Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Looking at Wildlife Species Worldwide. Tying it in.

It was 1990. The darkness was just beginning to brighten outside. My window was open, and a pleasant, cool breeze redolent with tropical perfumes tantalised my nostrils. It must have been about half past five in the morning, though my body probably registered as much later as I had passed through several time zones in the previous twenty four hours. This was the start of my first day ever in Costa Rica and I was in a hotel room in the capital, San José. A bird began to twitter starting the dawn chorus.

“That has to be a species I have never seen before,” I told myself and in a flash, I was out of bed, and dressed. Soon I was out in the streets that surrounded the hotel. They contained suburban houses with fine gardens ablaze with Bougainvillea and other tropical flowers.

Eyelash Viper - Costa Rica
I tracked down approaching the source of the song of that first bird of the day. It was a Rufous-collared Sparrow, a species that would fill the niche of the house sparrow, if house sparrows were not probably the most cosmopolitan of all birds. I had just made the acquaintance of the Rufous-collared Sparrow or Rufie as they are called by birders in tropical America, when a dark flash passed me like an arrow. Soon, it was stationary, hovering close to the flowers of a Bougainvillea, its wings a greenish blur. This was my first hummingbird. It had an orange brown tail and went onto my lists as a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Soon, I was enjoying a tiny owl. This was a Ferruginous Pigmy Owl sitting on a telegraph wire.  Two American warblers joined in, and these were Tennessee and Yellow Warblers. I saw fifteen new birds before breakfast and one of the most amazing was a Blue-crowned Motmot that swung its amazing tail feathers backwards and forwards like the pendulum of a clock.

Long-tailed Meadowlark - Falkland Islands
Experiences like the one I have described above are some of the greatest highlights of my life, and good fortune has allowed me to enjoy many of them from the Falkland Islands in the south, to Spitzbergen in the north, to the Galapagos in the west and Central Asia in the east. Being a dedicated [pan] lister, I always have a notebook with me as well as a camera. When I get home, I will spend many very happy hours with friends, with books and with my notes and photographs putting names to the species I have seen. Partially, this is to help me to write a comprehensive report for the trip, partially for increasing my knowledge of wildlife across the world. I also find it fascinating to hunt for the ecological similarities between Britain and the far-flung places I travel to.

Pediocactus simpsoni - New Mexico
One of the big arguments against a global interest in wildlife is that it is difficult to equate foreign ecology with what we are familiar with at home. I have always looked for links. For instance, Scotland has some small, rather remote examples of arctic ecology. To see flowering plant species so rare in Scotland growing in abundance in accessible places in Northern Norway somehow complements the Scottish experience. There are so many species in Eastern Canada and the United States that have counterparts in Britain that a walk in woodland in these areas has familiarity, and yet the exotic tinges that make it different are just so exciting. Tracing the changes that occur moving south through Europe as the climate warms, or altitude increases can be equally exciting, and rewarding. The Falkland Islands must be one of the places most remote from Britain that I have visited. Here I saw species such as Euphrasia antarctica, Juncus scheuchzerioides, Drosera uniflora and Lycopodium magellanicum all growing in similar habitats to their northern hemisphere cousins. In an upland area in the Galapagos Islands I found a tree festooned with lichens. Perhaps I was deluding myself but I decided to list the lichen species on the tree as if I were at home.

Ochrolechia frigida (lichen) - Newfoundland
There were so many forms that were familiar. However, I did not have the means of doing critical identification and collecting is strictly forbidden without the necessary permission, which I certainly did not have. In Uzbekistan early one morning, I listed all the ruderal species in flowerbeds in a suburban area. It was astonishing how many were totally familiar as British species


Rothschildia erycina - Ecuadorian Amazon
Foreign natural history has given me huge pleasure; it has been such fun and amassing a world pan species list has been very rewarding. I will be adding my scores to a blog, and I wonder if there are others who also contemplate world species pan listing.

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