Tuesday, January 28

To Master Izaak Walton, on 'The incompleat angler'

The Common (or Northern) Pike Esox lucius lucius
Hume's Pike Esox lucius humeii

Dear Izzy,

You are correct, this stuff and nonsense on the splitting of Pike into Common Pike and the vagrant Hume's Pike does seem most overblown. I think you are right not to concern yourself with the trumpeting of others. I have had a look now through their evidence, and I am with your attitude, one hundred percentage points sirrah.

I have to say I am not as attuned to piscean science and politic, so I might have to reason my support by way of exampling dear Allan Octavian Hume's findings in the fowle department.

Forgive me if already know much of the distinguished gentleman already. If you do, you might have seen in popular press that 'AO' was so opinionated as to be accused of being dogmatic, leading to a nickname of 'The Pope of Indian Ornithology'. Yet it was only through sticking to his collecting gun he came to have authorities agree to see differences between 'Mr Hume's Leafy Warbler' and the 'Yellow-of-brow Leafy Warbler'.

But he noted so much more than that;- he theorised, quantum-like, that there must be at the same time be more than one Mr Hume. 'Mr Hume's Easterly Leafy Warbler' and 'Mr Hume's Westerly Leafy Warbler' have also now since entered the record books. They have such considerable differences in the science of their 'mtDNA' and importantly for us in the sweet sounds of their calls by which they can be told apart. True, 'tis unfortunate that though now separate in their routes their song remains the same. For many of those with an opinion that actually matters they close enough to be deemed 'allopatric', and as such are not treated as separate species (which is why the vast majority of this country's a'birderers will not have bothered with them).

If I understand allopatry correctly, a good example for any non-a'birderer would be the great heffelump of the African Plains, which on morphology and DNA is listed as three sub-species. Now of late the researcher Snr San Diego Uni-Cali-Fornia has found evidence that the geographical isolation has caused necessary divergence to make claim, not yet agreed, to separate as species.

And yet, when we think about it, in our own Fowle world, a sniff of such divergence is usually just about all that is need to persuade splitting for the purposes of listing (dare I mention the Polls?). The final deciding straw is, of course, whether any type specimen has occurred on our fair shores. If it is has, then by jingo(!) we elevate to species status, if it has not, we care not. Because an heffelump has yet to stroll the promenade at Thannit, we care not. Because a few Leafy Warblers have appeared, it becomes as if life and death to the a'listerers.

Now, my question to any such fellow who ejaculated loudly over an episode of Mr Hume's Leafy Warbler identification claimage would be this;-

~ If your list (most pure) already contains two ticks for both Lesser Poll and Mealy Poll, then how can you put one tick against an unconsidered general Mr Hume's Leafy Warbler? 
~ For the tick should surely either be made against Mr Hume's Easterly Leaf Warbler, or be made against Mr Hume's Westerly Leaf Warbler. 
~ It cannot be both, and I wager sirrah you cannot at this moment describe to me with certainty which you heard. 
~ And I also suspect that you will not tell me without first running back to your cantographs whilst praying the calls are not that similar to an untuned forgetful ear(!).

Now, such naughty teasing at their expense may very well send them a'scuttling to their Almighty Forums to try and seek an expert to salve their tick plight. Or to allow triumphalism if they are but just followers of the growing sport of a'listering. For sure, some will come back to lecture you on the finer points. They all miss the bigger picture;- that, at the end of the day, there is no value of any real worth to this rare migrant being correctly identified here.

The true value of a species or of a sub-species lays back in it's home range, where bringing such information to prominence may well just persuade local village elders to pass tribal laws to protect it, so it thrives. But should the elders in the lands of the Leafy be told the bird has great value simply because it has flown to the green and pleasant epicentre of the Empire 121 times in 62 years, they will, quite rightly, not give one brass-MonkeyGod.

The only value back here in Blighty is simply on a list, and we know such sporting lists lead us into the sin of covetousness.

No, if any would-be lecturer of ornithological tickage were to come to you to lecture on whether or not a bird you had seen was a Mr Humes', then reply as Sir Montgomery Python did once most famously, not with his 'African or European(?)', but with 'Western or Eastern(?)'.

I hope this ornithological reference makes sense. Back to your fishy problem, whether you should continue to leave Hume's Pike out of your mighty reference;- I know you have continued to add new information to your volume for more than two decades now, but you are most right to ignore this. That some 'authorities' have now decreed there are interesting differences in bubblegraphs of certain Pike will matter not to your readership. Leave those list-makers to wallow in bubblegraphs of their own making from all the hot waste air they exude upon such arguments.

How to ensure the Common Pike remain numerous in our polluted rivers is of more import to the most coarse a'fisherman than any discovery of a Hume's Pike which has somehow stupidly swum against the tide.

Izzy, I know you are a proud man, and do not need or seek my support. I will still happily voice it if chance happens my way. If any upstart approaches me whilst I fish at the duckpond and asks which Esox I have just netted, I will look deep and hard into those fish eyes and say 'don't tell them your name Pike(!)'.


Saturday, January 25

The Bumper Book of Revelations

In the beginning was The Book of Numbers, the first summary Atlas of TUKOGBANI. Next, the Book of Job, which it was, a jolly hard one, dragging oneself out into the sleet for a first wint'ry Atlas. Following that came The Book of Lamentations, a second summary Atlas showing decreases in our avifauna. Lastly, as an interlude, The Book of Exodus, a migratory atlas as we prepared for this, the latest chapter and verse in summary and wint'ry, The Bumper Book of Revelations.

My own copy arrived as a Christmas present whilst I was away on the Essexes rescue mission, so I have only just had chance to peruse it. Evr'y short review that I saw on an a'tweetering at that time used the same word, 'awesome', so it was indeed with some awe I unwrapped my package.

Well firstly I must say I was only moderately pleased to find that it came protected only by flimsy card, allowing my copy to be what is known by bibliophiles as 'pre-dented'. Such a touch of authenticity always gives a text extra authority in the eyes of parishioners when being preached down to, so whomever thought of that attention to detail should be acknowledged for their attempted awesomeness. But t'would have been nice to have had an offer to purchase as either 'new' or 'nearly new'. Being a man of belief of the good condition book the pre-denting may just have influenced this reviewer the merest of the tiniest of a tad.

As all previous reviews had concentrated on the species accounts, I decided to apply myself to the 702 chapters preceding, namely the declassified operational details from the Watchmen War Office on the Military Campaign waged to produce an Atlas capable of waking up our politicians in highest places. And what a revelation those chapters proved to be. Although it is suggested they might be more of interest to the military professionals, the footsoldiers can learn a thing or two from within.

I was engrossed by the chapter on troop capture and engagement. It seemed the Watchmen had devised a strategy of dangling many shiny things in front of footsoldiers to keep them engaged. Phrases such as "dynamic personalised feedback" hint at what won the day. For certain, there were dark moments such as mounting second season tetrad casualties, but the Generals showed they learnt from this.

The chapters on intelligence gathering, intelligence analysis and mapping by the finest minds of Thetchley Park were also of great interest. The biggest loss, their darkest hour, appears to have been the withdrawal from tetrad population estimates. Now they had realised that any such estimate might be "an understimate or overestimate of the real number but is likely to be broadly correct" (code-name 'operation think of a number') but recognised that many of the serving men wanted simple figures as well as maps because they have always taken such numbers as Gospel, but it was not to be. (Still, we can rely on the likes of TUKOGBANIOU and TUKOGBANI Birds for the numbers of the beasts instead.) It was attempted, through adopting a military strategy developed by (oh the shame) our perennial enemy the Spaniard for their own atlas, but it seems many our armada of plucky Brit troops were not confident enough to follow necessary orders.

Elsewhere I was engrossed by the murky world of 'false absence'. Essentially, the military would have us believe a blank square indicates 'not detected', and does not indicate 'not present'. This is why reference is made not to actual gain or loss, but apparent gain or apparent loss. If this had been understood by the 407 Counties, Clubs and Societies who felt it necessary to keep sending expeditionary forces into darkest alleyways of dirty cities for a hint of a sniff of a Sparrer for years thereafter, then their own local atlas might actually come out before the next national. I hope they might spot this message and stop sacrificing troops on one-way missions into wasteland equivalents of Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Dartfud'.

The chapter on the coverage of the war effort was also engrossing, as it contained many debriefings on troop performance. The Watchmen have learnt much from studying what they term 'patterns in observer behaviour'. Educating the masses on typesetting their returns was seen as a problem, along with usage of the new-fangled longitude and latitude. Not understanding orders relating to a'winterering species to not be recorded as in a'breeding activity was another. There was also not enough 'eff-ing' from the troops in the trenches. Eff was needed for indicating flying, and it was apparent many too many birds were recorded in the wrong habitat. The link between habitat and fowle may be lost on some. In the next campaign the new motto will be 'if in doubt, then do give a flying 'eff'.

I admit the shamanistical statistical accounts were beyond me, though I did I think espy the word 'contagion' at one point. I still favour the old methods- whatever happened to the use of an Arc in such calculations? The two by two times table is still known by most a'birderers (or at least those over the age of 25).

The main lesson learnt for the next campaign is undoubtedly to train all troops for more recording of a'breedering. "Quantity does not equal quality." A tall task to expect a'birderers to think of as many as three terms at once (possible, probable and confirmable), but then most a'birderers can count to three without much thought (as evidenced by their subtle use in authenticating large scale survey counts by ending them in 00,001, 00,002 or 00,003).

A minor nugget of interest was the acceptable deployment of 'mercenary shock troops', with gamekeepers found useful for nocturnal manoeuvres. An acknowledgement, perhaps, that not evr'y countryside pursuitist is a fallen Angel? Even if you cannot bring yourself to think this, all is fair in war, and a sign, perhaps, that these factions could come together?

Of the fowle themselves, it was absolutely no surprise to read the most problematical species was the Mighty Morphing Redpoll. My own opinion is that there is plenty of time to annexe all breakaways before any next Atlas.

Some scant amount type is set on scarcities, so I will do so likewise, pausing just to note it is pleasing some Societies are now learning to adjust their requirements to avoid cut high losses of locally scarce records; nearby to me the Sou'Saxons now quietly accept description species, the Watery Pip without documentation from those upstanding local observers (1) known to them to have both a medical reaction to pen and ink and (2) an ability to magnetically attract the species, which can only be a jolly good thing for posterity. I am hoping Listershire will do likewise by recognising my own abilities and stopping pestering me for descriptions of each and evr'y Black 'Pecker.

That will almost do I think, for I have only the species accounts left and there I shall not deviate from the overall cry of 'awesomeness'.

Except to say...

So many of these accounts make repeat reference to oft updated sources already freely available to everyone. TUKOGBANITO interwebbelogge site has so very much of the important data downperuseable; Fowlefacts, Carttrack, a'Nesting, a'Banding, a'Dampfowlecounts... all are there for our study. In his own review that jolly nice freelance mercenary naturalist Mr Cajun-Aviary has already laid down a challenge for the next Atlas to be electrified, and then recharged most frequently. He appreciates what is available already and suggests the next step;- combining already freely available up-to-date information more quickly, but in more a pictorial format, such as the mappes so ooh-ed and awe-d over, to aid those who are hard of thinking. At this rate it may just need a plain mappe pinpointing a last few scatter'd nests, with an invitation to 'Join the dots, Lord Fekwitt'.

Numbers, Job, Lamentations, Exodus and Revelations. Will we have Acts next? I shall certainly pray for it.

The Bumper Book of Revelations.
All should heed the messages therein.
Order your own pre-dented copy today(!)

Wednesday, January 15

"Great God(!) This is an awful place."

Since the turn of the year the papers have been full of the epic story of ornithological disaster that befell those aboard the Vauxhall Terra-Nova on the Seagullfest Essexes Expedition. As it is a story I have been involved with, being sequestered all this time of late providing comfort to hysterical a'birderers, I should record details of the expedition here also, as an example of the heroic, but ultimately futile, attempts being made by some foolhardy pioneers to prove the seagull group to be at least seven hundred and forty-three species strong.

Their plan had been simple enough. Armed with the Hampton Wick Scale the team hoped to adjust rare and scarce races of seagulls by the size of their Hamptons. The members were well-prepared for such an expedition if only it had been undertaken in normal wintry weather, but nothing could have prepared them for the "Ark-sick conditions" they had to face; instead of a touch of light frost and a mizzle of sleety rain they were met by biblical volumes of rain and wind and mud and wind and rain and flood and rain and did I mention rain?

The expeditionary force,
seen testing anti-guano equipment and fowle mist-nettes prior to departure.

Among the members were several famous names of pioneering fowlery, including

~ ~ the team leader, the high-bred cline-it change specialist Captain Garnier Falcon Shott.
~ ~ the statistician, the internationally famous Antarctic explorer Lieutenant E.R.G.R. Evans (no relation).
~ ~ the navigator, a veteran team-member of  the Captain's expeditions and of many a long walk for birdies, Reidy Tristran.
~ ~ the fowle artiste, Edward Woodrow Wilson (and founder of the New Deal Approach to ageing).
~ ~ the Nearctic seagull specialist, Paul Le Man, another regular team member of the Captain.
~ ~ and cabinboy Samuel L. Jones.

As well as such trusted and loyal men, the Captain had chosen several local a'birderers for their extensive knowledge of the area.

~ ~ Chief Scientist and local fowle-ringer was one Mr. Paul Ropemakers-Arms, a man of much experience of the area who was to be in charge of any seagull-netting needed for close Hampton examination.
~ ~ a Mr. William Edwin Glegg, sometime keeper of the county list, known to refuse acceptance without a bloodied corpse ("if the specimen's amiss, then dismiss")
~ ~ for Ecumenical matters, the Reverend Audrey Prattlechat, now fully schooled in the magicks and mysteries of seagullery.
~ ~ local man of the marshes Vaughan 'Birdie' Howard, an fps staffer known for his daily travails over the Thames.
~ ~ and R Miller Christy, compiler of the first local Avifauna and discoverer of the Eastern TOWIE, Pipilo crapseries Christii

plus several more expendables from the local county society, to act as followers.

On December 21st the Terra Vauxhall-Nova made planned landing on the south shore of the Thames, in plain sight of their target, the Essexes, a huge landfill chain known to be the wintry home of many thousands upon thousands of seagulls. The chosen landing site was idyllic, and christened 'Bluewater'. From there they had hoped to take the short westward route to traverse a track only known to mountaineers and mapped simply as 'M 25', but by Christmas Eve they found its rickety bridge shut to all, due to the ongoing 'bit of a breeze'. So instead Birdie went east and procured transport for them on a local ferryboat bound for Tilberia, and they crossed the chilly waters to face a longer than planned for route march along crumbling, wave-topped seawalls. (It was muddy as well. Did I mention it had rained a bit?)

Conditions were treacherous. Even though in the months prior they had trained harder than any normal a'birderer (some by actually walking a'foot-it for up to three-quarters of any claimed birdlist every other weekend, others by not resting in gifte shoppe tearooms en route to bird hides) the expeditionary force soon found themselves brought to a halt by deep mud, so deep in places it was in danger of reaching their ankles.

Some wanted to turn back there and then, but the Cap'n knew their endeavour to expand gullknowledgery was made in competition in with the great Norwegian Thawmud Amundsen, so for any claim to scientific plausibility they really had to push on (especially as they had only glimpsed Caspian's Seagull by this point). Thawmud was known to have chosen a much more northerly route to enter the biotope, via Scandinavia and Japan, and word had reached them the Norwegian was having a much jollier time along the way than they were.

Time passed and eventually the morning came when they could no longer find the will to rise and a'bird. They were bogged down on the seawall near the town of Pitifulsea. So close to their target, they had no lust left for raising field glasses. The slightly less than mild British weather conditions had defeated them. Instead, they chose to simply lay in their a'sleeping bags moaning about the choice of cover of the last ever A'birdering Globe.

On the final morning of the crew being all safe together, some hours after dawn Prattlechat started to laugh and laugh and laugh, crying out "I am going for a short walk for a Slender-billed Curlew, I may be some time", upon which he lept out of the tent and waded off through the mudflood, never to be seen by any of the Expeditionary Force again.

The Cap'n now knew the situation was worsening. Like the great Shackleton on the South Atlantic Albatross split expedition before him, he concluded that no help would come for his men unless he sought it. He knew in these parts no local fps group would ever venture here on a members' walk outside the summery month of August. He had to strike out immediately. Telling his men to remain put under any and every circumstance he set out west, alone.

Such an heroic sacrifice for the list ultimately proved fruitless. Although the Cap'n was found by a lone Fowle counterer he was, by this time, babbling incoherently so despite his protestations was placed in hospital for observation and recuperation. Only several days later was he able to provide precise details so to allow an evacuation attempt, but when the tent was discovered there was no trace of any of his men.

The Captain's logge remained, the final entries, in the hand of Reidy, providing some clue to their fate;-

"Everyday we have been ready to start for McDonald's Sound, a planned food dump just some 11 miles away near the Ikea Range by the Lakeside, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling driftmud. I do not think we can hope for any better seagulls now. We shall stick it out until the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can a'bird much more."

Their story could not have ended there. I finish this tale with the words of a final cryptic note, found attached to the doorflaps, which has yet to be deciphered by either the Press, the Admiralty or the Geographical Society;-

"bugger this. Goin 4 Audouin's (LOL)- 
Off 2 SEN , booked on Easyballoon. 
look after xs baggage until return.