03 March, 2010

About that asterisk...

A post or five back I included an asterisk, which was shamelessly left unexplained. I'd been musing about the frustrations of twitching, one of which being the untickable view, and had mentioned in very brief passing what I thought that was. An asterisk implied expansion later on, but for reasons I can't remember [probably some nonsense about the 'flow of the post'] I didn't do so.

Aaaanyway. When on the topic of what to tick and what not to tick, I have to refer you to the prior musing of Gavin Haig, [Not Quite Scilly], he being of vastly greater experience and competence than my humble self in both birding and blogging. He has pictures too. And Caspian Gulls that stay put and show off their legs [the floozies]. ;) If you trawl back through his archives for last year, you will find his To Tick Or Not To Tick, with examples given, and the public's opinion invited. Go on, its both witty and educational.

This is my personal take on the issue; to Tick a bird, you have to have enough to ID it yourself. Short and to the point, right? Well... sort of. Its the 'ID it yourself' bit that's the sticker - this doesn't mean 'if you were on your own and didn't know it was there, could you successfully get it accepted by the relevant committee?'. It means, 'did you see and / or hear enough to ID it, not necessarily to your current knowledge, but allowing for taking notes and looking it up when you get home, or being helped by someone else.' Which is quite a mouthful.

An example - you hear the very distinctive sound of a Gropper reeling in a bush. Its on the right side. You can't see it. It stops reeling. You do see a bird of approximately the right size and shape move through the bush to the left side. The Gropper starts reeling from the left side. You still can't see it. Tick or not? I would say yes - you've ID'd by song [assuming it is a Gropper's reel, of course] and you've seen what has to be the bird. Its not very satisfying, though - better views definitely desired.

Another example - you're out birding when you chance across a twitch. You carefully walk up to the assembled throng and try to work out how to ask what they're looking at without seeming an utter twit. Fortunately, a couple coming the other way get there just before you and ask themselves. You've never seen a Pallas's Reed Bunting, and haven't checked the 1w plumage and how to differentiate from a Reed. 'There it is!" someone says, and you train your scope on the bird in question, which yes, does look a lot like a female / 1w Reed Bunting. Having a notebook you use it and sketch / note everything you can before the bird tires of posing and disappears again. On arriving home and picking up your literature, you are immediately struck by the plate "That's it all right!", though you've not noted all the key features [rump, crown and underside were hidden]. Tick? Yes. Though you might have dismissed it at a glance were you alone [though unlikely, in this instance] you've seen it well enough to have ID'd it yourself - being put on it was just luck. [And what luck to jam onto a PRB like that!]

Final example [shamelessly nicked from Mr Haig and worse; altered to suit] - you're twitching a Hudsonian Whimbrel, but having been delayed you're not at the site as early as you'd hoped. Arriving breathlessly at the hide, you don't even get as far as gasping "Is it showing?" as one of the birders present [in a move worthy of instant sainthood] turns to you and says "Its flying off, quick- in my scope!" You leap to him and jam your eye to the eyepiece. A large wader is flying away rapidly - you can just see it hasn't got any white on its rump/back before it reaches the sun, is silhouetted and then rapidly gone. Tick? You've only seen one key feature, but the present birders are sure it was the Hudsonian. As it was pretty much the key feature, yes. [[In Gav's original, where it was already too far off to see any features other than being probably a Whimbrel, then no. Plus much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth]]

So, after three examples [one borrowed and altered, one made up, and one genuine experience] on to the reason I remembered to come back to this. That fracking gull. It also occurs to me that I need another example, for another circumstance, which said gull fits pretty well. This being the 'experience of' view. Where you get enough to ID if you are familiar with the bird, but not enough to be sure if you've only got books, photos, film etc. 'Past experience with the species' is on the rarities form for a reason - there really is no substitute for getting eyes on a bird. Paintings are idealized and generalized - they sum up the image of a bird very well, but are invariably a compromise. Photographs show one bird perfectly - at one angle in one light against one background [in one plumage at one moult stage in one condition of health...]. Film shows a style of movement, but unless the camera was operated by a master of the craft it helps little more than a photo, with all the aforementioned problems. You see a bird for yourself, you know all the light issues [to be brief], you get the jizz - everything. You can then adapt for other lights and angles. [This is assuming you can watch it for a while, of course!]

I have no doubt that if someone who knows Caspian had been beside me, they would have been able to say yea or nay very quickly. I also have little doubt then when I do finally get Caspian experience, I will be able to look back and go "Of course it was[n't], how could I have not known?!?" I'm reminded of my first Bonxie - but that's another story.

Ok, quite enough navel-gazing here. Time to get back to the present and the important stuff. Like 250+ Woodpigs stuffing their faces in a pea field near Ipplepen, and the Commando Woodpig who's learned to jump down sideways to get at the covered tray in the garden! After watching the flying hoover persist in this, even after being flushed into a bush, a carefully placed pointy thing has been employed. I'll get back to you on its effectiveness. Mr Blackcap is still about, and all the garden regulars are getting into spring mode, but no migrants here yet. I'm expecting Wheatears on the Nose any day now... :D

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