Friday, 19 November 2010

Taking notes

I’m sorry to have to report an unfortunate footnote to the story of the Morpeth Squacco Heron I twitched last Saturday. Sadly it died during the night of Tuesday 16 November, apparently from starvation (the varying water level and temperature of the River Wansbeck driving its prey – small fish – deeper, and so out if reach of this relatively small heron).

The carcass was found, and retained, by a visiting twitcher (LGRE, no less) the following morning. This news (the retaining of the carcass, rather than the death itself) has caused much debate among birders and ornithologists about the value to science of the bodies of dead birds, as opposed to good photographic images and field notes. I didn’t get involved, mainly because I don’t know enough about it to contribute constructively, but also because last time I looked that particular forum thread was getting perilously close to proving the infamous Godwin’s Law.

Anyway, this got me thinking about my own rather sorry looking field notes. A quick glance at my drawing of the aforementioned Squacco Heron tells you my notes are unlikely to be requested by the Natural History Museum at Tring any day soon, to be stored in perpetuity for the benefit of future ornithologists…

In my defence, it was very cold that morning, and I’d forgotten my gloves, and I was trying to use as little paper as possible for environmental reasons. Most of my field sketches aren’t this bad – honest; but even so, I’m making a resolution right now to improve my note-taking and field sketches, although I accept they’ll never be as good as these superb drawings. The good news is my ever-resourceful daughter Rowan has made me a new notebook in which to start taking field notes with renewed zeal. So you might well see me tomorrow, out in the field, furiously drawing and writing in this beautiful work of art:

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