Friday, 30 December 2011

A challenge

To folks who, like me, grew up watching wildlife in North Norfolk, yearlists come as standard. Even if it’s just in your head, in a there's-my-first-bullfinch sort of way, on January 1st you start a new list of the birds you see; and by the end of the year you’re berating yourself for not having looked for lesser spotted woodpeckers. (In 2011 I did, twice, and failed to find them, twice.) A yearlist is a goal and it adds excitement to cold January birding when all the birds around are the same ones as were around in December.

For years now I have been scheming something altogether bigger: an all-taxa yearlist, to include every species I identified in every group of wildlife – birds, mammals, plants, insects, molluscs, crustaceans, reptiles, fungi, you name it. This would be marginally feasible here in the UK, but to do it would be heroic. Put simply: there are a lot of species out there, even on our small, cold, subarctic island. The problem – and blessing – I have is that my work each year spans continents. I generally have a good idea of the birds and mammals in the countries where I work. And in many I can get to grips with reptiles and amphibians. In some places I am au fait with a few plants. Even insects. Sometimes the odd fish works for me too.

But there are plenty of groups about which I know nothing. As I wander through a rainforest in Madagascar I can name the birds and the mammals, and I might even manage a satanic leaf-tailed gecko or two, but the plants… well the plants are wholly alien. And the same is largely true even of countries where I’ve worked for months or years, like India and Bolivia.

Nonetheless, to set this bright, shiny, new blog-ball rolling I want to take up a challenge: a monstrous, death-defying, never-before-attempted yearlist. For the reasons given above, I simply can’t list all the species I see everywhere in the world. No-one could. It’s not so much a question of my knowledge, though I freely admit to vast holes in that; it’s more a question of time. No-one would have the time to identify and list every plant, every bird, every fish, every mammal, every invertebrate he or she saw in so many places. The task would bring Hercules to his knees.

So I’ve hit a compromise. This year, my blog will feature a list of all the vertebrates I see. You can be sure that I’ll mention many non-vertebrate species too, especially here in the UK where I’m a bit of a plant-geek and I have a soft spot for dragonflies, but only vertebrates will make the list. I’m booked to work in all sorts of exciting places and I’m looking forward to seeing many species of vertebrate, most of them old friends in corners of the world where I’ve often worked in the past.

My commitment, then, is to watch wildlife (easy), to blog about it enthusiastically (the enthusiasm will be easy, the discipline less so), and to keep a giant vertebrate yearlist here (hard work, frankly). Since, to my knowledge, nobody has done this before, I have high hopes of setting the world vertebrate yearlist record (WVYR).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Your commitment is simple: read. And every now and again let me know what you think. I have other plans for you too, but I’ll let you know about those once we’ve started seeing some wildlife.

For now, just keep reading.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad we're not bothering with fungi... urgh.

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