VARCOM Annual Meeting Minutes

Minutes for 2016 VARCOM Annual Meeting
March 19, 2016
Central Rappahannock Regional Library Supply Center
Fredericksburg, Virginia

Present: Bill Williams (Chair), Wendy Ealding (Secretary), Ellison Orcutt, Kieran (Kerry) Kilday, Adam D’Onofrio, Lee Adams, Mike Stinson, Gerry Hawkins, Todd Day

Chair Bill Williams called the meeting to order at 10:03 AM and asked all members to introduce themselves.

Approval of March 2015 VARCOM meeting minutes:  The minutes from the 2015 VARCOM annual meeting were approved in 2015 by all members present at that meeting via e-mail consensus.

VARCOM Vice-chairman Mike Stinson has agreed to serve as Vice-Chair

DOVES: Wendy provided an update on the ongoing work.  ODU is working on the various issues that have been identified and also developing a program to transfer the current Excel database and archive images into the DOVES archive. The goal is to get it completed before the current programmer Bharath graduates and leaves in May 2016.  Bob Ake, our interface with ODU, is meeting with Bharath weekly to check on progress. VARCOM needs to come up with a way to provide long term support rather than relying on ODU graduate students.  There have been problems inherent in student turnover, problems that we thought previous students had fixed have recurred. Ellison said that Richmond Audubon is using VCU undergraduate students on a class project volunteer basis for their web site.  Todd suggested James Fox who is a web developer and offered talk to him.  Action Item: Todd to contact James Fox to see if he could do the work or knows of someone who could. 

Ellison asked if Arun Bose might be available to work on DOVES, possibly on a paid basis.  Wendy explained that when VARCOM first investigated developing what is now DOVES, Arun was approached and he told us that he does not have the programming knowledge or capability.  Bill and Wendy both explained that VSO has provided funding to ODU to develop DOVES at a cost of about $5000/year over the past two years.  Any software requires maintenance and future maintenance costs are unknown.  Todd said that the DOVES program compares unfavorably with the software used by eBird and that Cornell has been fortunate to have a paid staff member who has stayed in the position for many years.  Todd also says Maryland is lucky in having volunteer experts.  Gerry would like our software to be more state of the art. 

VARCOM Bylaws: Gerry has conducted an extremely comprehensive review of the bylaws and has suggested a number of changes.  These included the following:

Grammatical changes: There were a number of grammatical corrections

Definition/description of Virginia’s off-shore waters boundaries – The current (2014) version of the bylaw was missing language in Section II C defining the offshore boundaries.  Gerry’s proposal corrects the error, by inserting missing language. Mike moved to accept Gerry’s changes, Todd seconded, motion accepted

Procedures for Expedited Review of Eligible eBird Records and Cooperation with eBird – Gerry has developed a proposal based on the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee (MARC) process.  This is an opportunity to get records that otherwise won’t get to VARCOM, also reduces workload.  VARCOM can always request full review if there is a question about a particular record.  There was discussion as to what the threshold number of records should be for a species to allow expedited review.  Wendy had initially suggested six records as this is when species are moved from Accidental to Rare status on the Official State List. Gerry thought that this threshold would be too restrictive, too few species would qualify to make it worthwhile, and he suggested three as the limit. The consensus was that three was a suitable threshold.  Mike moved and Bill seconded to add Gerry’s proposed Section E to Section VI of the bylaws to allow the expedited review process.  This was agreed unanimously. Todd moved and Lee seconded that the numerical limit in Section II B (iii) of the proposed VARCOM eBird Procedures be reduced to three.  This was agreed unanimously.  Mike moved and Bill seconded to delete Section IV B from the proposed VARCOM eBird Procedures as unnecessary, this was agreed unanimously.  Gerry suggested that operationally per Section IV A we review eligible eBird records periodically, like MARC does.  Gerry also suggests that we transfer VARCOM records into eBird.  Todd mentioned an area of possible concern in relying on eBird records, if an observer deletes their checklist for whatever reason, it’s gone, although the images remain in the Macauley Library.  It’s not known how often this happens.  Wendy mentioned that she had sometimes removed individual species from her eBird checklists (usually) in response to reviewers of her sightings from outside the US, if the supporting documentation was not adequate, however, the rest of the checklist was not affected.

Todd suggested that we revisit the language in Section VI D 2 f of the bylaws to delete the prohibition on Voting Members from discussing any record with another Voting Member on the first round. We don’t know why the language was put in, Bill not aware of anything historically.  Ellison said it might have been put in to prevent people lobbying for their own records.  Bill indicated that this change would need to be done promptly and directed Gerry to rewrite the language to reflect that.

Expedited Species Review List – Gerry suggested that the “Hard to identify” species list may also be too restrictive.  Kerry moved and Todd seconded that we eliminate all the species in the “hard to identify” category on the proposed list with the proviso that we can revisit as we gain experience with the expedited review process. This was agreed unanimously.  Action Item: Gerry to modify the list and recirculate.

Member comments on all votes – Bill and Wendy confirmed that Voting Members are required to comment on all ballot rounds per Section VI D 2 b of the bylaws.  This was adopted in the 2014 revision of the bylaws because VARCOM had some Voting Members who were not commenting on their votes.

Electronic voting – Mike asked whether VARCOM can change the bylaws by electronic (e-mail) voting or does it have to be done at a physical meeting?  Gerry said that under Virginia law governing non-stock corporations, bylaw changes have to be made at a physical meeting or by conference call where the participants affirm that they can hear what is being said.  This applies to standing committees as well as the VSO Board of Directors.   Gerry had provided revised language for Sections IV D and E of the bylaws to be in compliance with Virginia law. Gerry moved, Kerry seconded to adopt Gerry’s revised language in Section IV D and E of the bylaws.  This was agreed unanimously.

Definition of Record (Bylaws Section VI A. 2.) - What is “an appropriate VSO publication”? Bill recommended the most recent version of the annotated checklist, currently Gold Book as the standard.  The authors had conducted exhaustive research verifying records and made a distinction between records and reports. Mike suggested that Virginia Birds and The Raven might also be suitable sources.  Bill and Todd were concerned that Virginia Birds might not be an adequate reference if the records don’t get reviewed by VARCOM; Bill and Wendy indicated that quite often, records of Review List species published in Virginia Birds are not forwarded to VARCOM for review even though Regional Editors are supposed to do it.  Mike suggested the use of peer reviewed publications. Gerry moved and Todd seconded adding the language “as determined by VARCOM”.   This was adopted unanimously.

Succession Planning -  Bill reminded Committee Members that we need to think about this.  The VARCOM Chair position is elected each year and is term limited to 5 years, any current or former Committee Member can serve as Chair.  The Secretary position is not term limited although it is required to be elected each year. 

Workload Management- Wendy asked the Voting Members for their preferences as to whether they want smaller batches more frequently or bigger batches less often, as long as we are consistent with the bylaws.  Todd and Adam say it depends on the types of submission, some submissions are very easy, some require multiple rounds of voting.  The consensus was that the upper limit seems to be about 30.  Wendy emphasized that timeliness is critical in responding to ballot deadlines, she often has to follow up when members don’t respond on time.  Mike thinks reducing the Review List would be the biggest help. Wendy asked if 30-day turnaround is reasonable given current batch size? The consensus was yes.   Continue as we are doing.

Bill and Wendy had both had discussion with former Chair Bob Ake who had expressed concern about submission review being spread over different years and hence being reviewed by different cohorts of Committee Members.  Wendy said that as a practical matter it is almost impossible to avoid it completely, we never know how many rounds a particular submission review will require.  Again, we do the best we can. 

Requesting VARCOM submissions - Currently Wendy and Bill are soliciting submissions of Review List species if they show up on the VA-Bird list serve, the eBird Rarities Alert (if the observer and hence their e-mail address, is known) and in Virginia Birds.  Todd emphasized that as an eBird reviewer, he is not allowed to give out observer e-mail addresses.  Wendy said that although she does not track responses to requests, she estimates less than 50% of requests result in a submission.  She has found that she has the best chance of success if she solicits a report soon after it is first reported, if necessary she holds the report to obtain a last date, typically waiting 30 days after the last reported date before sending out for review.

Count status of “Slash” Species - Todd had asked whether records accepted as “slash” species i.e. where the record had not been accepted as a particular species but as one of two possibilities e.g. Lesser/Greater Sand-Plover, were counted in determining the total number of species on the Official List.  Wendy confirmed that they are counted, as a single entry, not two.

Media Use Permission for On-line Archive - Will you be able to arrange credit to photographers with their images? Wendy and Bob Ake are working with the ODU programmer on this.  In addition, they have already contacted some observers to obtain permission for a trial batch of records from the VARCOM archive to be transferred into DOVES. Some people have already given blanket permission, some have asked to grant permission on a case by case basis.  Wendy had a question about Gabriel Mapel’s photos– can he legally give permission since he is a minor? What will happen when he turns 18, will he be able to retroactively approve photos he took as a minor? Gerry indicated that it was not a problem and in any case his parents could give permission.

How exactly should the location of a sighting be defined? This had come up in the case of a Snowy Owl from Woodbridge, where the property owner did not want the location disclosed other than “I-95 east of Woodbridge”.  Some Committee members had voted to not accept the record because of the inexact location, and the submission is currently on hold pending resolution.  The current Committee accepted that this was likely as good as we could get and that it was not a reason to hold up the submission.  We just do the best we can.

Clarification of Piedmont/Coastal Plain boundaries - especially for Richmond gull records – This question had been raised by Ellison in seeking to remove these from the Review List.  Wendy explained that she had been using I-95 as the boundary. Todd said that when he was a VARCOM member with David Spears in the past, David had indicated that Route 1 is a better boundary than I-95. 

Submissions of multiple birds of a species with a photo that does not show all of them - Wendy said that past practice has been to accept the birds in the photo as Category 1, the rest as Category 2 as long as written documentation supports it.  When members are voting on submissions involving this situation, they should clearly state in their comments if they are voting on that basis.

Review of way-out-of-range birds that might have a [potential] captive origin: This had come up in the case of the recent submission of a Scarlet Ibis in the New River Valley.  Bill said that it is up to the Committee to review the evidence and decide whether it fulfills the requirements of a Category 3 record.  Action Item: Move the submission on to the next round

Third Party Reports:  Wendy said that there had been a number of recent submissions where an observer had been unable or unwilling to report the bird to VARCOM themselves but had asked someone else to do it on their behalf.  The “someone else” had not seen the bird themselves.  Examples are: Kerry who submitted a report on behalf of two other people who saw and photographed the bird although Kerry did not see the bird himself, and Bill who submitted a report of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher based on a photograph on a social media site.  Bill had contacted the photographer who provided no additional information.  In both cases, the actual observer name was provided (anonymous reports are not allowed). The consensus was that this was acceptable as long as it was made clear that this was a third party report in the submission.

Viewing final comments on voting: Ellison has asked if it was possible to see the final comments from a voting decision.  Currently Voting Members only see reviewer comments if a submission is not accepted on the first round, and they do not see them for the final round, whether second or third.  Wendy had a number of questions about this.  Who should see the comments?  Should it just the people who voted in the final round, or everybody who participated, including former Committee members, which could be from several years ago?  The consensus was that it should just be those who made the final decision.  Wendy indicated that she has serious concerns about doing this.  We have not done it before, and it would not be easy to automate in DOVES without significant programming changes, and it is a lot of extra work for the Secretary. 

VARCOM presentation outline – At the 2015 meeting, Lee had suggested having a handout at VSO field trips about how to document rarities for eBird and VARCOM reports.  She had created an outline as a starting point and Bill offered to expand on it.

Breeding Bird Atlas-eBird and VARCOM: not discussed due to time constraints.

Status of records affected by the pelagic boundary change – Because of the change in the Maryland-Virginia pelagic boundary, a number of records that were thought to be in Virginia waters at the time that they were observed are now thought to have actually been in Maryland waters.  The consensus was that the records should stay in our record archive with annotation that the records were thought to have been in Virginia waters at the time of observation and that they were subsequently determined to be in Maryland waters under the new legal definition.  There will be no loss of species from the official list as there are other records from Virginia waters away from the area in question.

Review List Species Status Update:

Mike moved and Todd seconded to remove the following species from the Review List statewide:

Greater White-fronted Goose
Cackling Goose
All three Scoters
Mississippi Kite
American Golden-Plover
Sandhill Crane

Other changes were adopted as follows

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - Ellison moved and Todd seconded that this species should only be reviewed in the Mountains and Valleys. 
Ross's Goose – Mike moved and Todd seconded to remove from the Review List statewide except for Blue Morph
Trumpeter Swan – Mike proposed first county records only need be reviewed. Repeated sightings in counties with multiple records do not need to be reviewed at the state level. Maryland has just removed the species from their Review List. Wendy and Bill said that VARCOM had just added the species to the Review List in 2014 after years of debate as to its reintroduction status, and that it would be prudent to get more experience. No change recommended. 
Anhinga - Mike moved Adam seconded. In addition to the areas mentioned on the current list, this species should not require review in Greensville or Southampton counties.
Stilt Sandpiper - Remove from Piedmont, which takes it off the statewide list.
Baird's Sandpiper - Remove from Piedmont, which takes it off the statewide list
Laughing Gull - Remove for Piedmont, which leaves it on the list for the Mountains and Valleys
Lesser Black-backed Gull - Remove from Piedmont, which leaves it on the list for the Mountains and Valleys
Eurasian Collared-Dove - Remove from statewide list entirely
Snowy Owl - Remove statewide
Monk Parakeet – this species is not on the Review List currently, although it is on the official list as Category 5.  Most recent eBird record is from 2011. Bill would like to take it off the official state list.  Todd suggested moving it to Category 6.  It may be worth waiting to see what might show up with the Breeding Bird Atlas.  No change at this time.
Black-capped Chickadee within Mountains and Valleys. After brief discussion, it was decided to make no change.

Reviewing subspecies: Not discussed due to time constraints.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:08 PM

Respectfully submitted
Wendy Ealding
VARCOM Secretary