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The ‘Adrian Webb affair’

January 15, 2015

George is yet again claiming a record that belongs to someone else.

On BirdGuides at it talks about “The Ultimate Site Guide to Scarcer British Birds” book, third edition, and states “He holds the UK record, achieving 386 species in 1996.”. He also states 386 in various books.

As of 2015 there is no doubt that the current all-time UK year-list record holder is Adrian Webb and not George.

In Nov. 2002, George claimed that he had beaten Adrian’s record of 383 set up in 2000 with 384 birds. George retrospectively claimed 9 more birds (i.e. 8 splits, White Headed Duck) on his 1996 list of 375 birds. This claim of 384 birds was not believed by many birders. George is NOW claiming 386 for 1996! If George thinks he has the all-time year list record then he better publish his list with dates and real witnesses for rare and uncommon birds so that the list be vetted.

Adrian Webb year list record was 383 UK400 “species” in 2000. Since 2000 there have been a number of UK400 splits and Adrian saw some of these splits in 2000 so his final figure is higher than George’s total.

George (the self-appointed ‘judge, jury and executioner’) told porkies about Adrian on his old UK400 website and in the Channel 4 TV programme ‘Bird Detectives’. The UK400 editorial where George talks about Adrian’s record is shown below. There are huge number of porkies in this editorial about various things – see if you can spot them.

Although the Hitler video at (the biggest of all time) mentioned before on this website contains a mixture of facts and fiction it does refer to some of these porkies about Adrian (e.g. Ivory Gull).

UK400 Editorial
Hi all,
As you can see the UK400 Club website is back on screen. I apologise for its absence but the reason for this was down to the unprecedented criticism that LGRE received over the merits of certain rarities and the unwarranted trail of abuse that he has incurred over the ‘Adrian Webb affair’. This has continued unabated, mainly by people that have nothing whatsoever to do with the club. They have never been members or never once paid directly for any LGRE product and are generally unknown to most other observers. Unfortunately, and because of this, the website will no longer be free as of next year. It is quite obvious that of the 3,000 or more hits per week that the website was enjoying that many browsers were not bonafide members of the club. The aim of the site was to provide members with an up-to-date service on the club’s decisions and to provide information on a wealth of other birding objectives. There is free access to my site guide, giving details on where and how to see over 110 species of scarcer British birds, as well as an on-going review of all the rare and unusual birds recorded in Britain and Ireland in the past week. From 1st January 2001, there will be a nominal charge of £12.00 per annum to access the site (£1.00 per month). Each subscriber will then be given his own personal password that will link directly to his nominated terminal. Should this password be passed around and used by unauthorised users, a message will activate to the server that an illegal operation has been performed and deny access. Each subscriber will have his own independent password so that any breach of contract will be immediately recognised.

Lee Evans first started birding in October 1968, after his uncle Tony lent him a pair of binoculars. He spent his initial years birding The Lodge, Sandy (Bedfordshire) and Tring Reservoirs (Herts) and was instrumental in the discovery of such local vagrants as Egyptian Goose, Montagu’s Harrier, Kentish Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper. His first experience of a vagrant was of a Black-crowned Night Heron at Lemsford Springs in December 1971. He then helped form the South Beds RSPB Group with Derek & Jan Toomer, John White and other birders in Dunstable and Luton and helped guide the group in the direction of good birding localities from 1973-1978. At least three trips per month were to areas of outstanding birding interest, such as Cley NWT, Minsmere RSPB, Holme NOA and the Ouse Washes RSPB, whilst at other times, local sites such as Tring Reservoirs, Ashridge Forest, Pitstone Quarry, Stewartby Lake, Brogborough Lake, Luton Hoo, Flitwick Moor and Maulden Woods were exploited. Throughout this period, he was joined by fellow birders Dirk Nelson, Paul Fuller, Mark Simmonds, Matthew Andrews and Phil Rhodes and latterly by Paul Oldfield, Steve Williams and Martin Palmer. John White provided most of the driving, and rarely a day passed when LGRE was not out in the field. Several of the group had an obsession with dead birds, and Dirk, Paul, Matthew, Mark and Lee competed for the best ‘finds’. Between 1974 and 1978, the group discovered over 3300 dead birds of 158 species, many of which still adorn Lee’s collection of ‘stuffed birds’. The majority of these specimens were ‘self-preserved’, Dirk being particularly talented at mounting them! LGRE discovered many birds during this period, most notably Montagu’s Harrier, Hoopoe and breeding Wrynecks in Hertfordshire and summering Montagu’s Harrier and the Black-winged Stilt at Houghton Regis Gravel Pits (Beds) on 6th July 1978. His fascination with Scilly began in 1974, when a spring visit revealed such mouthwatering vagrants as White Stork and Desert Wheatear. Then in 1975, Barry Nightingale, Baz Harding and Arthur Livett introduced him to autumn birding on St Agnes, and not one October since then has been missed.

He passed his driving test in October 1977, beginning a passion for rare birds and driving that has never diminished to this day. With a total of 1.248 million miles of British roads under his belt, his obsession with seeing scarce and unusual birds has resulted in him achieving the highest year list total in Britain – 382 species in 1996. During this period, a succession of birders have shared his enthusiasm and emerged as top birders in their own right, including Lee Marshall, Brendan Glynn, Mark Ponsford, Dave Johnson, Dave Odell, Matthew Deans, Graham Ekins, Richard Webb, Stuart Warren, Stan Brunton amongst many others. Every one of these guys served an excellent apprenticeship and an appreciation of birds and birding and has gone on to find a host of rare and interesting birds in their own right.

Lee is appalled at accusations of not being able to find his own birds and simply just chase people’s other finds. He prides himself on his birding ability and has been instrumental in identifying or first finding at least the following: 12 Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Little Bittern, several Night Herons, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egrets, Great White Egrets (including two this autumn on the Hayle Estuary), 3 Purple Herons, White Stork, Black Stork, Snow Goose, Falcated Duck (the eclipse drake at Grove Ferry in August), numerous American Wigeons, several Blue-winged Teals, Ring-necked Ducks, King Eider (at Wick), several Black Kites and Red-footed Falcons, Sora Rail on Scilly (from photographs), lots of Common Cranes, Black-winged Pratincole (with others at Minsmere in August 1985), American Golden Plover (at least 3, all on Scilly), White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers, Broad-billed Sandpipers, Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, Upland Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, White-winged Black Terns, 5 Yellow-billed Cuckoos, 2 Alpine Swifts, Red-rumped Swallow, Blyth’s Pipits on Scilly, several Red-throated Pipits, Isabelline Wheatear (with Ray Turley on St Mary’s GC), several Aquatic Warblers, Subalpine Warbler, Greenish and Arctic Warblers, Radde’s Warbler, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, at least 5 Red-eyed Vireos, 2 Rose-coloured Starlings, Two-barred Crossbill and several Little and Rustic Buntings.

As a spin-off of his addiction to rare-bird hunting, he established the UK400 Club in 1979 and began publishing comparative life-list totals of British birders. This eventually culminated in the appearance of the Bird Information Service and Birdline in 1986. From 1978-1986, Lee had been an important cog on the grapevine wheel, liasing with Dave Holman, Richard Millington, Steve Gantlett, Gerald Jobson, Steve Broyd and Steve Whitehouse on virtually a nightly basis. As the interest in twitching burgeoned, the system could not cope with demand, and there were many evenings when Lee took over 80 individual calls! Following a move by Roy Robinson in autumn 1986, LGRE, Richard Millington and Steve Gantlett decided to make bird information more accessible to the masses and established Birdline, the 24-hour premium-rate bird information line, offering the caller unrivalled information on all of the latest rarities (0891 700222). This was an instant success, the magazine Birding World being spawned from the proceeds. For several years, Lee played an important part in the development of the magazine and helped turn it into the international success it is today. Unfortunately, due to birding politics, geographical logistics and policy disagreements, Lee was forced to leave the partnership in 1993. He then placed all of his efforts in his own magazine Rare Birds and a multitude of publications. By January 2001, he should have produced over 37 different books on birds, including the best-selling Ultimate Site Guide to Scarcer British Birds and the legendary Rare Birds in Britain 1800-1990 – the former selling over 12,000 copies to date and the latter, 3,880. A further partnership was instigated with Dick Filby of Rare Bird Alert in 1995, and to this day the benefits of this relationship can be reaped.

Lee has worked tremendously hard to gain the respect and trust of the birding community and has strived to please them. Throughout the ages he has made every effort to ensure that everyone gets the chance to see a particular bird, and has been responsible for organising access to the Pine Bunting at Dagenham Chase, Stilt Sandpiper at Cliffe, the Sora Rail and Little Bunting on Porthellick, the Wilson’s Snipe at Lower Moors hide, the White’s Thrush and Siberian Thrush twitches on St Agnes and just recently, the Swainson’s Thrush in Porthellick House garden. He feels passionately about other birders and wishes them to share the enthusiasm and love of birding that he has.

In relation to Adrian Webb, no additional conditions have been placed on him than other observers. I admire his efforts and would be more than willing to give him the credit he desires should his year list total merit it. What I must say is that the UK400 Club has strict guidelines on what can and cannot be counted and has its own strict code of conduct. The reason that I have been so critical of Adrian during the year is his attitude towards birding and his behaviour. Firstly, at the Sora Rail twitch in January 2000, I asked him quietly if he had seen the Ivory Gull on the Outer Hebrides the previous day. I had heard from Angus Murray (via Brian Rabbitts) that ‘a young dark-haired birder from Essex’ had travelled up to see the bird. Unfortunately, the three local birders – Andrew Stephenson, Brian Rabbitts and Brian Low – failed to locate the bird, as it had ceased visiting the dead Shag that it had been feeding on all week at the fish farm. Adrian informed me that he had NOT seen the bird. However, several weeks later, he decided to change his story and proclaimed that he had seen it. I was confused and somewhat dismayed. He came up with a story that a taxi driver had driven him to a different fish farm and the workers there had shown him the bird! As most birders are aware, Ivory Gulls perform extremely well and show site-fidelity. Shortly later, it was feeding on a dead whale at Loch Gruinart, Islay, about a hundred miles away. Furthermore, Adrian has an exceptional mobile camera, but for some reason failed to get proof of the Ivory Gull. Following the blatant lie for whatever reason, I was then disappointed in his attitude at rarities. He arrived late in the day at the Black-headed Bunting at Tonfanau (Gwynedd) on 25th June and allegedly spent the last hour of daylight persistently harassing the bunting in the hope that it might depart before the following morning when I was due to arrive (verbally reported by Gary Bagnall and as a result of hearing that I had seen a Black-eared Wheatear in Dorset – allegedly suppressed but broadcast on Birdline Southwest immediately I left my house at 5.30pm). Following this, I was appalled by his behaviour at the Grune Point Black-winged Pratincole. I received a telephone call from the finder of the bird emphasising his and other local birders’ disappointment in the attitude of Adrian Webb and Les Holliwell. The area that the pratincole and Lapwings were roosting to the east of the channel at Grune Point is a nature reserve and totally out of bounds to the public but Adrian and others waded out and continued to disrupt the roosting waders until the pratincole took flight. It eventually did and was not seen again until late in the evening. I had to somehow explain away his actions in the hope that we would hear about another vagrant there.

My patience was finally stretched by his attitude at the Holme Desert Wheatear at the end of October. As I arrived, I was met by birders laughing and joking about a message that Adrian had left me in the sand. It read ‘Evans Eat Your Heart Out, Desert Wheatear, 377’. I was not best pleased and although I have a sense of humour, would not wish to encourage this sort of behaviour how innocent and light-hearted it may appear.

Regarding the wider view of life-list totals as published in Rare Birds and the pre-judgement of rarity claims. This will always be controversial and attract heated debate. In order to make accurate representations of bird records and observer’s life lists, it is necessary for LGRE to make notes and keep tabs on every birder in Britain. The psychology of a birder is a very important factor when judging bird records. A pattern often emerges with individual claims and it is my duty to keep abreast of this. I keep meticulous notes on all aspects of birding and each observer is coded by his abilities and strengths. Like it or not, birding attracts a disproportionate number of fabricators and it is my job to make sure that the national bird record archives is not distorted by these claims. I am passionate about bird records and wish to give an accurate representation of what has been seen. It is up to other bodies whether or not they want to include records that may not be 100% definite. I am a perfectionist and strive to make accurate and fully comprehensive reports – for example, the latest BBRC report compared to my 2000 report is only 57% complete – that is one hell of a lot of records missing. However, they would argue that the missing records are all unauthenticated – no documentation has been received to back up the claims. This may well be the case but for various reasons, the likes of LGRE, RM, MAG, DJH and many others no longer submit record forms. This is a great shame, but it has more to do with personalities than birds! I publish records of all birds that I know have occurred and been correctly identified and in the majority of cases these claims are fully backed up by documentation in Rare Birds. I appreciate that many observers feel aggrieved and disappointed at my attitude towards them or their records and for this I fully apologise. However, I do not believe in avoiding the truth, and often criticism is the only way to get to the roots of the problem. In many cases, it is not fabrication but sheer innocence and inexperience. It is very easy to make mistakes in birding – identification can be very hard – but it is beneficial to us all that only definite claims are accepted. Birders should not feel ashamed to admit to a mistake – it happens to each and every one of us. The crime is falsifying that mistake and embellishing a description to make it acceptable.

Lee G R Evans 28th November 2000
I keep meticulous notes on all of the birds that I see and record even every Song Thrush and Lesser Black-backed Gull. The notes are all handwritten and kept in small notebooks covering each year and because I go out birding virtually every day and attempt to see almost everything I can (regardless of how many that I have seen before, even during that particular calendar year), I do not keep just a simple list of birds that I have seen. It would take me forever and a day to disseminate the information, and I simply do not have the time to do it. My notes are made out in the field and accumulate on that basis.
My computer database indicates that over 1,360 observers are of above average field ability and have scored more than six points on my appraisal form, and a further 39 have reached the top of their hobby with a maximum 12 points.

Lee G R Evans 3rd December 2000

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