How to use the Chat database form
All that you really need to do is to select a species. Begin by selecting an order from the pull-down menu at the upper left. Once you select an order, two additional pull-down menus will appear, one containing the families in the selected order, and the other containing the species in the first family. Change the selections of family and species to the ones that you want. When you change the species selection, a report will automatically appear. (If you don't need to change the species, but want a report on the first species listed, click the Submit button.)
Not quite so quick start
There are other things that you can do, but they are optional. The form provides access to two different databases: Briefs for the Files, and Bird Records Committee annual reports. You can include or exclude either database by selections on the right side of the form. Within Bird Records Committee reports, you can make separate selections for North Carolina and South Carolina, and you can choose to include only accepted records, or all reports (both accepted and unaccepted). You can limit the size of the report by giving a range of years, or by selecting the seasons to be included. For caveats about filtering by year and season, please read the more detailed information below. There is a button that you can click that will give you a URL for sharing the report with others, or for saving for your future use.
Slow start—Full details
You don't really need to read this, but you might find it informative.
Databases: Briefs for the Files
Briefs for the Files is a seasonal collection of uncommon-to-rare or unusual North and South Carolina bird sightings and events which do not necessarily require a more detailed field note or article. It has been a feature of most issues of The Chat since about 1953. Originally the Briefs were truly brief (less than a page) but they gradually evolved into the extensive summary of noteworthy bird observations that they are today. At last update, the online database currently contains all of the contents of Briefs for the Files that appeared in the 25-year span of The Chat volumes 49–73, or years 1985–2009. (I plan to extend coverage as I have time.)
Note that because Briefs for the Files focuses on out-of-the-ordinary observations, it can give a distorted picture of bird distribution. For example, for a species that is common in winter but rare in summer, Briefs for the Files may have more summer reports than winter reports.
Databases: Bird Records Committee annual reports
Each state has a Bird Records Committee that reviews reports of rare birds, and each committee issues a report on its activities more-or-less annually. The online database includes the reports issued during the same time span as for Briefs for the Files.
For both databases, text for years prior to 2003 (volume 67) was acquired via optical character recognition, so don't be surprised if you encounter a “typo” due to recognition error—but do let me know so that I can correct it.
Format of the report
The report lists individual items from the Briefs for the Files or Bird Records Committee report. Each report item has three or four parts:
- A citation for the complete issue of the Briefs, or complete Bird Records Committee report, that contains the reported item. This citation is in the format that would be used in a journal. It is also a clickable link to the full contents of that issue of the Briefs or BRC report in pdf format.
- For Briefs for the Files, the citation is followed by the date range covered by that issue of the Briefs, as it was described in that issue.
- Species name as published.
- Species account.
The database uses current taxonomy and nomenclature; however the report displays the species name as it was published. For example, you can not search for reports of Solitary Vireo; however a search for reports of Blue-headed Vireo will display Solitary Vireo reports.
Generally, both the Briefs and BRC reports consist of entries that each pertain to one species. However there are occasional entries that pertain to more than one species, such as “Lingering Waterfowl” or “Empidonax sp.” The database indexes such entries under each of the relevant species, and they are displayed in a “See also” section of the report. Species that have been split since the time of publication also fall into this category. For example, a search for either Nelson's Sparrow or Saltmarsh Sparrow will display entries for Sharp-tailed Sparrow under “See also”.
Selecting a species
The main operation in using the database form is selecting a species to be reported. This is described above under “Quick Start”.
Filtering the report
You can filter the report by season, by date, or by database. To rerun a report after changing filtering options, click the Submit button.
Filtering by season:
You can limit the report to a subset of seasons by checking the desired seasons on the form.Generally, Briefs for the Files has been published quarterly, more-or-less once per issue of The Chat, and more-or-less one report per season. In recent years the seasonal boundaries have been clearly delineated but in earlier years less clearly so. There have been a few Briefs that covered more than one season, and now and then an isolated record that falls outside the nominal reporting period has been included.
The unit of data for Briefs for the Files is a species entry, and these frequently include reports of different sightings with different dates. For these reasons, the date granularity of the database is only to season, not to day. All sightings in an entire issue of Briefs for the Files are assigned the nominal season of the issue, which sometimes means a sighting is filed under a season that is different from the actual season of the observation.
For BRC reports, unlike Briefs for the Files, the unit of data is usually a report of one specific sighting, and a given BRC report may cover a wide range of dates. For these reasons, each entry is filed under its own date; but for consistency with the Briefs for the Files database, the date granularity is still only to season, and seasons are broken down according to the definitions used in Briefs for the Files.
Some BRC items do not pertain to a specific sighting (for example, see Pine Grosbeak) or an exact date is not given (for example, see Ivory-billed Woodpecker) and are not assigned to a season. These items will not be displayed when any season filtering is used.
You can see that the season selection feature is of somewhat dubious value; be aware of its limitations if you use it.
Filtering by year: You can select a start year and/or end year, and the report will be limited to observations after or during the start year and/or before or during the end year.
In the case of Briefs for the Files, the year in question is the year of the reporting period not the year of publication. The winter season spans two calendar years, and the database assigns the entire season to the second year. To search for a December report from a certain year, look under the winter season of the following year.
Example: The Briefs for the Files for Fall 2005 was published in 2006. It would be included in searches for 2005 but not 2006. The Briefs for the Files for Winter 2005–2006 was published in 2006 and would be included in searches for 2006 and not 2005 (even though December 2005 records are included).
Some BRC items do not pertain to a specific sighting (for example, see Pine Grosbeak) or an exact date is not given (for example, see Ivory-billed Woodpecker) and are not assigned to a year. These items will not be displayed when any year filtering is used.
Filtering by database: This is described above under “Not quite so quick start”.
Saving the report: Once you have created a report, you will see a button labelled “Create link to this report”. Clicking on this button will give you a special URL that will recreate the report directly, without going through the selection steps. You can send this link to others with whom you want to share the report, or you can save it for your own future use.