Category Archives: Birds and Mammals

Pushkin at Sixteen Months


Original YT playout date: 22 November 2008
Duration: 15:28

He’s not a kid anymore, but not a real grown-up either. He managed to fall off the end of the knwn world, and when we got him back he was most appreciative of being home again.
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About the names of living things


Rupricola peruvianus

Rupricola peruvianus, the Andean cock-of-the-rock, or, in Quechua, tunki.

I have heard it said that the oldest profession is prostitution, but this is not what the Holy Bible states. The first actual task, other than dressing and keeping the Garden of Eden, was that Adam had to give names to each of the Creations God made.

וַיִּצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים מִן־הָֽאֲדָמָה כָּל־חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה וְאֵת כָּל־עֹוף הַשָּׁמַיִם וַיָּבֵא אֶל־הָאָדָם לִרְאֹות מַה־יִּקְרָא־לֹו וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר
יִקְרָא־לֹו הָֽאָדָם נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה הוּא שְׁמֹֽו׃

“And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” (Genesis 2:19)

This is a beautiful image of the pre-fall state of Man, in fact at this point he was even doing this alone as Eve had not been formed. But here we have Man at the first profession as it really was, that of taxonomist, describing and naming all the wonderful things God had made, with God as the loving father bringing each of the Creations to Adam “to see what he would call them”.

We don’t have access to his language any more so we don’t know what he called them, how he used the perfect language God had given him to describe and name each one of the thousands of animals God had made and placed into the Garden, but we do know that God was pleased with Adam’s naming, and the names given were given the seal of divine approval as we see “whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof”

Taxonomy was also a part of the modern revival of knowledge and Linnaeus, who was far from a perfect unfallen human being but nevertheless an exceptional mind, starting from the 1758 work Systema Naturae began the work again of naming all living things systematically. Linnaeus to Adam in this respect being something not unakin to Nehemiah to Solomon with regard to the Temple.

Maybe I am just a pedant, but it would be really nice if journalists who write about science or nature could take the trouble to use the proper conventions when writing the names of plants and animals. These conventions where begun by Linnaeus rather than Adam as far as we know, but they are accepted as law within the corpus of documents and institutions which have authority with regard to the naming of things these days. Namely: the genus should be written always with a capital letter and the species name with a small letter.

When I see a journalist who doesn’t adhere to this convention, then I know immediately that I am wasting my time trying to learn something form someone who himself, or herself, has no more idea than Jon Snow about anything, but at least I can look at the photographs, I suppose.

Just to give you one example of how it is supposed to work. The lovely orange and black bird in the image I have taken for this post is called various things in common parlance. It is known to us by the common name of Andean cock-of-the rock (to distinguish it from a related species with a more northerly range not touching that of this bird – that one is orange all over without a black back and is called the Guianan cock-of-the-rock. The Andean one is also known internationally by its local name in Quechua, or “Tunki”, and of course in various languages there are names for this species, with such highlights visible in the left column of Wikipedia that is the go-to resource for this sort of thing as Andenfelsenhahn, Андский скальный петушок, Gallito de las rocas peruano, Skalikurek andyjski, Skalňák andský, Coq-de-roche péruvien and many many more. Even a Spanish Esperantist calling himself Kani managed to make an Esperanto one and played the role of Adamo very nicely in giving it the name “Anda montarkoko”.

Nevertheless, each of these pages, to the extent that they are up-to-date, contain the information that the name of the bird in question is “Rupicola peruvianus (Latham 1790)”. The genus is Rupicola and the species is peruvianus, and the name afterwards is the name of the person who was Adam for the species – in this case Latham 1790 refers to the gentleman pictured on the right, namely John Latham, the author of several works on the birds of remoter parts of the world especially Australia, but “Latham 1790” means his Index Ornithologica, in which about 80 species of birds are described to science for the first time.

Now the reason why there are brackets around the author and the description date is that in this case the son of Adam we are talking about was not the first Adam. In this taxonomical arena you get second Adams also, and unlike in the soteriological arena you also get third and fourth ones. Other people have been involved in the question of taxonomy, unlike in the Garden of Eden where even Eve had not yet been formed, modern taxonomy is a team game, and in the case of our handsome fowl Linnaeus himself had got in first with a name for the Guianan cousin, which he called Pipra rupricola, in 1766.

Now here is where it gets interesting. Linnaeus had concocted the genus Pipra a bit earlier (he got the word from Aristotle but nobody to this day knows what Aristotle had in mind when he used it for a bird, other than the fact that it was a bird) and he put in it a group of birds called manakins (from the Dutch word for a little man, but this is the English term and outside of the scientific system – I mention the etymology in passing). This is in a family called Pipridae again using Linnaeo-Aristotelian word. The genus Pipra still exists and contains three species, none of which was actually put there by Linnaeus because two of them where only discovered later by other scientists and one of them was known to Linnaeus but placed by him in the genus Parus (I’m now talking about Parus aureolus, the lovely crimson-hooded manakin. Another bird placed in Parus by Linnaeus also got replaced to Pseudopipra, and in fact scientist after scientist, whether Gould or Reichenbach in the era before people looked at genomes or a whole set of them in the twenty-first century, revisited the genus Pipra and usually ransacked species out of it and carted them off to other passerine genera or other families of bird altogether – well you can’t have species from different families sharing a single genus that’s clear. So already probably in the mid 19th Century we have Pipra rupricola and Pipra peruvianus getting shunted off into the Cotingidae family and in need of their own new genus.

Now the convention is to work with what you’ve got and to look at every scientific work that’s been published, peer-reviewed and accepted to date. In fact there was a French ornithologist called Mathurin Jacques Brisson who had as early as 1760 (two years only after Linnaeus placed the Guianan cock-of-the-rock in Pipra and well before Latham followed suit) stated right here in this book to the left, here, placed the coq de la roche (of which he only knew the Guianan species and was unaaware there was another one) in a genus called Rupricola. He wasn’t buying the idea of having tanagers, manakins and a whole selection of dissimilar birds in one genus but he took Linnaeus’ “rupicola” or “rock-dwelling” species name and turned it into a genus name. From that point you should have Rupicola rupicola and had Brisson been the first describer and not the second one for that species it would have instead of (Linnaeus 1766) Brisson 1760 without the brackets. The mystery is how it comes to be that Brisson decides the genus but Linnaeus, describing the bird in 1766, gets to be the describer mentioned after the name. This particular part of the mystery is beyond me and therefore if anyone knows you are more than welcome to tell me in the comments.

If someone turns out to have a got a bit wrong, but have been mainly right but first anyway, they get the honorable mention, but it gets put in brackets. If the name is still what the discovere said it was, then there aren’t any brackets.

But in fact you do not need to state that part in order to be perfectly in order. Just as you do not need, when talking about the Andean cock-of-the-rock, as a continuing good example, to mention any of the four subspecies that have been identified.  John Gould (he of gouldian finch fame) was in on this already in 1859 with his subspecies Rupricola peruvianus sanguinolentus Gould 1859, no brackets as he got it in the right genus, Brisson’s one, which bird he found at the Western end while a couple of Germans called Cabanis and Heine were scouring the trees of Bolivia to find a different subspecies, and both of these get a mention in Rupricola peruvianus saturatus Cabanis & Heine 1859. Not only were these gentlemen in competition as to who could get the most new bird species, they were also in competition as to who could grow the best potential nesting sites for these discoveries on their own chins. Another contender in both categories was a latecomer, Władek Taczanowski, who found Rupricola peruvianus aequatorialis Taczanowski 1889 and also got away with no brackets. He was one of Poland’s finest, having discovered about 40 species and 20 subspecies of birds as well as having about 8 other ones names after him, but of course nobody every talks about him and there’s never so much as a street names after him, not even in his native Lubin, which is a great pity. I would like to ask Rafal What’s his Name, the Mayor of Warsaw, to honour this unknown but influential Polish scientist with a street name when the next ones get built. If any of my readers has any influence with him, please use your leverage.

Anyway, I’ll close out on his image.

Uncle Davey’s Herts Content S2 E17 – Leighton Buzzard to Pitstone


Original YT playout date: 8 September 2008
Duration: 35:06

This is a canalside walk in two parts (which are also parts 17 and 18 respectively of the larger series from our holiday in the UK in the summer of 2008).

Towards the end of this episode a quite remarkable natural drama plays out before our eyes whereby a seagull attacks a canalside heron and gets seen off by a crow. The inland birds sticking up for each other against an intruder from the coast? Hopefully you will enjoy this walk though some of the natural beauty that has emerged around the man-made canal, and also enjoy the background music selected for your listening pleasure.
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Uncle Davey’s Herts Content S2 E16 – Horse Riding


Original YT playout date: 6 September 2008
Duration: 29:10

Sophie got some horse-riding in out of this holiday, something she likes to do very much.
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Uncle Davey’s Herts Content S2 E13, London Zoo 2/3


Original YT playout date: 26 August 2008
Duration: 28:42

The second of three films, as I divided the footage taken into three parts. This part has hornbills and lemurs and quite a bit more.
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Uncle Davey’s Herts Content S2 E9 – Whipsnade Zoo part 2 of 2


Original YT playout date: 13 August 2008
Duration: 42:03

In this part of my document on Whipsnade Zoo (part of Uncle Davey’s Herts Content second series) we take a closer look at individual animals, having done one lap of the zoo in the first part by car…
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Uncle Davey’s Herts Content S2 E8 – Whipsnade Zoo part 1 of 2


 

Original YT playout date: 10 August 2008
Duration: 33:25

Whipsnade zoo is part of the Zoological Society of London’s set of world leading animal parks. It is an important conservation centre and part of the contemporary Noah’s Ark. It is also one of my favorite spots on the planet. This part of my film of our visit is one circuit by car. Closer looks on foot will be in part two.

Whipsnade is not strictly in Herts, but as it’s just outside it qualifies for my “Uncle Davey’s Herts Content” series on Hemel Hempstead et environs.
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Uncle Davey’s Herts Content S2 E5 – Red Kites


Original YT playout date: 2 August 2008
Duration: 22:42

Once threatened with extinction in Britain, these birds of prey now flourish in parts of rural southern England.

Incorporates also the usual family musical fun of the sort you’ve seen before on my videos!
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The cat who clawed me (or Pushkin the Cat Retriever)


Original YT playout date: 14 June 2008
Duration: 3:54

This video contains two pieces of feline fun, one is the audio track, a reworded version of the famous Bond song in honour of Pushkin and his uniqueness among cats, and the other is the video of him retrieving his ball, more like a dog than a cat! Not many cats do this, but among bengals it is more common.
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Are some animals more viable for exploitation than others?


Christopher Lewis asked me on Facebook:

I am interesting on understanding your scale for judging an animal’s suffering. How do we know killing one animal is fine, another is wrong. Torturing one animal ok, hunting another to extinction not.

Here’s my answer:

Christopher Lewis It’s an excellent question.

I would formulate my thoughts this way:

  1. Vulnerability to extinction.
    First, we have to protect species against extinction. I believe it is a massive sin to cause any extinction of species, a total blasphemy against the Creator as we cannot create a single species. And also the loss of the genetic material robs future human generations of the opportunity to experience this life form. So I make the same point here for animals, plants, fungi and without regard to size or complexity. We cannot replace them, and don’t destroy what you cannot create is an excellent maxim for life.
  2. Controllability of habitat and numbers
    Second, given the first point, we need to take more care with regard to animals or plants where the slide to extinction is less controllable by us. So at the moment marine life has a bigger call on protection because we have certainly placed plastics into the oceans at measurable amounts and this is completely and guaranteedly anthropogenic and there is no debate about it, unlike the debates that can be made in the case of greenhouse gases and global warming. I am in two minds about GW but I am not in two minds at all about the plastic issue, to the degree where I jumped up and down and got everyone in a small chain of stores I do things with to abandon plastic bags entirely. I have been talking about the plastic issue for fifteen years in fact, and finally people are starting to take the issue seriously and hopefully not too late, but we still don’t know how good the clean up can be and how fast. So I put animals in the line of threat from plastics into a degree of priority.
  3. Strength of links to others of the species
    It does appear that certain animals, even from their behaviour, have empathy to each other and interact with each other and some have interactions with their offspring which are related to love and tenderness in the human. For animals where the loss of one causes distress to others, I give more consideration than for the ones which do not have such a case. There are many species of bird, for example, that could be domesticated but humans have not chosen for the farmyard those which have lifelong pairbonds and which pine away when their loved one is taken. Take a chicken from the rooster and he happily carries on with his existing harem and the other chickens also don’t tend to look around for the missing hen. Do this to penguins, storks, swans and many other birds and mammals and you have a node of suffering. So I give priority not to eat the animals which show tenderness to one another and which demonstrate meaning to one another. In “The Time Machine”, for example, H.G.Wells Morlocks have taken the trouble to breed out of the Eloi race of humans they are farming any kind of empathy for each other. As indeed the powers that be do to us today, replacing Christ’s call to love our neighbour with the empty husk of political “correctness”.
  4. Intelligence regardless of sociability
    Fourthly, the above point doesn’t mean that vertebrates are always preferred over invertebrates. It appears that shrimp which people eat in great numbers are social and that the octopus, which is pretty anti-social really, is a startling intelligence and deserves a bit more respect than your typical invertebrate. All of this is subordinate to the first and second point, anyway.
  5. Deaths per kilogramme of useable protein
    This leads on to the fifth and this is an important point. If we are turning a living, sentient animal into amino acids for our own digestion, it seems to me to be more moral to take one animal that will feed many families over many meals than to take an animal which it takes many of to feed one person one meal. This is one of the reasons why I try to avoid shrimps. It takes maybe 10 shrimps to make a meal for one person, whereas a cow might make a hundred meals so the relationship of shrimps to cattle to give you a tonne of protein is at least a thousand (maybe closer to ten thousand) shrimps to one cow. This is an extreme example. Now if we placed the intelligence and value of the life of the shrimp at only one thousandth of that of the cow, maybe that would be justifiable. But if you look at shrimps in an aquarium for any length of time you’ll see probably just as much different activity and expression going on as you’ll see on a cow’s face as it stands around chewing cud, and maybe even more. So for me it’s disturbing to think that we could be making a virtual holocaust of these crustaceans just to produce the kilos of a single slaughtered cow. Likewise when it comes to fish is it not a bit disturbing to take a thousand capelin to give us the equivalent flesh of one tuna? Worth a thought.
  6. Naturally predated
    And then we have the sixth issue. Prey animals. Animals are by nature divided into hunter and hunted. The hunted tend to be thise which are naturally in the niche of proviing meat to other species and to a degree they evolved into it. It is part of being a sheep that you get eaten by a tiger, it is part of being a tiger that you don’t get eaten by anything. Human agriculture fit into this natural division in that we usually don’t eat tigers (some do) and usually do eat sheep (some don’t).
  7. Substitutability.
    If an animal or plant can be substituted with another in order to give the necessary thing we are looking for (example tortoiseshell now largely replaced by plastics) then it is best to take the version of the product with the least offences against these other points. If there is no substitute then all the more we need to take care that the species is protected from extinction. Usually this involves careful cultivation over a number of different sites.
  8. Farmability
    Given the last point, an animal or plant which can actually be farmed is a better candidate for use than a wild species that cannot be kept and cultivated under human control. Those which can be kept ought to be kept in a proper way, with regard to diet, housing and enrichment. The use of battery farms and similar is becoming thankfully a thing of the past, and this trend should continue. We are making a one way trade with these animals, they feed us and give us food and fibres, plants render to us all their nutrients and chemicals and of course it is not a deal any of them signed up to. The least we can do is give them a reasonable time of quality life with as low suffering as possible prior to sacrificing that life, again with the minimum possible suffering. Not all species lend themselves to farming, on the other hand those species which do also seem to lend themselves to adaptation into numerous breeds with varying characteristics.
  9. Multiple products.
    It is maybe good in view of the above to use synthetic fur rather than real fur, however if synthetic fur becomes unviable for any reason, it is better to farm fur animals which are also edible, such as rabbits, rather than mink which are only there to provide fur and which by the way require the sacrifice of numerous other animals to nourish them, although they can of course be fed on foods made from spent hens and dairy cows not usually sold for human cuisine. If we are going to sacrifice an animal, we should at least waste as little of it as possible. It is good to keep sheep as they provide milk and wool in addition to the produce of their carcase. Cattle produce leather in addition to their milk and blood products taken during their lives but this, like their meat and unlike wool, is a one off event at their death.
  10. Utilisation of inedible food. Humans cannot eat grass which is the easy crop. Cattle, sheep and camels do eat these as they are cellulose metabolised, thanks to their microbiota hosted in special chambers of their alimentary canal. Pigs can eat acorns and scraps which humans cannot eat. Via these animals, oak forests and grasslands have a use to us which might make the difference between keeping them going with their additional biodiversity, which you wouldn’t find in say a wheatfield. Hence farming them has advantages which vegetarians tend to overlook.

    Now let’s apply all the above to the issue of whales. They for sure let themselves down on the size issue – one whale will feed more than one of almost anything else, and given that we cannot eat plankton they let themselves down in the acorn argument too, but on the other arguments we shouldn’t be taking them.

Little horse in the park


Original YT playout date: 18 May 2008
Duration: 14:17

Some of the playgrounds in Warsaw are called “Ogrod Jordanowski” after this guy Jordanowski who worked out that swings and roundabouts and stuff for kids rather than just have a park with plants in it.
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What’s up, ducks?


Original YT playout date: 9 May 2008
Duration: 3:40

They are obviously still very much in love, but sulking. Each is hoping the other will turn around first. They miss each other, although they are only two feet apart, it may as well be another continent.
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