Thursday, 10 November 2011

Listing dilemmas and ladybirds

Graham Lyons posed the following question in his latest post - could he tick a potted Red-headed Chestnut on show at a moth group meeting? He suggested not and for what it's worth I agree with him. However, it opens up a dilemma attached to any listing that we might get involved in, and that is one of having clear rules to what we can - and cannot - count on a list.

I have two rules for listing. The first is that I can count whatever I want to on my closed, private list. Rule two is that if I keep a competitive list, where other peoples lists are also taken into consideration, then I need to abide by the rules of that particular group. For example, the Beddington Birders maintain a league table of birds seen on the site. On this list I have not included Common Redpoll, because when I saw my only Beddington sighting in 1980 I did not submit it, so it was never formally accepted. Only formally accepted records count on the league table. My private Beddington list does include it.

More extreme is the fact that my private British bird list includes a species not even on the British list. I was one of a handful of observers of the 1989 Dungeness White-cheeked Tern. It wasn't accepted by the BBRC and I abide by that judgement when it comes to comparable listing even though I'm convinced it was one. It sits quietly on my personal British list but not my pan-species list.

Back to the potted moth conundrum. If you are inspecting a moth trap with a friend, who finds a Crimson Speckled at rest nearby on a bush, you would walk over and tick it. The same situation, where your friend pots up a Crimson Speckled out of your eyesight and then presents it to you would, I suggest, end up with you ticking it. But what if he was a mile away from the trap site and brought it to you? Or phoned you up from his house and invited you over to see it? What if you lived next door to him - would that be different to having a twenty mile drive to see it? What if it had been potted in a fridge for a day? Two days? There are many shades of grey to this situation, which probably exposes the futility of ticking and keeping lists in the first place...

I would like to 'big-up' the latest book to enter the North Downs and Beyond library - The Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) of Britain and Ireland by Helen Roy, Peter Brown, Robert Frost and Remy Poland. You need never sweat over ladybird identification again and gives a bang up to date account of the status and distribution of these popular beetles.Available from all natural history book websites now.

5 comments:

  1. I've seen a good few moths in pots that I don't count on any of my lists whether personal or public (inc. the first British Diplopseustis perieresalis from Tresco that I photographed but was not present when it was caught, Radford's Flame Shoulder, Porter's Rustic, Bedstraw Hawk ...). If I am out as part of a moth recording group, I will count any species we collectively record provided I see it at the time (as otherwise it would get silly with no one potting up anything in case someone needs to see it first), but not something that was caught by some other person/party at a site I was not at. I therefore do not count moths presented in a pot from someone's fridge. I know of at least one big moth lister who does do that though - literally twitches moths in pots from fridges which seems bonkers to me. I do like to see these potted species though, no use for adding to a list but always good to see something first-hand to be better prepared if one does trouble your trap!

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  2. A bit simplistic, but...

    A bird in a mist net = a moth in a trap
    A bird in a ringer's bag = a moth in a pot
    A bird in a bag in a ringing hut = a moth in a pot in a fridge

    So, You're birding on Portland and you get a phone call: they've just trapped a Wilson's Warbler, processing it now. Does it make a difference whether you're 200yds from the obs, or actually seawatching at Chesil Cove and therefore a drive away? Would you tick the bird in the hand in either/both cases? I think I would.

    Suppose it was really late and they were going to have to roost it overnight, and you were in Yorkshire when you got the call. A quick overnight drive for the dawn release. Tick? Loads would. I might, and I think I definitely would have when I was a twitcher.

    Apply that to the 'moth in a fridge' scenario. Perhaps my standards are rather low, but I can't see the problem with travelling to see a moth in a pot in someone else's fridge. Not if you are a moth 'lister' anyway.

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  3. Skev and Gavin - you both nicely illustrate the differing 'rules'that are present in the cosy world of natural history recording (listing). I once drove to Dungeness (90 miles) to see a Death's-head Hawk Moth in a pot in a fridge (and ticked it). I once stood in a Surrey car park and was shown a Marsh Carpet, in a pot, that had been trapped the previous night in East Anglia (and didn't tick it). Double standards? Maybe...

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  4. I like to try and have one set of rules for all taxonomic groups. I’ve always treated birds in captivity (including in a ringer’s hand) as untickable though I’d be happy to tick a bird the moment it was released. So I take the same line with moths; while it’s in a pot it’s untickable. I’ve suffered for this on many occasions but it does at least mean I am spared from the ‘fridgecraft’ practised by modern moth twitchers! I can completely understand wanting to see moths in pots in fridges but I’d just rather spend my time and petrol money on other things.

    There are all sorts of shades of grey and personal preferences with listing. I don’t think that makes it a futile exercise at all; I just think it exposes the futility of competitive listing. After all, even the most popular listing competition of them all (Britain, Ireland and Man bird listing) seems to be pretty dysfunctional. If there’s a competition to be had, it is a personal competition between each individual and the wildlife of their chosen area.

    Anyway, if there weren’t these moral quandaries to be debated, what would twitchers talk about on long car journeys?

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  5. Using Gavin's analogy - that Wilson's Warbler mist-netted at Portland. It's a bit far from a lot of places, and in any case I was only visiting and I'm going home. I think I'll just keep it in this bag and take it home to Leicester where more poeple can come and see it in the morning. I'll make it easier for them and put it in the old Budgie cage whilst they have a look ... Does that still sound tickable? That's what is happening to a fair few moths that are being twitched in pots in fridges - neither the moth or the twitcher are anywhere near where it was caught.

    As a non-ringer I never have (or would) tick any birds whilst they are in the ringing process (net, bag, hut, hand) and to be honest I wouldn't be too happy with my only view of a Wilson's Warbler being its arse end disappearing out of a hand into a bush either. Once it was back in a wild state (hopefully moving, calling and feeding rather than panting and dieing from shock) I will tick it despite the new leg jewellery.

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