Tuesday 9 April 2013

Wide-eyed and listless

Questions were posed by a fellow natural history blogger a while back, "Do you list?" And "If so, what?"

Before I could even begin to answer, I had to think long and hard about what my nature focus was on. Am I an enthusiastic dragonflyer who birdwatches a bit, or a rubbish birder who doubles up on dragons in the Summer? Or perhaps just someone who appreciates most, if not all, of the flora and fauna around me?

In truth, none of the above and all of the above. This isn't going to be an easy post to write, is it?

Undoubtedly, my first love is Odonata, so it would be safe to assume that I would have a list of all the species I have seen in my local area, the county, the UK and globally. Nope, none of those. However, I have logged all my sightings since 2006 and forwarded these records to the British Dragonfly Society, as my small contribution to citizen science. My fondness for odes has nothing to do with numbers, but everything to do with being wherever they are. I'll admit to having travelled to areas of the UK where there are species present that aren't found around Milton Keynes. But these are resident species, rather than twitchable vagrant species.

As far as birds are concerned, I do have global life list, but as I don't go very far from these shores, it's pretty pointless and is probably smaller than some of my friends' county lists!

When I go on holiday, and only for the duration of the holiday, I keep a list of the birds seen. But should I return to that area another year, I don't compare the numbers, so again, what exactly am I recording, other than writing a short term list?

Perhaps the most useful things I do, together with the rest of the household, is contribute to several surveys at home. The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, every January, has been a staple of the Tense Towers team since our children were old enough to count and recognise feathered  stuff. One hour every 365 days isn't asking a lot, though.

This year, and also in January, I took part in Foot It, a month-long challenge to estimate how many species of bird could be seen in a given radius from home, but only by walking there. No bicycles, cars, buses or trains. It was fun and made me take more exercise than I would've done without it, so it did have health benefits. But hand on my heart, towards the end, the continual focussing upon numbers was definitely taking the shine off the whole endeavour. 

So I would have to say that the list that gives me the most pleasure, that consumes vast amounts of nature watching and is a useful bit of science, is the survey run every Winter by the local North Bucks branch of the RSPB to catalogue all the species of birds that feed in our garden from November to March. I have mentioned this scheme before, I took part off and on prior to 2006, but from that time on, Our Lass has been involved too, which has made it a shared pleasure. Whilst researching this post, I have discovered that I still don't even keep copies of the survey. Every April, I simply post off the list to the lady who kindly crunches the numbers and who reports back to the group several months later. Like the Big Garden Birdwatch, this is all about monitoring changing trends rather than any particular year, which species is doing better or worse across 5, 10, 20 years of recording.

Within this survey, for Tense Towers, one particular statistic does stand out, the week of 20 - 26/12/2010. This seven day period, in the middle of a very cold spell and covering a time when recorder effort was at a maximum (it being Christmas, we were all at home), produced 29 species for the week. To put that into some context, this Winter, which I'd say has been as cold, we've only seen 28 species in the whole five months of the survey.

So I'll probably keep surveying and counting, but not listing and competing. This is all about the wildlife, not about me.


Tales of a Bank Vole said...

So, not inclined to list, always knew you were a straight up sort of guy. :0)

Imperfect and Tense said...

I do have a few less-than-perpendicular moments!

Martin said...

Fascinating insight into the mind of the Odonater (like Birder... what is the word for someone who seeks Odes?).

I have to say I am very similar, which is surprising as a scientist by trade. I happily put all my effort into contributing to surveys, such as the Garden Birdwatch while I am at home, and might even start something like that if I has my own home, but I don't actually keep a copy of the list. My parents do, and cross-check.
Other bird and wildlife sightings are observed, enjoyed, identified where possible (I want to know), and generally not recorded. For me maybe this is the difference between leisure and work?

At work I'll be recording to my heart's delight, little changes in behaviour, size range of jellies seen on each night survey, how many of X,Y,Z do they have? I was even going for a frequent swim last summer in the hope of seeing jellies in the water and recording them, size, fish with them, etc. etc.

For me, recording is a mindset. I do it for the insights and future usefulness that may make a link between two thoughts or explain why something else occurred then or behaved in that way. Or maybe to release my inner 'geek' as someone termed it last week!

Numbers.. distances... difficulty... ascents.. now that I would record. What is the difference, I suspect the subject again.
Happy recording.

Imperfect and Tense said...

"What is the word?" I tend to use 'amateur odonatologist', but it is neither accurate or snappy!

Now that I think about it, this flippin' blog is both list and record. If I want to check what I saw or when, I do now have a means to find the answer.

Tales of a Bank Vole said...

According to the Oxford on-line dictionary you are a :

odonatist (əʊˈdɒnətɪst)

(entomology) a person who studies or is expert in insects that belong to the zoological group Odonata

Imperfect and Tense said...

I've been called worse.

Though whether I actually qualify under either the studying or the expert banner is rather debatable!