Monday, April 30

The Caunterbere Tales; The Schoolmaster's Tale

My dear Weasel,

How this recent weather has confused my flock! Droughts, followed by floods, why they are enough to convince some slow-witted parishioners the end of the world is nigh, and the even slower ones that the end of spring migration is nigh.
It has reminded me of that masterful work by Geoffroi Chancer,  in which the prologue starts;

“When that Aprill with his showers swoote,
The droughte of March hath pierced to the roote,
And small fowles maken melodye,
That sleep through night with open eye,
So nature pricks them on to ramp and rage,
Then longen folk to goon bird pilgrimage.
And especially from each shire’s end,
Of Eng'land a Caunterbere they wende.”

So, even in those many years past, March was still as dry as a convent’s sleeping quarters and April as wet as a Monastic dormitory’s bedding. The Good Lord delivers us our seasons, on queue as always. We should not worry.
I was then taken to remind myself of the first of the many ‘Tales’ within Chancer's great work; The Schoolmaster’s Tale. It describes in great detail a man driven by a curse to have to repeat not only his scholastic lessons year after year, but his bird listings year after year. What a curse. I quote:

Pars Prima:
There is, at the east side of olde Caunterbere,
A swampen moraise of which men do not care,
Where typha and scirpus once grew so abundante,
lookerers of wildfowle didst finde most repugnante,
Whereto most days there is drawn, oh most so tragic,
A schoolmmafter, accurfed by strong wicker magic,
His life not his own, no chance to defift,
Accurfed by the queft for the biggeft yeare lifte.

Though he tryeth to efcape to Green Wall and Cold Harbour,
Drawn back to ramp and ferry,  for, though he work harder,
To liveth the life of a God-fearing peafant,
To miss a Grove bird he findeth repellente.
Each twel’month the total that he so hard had sought,
Doth trick him at midnight and returneths to nought.
The curfe is to try again, and toil to re-see
at prefent he hunteth number one four and three.

The Tale continued in Pars seconda to follow him through the spring months as heis driven in his search for his biggest ‘yeare lifte’. Then one night, in a dream, he finds himself at the gates of Heaven, where St. Peter explained he could enter but only if he cast his list aside, for only ‘the other place' allowed field glasses and a ‘book of logges’.
The schoolmaster awakened in a cold sweat, and decided he must undertake a pilgrimage to Caunterbere to ask if he might purchase an indulgence that would allow him to keep his list after death. At first he could not find such Papal bull, but then, down a darkened alleyway, he came upon a mysterious cloaked figure who could offer him a pardon and an eternal life list- but only at a price.
Dear Weasel, I take it you remember how this story ended? I recall reading the tale in my youth, and it had such an affectation upon me, even to this day. Why, even now just the thought of visiting Ramp and Ferry fills me with such dread at the chance of glimpsing that ghostly schoolmaster patrolling the footpaths each and every morning in the hour before dawn, camera obscura in case looking, as Geoffroi puts it, like some posessed 'grounde hogge'.

I fear I must have a sherry and retire forthwith(!)

Saturday, April 28

The Ten Demandments

My dear Weasel,

I am somewhat bemused by a written discourse occurring within the Almighty Forum of Birds, where it has been suggested that newer turks to our discipline are now more inclined to carry upon their persons a camera obscura rather than take field glasses. They claim they can study fowle as easily through a viewfinder as through a optic lens. I could attack this argument with a missionary's zeal, but instead found myself leaning to more reflective musings.

Yes, the idea is of course is nonsense, but it did set me thinking. What are the ten essential items I must have about me before entering the field for any perambulation with nature? Optics are of course the necessity, but I quickly realised I could not leave for the outdoors without covering all possibilities. I offer you the following definitive list:

i) My two by ten opera glasses.

ii) Quill, ink and parchment for notes in the field.

iii) Clara, my maid, for my needs in the field.

iv) Volumes one through five of the Handbook of British Avifauna by Witherby, Jourdain, Ticehurst, Tucker, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Podge.

v) My pony and trap. Essential for doubling as a hide, especially when the weather is as foul as this weekend.

vi) Holy water and crucifix to ward off county listers. (No, I know not how many beasts I have seen. Get thee behind me in your league tables!)

vii) My walking stick to poke any members of CocK (Camera obscura club of Kent) or the such minded, who come too close waving their frightening appendages.

viii) A crusty pork pie from Mrs Miggins' Tea and Sandwich shoppe for elderly and befuddled ornithologists.

ix) Watercolours and easel for fieldsketches.

x) My trusty twelve bore.

At no time compiling this did I feel the need for a camera obscura! In fact, if such an object were deemed 'compulsory equipment' I fear I would have to find a way to combine it with one of my ten demands.

Thankfully I understand those clever Huns are now very close to developing such a tool. Eminent ornithologist Klaus von Schumaker's patent for the dual variant (or "V2"), a camera obscura and field gun in one, promises to deal with both captive imagery issues and my need for (x), plus perhaps (vi) and (vii) into the bargain as well.

Sunday, April 22

Let us sing..

There is a green hill far away,
Outside a city wall,
Where a dense crowd was stupified,
By an unusual call.

Unclearly, unclearly he sang,
A different song right through,
No trust we have in theories of,
the case there were birds two.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
Songs with which to compare;
But we know it annoyed those
who strung and suffered there.


It sang that we might be fulfilled,
It sang to make lists full,
And now we pray for DNA
Collected from a stool.


Monday, April 16

A letter from the Dean of Losechelsea, on Watery Titlarks


First, I trust your campaign for the Primacy and Archbishopric of Caunterbere is going well; as you know I have thrown the support of the Diocese of Losechelsea behind you, and I now hear that Bishop Hollins of Noviomagus has also wagered his mitre upon your appointment. You have friends in high places.

Now, to more important business; Watery Titlarks.  I completely agree with questioning the need for a sworn affidavit for each report of this species. Many neighbouring counties such as Winchestershire do not request such recording, and I truly wonder whether the annals would show a massive surge in occurrences if this tight grip was indeed relaxed. With one clearly calling 'vüisssst' and the other 'visssst' there is no opportunity for confusion with the Rocky Titlark. At dusk on the Pytt levels one will hear 'vüisssst' from the reedbeds near the coastal donkey track and 'visssst' from the recently established reedbeds further inland. Every creature knows its place, and we, as observers, must simply get to know each such creature.

Listershire also surely misses many records because of this? Yet they still keep the requirement for an affidavit. These good men and true must surely question this vexing problem whenever they meet? But I can safely say Bandwell you are lucky not to have so many confusion species in your neck of the woods. I must report the ever-swelling congregation for the outdoor Sunday service here at Pytt sea defences has only recently discovered how to avoid confusion between the smaller Rolling-pins- we now know if it is found swimming west, it is Eared; if east, Poker-Neck.

My very best wishes to you for your forthcoming campaign,
The Venerable Dean Cliff, Losechelsea Cathedral

Thursday, April 12

Peace in our time

Oh happy day Weasel, the invasion is cancelled!

They are dancing in the streets, from Rotherbredillingham to Losechelsea, with such unabated joy it is as if they had once more stolen a Frenchman's church bell. It is now common knowledge that the men of the Northern Marshes cannot afford to annexe Rotherbredillingham Harbour, for their forces are revealed to be overstretched completely.

Do you recall I had also written in recent times on the excellent publicity they gained for ‘their’ Brake Nightingale survey? Well, it seems they have failed to study logistics, for every Division is overstretched by the task now at hand- there are daily reports on the computer box from Area Commanders appealing for more infantry to carry out the survey work- a minimum of some 29 furlongs have admitted to having no coverage available in just the past few days alone. This ‘Rushing Front’ will prove to be their undoing. They are known to be trying to raise conscripts by writing to ancient birdwatchers residing in each furlong to plug gaps, but this ragtag assembly of the old and infirm will not be enough to save them. They are a spent force.

In contrast the SouthSaxons, thanks to their well-marshalled army numbering in the thousands, has full coverage, excellent logistical support and total air cover for all their ornithological surveyings this season.
The SouthSaxons must remain vigilant- another spy has been uncovered by them thanks to the computer box; one Mr ‘Buckland’ (how transparent a choice for a surname, a Kentish place six times over, no less) has been gathering information from the Harbour. We are on to you Mr ‘Buckland’, if that is indeed your name.

Mr Rochesteruponmedwayunitaryauthority and Mr Channeltunnelterminal are two more visiting birdwatchers currently under suspicion. Be alert.
I am off now to SouthSaxon to help preach temperance during the celebrations, so as to avoid a plague hatching of war babies some nine months hence.

Your humble servant,

Sunday, April 8


My Dearest Weasel,

The Baptist has forwarded me one of his unwanted copies of TUKOGBANITO. Did you receive this as well? It appears many in the Parish have. First, I must say this is one of the most enjoyable acronyms I have ever come upon: The United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland Trust for Ornithology. It just trips over the tongue.

I have heard of them through their work of now administering Witherby's ringing scheme within our land, but did not realise they carried out so much more besides!

TUKOGBANITO- Your countryside needs YOU!

They really do need to pay someone to promote both their name and their work more zealously I fear. An example. I read they are behind a national survey of Brake Nightingale Philomela luscinia this summer. What a missed opportunity to spread their name further! Here in our locale so much publicity, by computer box, semaphore, broadsheet and town cryer has been given to the supposed 'Northern Marshes Brake Nightingale Survey'- where I feel sure the gentlemen watchers of the Northern Marshes were not attempting their own publicity, but TUKOGBANITO are reduced to a mere footnote, if mentioned at all. What a shame.

I enjoy the fact they urge their following to adopt the ideal of counting the birds makes you a better birdwatcher. I must try this more. I had foolishly thought watching made you a better watcher. I have always followed the advice of Pa Larkin, that not counting first of all but instead observing each bird to question its lineage, was the way to become a better fieldsman and rarity hunter, but from now on I will count, count, count.

And 'where do seabirds go in winter?'- fascinating results within, following their calculations that the offshore silt of the English Channel could not hold every seagull, shearwater and St Peter's bird. The pioneering work by young Nemo and the crew of the Nautilus to find the wintering grounds is absorbing.

I particularly enjoyed the article by one young observer who is forced, through no choice but poor choice of birth site, into making the most of carrying out fieldwork amongst the Dark Satanic Mills of Mankchester. One would think it should provide little result of merit, but he writes of glimpsing a Sootied Falcon no less. Just reward.

I note they look to recruit not only gentleman birders, but also even the most plebeian spotters; witness the true purpose of their Hovel and Outhouse Birdwatch Survey.

Disconcertingly there also seems to be a hidden message that leaving all one's earthly possessions by legacy to TUKOGBANITO might make you a more revered ornithologist. Such promises are perhaps best left to the Bulls and Edicts of Miss Emily Williamson's Plumage League I think. We should already know we cannot pass our telescopic and ocular devices through the eye of the needle, but that we will receive newer models and all five volumes of Witherby, Joudain, Ticehurst, Tucker and Podge when we pass through the Gates. (If you receive Baking's Warblers you are destined for down below I fear.)

I was disappointed by one discourse. The part mentioning bird health seemed to gloss over the numbers taken for the everyday pot. (Did I ever mention that Dumpton served me a Hoopoe tarte last spring? Colourful and filling, a nice change to Rook pie.)

The future does look bright for ornithology, with another article clebrating one successful year of lapwing enquiries, which then proceeds to forecast possible findings to be hoped for in the next 79 years.

As for nest recording- well, I did not realise so many rogues now take every egg in a brood for their collection, instead of following the Oologists' Code of Pretence and supposedly taking only one. Tsk.

I do wish TUKOGBANITO luck. I shall write and tell them so, for I have an idea that might help their cause. What an advertisement for this Trust if a campaign were to be started to have our endemic lagopus renamed the Tukogbanito Grouse. I have a specimen mounted by Bristow in the parlour, and I am sure that a newly engraved nameplate will make an interesting conversation starter as visitors enjoy a wee dram of tukogbanito whiskey in front of the fire.

Your humble servant,

Be not mean this Easter

My dear young Baker,

I was so aroused by your knowledge of the mean average that I am writing a sermon around it for my other parishoners. So many of them can be only mean as well, so I must instruct them in the ways of the Triumverate; Mean, Modal and Median.
Understanding there are three easy ways to find the centre of your figures is the true path to enlightenment. The mean you mention is indeed the commonest way, because it is that, common, mean and base. Unenlightened summarists take this quick central tendancy and then do not allow themselves to question their faith in it- they do not ask themselves about the variances in the figures.

But should we study closely your first arriving dates for Swallow, and if I were a gambling man I would wager a farthing that if you were to calculate the modal average instead of the median average, you would see your result move from the Fools day of April 1st.

I would speculate that for a enquiring ornithologist the modal is a very useful tool. It is the class (in this example the date) that obtains more observations than any other. I can illustrate this with Swallows leaving the ponds after their winter torpor. Now if one of the local peasants had been digging mud for food on the first day of March, there is a possiblity his wooden spade may have dislodged a sleepy Swallow, and if that Swallow was awakened to a warm day, it could take to wing. Your mean average calculation now has an extremely early date, and moves forward by several days to the Fools' date. If, however, your series of first dates also shows that in four of the ten years your first observation was the 4th, then that is the modal average, and closer to the true date the Lord has told the Swallows to get here by.

I will touch on the median. It is the central unit, the middle figure. Those that argue our southern English Greylag Geese are migrants could find one ringing recovery that takes one to the continent. Many other recoveries will be much, much shorter. The mean average distance will be out to somewhere over the Channel, and the mean follower would say 'proof', but if the median recovery mileage equated to, say, just the short distance between Severaloaks Sandy Pit and Brand New Hythe diggings, then the southern greylag is much more sedentary.

An editor of an ornithological broadsheet takes the lazy course of drawing most attention to the first date, and indeed that may well be of interest if extremely early, but, in reality, who can blame them for laziness, for that may well be just about all he (or she, blast that Waxenchatterer) may be able to glean from the scant information provided by all the county's observers.

In our example of the Swallow, our unit of measurement is dates. In a very base illustration, if you had just five dates, say, March 13th, March 31st, April 1st, April 3rd, April 6th, April 6th and April 10th, then your mean average would indeed be the the Fools' Day. It is affected by the early 13th. But the central date, the median, is the 3rd. And the modal is the 6th. And this is goes to the heart of the matter. In our base cravings, we take the mean as everything, and then covet our neighbour's early bird and bemoan our own poor situation instead of appreciating the Lord will reward us soon.

I could challenge that any Ornithological Diary would serve history better by attempting to measure the central tendancy of the mode. Or e'en modes, or 'multi-modes' as radical mathematicians are calling them (a ghastly term). For example, some speculate the female of a species always walks three paces behind their male- do any of the notes from your daily perambulations reveal this? Think how enjoyable your consideration of the Creator's world might be if you can see in your Ear-bird counts that the first modal peak relates to the push of the males and the second to the pull for the females? You will understand God's design more. Or the more heretical theories could be tested. The teachings of the Church of the Latter-day Migrationists argue many Ear-birds passing through in spring are on their way to the icey wastes. They say there is a Greenland Ear-bird. Now, your counts of male Ear-birds, when set to paper, do they show more than one peak? This is the start of questioning the variances, and making yourself more open to God's handiwork.

Be not drawn to the Devil's laziness of just the mean, it only leads to the clouding of the mind. If you are asked by heathen birder when did your first Swallows return as they continue to boast 'I had mine on the 1st' you can then congratulate him (for that is what he seeks) and state yours arrived, true to God's mode, on the 6th.

You may already know, young Baker, that this is just touching the surface of the subject, for we have probability, distribution, standard deviation, and much, much more to consider. I trust you feel my simple explanation might go some way to educating the congregation. Showing people that they do not need to be just mean is the first step to understanding the little known Gospel according to Statto.

Your humble servant,

Friday, April 6

Invaders from the North..

Watched over by Miss Waxenchatterer, Lieutenants Samsmith and Barriyates plan the defence of the Martello line..

Weasel, this is simply unheard of. The Northern Marshes have made clear their intentions to annexe part of the South Saxon lands! Led by the Commander-in-Chief of their forces from the recent Bore War, one Field Marshal Couth-Martin, several members of The 3rd Regiment of Foot have been reconnoitring our neighbour's defences. They have been extremely well disguised, convincingly playing members of that county's Ornithological club for retired gentlemen known as the Senile And Geriatric Amblers. Their latest despatch was mistakenly published within their upon interweb broadsheets and read:

"On Friday five SAGAnauts went to Rotherbredillingham Harbour. We were minded to annexe the area for the Northern Marshes, as geographically it seems to sit more naturally with our county, and we could offer the South Saxons somewhere else in part exchange (or perhaps just some glass beads and a low ranking rarity as they really do struggle so themselves, the poor dears), but in the end there were too many birds to watch.."

Outrage! They covet the land of another county. Sinful and shameful! It is bad enough the Eastern Saxons are subsumed by the Western Saxons under the catch-all name of Sou'Sax- only within ornithological ranks are these two proud counties lumped together for listing purposes. The Marsh men would do well to learn from the Saxons' internal blood-letting and hold back on any attack. The Easterners already have a strong established underground which has repelled the Westerners for very many years now- so good in fact they always manage to keep news of many of the best sightings underground for a very long time indeed.

The Marsh men also overlook the sad and sorry fate of their own once proud outpost of Dengeless at their peril. Dengeless is now starved of passage birds and almost devoid of common migrants in comparison to the adjacent bountiful Saxon lands. No wonder the SAGA agents could not complete their mission, disoriented as they were by the vast numbers of birds present ("chiffies sir, fousands of 'em").

Added to this planned eastern assault, further intelligence gathered from their broadsheets shows one corporal Harry Goward making rather too many trips from the Northern marshes to the West Saxon lands this year, reporting back time and again on the number and variety of birds to be had. There may well be plans for a second front.

Spies in the land. Talk of forcible seizures. Watchers, Collectors and Ringers gathering all along the border. These Marsh men, starved of birds, eye their neighbours' wealth. The clouds of war descend.

We must understand that should the Saxons fall, then Listershire will surely become the next municipality of the Northern Marshes. We must pray those valiant lads of the harbour stay true to their motto and repel all foreigner invaders;

"Nihil ad hic, amoveri!"
("nothing to see here, move along!")

"Steady, the Buffs" has been the famous repost from their enemy down the centuries. Well dear Weasel, I trust you will buff up your own weapon in case it is called into action.


Tuesday, April 3

Let us sing Bunyan's other hymn..

He who would premier be
 Lives a disaster,
Makes him then with Garry,
 follow the Master.
He’s not intelligent,
 He will not once relent,
from his avowed intent,
 to be a lister.

Who so do get him down,
 with suppressing stories
Do but themselves confound,
his twitch the more is.
All dudes shall see his plight;
 As he with stringers fight,
He will make good his right
 to be a lister.

Since, Lord, life doth depend
 for him on a number,
He knows he at the end,
 leaves this world much dumber.
His rares taken away(!)
By what committees say,
Still he'll bird night and day
 to be a lister.

Sunday, April 1

From today's bible studies and migration studies; Jeremiah

My fellow parishioners,

Today's reading is from Jeremiah eight, verse seven.

"Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times;
and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming;
but my people know not the judgment of the Lord."

Now how did Jeremiah, so many years past, know of the coming of the Listershire Ornithological Records Diarists? We do not know, we cannot tell. But the message is clear; claim migrants at the wrong time, and you shall have them struck from the records. We know of claims, unsubstantiated by mounted corpses, for many rare birds that shall never enter the kingdom of the Listeshire Bird Report. That is for the claimants to wrestle with their consciences, and account for their list with Saint Lee when they reach the Gates of Heaven.

But what I want to talk on today, a direct message to you all my friends, is this strange English disease that descends upon you each and every year the spring warmth arrives early. Many of you begin to lament openly that hordes of common visiting birds are failing to return early with the southern winds. You post letters to the Listershire Log of News on the subject. And you always say you do not understand it. I say to you, the answer is there, right before you, in Jeremiah. The stork, the turtle dove, the crane and the swallow all know their times.

The Almighty has created them with their own internal biological rhythms and hormonal mechanisms that have to reach the tipping point of just so, as much as the weather plays any part. These are the clockworks. How else do the vast majority of the males of one species know to arrive at the same time to set up territory before the females are due? They may arrive on south winds, they may arrive on north winds, and yes, to some degree some will be affected by them, a little early, a little late, but it always comes down to the Creator's intelligent design. How can they know the temperatures in our green fields when they are far away in the mud at the bottoms of ponds? We overlook this in our impatience.

So many of you note the date of your first Swallow, but not the date of the the arrival of the many Swallows. I implore you to show moral fortitude and track birds this year by numbers, not by simple occurrence.

A Lutheran priest by the name of Berthold has done much to prove these wonderful mechanisms. Also the most studious Father Newton. Both have written extensively on this. I would not normally urge my flock to seek out knowledge from other orders, but as we are at least of the same faith for this one time I will make such an exception. Read not just the monthly scandal sheets should you wish to be closer to God and nature!

So, I conclude by beseeching you not to keep asking me, as I go about the Parish on my duties, 'Reverend, where are all the Swallows and Martins?', for you will all continue to recieve the same answer:

"God knows!"

I end with the happy news that at least the Stork has arrived on time today, my niece, Prunella Hedgepick, has espied it on my lawn once more!