Less is more


Several times over the past few years I've looked at my attempts to identify and record all orders of the natural world and have shaken my head at my futile exercise. It is just all too much. Yes, I am lucky enough to have time on my hands to try such a thing, but in reality all that I end up doing is water down any proficiency that I have in my 'favourite' orders. Take birds for example...

Up until the late 1980s I would read almost everything that was published regarding bird identification, and without wanting to come across as big-headed, was more than proficient in the field. I then started to take more interest in moths and plants, orders that boast thousands of species. My mind wandered away from birds and was immersed in these new worlds. There was much to learn, and my time was spent trying to be able to identify such things as the different pugs and crucifers that were now being revealed to me. The birds took a back seat, and because of that I slowly became rusty.

I was still primarily a birder, albeit one that didn't put the work in. Time in the field was still there, so I never really lost the ability to be 'proficient', but whereas I could once pick identification features of critical species pairs/groups out of the air at will, that largely went AWOL. As each year passed, I was more aware of this, but shrugged my shoulders and carried on diversifying. Then the first COVID lockdown intervened...

This enforced stay at home saw a rebirth in my enthusiasm for birding (that had never really left, but had suffered a bit with the competition from other natural history orders). The daily garden birdwatch became an important structure to this strangest of times, and I found myself in contact with many others who were finding the same (re)connection, at least within the realms of insular, personal, birding. Birding became all conquering, once again.

Since then, my efforts with moths has stayed pretty constant, but my time with plants has suffered. This will be rectified. But it is the other orders that will pay the price. I realised this recently, when walking past a group of fungi on a grass verge. I glanced down and walked on. Then I wondered whether I ought to go back and take a picture (sizeable caps, pale brown in colour) to refer to back home. No. My enthusiasm wasn't there. It got me wondering about the many identification guides I own, some specialist (lichens, soldier flies, for example) and as to whether or not they will ever come off the shelves again. They will. But at the moment, I find myself wanting to rediscover that lost birding memory.

2022 will be one driven more by birds. This year has seen a reduced birding footprint, but has, never the less, had some marvellous moments. I'm hopeful that next year will deliver more like it.

Comments

Ric said…
We can be faced with many open ended challenges, but to what extent? For those in possession of a near photographic memory, the bar of achievement can be set quite high. It also helps if one has a surfeit of nervous energy and a low boredom threshold.
Since I possess none of the above, I've had to come to terms with operating at a fairly basic level. For nearly everything.
It's one thing to get rusty on a subject, but for some of us, we don't have the luxury of a paint job to start with.
Steve Gale said…
Love that final sentence Ric! I’m sure your paint job is in good nick though.

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