Sunday, 2 March 2014

Pseud's corner

Over the past couple of weeks I have reached a happy place with my pan-listing. It was not at all unusual for me to get highly frustrated with my inability to tackle certain groups, but having been out and about with two groups of highly knowledgable naturalists recently, I feel quite at ease about the whole thing.

It's a fly. One of them. Haven't got a clue (or a key). Cannot be arsed to search the internet to be more specific. Sorry!

Lesson one: nobody knows it all.
I have stood with experts in their field and seen them make an error or be flummoxed. Peter Grant confidently called a Dungeness hippolais warbler as a Melodious one August morning, for it to be trapped and proved to be an Icterine. His reaction? To laugh at his mistake and talk about how we could all learn from it. At Eilat in March 1986 I was in the company of some of Europe's finest raptor experts when an eagle flew overhead, giving excellent views. Stunned silence accompanied it until one lone voice said "Any ideas?" It had floored them all. I have been with life-long botanists who have scratched their heads on several occasions at plants that have bamboozled them. If all these people didn't know, then how on earth could have I done?

Lesson two: take your time
When entering into the fray of a new group, don't run before you can walk. If you are making tentative identifications, keep notes (or voucher specimens if that is permissible) and don't even think about sending in the records until you have got a feel of 'what's what'. When I bought the Mosses and Liverworts guide a few years ago I went right out and started to try and identify whatever I came across. I put names to likely candidates and, after sitting down and mulling it all over, rejected almost every one as unproven. It was only last week, with two field trips with people who knew their moss that I started to get a (slight) grip on what I need to do to become (slightly) competent. And it will take a long time to do so. To get slightly competent that is.

Lesson three: know your limits
As much as the thousands of invertebrates out there interests me, I do not have the time, or the patience, or the literature, to be able positively identify most of them. Losing my sieving virginity on Ditchling Beacon last week opened up a whole new world of tiny creatures hiding in the vegetation. Psuedoscorpions were a highlight, but there are 27 species, so obtaining a key would be essential. Same with Harvestmen. And beetles. There are thousands of those little sods. If I went out and bought all of the available keys I would need many pounds...and a new book case to store them in. Without such commitment and dedication you cannot do them (apart from the odd obvious species with internet photographic referencing). So I now know where my limits are - both in commitment and ability. This doesn't close the door on all inverts. There are some big, colourful, bleedin' obvious things out there.

Lesson four: embrace what you can do
I know what I am able to tackle with some certainty. I know in what fields that I can grow. Beyond that I will need help. There is more than enough to keep me busy and fascinated without chasing these difficult groups. I'm happy with that.

Lesson five: the list is just a number
3301. 2785. 1098. 8766. All just numbers and all possibly somebodies pan-list total. What does it mean? The higher the figure the better the naturalist? Not necessarily. The more experienced? Probably. It's a bit of fun, that's all. At least, while I'm a low-to-mid-lister, that's what I tell myself.

Lesson six: there is a world of wonder out there
Don't over think it - just get out there and soak it all in

North Downs and beyond - sometimes home to 'Pseud's Corner'

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