Saturday 23 November 2019


I really do not know why I get so hung up on blatting out a hundred posts in a year. It's pressure I do not need, it can result in wordy froth that readers may well not need and, although I doubt Blogger's servers would begrudge me the storage space, the world will not end if 2019's count peters out at a miserly ninety nine.

It is not as if I worry about other, arguably more meaningful, milestones. I have never climbed to the highest point in any country, anywhere. And whilst I may have completed several long distance walks (Pennine Way, 286 miles in 14 days; Wittekindsweg, 56 miles in 19 hours), let's be honest, we all know I would rather potter about for a couple of hours nature watching, then hightail it to a tearoom for cake.

So why the big deal with blogposts? I dunno, it is bafflingly stupid.

Mind you, up to the end of October, everything was going swimmingly, having breezed through the ninety posts mark a whole month ahead of schedule. But in November, I have virtually hit a brick wall, in part due to lack of head space, and also with other calls on my time. This past week I have spent more hours than usual on Orkney Field Club activities, with a committee meeting on Monday, a quiz night on Wednesday and a guest speaker giving us a talk yesterday (Friday).

The quiz was the annual event for local environmental groups, which this year was being hosted by the OFC. Eleven teams entered: (apologies for all the abbreviations) RSPB, SNH, ONWP, HES, OIC Environment Department, OIC custodians, SGRPID, ICIT Heriot Watt, CES and local firms Aquatera and EMEC. As a small volunteer run-charity, the Field Club relied heavily upon committee members for catering and quizzing duties, but the fifty two participants who came along seemed to have a great time.

I contributed a couple of rounds of questions: a perennial favourite, the music round (animals and plants in band names or song titles), as well as a more fiendish taxonomic round entitled Hemi-homonymy. It was difficult enough to pronounce, but infinitely worse for competitors.

You may recall that Carl Linnaeus set up a system of biological classification in the 18th Century, such that every living organism has a unique identifying name made up of its genus and species. Critically, this only applies to living organisms in the same kingdom, and so we have a situation where botanists and zoologists have inadvertently created taxonomic labels which are mirrored between plants and animals. For instance, there's a rare spider in the jungles of Belize whose genus is Erica, the same as several species of Heather. Or the genus for Mulberry trees/bushes, Morus, which is the same for the group of sea birds, the Gannets.

The teams were given a sheet containing ten photographs: five plants and five animals. All were species which can be found in Orkney. Some had the same common English names, some had the same genus names. The teams had to identify all ten species, then work out how they were paired across the animal and plant kingdoms.

What I did not reveal was that one of the common English names is used three times (two plants and an animal), whilst one of the animals does not have its paired species within Orkney. As the round progressed, it dawned upon me that it was possible that I wouldn't leave the building alive.


Numbers 1, 3 and 8 are Redshank (an arable weed, a moss and a bird).
Numbers 2 and 9 are Knotgrass (plant) and Knot Grass (moth).
Numbers 4 and 10 are both Genus Prunella. Selfheal (plant) and Dunnock (bird).
Numbers 5 and 6 are both Genus Oenanthe, Hemlock Water Dropwort (plant) and Wheatear (bird).
Number 7 is a nudibranch or sea slug Tritonia lineata, which has its identically-named twin in the form of a lily from South Africa.

I tried really hard to give the music round a more broad appeal, featuring genres as diverse as classical, blues, rock, easy listening, pop, hip hop, acid croft and avant-pop.

Thankfully, these mental workouts for the competitors did not affect the overall outcome, as the winning team played their joker on a round they completely aced, identifying 12 languages by their phrase for 'Merry Christmas'.

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