Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The whole shooting match

So, you fancy broadening your natural history horizons. You've spent many happy days in the company of birds and as a by product of this have taken notice of the butterflies and dragonflies that you see buzzing around. Moths are a natural progression and of course you start to take an interest in their food plants, so you add botany to your wildlife arsenal. And now it all gets a bit tricky.

I have started (and stopped) and started again to look at other things. Hoverflies. Fungi. Mosses and liverworts. Spiders. The truth is, they just aren't like the other families that I have studied. For a start, there are not fully comprehensive field guides to guide you through the species that you will find. You will be given a firm push towards which family or genus that the organism before you belongs to, but to be confident of identifying it to species level - well, that will now involve complicated keys (which are either obscure or a devil to use), microscopes and a dictionary (to find out what the hell the new vocabulary you will come across actually means).

I've recently added my all-species list to Mark Telfer's 'All taxa listing' web page, which has inspired me to start trying to identify every gnat, smut and lichen that I come across. But to do so correctly is a challenge. I suppose it is no different if a mycologist suddenly took up birding, we wouldn't expect them to look at a reed bed full of acrocephallus warblers and confidently pick out the Blyth's Reed, or be able to claim that the pipit before him was a definite Tree. The learning curve ahead is either very long, or steep, and in reality probably both. But think of the rewarding hours ahead.

There is, of course, the risk of becoming a natural history jack-of-all-trades and a master of none of them. But as I do not do any of this in a professional capacity then it really doesn't matter. I always think back to my early birding days when I strode across the mountain tops of Scotland in persuit of such species as Dotterel without a care for the flora at my feet and wish that I had taken that all in - I must have stepped on some choice alpine plants. In turn, I may come to rue the days that I did spend botanising on Ben Lawers but took no notice of the mosses and lichen.

I do have one problem. My wife has accepted the odd moth being kept in the fridge, but I have a feeling of certainty in my water that flies, beetles and spiders will not be tolerated.

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