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Tips on Submitting Reports
When submitting a record to MARC, it’s best to think about the audience–what information will help the Committee members decide if there is sufficient evidence to support the record, and what information will be useful to archive so that future generations can share and appreciate your observation? How much information to submit is up to you, and we would certainly never want the perfect to get in the way of the good and have people not submit records because they believe doing so takes too much time and effort. That said, here are the types of information that are especially helpful and make for great archival material.
Physical documentation is ideal if it can be obtained–such as photographs, video, audio recordings or even a specimen (if appropriate). Don’t be shy about submitting poor shots or flooding the Committee with evidence!
Even for exceptionally well-documented birds, it is important to have some accompanying narrative. Make the date(s) and locality of the observation clear in your submission, but also try to provide some background to the circumstances (habitat, who found the bird, what species it was consorting with, weather, any fun or colorful stories attending the observation, etc.) and to provide any behavioral or physical clues (especially any vocalizations, size and shape as compared to other species or objects nearby, and specific actions that may be important for identification or evaluating the likelihood of wild provenance) that otherwise would not be captured. Moreover, don’t hesitate to provide any analysis about why you think the evidence supports your conclusion as to species (be as specific as you want, down to age, sex, subspecies, etc.)–indeed, such analysis is most welcome.
It would also help the secretary immensely if you could cobble together what you can about the date range for the record, perhaps using eBird, Massbird or discussions with other observers.
Records submitted without physical documentation obviously require more description of what was observed to support an identification. One important thing to keep in mind in describing what you saw on or heard from a bird is that the goal is to capture what you actually saw or heard–not what a field guide says you should have or could have seen. Ideally, notes should be taken during the observation or immediately afterwards, before consulting a field guide. We’d love to get these original notes no matter how sloppy, although a clean and edited version is fine to provide as well. Field sketches are most especially welcome–again, they need not be artist-quality by any stretch. Examples of sketches submitted to the MARC can be seen here. You can mail or pdf any handwritten material, or email anything electronic. Descriptions of what was observed should be as complete as possible, but of course be honest about what you didn’t see (either due to limitations in the view or because you simply didn’t think to look for a certain feature). Your analysis of the identification can certainly include any identification tips gleaned from references, as well as things you remembered seeing or hearing once you realized their relevance after the fact, but please identify such “post-observation observations” as such. A basic narrative describing the scene should also be submitted as detailed in the previous paragraph, but noting the length and quality (light, distance, etc.) of the observation is especially important when no physical evidence was secured.
Please keep in mind that even top-flight birders, and several Committee members, have submitted records that have not been accepted. We note this not to deter you, but to encourage you to submit–there’s no shame in having a record not be accepted. The review process is not at all about assessing one’s abilities as a birder. Nor does a “rejection” mean you didn’t see the bird you thought you did–it just means that the evidence has not provided enough certainty to convince eight members of the Committee. From our perspective, it is always better to have archived these not accepted records than to never have archived at all. And of course, once archived, future MARC members or researchers will have the opportunity to re-review anything you submit.
In sum, submitting to MARC should be a fun learning experience and a chance to contribute important data to the Bay State’s already rich ornithological history. We hope you find some rare birds, and think of us when you do!