Friday, July 11, 2008

Tilting at lists and craning a neck

Black-necked Stork reveals inner bill colour almost matching vivid coral red of her legs. Yellow eye distinguishes females from males. Note distinctly nonblack neck. Just one of many birds done an injustice by its name.

IF birdos on the Titanic had been told of a list to port they'd have demanded to know what birds were on it.
For we do love lists: today's species; week's; month's; year's; lifetime's. One site; block; cell; state; country; world.
So those of us not physicists are all more or less Rutherford's 'stamp collectors'. Give Ernest his due, it's unlikely he was in total earnest. Those super-starched 1930s types failed to feel their legs being firmly tugged by the atom-splitting Kiwi.
Taxonomists can take all the umbrage they like, but surely one of Rutherford's points would have been: is the list real (will it stand rigorous scrutiny)?
How real are the lists many of us love to be challenged by? Not the major international and national lists. No matter how bizarrely geographic, inclusive, exclusive, lumping or splitting they may be, at least they are under serious scrutiny.
But many impressively long lesser lists seek to cash in on eco-tourism and the 'big bucks' birdos throw around. Laugh if you like, but the tourism industry appears to believe birdos are mostly millionaires. It also has an inflated idea of birding numbers (partly because most caravanners, for example, tick the box in surveys - and indeed may glance at them sometimes). The temptation all round is to gild the lily.
After puzzling over some 'optimistic' lists might I suggest birding groups work on guidelines to help tourism and local, state and federal government produce info that's both accurate and - to my point - realistic.

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