Sunday, 20 December 2009

Latest Clements update

For many birders the time is fast approaching for that essential bout of end-of-year housekeeping: the updating of lists. Although I did so for some years in my youth I haven't kept a proper British annual list for a long time, perhaps a sign of changing horizons, growing older, or both. But a year ago I decided to give 2009 the personal designation of 'The year of travel', and with trips in the intervening 12 months to Kuwait, Cape Verde Islands, Morocco, Kazakhstan, Australia, Azores and Austria now under my belt, there is some serious updating to be done.

As my benchmark list, I use what has become known as 'Clements'. Jim Clements's world checklist has long been the American Birding Association's preferred global view, and until Howard and Moore was finally brought up to scratch by Edward Dickinson in 2003, it was to my mind the only world checklist worth having. I got to know Jim a little through correspondence and was delighted when he accepted the invitation to be an Advisory Panel member on Birdwatch. But since his passing in 2005 his legacy to the ornithological world has changed somewhat under the management of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which inherited responsbility for the Clements checklist and proceeded to put its own stamp on the publication.

The latest effects of this can be seen in the most recent (18 December 2009) update. Gone is the handy list of splits, lumps, revisions, decisions and corrections. Instead we have a downloadable Excel spreadsheet, an explanatory overview of policy and strategy, and some summary statistics. It will be a while before I figure out exactly what the big changes to the world order of birds are, but in the meantime here are the key stats with which Cornell ends its update:
  • Number of families: 223
  • Number of taxa: 31573
  • Number of species: 9995
  • Number of unique subspecies: 21107
It's clear that much has changed, with numerous new families added as well as changes having had an impact on other totals. If anyone finds an online breakdown of the changes in detail, please let me know and I'll post a link. In the meantime, I'd better start the Excel download running for that new world checklist ...

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