RecordingGuide to Record Submission

The Society is grateful to all observers who submit records, but especially those who do so on a regular basis throughout the year as this certainly speeds up the input of records into the database. The deadline of 31st January for records of the previous year has been set to ensure that records are assessed and processed in time for inclusion in the Devon Bird Report (DBR). There may not be time to enter into the database records received after January and, therefore, to publish them in the relevant DBR. This is unfortunate because it can both delay the publication of some important and useful records, and result in observers not being correctly acknowledged.

All records and names and details submitted by observers will be entered onto a secure computer system and their names will be included in the list of contributors in the DBR. Records may be passed to other organisations, consultants and individuals who have a legitimate reason to request the information in accordance with Society’s aims, objectives and policies. Please inform the County Recorder if you have any concerns or objections in this respect.

A bird record is a sighting (or hearing!) of a bird that is submitted to the County Recorder and will appear on the Devon Birds database. The essential components of a record are the species, date, site, number of birds and observer’s name, but times, age, sex and additional comments/observations (including any brief supporting notes) may also be relevant.

Although we are willing to receive all records of birds in Devon, some records are more useful than others, depending on the species. The types of records required for each species are indicated by a record code against the species name listed in the Devon List as well as the Devon List Appendix in current Devon Bird Reports

How to Submit Records

Records should be submitted to the County Recorder by one of the following methods. Regular submission of records, monthly or quarterly, depending on extent, throughout the year is strongly recommended.

  • Electronically. This is the preferred method of submission of records, and a standardised Microsoft Excel spreadsheet is available which can be emailed as an attachment and will enable records to be directly transferred onto the database, thereby saving valuable data processing time. Details and instructions on its use are available from either the County Recorder or the Data Manager.  Observers who use other spreadsheet software can obtain a compatible version of the data submission spreadsheet on request from the Data Manager.
  • Written. The County Recorder and Data Manager holds a supply of observation forms which can be used by those observers who do not have access to email. These forms are easy to complete and are obtainable from the County Recorder or the Data Manager enclosing a SAE. Our postal address is shown on the Contact page.
  • If you do not usually submit records to the Devon Birds, and have just one bird record to tell us about, the new Quick Report Form on this website is the best way to inform us.

Information Required – the columns on the recording form/spreadsheet

Species. Please use the English names as set out in the Appendix for all types of record submission, even in situations where identification to species is not possible e.g. Guillemot/Razorbill (rather than unidentified auks), Pied/White Wagtails (rather than alba wagtails) and for hybrids e.g. presumed Canada x Greylag Goose (plus description to help confirm or elucidate parentage). For ‘exotica’ (the national Category D and E species, which are not listed in the Appendix) use the most familiar name, as in recent DBRs, or ideally from the BOU website. When a subspecies is identified, and is not listed in the Appendix, please contact the County Recorder.

Locality & Grid Reference. It is important to be as precise as possible about the locality of sighting. Wherever relevant, please use site names quote on the os map. It is also useful to give four or six figure grid references when submitting records of birds even from well-known locations, but especially so from remote and less well-known sites. Grid references are also very important for rare and scarce breeding birds. Grid references really do reduce the amount of time needed to write the species accounts in the report.

Dates. It is important to accurately date all sightings (even monthly maxima) using the normal order dating format, i.e. day, month, and year. Care should be exercised when using the standardised Excel spreadsheet that your PC does not reverse the day and month when entered, as per the date format used in the USA. Usually only one date will be used (the ‘First Date’ on the spreadsheet), but it may be useful to add a ‘Last Date’ for some records. If a record relates to a whole month, or several months, it is more useful to give the actual first and last dates, rather than just the months.

Time. Most records do not include the time, even in a general sense such as ‘morning’ or ‘late evening’, but it can sometimes be very useful in tracking the movements of birds, or in deciding whether the birds from two or more records can sensibly be added together. In the specific instance of sea-watching and other visible migration observations, recording both ‘Time’ and ‘End Time’ is particularly useful as it also enables the numbers of birds passing per unit time (passage rates) to be calculated.

Number of Birds (Count). Be as accurate as possible, and give minima rather than maxima in the case of estimates. Only a number (numeral) should be inserted into the ‘Count’ column, and for every record a number should be inserted, even if only a single bird is involved. This should be supplemented in the Comments/Observations column, for example with a ‘+’ to indicate a minimum or a ‘circa’ to indicate an estimate, and to indicate whether the count refers to a flock or an area count, and whether birds, pairs, singing males, territories or nests are being counted. Zero counts can be very useful in situations where, on previous visits, a species is unexpectedly absent.

Comments/Observations. More use should be made of this column. For most records, it is pertinent to use it to provide either:

  • details of the count (see above) and information on sex, age etc (always give this information if available);
  • brief supporting notes, mainly in the case of B species;
  • additional notes, for example on plumage, food or behaviour, that may be of interest;    
  • or a justification for submitting the record. The relevance of a record may not be immediately obvious to anyone using the database, in particular section writers trying to decide which records merit inclusion in the DBR species accounts. As examples of how qualifying notes can change context, usefulness and interest, consider the following two records which clearly demonstrate both awareness of status at the sites watched, and enthusiasm for communicating the significance of the observations:

Shelduck, South Huish Marsh, 30/05/03, nine juvs. At first glance, this is a fairly unremarkable record, but the qualifying notes provide adequate justification for submitting it: “Newly hatched – first ever successful breeding on this Devon Birds reserve – but many previous failed attempts”.

Blackcap, Hardwick Wood, 21/03/03, two. Again, not particularly eye-catching, but value is added in the comment: “Male in full song and male in subsong at opposite ends of the wood. March song also recorded here in 1999 (2 birds) and 2000 (1). Most March song I've ever recorded”.

See below two examples of part of a completed bird record submission form.

The correct way to complete a bird record submission form

The correct way to complete a bird record submission form

The incorrect way to complete a bird record submission form

The incorrect way to complete a bird record submission form

Devon Record Codes

(@) – National rarity. Description required by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC).

National Rarities are dealt with by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC).  The BBRC adjudicate rare bird records throughout the whole of Britain. To complete a BBRC form for a National Rarity please go here. If using a downloaded BBRC Rarities Form, when emailing the completed version to the BBRC secretary, please remember to ‘cc’ it to recorder@devonbirds.org for the county records.  Also please do not forget to include all records of BBRC rarities in your usual submission of bird records to the Devon Birds.  A list of the current BBRC Rarities can be found here.

(A) – All records required with full supporting notes.

These are County Rarities, and all sightings of Devon A Rarities require full description and approval from the Devon Birds Records Committee (DBRC) before being added to the Devon Birds database. The list of the current Devon A Rarities can be found here.

Full supporting notes (required for Devon A and National Rarities) are explained on official forms supplied by the County Recorder or downloadable on this site. For useful additional information see also the article 'Get it down!' by Mike Langman in Devon Birds 52 (1), April 1999, pp 10–16, or the article Tactical Description-Writing: How to Help the Records Committee by Gavin Haig.

Problems have occurred with the submission of full descriptive notes for both national and Devon rarities. Unfortunately, some observers are reluctant to complete the appropriate forms because in some cases they were not the first person to record the bird. However, it helps immensely to receive more than one descriptive note enabling the BBRC or DBRC to corroborate details, especially where some descriptive notes are wanting of detail. These records should be submitted to the County Recorder as soon as possible after the bird was seen, whilst the details are still fresh in the observer's mind and hopefully adequately recorded in their notebook.

Photographs are a very welcome addition to the records form, either as a print, slide or digitally on a CD. Photographs can also be emailed to the County Recorder, but please remember to add details of species, (and age, sex and other details if applicable), date picture taken, site and of course the photographer’s name. Any pictures submitted may be used in the Society’s publications, with due acknowledgement, unless the photographer instructs otherwise. Where identification has relied mainly on song or call, sound details, preferable on a CD, should also be submitted in support of the record.

If the appropriate forms (available to download here or from the County Recorder) are used to provide supporting details, this will greatly assist the assessing committees, and speed up the process of reaching decisions

(B) – All records required. With brief supporting notes.

Birds coded (B) are scarce birds that occur in the County.  For these records, brief supporting notes should be submitted to the County Recorder with the record. The list of the current Devon B Rarities can be found here.

Brief supporting notes should include the main feature used to identify the bird, the distance between bird and observer, optical equipment used, what the bird was doing and weather/viewing conditions. These can be entered in the Comments/Observations column of the recording form or on a separate sheet.

(C) – All records required.

We welcome all records of (C) coded birds – but the county recorder may request to see brief supporting notes if the record is of either an unusually high count of birds, or an unseasonal sighting (i.e. a summer migrant in winter).

(D) – All breeding, but only selected non-breeding records required.

A breeding record is one which involves either confirmed or suspected breeding. The evidence for breeding should be made clear in the observations column, and could range from bird or pair present in suitable habitat at the right time (possible breeding) to nest, eggs or recently fledged or downy young (confirmed breeding). In addition, the record should include dates, site including grid reference, numbers of pairs or nests and any information on productivity (numbers of eggs, hatched young and/or fledged young) as possible. The Society has recently adopted a new policy in respect of publication, storage and transfer of data relating to rare breeding birds in Devon. This policy relates to Schedule 1 and other rare breeding species and observers are requested to inform the County Recorder immediately in respect of any such breeding or suspected breeding. For further details and advice, please contact the County Recorder.

Selected non-breeding records (also relevant for (E) coded species) could include the following:

  • Dated monthly maximum counts for main or well-watched sites (and ideally for several months for private sites such as gardens);
  • Records of flocks/counts considered to be large for the site and/or time of year (see also the species accounts in recent DBRs for guidance on flocks/counts of most interest);
  • Census data from defined sites (stating area covered), tetrads or km squares or timed visits;
  • Visible migration (flock details or timed counts);
  • Unusual records (in terms of plumage, site, habitat, dates, numbers or behaviour)

(E) - Only selected records required.

For rarer birds, every sighting is likely to become a record (except perhaps for repeated sightings of long-staying individuals), but for common species, only sightings involving information specifically requested need be submitted as records. These then become selected records. It is perhaps obvious that no observers send in a record of every time they see a Blackbird – but where do we draw the line? Deciding on this has given rise to the D and E codes and the sorts of breeding and non-breeding records required for these commoner species.

Selected breeding records could include:

  • Dated confirmation of breeding in a tetrad in a specified year;
  • Census data from defined sites (stating area covered), tetrads or km squares or timed visits;
  • Productivity data (numbers of eggs, hatched young and/or fledged young);
  • Unusual records (in terms of nest site, habitat, dates, numbers or behaviour).

Steve Waite