Top ten animals I’d most like to see

It’s the season for lists. I’m not going to do a review of 2005 in music or films of poetry or anything. I’m going to do a list of ‘top ten animals that it would be really really cool to see’. One ground rule – they can’t be extinct, so no Dodo, no Great Auk, no moas, no phorusrhacoids, no baluchitherium, no pteranodons, no plesiosaurs, no seismosaurus or tyrannosaurus. Not even a giant prehistoric dragonfly. *sigh*

Still, even without a time machine there are some pretty great things to see.

Before I get onto the final list, here’s a list of ten that might have made it onto the list if I hadn’t already seen them. In no particular order:

Stellar’s Sea Eagle

Black and White Colobus Monkey
Giant Anteater
Amazon River Dolphin
Carmine Bee-eater
African Elephant

Culture Nature Other

Flickr field guide

There’s a group on Flickr called Field Guide: Birds of the World. Pretty self-explanatory, really – they’re trying to form a collection of photos that can be used to help identify birds. It’s a great idea and they’ve already got a lot entries, though it’s weighted towards European and N American birds, not surprisingly. But it quickly exposes the failings of Flickr as a content-management system. Although it’s possible to search within the group pool for photos tagged with a particular name, it’s not obvious how to do it. More crucially for a field guide, it’s not easy enough to add information to a photo in an organised way – for example, to provide a link from a species to any confusion possibilities. Or to give distribution info.

In some ways, like most reference works, it’s a good candidate for a wiki; there’s a network of people who are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the subject, it’s naturally modular and so on. The internet would allow for many pictures attached to each species, as well as audio and even video. You could easily establish a standard template for an entry, to encourage people to include all the useful information – distribution, easily confused species, call, and so on. I suppose I could set it up – the Wikimedia software which Wikipedia runs on is open-source and I think I could set it up on my server space, although I suspect there would be a bit of a learning curve to cope with. More seriously, if it ever really caught on, especially with a lot of audio and video, it would be quite bandwidth-heavy.

With mobile broadband on the verge of becoming widespread, people might even start using it in the field to complement traditional field-guides.

Culture Me Nature Other

Happy Birthday to me

I’ve got an iPod shuffle. It weighs 22g; about as much as a reasonably fat nightingale.



There were a couple of redwings in the garden this morning. It almost makes it worth having winter, but, you know, not really. This is someone else’s redwing, via Flickr:

Redwing, Rosehearty (Scotland), 3-Jan-02

Originally uploaded by Dave Appleton.

Culture Nature

The Egyptology Field Guide

My sister is going on holiday to Egypt in a few days to do a Nile cruise. Of which I am quite jealous. Anyway, I was looking through bookshops today for books that she might like to have with her, and I decided that what she really needed was a field guide. A good field guide is a reference book and identification aid in one, and that’s just what you might want, going round the Valley of the Kings.

The format would be like the best bird guides, i.e. pictures on the right-hand page and the corresponding text on the left. But instead of the book being divided up into ‘pipits’, ‘waders’, ‘hawks’ and so on, it would be split into ‘sarcophagi’, ‘deities’, ‘columns’ or whatever. You could use it either in a museum or a site, just to give you a starting point for making sense of what you see.

I wonder if there are any other areas where the field guide idea would work well? It feels like an idea with legs, but I suspect there are only a limited number of things which are sufficiently visual and sufficiently easily classifiable for it to be helpful.

Culture Me Nature Other

I’m back.

I’ve come back from Perigord to the grim news from New Orleans. I don’t really have anything to say about that, for the moment.

I did manage to listen to the cricket on Radio4 LW via a buzzy little radio. I ended up having to hold it out of an upstairs window and nearly had a heart attack when I thought the Aussies were going to win the thing. Fingers crossed for the Oval. I have a ticket for the fifth day, so my ideal result would be an England win on Monday. But I’d also accept five days of rain.

Not much on the bird front in France; a distant hoopoe was the best bird. The swallows and martins are gathering on the telephone wires and in the treetops. They take off in great twittering flocks and flutter around chasing insects before settling again somewhere else. It’s such an evocative sign of the changing seasons; one which I generally miss, living in London. One day soon they’ll take off and head for Africa.

Swallowtail, tiger swallowtail, lots of butterflies. My favourite insects though were the hummingbird hawkmoths, which I could happily watch for hours. Minutes, anyway.

Lots of booze, lots of food – duck carpaccio, duck paté, confit of duck gizzards, duck pizza. A morning of very hung-over canoeing, which made me feel like I was going to die. We visited a C12th church carved out of the face of a cliff, complete with a necropolis, a C9th font for total immersion baptism, and a reliquary modelled on the tomb Joseph of Aramathea had built for Christ in the Church of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem – as seen by one of the local nobles who’d been there on the Crusades. It even had a temple to the Roman god Mithras which they found under the main church. So that was pretty fab. We played the Lord of the Rings edition of Risk, as well. There may be something in life that makes you feel more geeky than saying “I’m going to invade Fangorn” and then pushing a little plastic orc onto your opponent’s square and rolling a dice to see who wins. But I don’t know what it is.

I finished The Victorians by A. N. Wilson, which is OK. One volume isn’t really enough to deal with a 70 year period, and his opinionated comments sometimes seem a bit dubious, but it’s readable enough. I was more impressed by The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, which was last year’s Booker winner. The central character is a gay PhD student writing about the style of Henry James while living in the house of an up-and-coming Tory MP in the 1980s; he (the student) becomes involved with a wealthy coke-snorting playboy who eventually dies of AIDS. It is in fact something of a satire of that period, but it’s handled with a much more sensitive and nuanced touch than that summary would suggest. Hollinghurst is an impressive prose stylist himself.