Who am I?

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An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to see the natural world as a place for competition. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Hobbies only need rules if they're competitive?

At the risk of re-opening old wounds I feel that it is appropriate for me to restate my present views on lists, listing and league tables (within a natural history context). I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with my opinions but, at least be prepared to accept that there are possibly others which differ from your own; something I discovered, and now accept, since the first time I posted a blog entry!
Competitive listing is probably what first attracted me to birding. The excitement of a new species, seen in the company of equally enthusiastic; yet relatively inexperienced/novice, birders. Twitching - the compilation of a list - nothing more and certainly in no way does that particular facet of birdwatching aid science, conservation or further understanding of behaviour or feather tracts. One thing which cannot be denied, however, is that it is a very enjoyable way of spending time outdoors in like-minded company.

Summer plumage American Golden Plover
Pegwell Bay - found and identified by Francis Solly
County listing and patch watching are just as capable of triggering that competitive spirit and, as such, the desire to demonstrate your prowess by means of league tables - just look at the runaway success of the "Patch Watch Challenge"; there is obviously a demand. The key to the whole birding/twitching debate must surely come down to personal opinions and values, and does that individual enjoy it?

Black Redstart on our bungalow roof.
If you are unable to get pleasure from this - why do you look?
The recent upsurge in the Pan-listing phenomenon, attempting to id as many species as your time, ability and interests, allow, is no different. I have absolutely no problems with any individual who wishes to push their search for knowledge to the very limit. I also have no issues with the guys who take it to the next level by joining in with Pan-listing League.
However, from where I am sitting, I find it increasingly difficult to buy in to this "I must be better than you, cos I'm higher up the league" crap. Leagues are about egos and results, is this where our natural history studies are heading. Are the next generation to inherit a system that is based upon an Excel spreadsheet?
I sincerely hope not. For all the functions that sport is able to satisfy, our enjoyment of the world in which we live is not able to be measured by baseline statistics.

Silver-washed Fritillary - Corfu 
If the only purpose of our natural heritage is to supply individuals with a "tick in a box" then we have lost sight of why we started looking, in the first place? As a wide-eyed child (58 year old!) - a dragonfly dashing around the reedy margins of a village pond, a Buzzard soaring on a thermal, a ladybird allowed to "fly away home" - it is these things that fire the imagination, ignite the flame within. These days, being handed a pot containing a moth- usually a rather scarce visitor to Thanet, putting the net under a fish for my son, showing Emily a grasshopper, stumbling across a Great Grey Shrike on my way home from work - moments that have no measure away from a personal perspective, yet remain priceless.

Male Common Darter - Turkey 2012

For many of us, it is the simple pleasure of looking at (not identifying) our fellow inhabitants that creates the enjoyment of being outdoors. If there can ever be a scale for enjoyment - my name might be very close to the top! So what I am really trying to say, I think?. is that everyone can derive the benefits of being in the company of the natural world, just there are many differing ways that we seek to enrich our own lives - enjoyment must surely be the defining measure? If you're not enjoying yourself, and it's not your job; why did you choose it as a hobby? The bottom line is that no-one has to justify why they find any pastime to be of personal interest - "if it lights your candle?" then that's fine by me.


  1. Hi Dyl, the day I stopped enjoying going to Dungeness was the day I put a stop to it. Then, instead of going 2-4 times a month I only went a couple of times a year. And guess what? - I fell in love with the place again. I had become too obsessed with it. Dungeness is still a special place for me. My connection is stronger than ever, even though I might only pop down there infrequently. Your right, without enjoyment, why bother?

    1. Steve,
      I'm not sure that I have managed to convey the full range of my views on the subject of competition as a way of trivialising/dis-respecting our natural world?
      For me, even more so now that I am able to share it with my grandchildren, the very simple pleasure of watching every day wildlife is a pleasure which is unable to be measured. The sheer wonderment of Emily touching a grasshopper, in order to make it jump, and the reaction of utter amazement when it does! Sadly lost on too many of our "list driven" generation. Our legacy doesn't do justice to the wonders that we've been privileged to witness, and certainly won't inspire the next generation as we had been inspired by Peter Scott and D.I.M. Wallace et al.
      So if we are to put back, what we have taken, then listing need relegating to the back of the queue and the very simple pleasure of watching wildlife, of whatever type, must once again be at the forefront of why we bother to get involved at all? I don't suppose that makes any more sense than the post - but there you go.
      Hoping all is well - Dyl

  2. Hello again, mate!

    As one of these Pan-listing types you mention (I'm about midway up the "league table") I'd like to say that I'm a naturalist who thoroughly enjoys whatever nature throws my way, be it Stock Doves with their mad clockwork toy gait or a jellyfish washed up on a beach, a puzzling leafmine or the smell of a bank of Ramsons. But...

    ...but the extra enjoyment that comes with being a Pan-species lister is knowing that all of those mysterious bugs, those darting digger wasps, that weird moss on a log (ie all that stuff you don't know what it is but your enquiring mind desires to name!) can all be identified to species level providing you have the correct literature and equipment.

    So you begin to amass a library of books, guides and keys. You buy a microscope, a pooter, a seive and tray, chest waders and a handlens. You look in unusual places - under logs, in a tussock, under a cowpat, in a rot hole pool. You learn, you learn some more, and you keep on learning because you want to be able to put a name to anything you find. But then it suddenly smacks you hard on the nose - nobody, not even the very, very best, can ever learn or identify everything. It's impossible, the natural world is simply too vast and diverse. Even if you only ever stuck to one site for th erest of your life you'd never learn it all.

    But that one ridiculous goal - to be 'good enough' to be able to identify everything, know its life history, know its needs - that, for me at least, is what this listing mallarkey is all about. Knowing that there are other people out there, some who I'm now good friends with, with bigger lists than mine or that are about to overtake my tally, keeps me competitive. My shortcoming is that I'm abyssmal at submitting the records. That simply has to improve massively.

    I'm sorry to strike off at a bit of a tangent there, but thought you'd like to see inside my own mindframe regards listing. I've almost 440 species on my UK birdlist. Twitching was a great laugh when I was in my late teens/early 20s. The scene has changed and so have I. I'm too intolerant of twats at twitches, of the number chasers, of the complete and utter lack of understanding for the need of fieldcraft, nevermind actually knowing what fieldcraft is. Big lenses, big voices, big egos. Naah, gimme the world of PSL, that's my new home and I'm doing so much more learning, watching, understanding and enjoying than ever before. I'll leave it as that.

  3. Seth,
    I feel like I should be able to offer some kind of wondrous reply - I can't! I simply feel that there is no place for league tables and competition when used in order to
    make judgements of merit of an individual. So you've id'd 702 beetles - whoopee for you, but is it important enough to start a league table? In my opinion - it's the enjoyment of the encounter, not the ability to put a name to a species, which fans the flame.
    Sorry if I can't buy into the excitement - I just find it very demeaning to our natural heritage when everything is all about "ticking boxes"
    Glad to see that your Ditchling sojourn was so rewarding - Dyl

  4. HAHA! I think you're getting me muddled-up with Graeme Lyons, he's just had his 702nd beetle. I'm about 500 less than that. He's currently in deepest darkest "PSL statistic world" preparing for a new community website. That's not me, I don't even blog (I just occasionally turn up on other folks').

    You seem to be suggesting that I don't gain enjoyment of a species until I can name it, or at least not full enjoyment. That's not true, I think I must have seriously misrepresented myself? Being able to name a species is the icing on the cake, and it is important to me, but heck - I love the cake anyway! I'll quite happily sit there watching springtails scurrying around on a log in blind panic at having their world rolled over before settling down and doing all things springtailish again. And I'm fascinated with watching spiders, even though the Tegenarias proper give me the creeps. Watching hirundines swooping after insects is another special occasion for me. And waterlife! The tiny stuff you can only see through a microscope - that absolutely gets me every time. I could (and have!) sat there for hours just watching them in their tiny hidden world, an enrapt outsider peeking in, trying to somehow join in with their tiny antics. I don't know the identity of the species involved and probably never will - but so what? I still have the same childlike wonder of nature that I had when I was indeed a child. I know a lot more now, but that hasn't jaded me at all. An absolute joy of mine is to sit with the grasshoppers until they end up landing on me. I can tell the species apart, but I'd rather have one unexpectedly land in my lap than grill them all in search of a new one for the day.

    As long as I inever become so utterly jaded with nature that I do indeed just end up "chasing the numbers", "ticking boxes" and "sweating over the league table" - I think if I ever deteriorated to that pathetically sad state I'd like to just end it all right there and then. But that isn't how I work, I love nature. It's been my longest love affair and my lifelong friend and I can't see that changing right up until I take my final dying breath.

    But I totally agree with you, league tables and numbers CANNOT be used to judge somebody's merits or competence in the field of natural history. So often there is no direct correlation. There is one elderly chap on that table with really quite a large species tally but who is possibly one of the most inept naturalists I've ever met. And he is almost rabid for "new stuff". He barely needs to clap eyes on the object, and certainly doesn't feel the need to check it. Nobody believes the accuracy of his list. But I suspect his manic need for a bigger list is fuelled by the fact that he knows that his body is deteriorating, within a few short years he may not be able to get out into the field any more. Pompous buffoon he may now be, I feel a genuine sadness for the old boy. I hope I become neither as desperate or the slave to the list as he has.

    Anyway, my short comments and replies seem to become long, rambling affairs on your site, Dyl. You clearly bring out the worst in me! So apologies once again,

    All the very best to you, take it easy as you can


  5. Dear Boy,

    You have no need to apologize to me; your opinions are always welcome in the world of a non-conformist. However, rather than continue this exchange here, I've e mailed a mutual friend who will (hopefully) pass on my e mail address so that we can continue this without the prying eyes of an unwanted audience. Opinions are great - especially when you realize that there is no right and/or wrong

    Hear from you soon, I hope - Dyl