Sunday, 19 May 2013

Time to take stock

There are plus and minus points about trying to identify everything that you come across. On the plus side is the fact that you end up looking at things that, ordinarily, you would totally ignore. It also makes you appreciate the stunning diversity that exists in even the humblest of habitats. For me, the main negative aspect is that, without years of experience, without access to mountains of literature and without the luxury of copious amounts of spare time, you cannot tame a great majority of what you will see. The correct identification of thousands of species - no, tens of thousands of species - will be beyond me.

Having said that, it doesn't stop me from having a go. Neither does it diminish my amazement at what is out there. The need to be pragmatic is paramount. Take beetles for example. I have a few guides (and good internet resources) that enable me to realistically name a fair number of species. For those groupings or families that need keying out or are beyond the scope of looking at a digital image to get an identification, I have to admit defeat - but having got the beetle down to a family level should be seen as a small victory.

I have come to the conclusion that, with a finite amount of time to spend in the field, I should concentrate on those groups that I am fairly proficient at - birds, lepidoptera and flora - and only spend a fraction of my time looking at other things (when they appear striking enough, under the assumption that they might be identifiable). This can sometimes backfire. I took the image (above, right) two weeks ago of a large, colourful beetle and assumed that it would be easy to identify. Trawling through the literature alerted me to there being two similar species. Fortunately my image showed enough for me to be certain that it was Carabus problematicus, due to the elytra exhibiting parallel raised lines. The confusion species (Carabus violaceus) has an elytra that exhibits a uniform stippling effect that lacks raised lines. So, when I came across another large blue beetle yesterday (pictured left), I was armed with the knowledge that this must be the 'other' species. A nice result from dabbling at the edges of beetledom...

I am the first to admit that this watering down of my birding time has resulted in a loss of proficiency. The same could be said of moths (I've forgotten quite a bit) and plants (still haven't got around to really tackling grasses, sedges and rushes). Being 'pan-species selective' is most probably the right thing to do so that I do not lose any more of my hard won knowledge in my favoured groups.

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