AN OVERVIEW OF all the colours in a breed, or all the species in a family, is always interesting (when it’s well written). This week it’s the pelican family that gets the treatment, in Bill Naylor’s article on page 14. Eight species of pelican: all comical, all magnificent. Now a pelican, you might think, is a pelican: pretty generic. But what’s absorbing about Bill’s article is how different the species are, particularly in nesting and foraging habits. Given that they do such different things, you suddenly see how there’s room in the world for eight species, rather than merely one or two (a big ’un and a little ’un, say).
My standout pelican memory is of a big flock of American whites drifting serenely on the ice-free section of a mountain lake in Colorado. Pelicans in ice and snow – they are hot-climate birds, surely? The reality is more varied, more interesting, less easily summarised. It’s like that with all proper birds, isn’t it?
■ In at least one magazine profile of the celebrated photographer David Bailey, I have previously read that the subject is a long-term devotee of Cage & Aviary Birds. Then, before Christmas, the Observer featured Mr Bailey in its “This Much I Know…” series, and he again mentioned his abiding loyalty to our paper. Moreover, wrote Mr Bailey, he’d been reading it regularly for 72 years! It occurs to me that 72 years might be a record. Can anyone in fact beat that?
■ The other day I was explaining to a non-bird person how the different exhibition varieties have their unique show standards, but that in practice judges don’t necessarily stick to them 100 per cent. I’ll tell you what, when you try to put it into words, it sounds pretty bonkers
– but in practice I’m fascinated by the “tension” between the formal ideal and the practical pointers that judges actually judge by.
Frankly, a lot of what you hear about judging is clichéd stuff that conveys little insight. That’s why I found Steve Dominey’s article on page 10 this week so readable: Steve is describing a practical, live method. In this case, he’s talking about the challenges of coping with very large classes of entries: not something that worries judges in the UK too much nowadays, but it must have been an issue in the peak years for show entries. Can any of our senior judges describe any viable alternative methods to the one Steve uses today? I’d be most interested to hear from you.
Enjoy your birds this week, even if they are only in very small classes!