birding-aus New Field Guide (2)

Subject: birding-aus New Field Guide (2)
From: "Pat O'Malley" <>
Date: Tue, 02 Feb 1999 13:04:23 +1100

Dear All,

Close to a year has passed since I reported last on the progress with the
new and streamlined handbook.  This message is to assure birders everywhere
that AFGRAB (Abbreviated Field Guide to Real Australian Birds) is moving
ahead, principally through  BBEP (the Bogus Bird Elimination Project). This
is despite  reports of new species, which had to be investigated and
discouinted. (eg the "Blue Rock Thrush" - a Qantas marketing hoax). The
continued elimination of  existing bogus species has been assisted by
invaluable contributions of birding ausers. See for example, the posting
last year showing  that the  'Lewins Rail' is the  Bell Miner in bathing

Against my basic principles, I was compelled to include new entries, as
some new  species evidently have  evolved  in Australia over the past 12
months or so. Examples include, the Great Crested Grebe and the Singing
Bushlark. Both of the latter appear to be establishing themselves rapidly
(two further  sightings since my  discovery of the species in October
1998).  Because such sightings  forced me to expand the field guide
considerably from its handy 362  entries, I had to seek other ways to
render it more manageable. Two new techniques were suggested by the recent
and very useful 'abbreviations' debate on Birding Aus:

First, many pages have been saved by elimination of  Latin names. I'm all
in favour of multiculturalism, but this is ridiculous - and  an example of
bogus political correctness. All the native speakers died off centuries
ago. In any case (a) there are no records of Roman birders ever having come
to Australia, and (b)prior to the invasion, Koori people rarely used Latin,
even on very formal occasions. So  these latinizations are not 'authentic'
in any way. Last, note that speaking in italics - like pointing, which it
resembles - is known to scare birds away. 

Second, the English names for birds should also go. These are far too long,
even Emu. Plus, some birds get more than one name -  "Australian Spotless
Crake" and "immature Dusky Moorhen" for instance.  The first letter(s) of
the bird's English name would provide more efficient nomenclature. How many
people wouldn't instantly recognise E. for example? And think of the 19
letter (86.35%) saving effected with WCH.  Some further economy could be
achieved - for example 3B instead of BBB (90% saving from the English name
- should the existence of that species ever be confirmed). Quite a few
currently separate species could be collapsed into one (eg  BH - although
one of these is probably mythical in any case). As well, some different
species would be recognised as subspecies on the basis of this new
nomenclature, and also collapsed together (eg BH and B2H). This will create
further economies. 

True,  like other names, abreviations can sometimes be confusing.
Misunderstandings about the  Black Breasted Quail account for why this
non-existent bird is often reported in suburbia. The solution is stricter
regulation. A formal list of the new species names should be drawn up.
Offensive  outcomes of this process could be changed (eg the
unintentionally snide PC could  be PK).   Of course, we could be a bit more
 liberal informally. The first time a bird is mentioned, the  official
abbreviation should be used. After that, however, other abbreviations would
be OK, if they are first indicated in parenthesis next to the official
abbreviation. For example : 2BD(BD).   When the project is complete, we
will laugh about times past, when - in a hoarse whisper that scared the
guano out of some wretched little sparrow -  we hissed  'Look - Large
Billed Scrub Wren' instead of 'Look - LBSW (LS)'. More to the point, it
will cut about 15 pages from the overall length of the AFGRAB. 

I am working on some other proposals, and recently achieved a major
breakthrough.  Most birders, trying to identify a bird, spend frustrating
seconds leafing through pages of  birds  already seen (sometimes on several
occasions!) . Meanwhile it has zoomed  off into the distance. Or hidden
under a rock. AFGRAB will now come with all species' text and illustrations
perforated for easy removal upon its observation.  This will also  assist
with the process of removing  species  subsequently confirmed as extinct or
bogus (eg Purple Crowned Lorikeet - but that's another story) . It will
prevent considerable confusion in the field: if the bird in question is not
in the book, then either we've seen it before  or it doesn't exist. Either
way we can forget about it.   Finally, it will assist with the twitchers'
status hierarchy. One could  impress fellow birders, even from a distance,
by the instantly recognisable slimness of one's AFGRAB.

As a result of this latest breakthrough, and continued achievements of
BBEP, copies of AFGRAB will soon consist only of a front and back cover. In
contrast with heavy and cumbersome competitors (eg Slater, or those even
more awkward bird posters eg 'Common Birds of the Victorian Coastline'(try
using these on a windy day)) there will be no need to cart AFGRAB off on
birding expeditions. After all, in the unlikely event that a new species
has to be added to the guide, it would immediately be removed on the
grounds that you have now seen it. 

Pat O'Malley

PS I am currently trying for an ARC grant to fund this. Fat chance. They
never fund anything really interesting. (I have records to prove this).

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