Sunday, November 21, 2010

Counting Birds

On a particularly optimistic morning I was reading the paper and came across an article about how Birdlife Botswana was doing a national bird count and needed volunteers. I thought - "Hey I have a field guide, I have binoculars. I could do that". So I called them.

The woman on the phone was very enthusiastic and I immediately regretted my decision to call. I thought if she's this excited about the call she must not get a lot of volunteers. Then I thought if she's not getting a lot of volunteers there may be a reason and that reason is likely to not be very pleasant. But I listened and everything seemed okay. You count along a 2 km distance, stopping every 200 metres and then you count all of the birds you see for 5 minutes. I like quantitative exercises and it seemed the perfect little outing for me and Mr K so I agreed.

I thought the difficult part was all of the measurements so being the anal Capricorn that I am, I decided the best thing to do was to go out into the bush the evening before and mark off all of our stops on the chosen path so early the next morning we would be ready and prepared. We tied bits of blue cloth at each stop and went home to a nice Saturday evening.

Now I'm no expert on birds in Botswana. I like them. I take out my field guide when I'm in the bush and look up the pretty ones. I know the regular ones that come to my bird bath. I know birds like the lilac breasted roller, the blue wax bill, hornbills, starlings, doves, red eyed bulbuls, pied crows, hoopoes, masked weavers- so I thought I was pretty knowledgeable and the actual counting would be a breeze.

Sunday 5:30 am we are up and ready to go. But what I didn't realise is that on Sunday all of the normal birds are off. Maybe they go to bird church. Maybe they visit their birdy relatives and have a big Sunday meal of worms and seeds. Maybe they're chilling at the Bird Hotel with their Chinas. I don't know where they go- but they go- and they leave behind two groups of birds to man the shop: the brown, nondescript little birds and the fast-as-lightning-no-one-can-see-them birds.

One would really be astonished to know that there are many brown, nondescript birds, perhaps thousands. Do what you will with your field guide, but you will never be able to identify those birds with any confidence. I did my best but I fear major scientific decisions may be based on the faulty data I've collected. One can only imagine the havoc that could ensue. And the worst part about the whole thing is that apparently once you sign up for this bird count, you must do the same area every November and February for eternity. It's a life sentence.

In any case, I've learned my lesson. Next time I'll do it on a Monday when all of the full time birds are back on the job.


CA Heaven said...

That's a nice and funny story. I guess you have experienced what science is like, a never ending struggle and fight for accuracy >:)

Cold As Heaven

Lauri said...

Yes CAH, I've also accepted my limitations. I need training before February.

Anonymous said...

That is so funny. I love how you start with 'On a particularly optimistic morning...' - you have tickled me with that one.

I laughed and laughed when you went out to mark off the stops. Such attention to detail is admirable. I am sorry to hear most of the birds were sleeping in that morning but hey, take pride in the fact that you've just done your bit for biodiversity. For now and the next 20 years. LOL.