Noticing and naming

Blue Tit looking out of nest box entrance. The box is home made of recycled wood.

Part of what I want to do here is both to acknowledge to myself the more-than-human beings in my local patch, and to encourage people to increase their wonder and consideration for the other lives about us by demonstrating how rich in wildlife a small area can be. I keep coming back to the idea that we are more likely to care for the things we know the names of. So, I want to learn to recognise more of my neighbours, to address them by their names, so that I may come to understand better how to be a good neighbour to them. It’s not that I want to give them cute nicknames (though we did name the Buff-tailed Bumblebee queen that nested in our broad bean bed, Claudia, after the variety we were growing!) but I want to be able to say hi in a respectful way. I will probably repeat ideas about this endlessly in future posts.

As far as noticing goes, from time to time, I will list the species that I see in my garden, local area, and when I go further afield. I will try to keep a page updated with an all time list.

As far as naming goes, I am never going to be able to reliably identify more than a few species, nor is it my intention to try, but I hope I shall be able to learn enough to recognise genus or at least family! While it is important that science has a way to accurately differentiate species, it can lead to average folks feeling left out and inadequate. I often see social media posts where people show off their knowledge, using binomial taxonomy in a way that specifically excludes ordinary people. In recent years there has been a movement to introduce accurate, colloquial names. I believe this is a good thing: the more people who have a name for things, the more people will know and care for those things. I will try to use both colloquial and binomial names when I have enough information. I will try to remember to use the format I feel happiest with, eg. Cyanistes caeruleus, Blue Tit. It is usual to capitalise the genus name but leave the specific name in lower case. I find italics helps mark it as the binomial description. I have chosen to capitalise the colloquial name when it identifies a species, to add respect, to mark it out, to recognise it has been noted, but will use lower case for generic or collective use. So, I might say, my favourite crow is the Jackdaw.

Some of our traditions and superstitions have echoes of a more respectful way of addressing our more-than-human companions. Some people still greet magpies, “Good Morning Mr Magpie”, lest they leave themselves open to bad luck. Many years ago, I fell in love with Brian Patten’s retelling of the Native American folk tale , “Jumping Mouse”, with illustrations by Mary Moore. The animal characters greet each other as Brother; “Brother Racoon”, “Brother Buffalo” and so on. I have always loved that idea, and increasingly I have begun to use it. I don’t mind if people think me nuts for saying “Hello, Brother Buzzard”, “Good evening, Sister Owl”, and I am always talking to our bees. When I pass by the hives I say “Hello, Ladies”. I’ll maybe comment on their work and praise their industry. If I am likely to get in their way, like standing in front of their hive, I’ll say “Excuse me, Girls, I won’t be long”. I show them respect and they know I am not a threat. I don’t get stung. Maybe, if you consider the work of Lars Chittka or Stephen Buchmann on the sentience of bees, it’s not such a barmy idea.

Virgin Honeybee queen outside the hive about to leave on a mating flight. The larger queen is surrounded by worker bees encouraging her to go and mate. They are lit by bright sunshine.



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