As many of you know, local birders had an exciting visitor on July 19, 2023: one of only a handful of Swallow-tailed Gulls ever seen in the northern hemisphere. Local birders spent a fair amount of time trying to find the bird; it had been seen and photographed at Goleta Beach Park around 9 a.m., but by the time others heard about it the bird was no longer there.
Eventually the bird was relocated on the beach near the mouth of Devereaux Slough, and a number of us were lucky enough to see it. Unfortunately it hasn’t shown up since then, though hopeful birders continue to check local gull flocks.
After hearing from a number of people about what did and didn’t work well with communications during the incident, I’ve decided to host a Zoom meeting later this week to talk about it. We’ll be focusing on the use of the sbcobirding and CALBIRDS email lists, the SBA Rare Bird Alert WhatsApp group, and the Santa Barbara Birders Slack.
The meeting will be open to everyone, and will be based on the following principles of after-action review:
- Open and honest: Participants need to feel safe discussing both successes and failures.
- Focused on learning: The goal is not to blame, but to learn and improve for the future.
- Structured: It should cover what was intended, what actually happened, why there was a difference, and what can be done differently next time.
- Inclusive: As many people as possible who were involved in the incident should participate and contribute their perspectives.
- Timely: It should be conducted soon after the incident while memories are fresh.
The meeting will be held this coming Thursday, July 27, at 6:00 p.m. See below for Zoom information and the proposed agenda. Like our Carpinteria Birdwatchers meetings, the meeting will be livestreamed via YouTube and available for viewing afterwards. Hope to see you there!
— John Callender, Carpinteria Birdwatchers
[The Zoom meeting has ended. See below for the archived video.]
- Introductions (10 minutes)
- Purpose of the meeting (5 minutes)
- Timeline of events on the day (15 minutes)
- What worked well (5 minutes)
- What could have worked better (10 minutes)
- Recommended improvements (15 minutes)
- Action items (10 minutes)
To help with the discussion, I’ve prepared an interactive timeline showing when messages were sent in each of the different communications channels.
Summary and Key Findings
I’ve prepared the following summary of key points discussed during the meeting. Others are free to watch the archived video of the meeting and post their own comments on this page. Over on Slack I’ll be starting a discussion of potential changes based on this meeting; interested parties are welcome to participate in those discussions over there (email me at [email protected] for a Slack signup link if you need one). Thank you to everyone who participated.
— John Callender
- Users of the various platforms did a pretty good job of reposting important information that surfaced on one platform onto the other platforms.
- Communications on the various platforms worked well in terms of following the conventions of each platform.
- WhatsApp users did a good job of coordinating and sharing information quickly.
- Slack users appreciated being able to use that platform. It was quick and informal, and allowed for a fair amount of rapid-fire discussion that would not have been appropriate for the mailing list or WhatsApp. The less-risky nature of posting messages to Slack (because its audience is smaller/more local, because there is less concern about spamming the platform because channels and threading are available to organize discussion, and because messages can be edited or deleted after the fact) may have been a factor in some key pieces of information (the original report of the bird, and the report of its rediscovery at the mouth of Devereaux Slough) being reported first on Slack.
- Having parallel discussions on Slack and WhatsApp made it so people either missed some of the discussion or had to monitor both platforms, which was counterproductive.
- For users outside the area, it was stressful to feel like people were coordinating using platforms they didn’t have access to, such that they were missing important information.
- A communications delay occurred after the bird was rediscovered at the mouth of Devereaux Slough. That information was posted in Slack at 3:11 pm. It was reposted in the WhatsApp group at 3:13 pm (a 2-minute delay), but was not reposted to CALBIRDS until 3:29 pm (an 18-minute delay) and not to SBCOBirding until 3:25 pm (a 24-minute delay). These delays prevented users who were limited to the mailing lists from learning about the bird’s rediscovery until later than was ideal.
- Some participants expressed the concern that the existence of Slack increases the risk that information might be shared that would negatively impact sensitive species, or that would risk losing access to sensitive locations.
- It was pointed out that unlike the mailing lists and WhatsApp, Slack allows information to be removed if it causes a problem.
- There was a question about how access to the different platforms was controlled.
- Slack: Signup links expire and need to be re-shared. Because a signup link was posted to SBCOBirding during the incident, out-of-the-area birders were able to join and see up-to-date information about the search. Some see this as a good thing, because it allowed out-of-the-area birders to have access to the latest information. Others see it as a bad thing, because it means the local, informal nature of the Slack community was compromised, and it makes it harder to control access to information deemed sensitive.
- SBCOBirding: Messages are globally visible to the public, and the mailing list is monitored by many out-of-the-area birders. I (John) believe that posting to the mailing list can be restricted or made subject to moderator approval before messages go out, though I don’t think that feature is used very often. (I want to check with Jamie Chavez about that.)
- CALBIRDS: Similar to SBCOBirding. Globally visible; posting may be restricted/moderated.
- WhatsApp: Messages are visible only to users who have joined the group (SBA Rare Bird Alert), and a signup link from the moderator is required. Jamie reportedly restricts membership to only people in the area. (I want to check with Jamie Chavez about that.)
- Participants voiced support for additional user education and documentation: How to make best use of the different platforms, steps to follow when a rarity is reported, and procedures for evaluating and potentially restricting the sharing of sensitive information.