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Why a Photo-Image Archive Is Necessary

Mission Statement

The mission of the TBA Project is to build an online digital image archive of Texas bird species. The archive will host photo-documented birds from contributing photographers. The archive will include maps, images, and videos from each bio-geographic region of Texas as outlined by the Texas Ornithological Society. Special attention is given to birds of rare-to-uncommon status, birds outside of their typical geographic range, or birds outside their expected time frame. Photo-documentation will be sought by the TBA Project on an on-going basis to aid in discussions of status and distribution, field identification, range movements, and geographical variation.

The TBA Project has been adopted by the Texas Ornithological Society, and partners with the Texas Bird Records Committee for consultation and oversight.

The Need for Photo-Documentation 

Photo-documentation has become more important as specimen collections remain static

Most specimen collections of Texas birds in museums and universities are well-known to researchers and have been rigorously examined. It is unlikely that many actively collected voucher specimens will be added to current bird collections. As cadaver specimens become increasingly difficult to justify except under salvage permits, photo-documentation will become more important as a prime resource for field guide publication and information regarding status and distribution. Photo-documentation will never replace specimen collections, but digital images should be viewed as a valuable and collectable resource as the number of photographers in the field multiply. In many ways, photographers in the field are "collecting" specimens through digital photography.

The photo-documentation of uncommon birds, birds out of their typical range, and birds out of their typical season should be archived.

Photo-documentation for rare-to-uncommon birds, either by general status in the state or by geographic distribution, is actively encouraged in the birding community. However, no ideal method of warehousing important images exists at the state level. Bird record committees and ornithological societies don't often have a policy or even the means of collecting images of non-review species. Uncommon species of birds, birds out of their typical range, or birds outside their typical seasons frequently lack a state-wide method for archiving. Without proper archiving, the photo-documentation of these birds can be easily lost to time.

In-the-field photography is dramatically increasing, but the access to images is unreliable. 

The number of bird photographers in the field has gone up dramatically in recent decades. According to the “2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation,” wildlife watching increased 9% between 2001 and 2011. Of that 9%, more than 4/5 of the increase was due to wildlife photography. Online storage is cheap, lightweight mega-zoom cameras can be brought into the field at little expense, and social media lends itself to access and viewing. While all of these other factors are in play, however, there is still no way for researchers, field guide authors, and interested individuals to access important images at the state or county level. Unlike written documentation which is frequently archived, photo-documentation with relevant information is scattered over thousands of web pages and personal online photo-accounts.

The photo-documentation of state rarities is not limited to submitted documentation.

Photo confirmation for true state rarities in Texas (Texas Review Species) has been requested for many years. This list of review species includes over 150 species of Texas birds. The photo-documentation of review species can be an important addition in determining the credibility of the state's Accepted Species List. The Texas Bird Records Committee frequently archives these images when they accompany the submitted written documentation of review species. However many more unsubmitted images and videos of review species may be available from photographers. Some of these unsubmitted images may be of equal or higher quality than those images submitted with written documentation. The TBI Project will seek out multiple images of review species in order to enhance the state's Accepted Species List. This will only be done with oversight from the Texas Bird Records Committee.

Specific plumage characteristics in birds are better evaluated with a visual reference. 

Phylogeny is a dynamic process. As more DNA research is done, our understanding of regional plumages and feather conditions also broadens. A state-wide image archive is an excellent resource for viewing plumage variation. This may include distinct geographical populations, color morphs, and juvenile plumages.  

Jim Peterson
May 10, 2014

November 2011: TBA collection began
May 2012: TBA project adopted by the Texas Ornithological Society
November 2012: TBA partnership and oversight developed with the Texas Bird Records Committee