Honest field guides.

Subject: Honest field guides.
From: "Pat O'Malley" <>
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 17:17:59 +1000
I have been encouraged by some of the responses to my proposed new field
guide. Many have replied to me privately, no doubt in fear of reprisals for
agreeing with what I said. Imagine the chagrin of all those who believe
they have seen more than the 362 actual species!!

However some  replies worry me. Consider the following passage posted on
the list, from a recent and no-doubt well meaning  correspondent:

"Some of the (Bell) Miners actually stayed in the shallows for several seconds
and whilst watching these my wife noticed that one of them looked a
little strange. She drew my attention to the bird which, as every one of
you will have guessed, was a Lewin's Rail."

Frankly I would never have guessed this. And no wonder it 'looked a little
strange'! I bet it did. As I understand it (and I have seen a great many of
these and so can vouch for it) a Bell Miner is  a green passerine with
orange bill and legs, about the size of an over nourished sparrow. I would
guess, using down to earth and honest criteria,  they are closely related
to the European Greenfinch. 

The correspondent claims to have confused this with a bird that is said to
be at least twice that size, is rufus about the head, has no record of
bright orange bill or legs, and is otherwise brown and and mucky white. And
thats not to mention the  passerine bit. Was this at a sewage farm? Seems
likely (see previous correspondence) as they are favourite spots for
reporting 'unusual birds'. Under the influence of methane I myself have
made several unusual sightings at Werribee SF including a loafing flock of
Pacific Bazas. Of course later I realised they were Sharp Tailed
Sandpipers. Which, I would add, look and behave a lot more like the alleged
Lewins Rail than does a Bell Miner. In fact I'm more than willing to bet
that you saw a Sharpie that had been burrowing in something reddish brown
(lets not talk about that).

I think this case illustrates exactly the sort of problem we are up against.

Pat O'Malley
School of Law and Legal Studies 
La Trobe University
Australia  3083

Phone +613 9479 2133
Fax   +613 9479 1607


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