Bylaws of the Virginia Avian Records Committee

As amended, 3 May 2019

I. Name and Affiliation

This committee shall be known as the "Virginia Avian Records Committee," hereinafter, VARCOM or the Committee, of the Virginia Society of Ornithology, hereinafter, VSO.

II. Purposes

A.    Increase knowledge of Virginia birds.
B.    Encourage and develop high standards of observation, recording, and reporting in the birding community.
C.    Validate records of birds from the Commonwealth of Virginia and adjacent ocean. “Adjacent ocean” is defined as “that area bounded on the north by latitude 38 degrees 02' 00" offshore for a distance of 3 nautical miles, on the south by latitude 36 degrees 33' 05" offshore for a distance of 3 nautical miles, and then using the principle of equidistance (aka nearest point of land) from 3 nautical miles to that point offshore from the Virginia coastline where these boundaries intersect those of Maryland and North Carolina.  These are the administrative boundaries outlined by the Department of the Interior in 2006:
D.    Solicit, organize, and archive records and documentation related to the status and distribution of Virginia birds.
E.    Maintain the Official List of Virginia birds based on the most recent American Ornithologists’ Union taxonomy. Publish frequent updates of this list on the VARCOM website.
F.    Publish annually in an appropriate VSO publication a report of VARCOM actions, including all records evaluated in the previous year.

III. Membership

A.    Number and Definitions

VARCOM shall consist of nine people: seven Voting Members, one non-voting Chairperson, and one non-voting Secretary.

B.    Qualifications

Any person is eligible, in the estimation of VARCOM, to be a Voting Member if that person has demonstrated expertise in the field identification of birds and their distribution, accepts VARCOM's rules, and is a member in good standing of the VSO.

C. Voting Members

1. Election

a)     The seven Voting Members shall be elected by VARCOM and approved by the VSO Board of Directors (the VSO Board) at its Fall meeting. Voting Members will be replaced on a staggered basis, following a term of four years, by the following rotation system: two Members elected each of three years, and one elected the fourth year. Annual elections will be completed by the fall VSO Board meeting.
b)     New Voting Members will take office on January 1 following their election. A Voting Member may not serve consecutive terms but may be re-elected after an absence of at least one year from VARCOM.

2. Nominations

a)     Nominations of new Voting Members shall be made to the VARCOM Chairperson by any VSO member no later than October 1. Each person may make only one nomination per vacancy and is responsible for obtaining approval from his/her candidate(s).
b)     Before a candidate can be considered for election, the Chairperson will communicate with the prospective candidate explaining the rules and bylaws of the VARCOM. The candidate, in turn, shall reply, stipulating that he or she accepts the terms, to the Chairperson before the Fall VSO Board meeting at which the elected candidates are to be confirmed. With receipt of this reply by the Chairperson, the candidate becomes an official nominee.

3. Duties/Responsibilities

a)     Reviews all documentation of birds submitted to VARCOM and circulated to each Voting Member by the Secretary.
b)     Votes to accept or not accept specific submissions as provided in Section VI.
c)     Attends VARCOM meetings.
d)     Adheres carefully to deadlines for routing VARCOM documentation.
e)     Notifies the Secretary well in advance of absences or duties that would interfere with timely review of packets.

D. Committee Chairperson

1. Election

a)     VARCOM will elect a Chairperson each year, by concurrence of a majority of Voting Members. The winning nominee must be approved by the VSO Board at its Fall meeting. Candidates for Chairperson must be current or former VARCOM Members.
b)     The Chairperson shall take office on January 1 following his/her election and may serve consecutive terms, not to exceed a total of five (5) years. The Chairperson may be re-elected after an absence of at least one year from VARCOM.

2. Duties

a)     Serves as Voting Member of VARCOM on all matters of procedure, membership, and order, but does not vote to accept or not accept specific submissions to VARCOM as provided in Section VI.
b)     Calls and presides at all meetings of VARCOM; distributes a meeting agenda at least 30 days prior to the proposed meeting date.
c)     Annually reports results of committee actions to the VSO membership.
d)     Reports activities of VARCOM at regular VSO Board meetings.
e)     In coordination with the Secretary, oversees all requests for assistance from researchers for record information, including non-attributed reviewers' comments, for all records.
f)      Serves as primary contact on all inquiries to VARCOM.
g)     Provides all prospective VARCOM Members and candidates with a current copy of the VARCOM Bylaws and a copy of the letter described in Section III. C. 2. b.
h)     Conducts elections of VARCOM membership.
i)       Keeps current a master copy of the Bylaws and ensures that they are properly applied.
j)       Maintains, or causes to be maintained, a VARCOM website, with help from Secretary.

E.    Vice-Chairperson

1.     Appointment

a)     The Vice-Chairperson shall be appointed from the Voting Membership annually by the Chairperson no later than January 1.

2.     Duties

a)     The Vice-Chairperson shall assume the duties of the Chairperson in the event that the Chairperson is unable to perform his/her duties for any reason.
b)     The Vice-Chairperson shall conduct the annual election of the Chairperson.

F. Secretary

1. Election

a)     VARCOM will elect a Secretary each year, by concurrence of a majority of Voting Members.
b)     The Secretary takes office on January 1 following his/her election, and may serve unlimited consecutive terms.

2. Nominations

a)     Nominations for Secretary shall be presented to the Chairperson no later than October 1.

3. Duties.

a)     Serves as a Voting Member of VARCOM on all matters of procedure, membership, and order, but does not vote to accept or not accept specific submissions as provided in Section VI.
b)     The Secretary may delegate duties to an assistant or assistants of his/her choice.
c)     Receives, tabulates, and files all bird records and supporting data submitted to VARCOM.
d)     Attempts to procure additional information on records when deemed necessary by VARCOM.
e)     Keeps current the database for The Official List of the Birds of Virginia, to support periodic revisions of Virginia’s Birdlife: An Annotated Checklist, the VSO Field Checklist, and other appropriate VSO publications.
f)      Copies and circulates all submitted documentation to Voting Members.
g)     Tabulates results of all votes of VARCOM.
h)     Corresponds with individuals submitting documentation to VARCOM to acknowledge their receipt, and to provide feedback on committee action.
i)       Records and distributes minutes from VARCOM meetings.
j)       Furnishes or makes available copies of the current "VARCOM Report Form" to anyone upon request and free of charge.
k)     Keeps current a master copy of the VARCOM Bylaws.
l)       Handles all requests for assistance from researchers for record information, including non-attributed reviewers' comments, for all records.

G. Removals

Any VARCOM Member who does not fulfill the duties as described above may be removed from VARCOM. This action shall require the concurrence of a majority vote of VARCOM Members.

H.    Vacancies

In the event that VARCOM loses a Member during his/her term (due to death, resignation, removal, etc.), VARCOM will elect a replacement to fulfill the remainder of his/her term, subject to approval by the VSO Board by any appropriate voting method (including electronic vote).

I.      Compensation

None of the Members of VARCOM shall receive compensation for his/her services. Members may be reimbursed by the Treasurer of the VSO for expenses reasonably incurred in the performance of VARCOM duties.

IV. Meetings

A.    VARCOM will hold an annual meeting in the spring to discuss specific records, bylaws, and current issues of importance. The Chairperson will announce the specific date and location of the meeting, and distribute a meeting agenda at least 30 days in advance.
B.    Special Meetings of the Committee may be called by the Chairperson, or by agreement of four or more Voting Members, or in the Chairπs absence by the Vice-Chairperson. Whoever calls the meeting must notify and provide an agenda to each Voting Member prior to the meeting.
C.    Four Voting Members in good standing shall constitute a quorum for any meeting of the Committee.
D.     Members of the Committee may participate in a regular or special meeting by, or conduct the meeting through the use of, any means of communication by which all Members may simultaneously hear each other during the meeting. A Member participating in a meeting by this means is deemed to be present in person at the meeting.
E. Any action that may be taken at a meeting of the Committee may be taken without a meeting if a consent in writing setting forth the action to be taken shall be signed by each Member and delivered to the Secretary. Action taken under this section shall be effective when the last Member signs the consent, unless the consent specifies a different effective date, in which event the action taken is effective as of the date specified therein provided the consent states the date of execution by each Member. A written consent under this section and the signing thereof may be accomplished by one or more electronic transmissions.

V. Bylaws

A.    Review

The Bylaws shall be reviewed regularly (at least once every five years) by VARCOM.

B.    Changes

The Bylaws may be changed by concurrence of a majority of VARCOM Members (including Chairperson and Secretary) and subsequent approval by the VSO Board.

 VI. Submissions and Records

A. Definitions

1.     Submission

Any documentation submitted to VARCOM as evidence of the identity of a bird that is sighted, heard, collected, banded, or photographed, or documentation appearing in recognized ornithological journals. The submission must meet the criteria below, or be judged by the Chairperson to be sufficiently rare or unusual to require action by the Voting Members. Published submissions are not exempted from action by VARCOM.

a)     Occurrence of a species or form (such as a superspecies, subspecies, hybrid combination, or color morph) on the VARCOM Review List. VARCOM will maintain a Review List of species for multiple physiographic/biogeographic provinces of Virginia as defined in the most recent edition of the Review List. The Review List for each region and subregion will consist, as a general rule, of those species that have occurred within that region seven or fewer times during the ten-year period immediately preceding revision of the Review List or those species reviewed and accepted by VARCOM less than twenty-five times in total from that region or subregion. If Members are of the opinion that this standard does or does not apply to a particular species in a particular area, and that review by the VARCOM is either necessary or unnecessary in such a case, then one or more Members shall submit notice thereof to the Chairperson, who will conduct an electronic poll of all Members and by simple majority vote to add or delete a particular species in the relevant region or subregion. By this method shall a nuanced Review List be maintained during the year, supplemented by discussions and decisions made at Meetings. The Review List shall be kept current on the VARCOM website by the Chairperson and Secretary.
b)     Occurrence of a species not on the VARCOM Review List, but for which there is no accepted record for Virginia.
c)     Seasonal occurrence of a species well outside of its previously known early or late dates, as determined by the Chairperson; Voting Members may recommend to the Chairperson that an unseasonable record be reviewed.
d)     Any occurrence that affects the recognized breeding status of a species within the state, as determined by the Chairperson; Voting Members may recommend to the Chairperson that a specific breeding record be reviewed.

2.     Record

Any report accepted by VARCOM and any report that has not been reviewed and accepted by VARCOM but has been published on the VARCOM website and/or in an appropriate VSO publication as determined by VARCOM.

B. Criteria for Consideration of Submissions

1.     Within the State of Virginia and adjacent ocean, as defined in Section II.C.
2.     Potentially wild and either naturally occurring (including individuals occurring naturally due to expansion or vagrancy from introduced populations outside Virginia that are viable and clearly established) or viable and clearly established in the state following an introduction (or formerly so; see Categories of Acceptance, below: Category 6). To be considered viable and clearly established, a population generally (i) must have bred in the state for fifteen (15) consecutive years, (ii) must be increasing or stabilized after an initial period of increase, (iii) must occupy an environment judged similar enough in ecological factors (e.g., climate, vegetation, food, shelter, competitors, predators) to the species' natural habitat, or to other successful introductions, that permanent establishment seems likely. A population maintained primarily by recurrent releases, either intentional or accidental, or requiring intense management for persistence, shall not be considered viable and clearly established.
3.     Full species status or recognizable forms (such as superspecies, subspecies, hybrid combinations, or color morphs).

C. Submissions

1.     Reports of distribution, seasonal abundance, arrival and departure dates, and breeding evidence obtained for normally occurring species may be submitted in any convenient format.
2.     Reports should be submitted on the "VARCOM Report Form" or other format in sufficient detail to enable a fair evaluation by the Committee. Information on submissions to VARCOM shall be maintained on the VARCOM website or a related website (i.e., DOVES).
3.     The Secretary or Chairperson may request submission of information disseminated elsewhere, e.g., other ornithological journals or birding publications/services.
4.     A submission/record that has received a final Committee decision, whether accepted or not accepted, may be resubmitted by any person if genuinely new evidence (as determined by the Chairperson) becomes available that might reverse the decision. Such a report must be resubmitted and circulated as if never before submitted, except that it shall be accompanied by all previous votes and comments of VARCOM, and all of the new evidence shall be clearly identified as such.
5.     Any historical record, defined as a record maintained in any published source that has never before received VARCOM scrutiny, that is considered to be of interest may be reviewed. A written request to consider the record shall be made to the Chairperson. This request shall include a copy or summary of the existing documentation and the reasons the record should be evaluated. The Chairperson shall have discretion in this process and advise the Secretary when necessary. It is also acceptable to submit older material for review that has never been published, such as field notes or specimen material.
6.     Records that become technically defective as a result of changes in taxonomy or other reasons shall be appropriately deleted or amended by the Secretary.
7.     Separate submissions may be judged to be the same record statistically if they 1) are spatially and/or temporally similar in occurrence, 2) describe multiple individuals of the same species or form observed at once, or 3) describe possible returning birds. In such cases, the Secretary will circulate a ballot to the Committee to determine if the submissions will be considered as single or multiple records. A simple majority vote in the affirmative is required for separate submissions to be considered the same record.

D. Circulation Procedure for Submissions

1. Receipt by Secretary

a)     Submissions are received, reviewed, catalogued, and maintained on file until five (5) to ten (10) reports have accumulated or three months have elapsed since receipt of the first report.
b)     Receipt of all submissions shall be acknowledged promptly in writing by the Secretary.
c)     Submissions found to be lacking sufficient information may be returned to the originator without VARCOM action, at the discretion of the Secretary.
d)     Submissions will be sent for review in the order they are received. Eligible submissions will not be held from review unless further evidence is clearly forthcoming.
e)     Submissions are copied, and a package is sent to each Voting Member. This package will include a ballot for each of the submissions. Alternatively, if submissions will be reviewed electronically, they will be conveyed electronically to each Voting Member.
f)      The Secretary shall confer with the Chairperson in the case of problematic submissions, e.g., those that involve a species that potentially does not fall under any of the Categories defined in 3. Categories of Acceptance, below. Should there be no clear consensus between the Chairperson and Secretary, the submission shall be placed before the entire Membership for electronic balloting as to whether review by circulation is appropriate. A simple majority vote will determine appropriateness for review.

2. Receipt by Voting Member

a)     Judge validity of each submission and vote to accept or not accept. For any submission that is not accepted, the reason must be provided.
b)     Comments must be written on all rounds of voting for all submissions.
c)     Forward the packet (or complete review of electronically circulated or posted material) within the allotted time.
d)     Complete the ballot and return to the Secretary by the required date.
e)     Members may not abstain from voting on any submission, including their own.
f)       During the evaluation process a Voting Member may solicit information from or consult with anyone having particular knowledge of the species or the individual bird(s) in question, including members of the Committee, but should reach a decision independently.  Expert opinions and reference material used in reaching a decision should be made available to all Voting Members as early in the evaluation process as possible.
g) A ballot in progress at the time a new Voting Member is elected should be completed by the retiring Voting Member. Subsequent circulations of that ballot should be completed by the new Voting Member, who shall be provided with all comments of Voting Members from prior voting rounds. Circulations of submissions should be timed to avoid this to the extent possible.
h)     The criteria used by a Voting Member for acceptance or non-acceptance of a submission is an individual matter and shall not be treated by these Bylaws. Separate guidelines may be issued by the Chairperson to assure consistency and fairness in the treatment of submissions.

3. Categories of Acceptance

When accepting a submission, Members must indicate acceptance in one of the following categories:

Category 1. Any bird that has occurred in Virginia and has been accepted by VARCOM as a wild bird on the basis of an observation accompanied by a clearly identifiable photograph, specimen, audio or video recording, or band (for bands, only in cases where proof of identification is extant and compelling).
Category 2. Sight records without physical evidence or with physical evidence that is not sufficient for Category 1, but for which there is written documentation from one or more observers accepted by VARCOM.
Category 3. Identity accepted by VARCOM but provenance of the individual bird is uncertain. This Category should be applied only in the case of individuals that have a reasonable chance of occurring naturally in Virginia as wild birds, either from wild populations (e.g., Barnacle Goose) or from potentially "established" introduced populations outside the Commonwealth (e.g., Trumpeter Swan), but for which the probability of an escaped or released bird is sufficiently high to preclude acceptance in Category 1/2 in the opinion of Voting Members. Category 3a shall be comprised of such species with physical evidence in Virginia. Category 3b shall be comprised of such species lacking physical evidence. Category 3 shall not include individuals or species deemed by VARCOM to be most likely escaped/released former captives, whether from inside Virginia or otherwise.
Category 4. Records that are judged to be acceptable by historical standards but that may not meet current standards of acceptance. Includes extinct species that once occurred in Virginia, for which there is no clear written or physical evidence (e.g., Eskimo Curlew).
Category 5. Species introduced into the Commonwealth of Virginia or into other parts of North America that are currently maintaining self-sustaining wild populations within Virginia. These currently include Trumpeter Swan, Mute Swan, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, House Sparrow, House Finch, and European Starling.
Category 6. Species introduced into the Commonwealth of Virginia or into other parts of North America that are not currently maintaining self-sustaining wild populations within Virginia (but not species deemed by VARCOM to be most likely escaped/released former captives). These include Ring-necked Pheasant and Monk Parakeet.

NOTE: The status of an individual record may change if evidence is presented that commends reconsideration of said record. The overall Category status for a species in Virginia shall be the highest Category yet confirmed for any individual state record. VARCOM Members shall endeavor to obtain evidence (and encourage others to do so) that places each species into the highest Category possible, which for most potentially wild-occurring species will be Category 1 or Category 3a. Most historical records without compelling documentation will presumably remain in Category 4. Published checklists that employ these Categories and standards shall indicate the highest Category of acceptance for each species listed.

The Category of acceptance of an individual record will be determined on the basis of the Category that receives the most votes; ties between Categories shall be decided by the Chairperson.

4. Disposition of Submissions

a)     A submission is accepted on any round of voting if every eligible Member votes to accept.
b)     A submission is not accepted on any round of voting if four or more Members vote to not accept.
c)     Any other result shall require a submission to be recirculated to all Voting Members, together with the votes and comments of every Voting Member from the previous rounds. The Secretary may solicit additional details from the originator for inclusion into the recirculated package.
d)     A submission is not accepted if there are still two or more votes to not accept after three rounds of voting.

5. Disposition of Archival Records Reviewed on Multiple Occasions

a)     An archival record (i.e., a record that has previously received a decision by VARCOM) is not accepted (original decision reversed) if four or more Members vote to not accept.
b)     An archival record shall be affirmed (original decision stands) if fewer than four Members vote to not accept.

E.  Expedited Review Process

 VARCOM may have a process for expedited review using a compatible bird record review system (e.g., eBird) for certain records such that they are presumed accepted if they have passed that process. However, prior to publication in the annual report or such other time as may be established by VARCOM any Voting Member can require that any such record go through the full voting procedures outlined in Section VI.

F. Dissemination of Results

1.     The Secretary, in consultation with the Chairperson, shall report the results of Committee action to the person(s) submitting documentation, prior to publication elsewhere.
2.     The decisions of VARCOM shall be published annually in an appropriate VSO publication by the VARCOM Chairperson or Secretary.