Wednesday, April 24

The Iberian Inquisition and Father O'Patry


Grim news. Ximinez, Biggles and Fang now have O'Patry.

Father Phil, as he is known, and as you might recall, has been making many studies into raptor movements. He had recently been causing much of a kerfuffle over the catholic use of the term 'migratory' for such birds by various Annual County Ticksheets, and nailed his theses to the door through the naming the truth for these annual movements after himself;- "Phil O'Patry", or the urge to to return live where you were fathered, and stay there, never to migrate again.

Through judicious use of crayons and small bells he had marked several broods of Buzzard a year or two back, and had seen that the young were tolerated near to the nest site all through the autumn and winter until breeding time re-appeared, when they then were forced off and away to give their parents privacy. Off they go until they mature to an age of breeding, when they get the urge of  'Phil O'Patry', and try to return to near the natal nest. And once they have a territory, that is it; they do not move. Not for the heat, not for the cold.

So, this is then not a regular migration in the strictest sense of the word; it is not a regular movement between a'breeding situ and a'wintering situ. 'Migrant' to the Father who discovered this difference is too crude a label for these birds. They are answering these once only 'Phil O'Patr(ic)' movements, not carrying out an annual migration such as described in the Book of Jeremiah.

Similarly for the Red Kite, and yet, because Listershire is but one further county's width from the Channel, much coasting is muttered upon as being foreigner birds on their way home from winters in Iberia. Tosh.

And yet the Iberian Inquisition would have it so. Still further arguing his case, Father Phil pointed out these Channel birds are more obvious to count in the spring, when by his reckoning young birds would be encouraged to wander. The peaks fit his skullcap. And if Johnny Foreigners, where were the birds thermalling up and off over the watery horizon? The Atlas-like Chalk cliffs could give sufficient lift, yet observers just see birds drifting in all directions. And that is again his point. Just because an observer sees six the one day, six the next does not mean a dozen foreigners- it could just as well be the same six circling the district. To the Father, they are the same.

But the Inquisition do not want to believe a handful of birds are causing multiple observering. And they are a'feared a small number of juvenile Puttocks on the coast might hint at local breeding that their own followers have yet to stumble upon. So, passage migrants they are, passage migrants they will be, counted the same as all other passage migrants. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Father, if ever to be released, is said to have to agree to "be careful now and down with this sort of thing". Whether we ever see or hear of him again may well have to wait for a clue within a future annual report of Listershire birds.

Things get worse Bandwell. Do keep safe my old chum.


Thursday, April 18

Nobody expects the Iberian Inquisition

Brother Bandwell,

I do hope this sealed letter of warning finds you hidden safe in your priest's hole. I had heard you had gone to ground this past fortnight, and this is most wise;- the season is so very unsafe for noters of all bird breeding most catholic. It is bad enough that the Nestfinder General will be a'field once more now the sap is rising. But this Spring a greater fear grips the birding peasantry; The Iberian Inquisition are among us.  The choice of being a non-conforming birderer is now much more dangerous.

I afraid to report that Friar Richard of Clemenseau has been taken by the Inquisition. They are most upset at his heretical quantative figures of breeding raptores in Listershire as they were derived through qualatative reasoning, and wish to avoid these heretical beliefs spreading at a national level.

They say he has forgotten Holy science, and has spent too much time on calculated amusements from which he has drawn too many birdes from too few definitions of landmass upon which to guesstimate. The Friar has, in most cases, used but three or four types of land mass upon which to base his projections for Listershire, but usually in the lands of TUKOGBANI many more habitat variants are calculated for any projections of a breeding number.

So they now seek to denounce him. And they have sent their very best men. The Prosecutor, Cardinal Ximinez, with his two Inquisitors, Cardinal Biggles and Cardinal Fang, hold amongst their weaponry, "fear, surprise, ruthless surveying, an almost fanatical devotion to Pope Doubt-Thomas XIII (and of course nice red uniforms)" have made the following cases against poor Richard.

Case the one: the Kestrel in Listershire

Just four years after he, in print, pronounced it more than reasonable to say 650- 700 pairs for the county the Friar Richard did write he had been intrigued to find out 'the real situation' and proclaimed via the Listershire Bird Report there to actually be a number of between 2,125 to 2,805 pairs, based on land definition calculations using just four farmland types. His numeration was based on the potential of up to 100 pairs possible within a plot of the land most plentiful (such a plot being measured as areas of six and one quarter by six and one quarter miles). Compare this with the past four summer seasons of atlassing found breeding a'confirmed in just over 470 plots of one and one quarter mile by one and one quarter mile, with a possible, but unable to prove in the same four seasons, perhaps some 350 more.

The Friar had also tried to make a national conflation in the past. Some five years ago a thesis of a revised national estimate by 'admittedly limited data' gave a spread of 35,000 to as many as 75,000 pairs as against the then last national estimate of some 36,800. Admittedly a national Papal Bulletin projection this year has hinted at a UK population of perhaps 46,000 pairs, suggesting a change which may or may not been influenced by the Friar (they do not credit his calculations in their footnotes).

And of course, in times historic but recent, national surveys of trends have continued to say the bird numbers are still dropping year on year. Why, what must the population have been in centuries past(!) You might recall crop alchemists reduced the population from plague levels through making them drink a potion known as dee-dee tea? Before that time of the industrialised agricultural evolution, many authors had reported swarms of starving raptores ganging up to carry off field labourers on which to feed their young, so, yes, perhaps the population may well have been much, much greater than now. However, it is rumoured Ximines, Biggles and Fang have now procured a signed confession-

"that any high levels of breeding pairs reported or estimated in these recent years have been down to communal breeding of mis-identified colonies of the more common Lesser Kestrel here in Listershire. "

Case the two: the Buzzard Common in Listershire.

Again, whilst the Friar has been willing to put to print that there are perhaps already too many pairs to gain a number most accurate, his mind is said to have been possessed by a thought of a density precise within an area just 5.5 miles by 5.5 miles of some 84 territories, and from there projected his estimations on a calculus of just three land types: 'good wood', 'quite good wood' and 'all chopped down wood'.

Again, in the hallowed halls the inquisition say it is heresy to conflate on land mass in such a way. They have made proclamation that they have another signed confession, that the 389 positively ticked mappe squares (one and a quarter mile by one and a quarter mile) in Listershire for the a'Atlas actually combine both all Buzzards Common and all the easily confused Honey Buzzards. And all oversummering Rough-legged Buzzards. And all the slightly smaller numbers of Long-legged Buzzards. And all the migrant Quick-Steppe Buzzards. And buzzard-shaped cloudes.

For sure, I myself am not certain how much time the Good Lord wants us to worry upon the Numbers of the Beastes when we should worry for the Lands of the Beastes. But now all I really want is for the Inquisition to leave, and leave soon. They demand, most loudly, all published local illuminations in this decade past will need revision. However, we might hope we find some way to hold on for the newest revision of the Holy Mappes most National and most Holy expected later this year. What pronouncement will they then make? Whither high, whither low? We will know soon.

At least it is not like up on the Northern Marshes where they have, but just this yester day, placed notice on their Forum that they intend to add another season, the sixfth hundredfth and sixfty-sixfth, to gain further records for their own breedering atlas, on the basis a period of one full millenium is needed to find everything, or at least give the chance for everything to wander between mappe squares and show signs of breeding.

Stay safe in the field Bandwell, and trust no-one near your hole;- there are rumours the Inquisition wish your own writings subjected to their level of interrogation most soon; I will pray they do not take you. If unanswered, if I hear that they have taken you, then my old friend, I will pray for swift mercy and quick release of your soul.

Your dormitory bunkee from your youth,
Brother Cadvile of the Benedictines,
Volesbury Abbey

Monday, April 8

The search for Schrodinger's Catbird

From the minutes of the Listershire Rare Birds sub-committee:

In the Chair:
- Schrodinger, Erwin
Members present:
- Bohr, Nelly.
- Planck, Maxie.
- Einstein, Bertie.
- Higgs, Petey.
- Cooper, Shelly.
- Hofstadter, Lenny.
In attendance:
- Fumblefinch, Bandy (non-voting, for theological interpretation)

Item Five: 'The Chairman's catbird- the use of Quantum Birdering in reaching decisions on rarity submissions.'

(V.i) ES presented a series of watercolours by gas lamp on potential amendments to the voting system. The following summary is taken from his notes:

- The brand new field of quantum physics is putting forward as proved the idea that 'nothing is real'. The rules for everyday observations of the ordinary world do not apply at the rarity level where instead all sightings are governed by probabilities.

- To understand this, imagine a box, in which there is a live rarity, say a catbird, together with a sealed poorly-written description by a single observer. In the ordinary world, where this box has been set up in such a way that the bird might escape before we chance upon it we can say, quite happily, the bird will either be accepted or rejected on the description. But now we encounter the strangeness of quantum birding. Neither of the possibilities open to the reading of the description is real unless that envelope is opened. The Catbird has neither existed nor not existed until we look inside. Theorists who accept quantum birding argue that the Catbird exists in a state indeterminate, neither real nor fictional, unless it is accepted as observed or rejected as observed.

- At our last meeting BE opposed us the idea of  Quantum Birdering on the grounds that "God does not play dice". BE felt rarity acceptance based on essentially random choices of possibility at quantum level was unscientific, and said he would come up with a test to prove all rarity votes could be made based on a genuine fundamental reality. However, from correspondence with our friends over La Manche, I am now aware that Monsieur Aspect of the Ecole Oiseaux Normale et Superior has now completed experiments proving that at the heart of all things quantum, nothing is indeed real unless it is observed.

- Essentially, with other scientific work also now proving that within an atom neutrons can briefly change into protons, we will have to accept, through quantum birdering, Dunnocks can change into WaterythrushesBlackcaps into CatbirdsSlender-billed Courlie into Common Courlie and Hot air balloons into any species of Tern. And back again.


- We therefore now have two ways of recording;- classic bird listering and quantum bird listering. The present county list is 'classic', and should remain so. However, rarities, regardless of circumstance of field observation do only exist on the strength of the description and our reading of said description, which is quantum. For those who wish to adopt a county quantum list, a second system is proposed. To clarify, under quantum listing all quantum species are renamed and anyone can claim anything, if their handwriting is legible. Work has started on a revised quantum county list, within which all such birds will, in the vernacular, follow this example to avoid confusion with a classic list:

- Schrodinger's Great Northern Diver,
Schrodinger's Black-throated Diver,
Schrodinger's Red-throated Diver, etc, etc.

- This sub-committee must decide whether to be forward thinking. (And remember, our main Society wants to be forward looking and have already embraced time travel, as seen by their recent forum posting for the AGM on April 11th, with nominations and items for discussion open to April 28th.) Do we allow reference to both, or do we remain classic only? I am sure amongst ordinary watcherers there will be no shortage of takers for the quantum list. But before I put this to the vote, I will pass the floor to the Reverend for his theological direction on BE's theory 'God does not play dice.' Over to you Bandy.

(V.ii) BF responded:
- The written guidance in the Holy Bible is simple- and I quote from the King James' edition- Proverbs 16:33: 
'The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord'
- Here, lot can be die, or dice. A more radical modern translation has altered the whole to read:
'We may throw the dice but the Lord determines how they fall.'

Oh for a judgement of Solomon on this! My interpretation? The Lord determines, but determines by quantum, for he made both classic and quantum. I think the more Puritanical divisions will still follow the classic list, but the more 'happy clappy, thicky ticky' sects may well adopt Quantum birdering.

- If you are still vexed on this, I will offer this;- if you truly believe the World made in seven days, that dinosaurs never actually roamed the earth's surface and that banjo playing is the best music for the Lord, then keep to classic. If you believe in science, then you must reject classic and tick Schrodinger's Catbird. I will certainly be recounting my own list later tonight and clapping happily.

(V.iii) The committee then voted six to one in favour of retaining classic listing only within in the county. And at the same time they voted against only retaining classic listing in the county.

(V.iv) To settle this matter SC then offered to make a presentation on a related matter, string theory, at the next meeting.

Thursday, April 4

The Incredible Hulks

To the Venerable Dean Cliff of Losechelsea,

Your Grace,

In view of my recent disappointments to you, I write to seek your permission to carry out necessary theological councilling outside of the parish, one or two days a month. There are Godly duties needed up on the Muddeway Estuary Prison Hulks.

And ornithological duties to boot.

I know you have knowledge of the area yourself, but in case your manuscript clerk prioritising your post does not, I should explain further so he makes no delay in bringing this to your attention. The Prison Hulks are old rotting Naval vessels, anchored permanently offshore in various Estuaries about our coast to house the surfeit of prisoners we have in this un-Godly age. As it is no longer the done thing to send our guilty to overseas penal colonies such as Australia, Tasmania and Thannit, in these austere times monies can be saved by building more brick prisons on land, instead simply ripping out the fittings of old warships which then, as an "out of sight out of mind" prison, need neither service nor repair (leading to the modern street urchin parlance of "let 'em rot" for either said Hulks, or said prisoners). Young Chas Dickens spun a yarn about a prisoner off of one most recently, a ne'er-do-well character named Abel Bagwitch who held 'great expectations', which you may have read? I think the work's title was 'Premier Ship birderer', or similar?

At present there are said to be over 72,000 lost souls housed this way on the Muddeway estuary alone, aged from six years and four months up to past pensionable, all stuck out on desolate mudflats and forgot until they shuffle off their mortal coils. Now these wet wastelands are inaccessible to the local birderers, but the Hulks are sat squarely in their midst. And there some of the prisoners gather information on the ornithological observations about them, which I might be able to hear of...

There are, interned there as ransom of war from overseas disputes, men from several nations, and they have been housed together by their nationality. One such hulkload is made up entirely of American colonists from the War of Dependence, and several more hulks are filled with Frenchies, all to a man believers in Bonaparte. There are birderers among them. But they will not give their records to the local ornithological group. To these foreigners, the mud and water around their Hulks are not Crown Lands but more like Overseas Territories of their own soils; for if the British can, over years of occupation, claim the Malvinas, the Kowloon Peninsula, Jabal i-Tariq, the primitive isles of Sodor, Avalon, Gilligan, Kirrin, Welney and Ely as their own, then surely these outcasts can do the same?

Those with the required abilities have formed their own birdering societies and keep their sightings very much to themselves, much to the dislike of the land-locked sea-wall birderers. Aboard they keep daily logges, adjudicate on their own rarities and publish their own annual listes (writ down upon scrimshaw and straw-work, and kept secreted aboard).

The Yankees have delared their Hulk, the Bellerophon, as their 52nd State, and have racked up such excitements to us as American Golden Ploover, Pectorial Sandy-piper, Blackburnian Warbler and Ivory-billed Woodepecker.

The Frenchies are on HMS Grace and HMS Brothers. Together they are known as the 101st Department. They have claimed such birds as Bonaparte's Seagull, Bonaparte's Seagull and Bonaparte's Seagull.

A third group is perhaps the most infamous in local ornithological circles, but are not actually foreign.The group is made up of British deserters from the King's Northern electric-powered Regiment (also known as King's North Power Rangers). These wretches were often allowed exercise on an adjacent un-inhabited islet where they spent daylight hours preparing oakum for boatbuilding, whilst all the time counting the many rare birds secreted there. But, no more. I have just been informed that their rank and foul Prison Hulk, HMS Ross Revenge, was decommissioned a final time some months back and is about to be broken up. Their ornithological records seem destined to go down with it, down to a watery grave, as no-one has yet found their logges. You may have read of them several years back, in a Mitchellin monthly magazine report?

At the same time, by a strange failing, I am led to believe several of the worst of these vagabonds have escaped, taking advantage of a soft charitable reformist body who have tried to retire them to a 'care in the birdering community' programme. These are the most mercenary of birdspotterers, and if seen upon the Marshes should under no circumstance ever be approached, even in a most friendly of manners, as they are provoked to a murd'rous rage much too easily by just the most simplest of greetings such as 'anything about?'. I am told these coarse corsairs can only be identified by a tattoo of E. on their wrist.

So, for the future foreseeable, counts from the shores will continue to be just all that is possible for the locals, the mere slightest of glimpses into the fowle of this massive estuary. In truth absolute, as an example of the paucity of records, the published 'monthly maxium counterings' of Dunlin in this month of April, as properly reported within each of their official annual county reportes since the millenium, has never exceeded the staggering total of one bird, for the whole of the muddy 11,575 acres, and that counte once only, reported as a' happening a' ways back in '07. (I am unsure if any request for a description was made.)

To this day the Revenue Men of the Royal Society for Prisoners' Birds still try to carry out a rowboat trawl of the estuary from time to time, to try to locate feathery contraband, but find neither flotsam nor jetsam worth record appearing in the spring it seems. The foreigners must have them all away all of the time(!) If the Hulks were shut down, I am sure the locals would be content for these wastes to be forgot, as it is just hearing of the rumours that irks them- they long to mark their navigational charts with 'here there be no rares' once more.

But, if any of these prisoners' incredulous records were to be perhaps confessed upon their deathhammocks whilst their last rites were being administered... Well, not that I would disrespect the bond between a vicar and the moribund of body and mind of course, but I do hope you might see fit to allow such an attempt to regain a Godly influence over the natural history of the waters there.

Your turbulent priest,

Logge call on HMS Grace

Monday, April 1

Colour rings and CocK

My dear young Ashton,

I hope Easter has been good for you.

I am led to believe there is a new sport amongst ornithologists, which some think well worth pursuing. It is to do with the work of bird bandering (or ringering, whichever your prefer) that I tried a while aback, and involves those birds that have been further marked than with just the conventional grey leg-iron by having fitted an additional lead coupling (or six) pre-coated with sveral layers of various gaudy leaden paints to provide a large lettered registration on a colourful backdrop, thus enabling that particular bird to be re-identified without any need of re-catching it;- I refer to the phenomenon of colour rings.

That these can provide a scientific value to the bird is not in dispute, but forgetting their purpose for a moment the colour ring can provide a much more personal sport for those of the photographic bent;- in first trying to capture a crisp readable image and then, most gamefully, seeing how quickly they can post details in the public domain and make complaint about delays in providing replies with details of their image to said post.

I understand members of organisations such as CocK (your Camera obscura Club of Kent) are particularly good at finding wadering birds, especially those seagulls, with colourful leg-irons attached. And that the best members of such clubs can now, thanks to the worldwideinterweb, be a' bemoaning a lack of reply from the applicator within a one quarter minute of their original image capture.

What sport(!)- a race to produce the fastest denouncement. I had it said to me that the game originally gained ground some while a' back on one of the many Forums of Birds, when a Mr Moddy allegedly first picked up the ball and ran by denouncing banderers for taking moderate times to reply and not just answering his typed requests before a month was out. The very same gentleman player was soon able to break the 24 hour gripe record  and since then whine-times have kept tumbling, and even the once thought-impossible four-minute moan barrier was well and truly smashed some months back.

Now it has become a cry most regular; why, oh why can immediate satisfaction be given to those who demand instant gratification? Even my Godly (and thus wholly unscientific) mind realises that any researcher must sometimes need civilised time to reply, especially as there is protocol to follow, but, as with so much else in our all too fast-moving society, instant information relating to their own photographic image must be the reward for such players throughout the land.

And some CocKs desire instant gratification. A typical set of grumblings in your own parts might well read as follows:

I) 10:30 hours- "Attached is an obscura image of a seagull, obtained 10:30 today at Dingeyness. Yellowed backdrop, a' reading Æ Ŧ ∏ ⅞ ‰ - does anyone have details?"(Face of smiley countenance)

II) 10:30 hours- "Well? I'm still waiting!!" (Face of sad countenance)

III) 10:31 hours- "YOU SLUGGARDS! Everyone involved with these coloured leg irons should be hung, drawn and quartered. I shall never post another similar image until the next one." (Face of bulldog chomping down upon a hornet countenance)

Oh for a return to the days of the penny black(!) Still, I understand some researchers do try to hold fast to such good old fashioned procedures. But the sport grows so fast, and if this coloured ring game can be compared to the rugby football of the union variety then rugby football of the league version has also started to appear; capturing obscura images of just the plain leaden variety of ring and then bemoaning, most immediate, that they they cannot be read by obscura image as easily as the coloureds, so why should any ornithological research, however scientific, be done in such a manner in the first place(?). I understand that this variant game is played by UK300 club rules. (This club is not related to any ornithological club in any way: here the number 300 reflects the brave Spartans, in whose democracy the way correct of settling any debate was to always hand the win to he deemed to have shouted, ranted and raved the loudest.)

But enough ink on that vexed rhetoric because I should really focus on my hinted-at question of import most vital I direct to you, which is actually this;-
as one of the more gifted lenslekkers of your generation (for I note with some admiration your fillers of the frame fly both left and right, and even up and down)' plus with your vast experience of levels of all matters technical, might I ask, in complete confidence you understand, if you know of any in my district who could teach me 'photoCocKshoppe' on the quiet? I seem to have difficulty convincing ARSOLS my rares are being shot in  my own churchyard  (properly shot, with gun, not with obscura) so, once collected, I really need to 'cut' the blood stains out of view and 'wallpaper paste' the specimen back upon a perch for some more convincing support of their providence therein. My own efforts are almost there, I can just about keep erect, but I think the shot still needs a je ne c'est croissant;-

Dear Colonel Meinertzhagen had started to help me with this project, but his time is now taken up accompanying young Parker from Military Intelligence, Section Five, out a' birdering (Parker having been outed in the Listershire Gazette as an ornithologist, just as he starts his vital new desk job in replacement of that awfully snooty Dench woman).

I do so hope you can arrange details of a man or two for me. I appreciate that a written list of known CocK-shoppers might be a little 'hot' for print, so, in an attempt to avoid anything incriminating in print as to identities we should perhaps communicate by way of a nod and a wink face-to-face;- let us say that meeting amongst the headstones of the Ornithologists' quarter of my churchyard at midnight tonight, would be the prudent thing in this instance? I will look for you then. To ensure you recognise me, I will still be in dog collar, holding a half-frozen (but flaccid) Masked Parti-coloured Pantomime Duck.

Until then,