Thursday, 24 March 2016

Birdwatch - latest editorial

April 2016 | Issue 286

Any birder who keeps a list knows the law of diminishing returns – the more you bird, the harder it becomes to add ticks. For those who follow the British Ornithologists’ Union’s (BOU) list of British birds, the latest addition of Cackling Goose (or Lesser Canada Goose in BOU parlance) will therefore be welcome news. More confirmation than surprise, this decision documents the first unequivocal occurrence, as this vagrant has appeared in Britain on numerous occasions in recent decades, and will now find its way onto innumerable personal lists.

It is 11 years since the BOU ‘split’ Canada and Cackling Geese, and 40 years since the first example of the latter was identified. It’s only right that committees follow due process to ensure they make correct decisions about difficult records, so the BOU shouldn’t be criticised for what seems like a long delay (though many might take issue with the confusing and unnecessary attempt to rename this North American species). Rather than such birds remaining in limbo in terms of the national list, however, perhaps some kind of work-in-progress or ‘theoretical’ category is called for. A similar situation occurred previously with Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls, and could potentially happen again in future – for example with subspecies such as iberiae Spanish Wagtail and rubicola European Stonechat, both of which are thought to occur in Britain, even if neither is currently ‘officially’ recognised. A holding category would give these unresolved cases some kind of status, and also enhance the way the BOU communicates with the birding community.

Incidentally, Cackling Goose becomes the 601st species to be added to the BOU’s British list, hot on the heels of the recent announcement that Yelkouan Shearwater had become the milestone 600th bird. Britain is now first to break the 600-species barrier in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, a notable achievement in itself.

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