Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius
Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus
'Dark-breasted' Barn Owl Tyto alba guttata
Scops Owl Otus scops
Little Owl Athene noctua
Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor
Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica
White-throated Needletail Hirundapus caudacutus
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus
Little Swift Apus affinis
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
Roller Coracias garrulus
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
Woodlark Lullula arborea
Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni
Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens
Ashy-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava cinereocapilla
Grey-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava thunbergi
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola
Black-bellied Dipper Cinclus cinclus cinclus
Grey Catbird Dumetella carolinensis
Rufous Bush Robin Cercotrichas galactotes
Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia
Eastern Stonechat Saxicola torquatus maura
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina
Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka
Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti
Black Wheatear / White-crowned Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura / Oenanthe leucopyga
Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis
White's Thrush Zoothera dauma
Siberian Thrush Zoothera sibirica
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
Swainson's Thrush Catharus ustulatus
Grey-cheeked Thrush Catharus minimus
American Robin Turdus migratorius
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti
Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola
Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides
Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola
Paddyfield Warbler Acrocephalus agricola
Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Eastern Olivacaeous Warbler Hippolais pallida
Booted Warbler Hippolais caligata
Sykes's Warbler Hippolais rama
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis
Hume's Warbler Phylloscopus humei
Radde's Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus
Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli
Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus
Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor
Balearic Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator badius
Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus
Serin Serinus serinus
Greenland Redpoll Carduelis flammea rostrata
Mealy Redpoll Carduelis flammea flammea
Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni
Two-barred Crossbill Loxia leucoptera
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia
Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora pinus
Northern Parula Parula americana
Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
Blackpoll Warbler Dendroica striata
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla
Northern Waterthrush Seiurus noveboracensis
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea
Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos
Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola
Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala
Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus
Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea
Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula
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Appendix 2: Supplementary Accreditation Species

Species Scientific name
End of Appendix 2
Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis fabalis
Russian White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons albifrons
Snow Goose Anser caerulescens
Black Brant Branta bernicla nigricans
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
American Wigeon Anas americana
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
King Eider Somateria spectabilis
Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
Fea's Petrel / Zino's Petrel Pterodroma feae/ Pterodroma madeira
Wilson's Petrel Oceanites oceanicus
Bittern Botaurus stellaris
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus
Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
Great White Egret Ardea alba
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Red Kite Milvus milvus
Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus
Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus
Hobby Falco subbuteo
Spotted Crake Porzana porzana
Crane Grus grus
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
Dotterel Charadrius morinellus
American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla
Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii
White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis
Baird's Sandpiper Calidris bairdii
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus
Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis
Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes
Wilson's Phalarope Phalaropus tricolor
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus
Bonaparte's Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia
Ross's Gull Rhodostethia rosea
Laughing Gull Larus atricilla
American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus
Kumlien's Gull Larus glaucoides kumlieni
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida
White-winged Black Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri
Little Auk Alle alle
Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus
Alpine Swift Apus melba
Bee-eater Merops apiaster
Wryneck Jynx torquilla
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla
Shore Lark Eremophila alpestris
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
Richard's Pipit Anthus richardi
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus
Scandinavian Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus littoralis
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta
Blue-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava flava
Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina
Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta
Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria
Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans
Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides
Pallas's Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus
Siberian Chiffchaff * Phylloscopus collybita tristis
Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva
Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator
Rose-coloured Starling Pastor roseus
Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana
Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra

* In reality, all records of tristis Chiffchaff are extremely difficult to evaluate, and it may be advisable to regard even the more strongly supported claims as tentative until such time as absolutely reliable identification criteria are established.

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