For all the years that I’ve been watching wildlife, I’ve deliberately paid little attention to all the other forms of life out there. My focus has always been squarely in the animal kingdom. That’s not to say I’ve been walking around with my eyes closed to anything that doesn’t have feathers, fur or scales. Some wildlife is inextricably linked to certain species of plant of course, and probably almost by osmosis, I’ve learnt to recognise certain things of course, and can occasionally put a name to some of the more distinctive fungi, but in general, I remain pretty clueless!
In recent weeks I’ve decided to try to do something about that. My species list is clearly the work of perhaps a slightly obsessive character, but adding to it is more than just a case of OCD. The process of finding, identifying, recording, etc is really just a route to learning, and I guess the list is just a visual manifestation of the results of that. That Pokémon ‘gotta catch ’em all’ approach to keeping my list also keeps me learning. The obvious thing for me to do was to adapt the code and database behind the list to cater for the next hierarchy up the taxonomic scale. By introducing the ‘kingdom’ level, I can now start listing plants and fungi, which is what I’ve started to do.
It’s not as easy as I expected! My subjects aren’t flying away as soon as I point my camera (actually, it’s usually my phone – I don’t intend to start taking plant/fungi photography seriously) at them, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any easier to identify. A single log reveals a jungle of lichens, but to the untrained eye (mine!), it’s hard enough to know where one species ends and another begins. Fortunately for me, I have the kind help of a lichen expert to guide me and try to identify some of the more difficult phone snaps. She’s already warned me that a number of species can only really be identified with chemical analysis – it’s a whole new world to me.
Even when I think there are some easy pickings to be had to get the list started, it’s not always quite so clear cut. Just as any birder (myself included) can get irrationally annoyed by relatively non-specific terms to describe species such as ‘it’s a seagull’, so I realise that I’ve always been naively registering say, an Oak, as an Oak. Only now do I realise there are layers of granularity to which I was ignorant before – is it a Sessile or a Pedunculate? Or maybe it’s a hybrid? I’m fortunate to know a couple of excellent botanists, and lucky to have access to a range of specialists in different fields, but I’m going to try to be disciplined enough to only refer to them for verification rather than identification, at least until I really get stuck anyway!
There’s a small sense of regret that I’ve been to some amazing places in the world, yet paid so little attention to the other forms of life around me. I’ll likely never visit some of those places again, and the chance to actually properly notice some of the things I’ve seen has passed. However, not a moment of those trips was wasted, and if I could do them all again, my bias towards creatures of all kinds would always have trumped the chance to look at everything else. That said, I still have vivid memories of those places, and at a push, I might even be able to identify some of the things that were photographed incidentally whilst really focusing on something else at the time.
At a time when our geographical reach seems to be shrinking at an alarming rate (as I write, we’re essentially in ‘lockdown’, along with much of the rest of the world, thanks to Coronavirus), I’m hoping my new found interest might help keep me somewhat entertained through a year which otherwise had so many other things planned for it. I won’t be adding things to the list at a particularly fast rate, and I don’t believe my interest will ever be as strong as it is for animals, but I do intend to keep at it, at least for the time being.