Tuesday, 16 December 2008

How to get Merlins accepted

The following article is reproduced from Stringing magazine by kind permission of the Editor, Mike Hunt.

I often get letters from birders living in crap counties such as Leicestershire complaining that their local records committee insists on a description for Merlin. This is obviously very annoying for the keen county lister. Merlin is virtually impossible to twitch in a county like Leicestershire, so you’ve got to ‘find’ your own. But there’s a problem – it’s quite rare. Fortunately there is an easy solution – Sparrowhawks look a little bit like Merlins if you don’t see them very well, and they’re very common.

But how do you convince the records committee that your badly seen Sparrowhawk was actually a Merlin? Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to guide you through the minefield of writing Merlin descriptions:

1. Unless you live out in the sticks somewhere, DON’T claim to have seen a Merlin in your garden. Descriptions along the lines of “a Merlin flew across my garden in the middle of Leicester and landed on the fence, where it remained for 10 minutes” will instantly go in the 'bollocks' pile.

2. DO make sure you at least attempt to age and sex it, even if it’s only the convincingly vague “female/immature.” An unsexed, silhouetted Merlin stands little chance of being accepted.

3. For fuck’s sake DON’T mention “barred underparts.” Yes, it has been known! No, really, it has.

4. DO keep it brief. A ‘textbook’ description including the claw and iris colour of a bird that you saw for 3 seconds as it flew over the road in front of your car is going to look well dodgy. Again, it has been known.

5. DON’T try and be funny by saying it had a pointy hat with stars and moons on it. Records committees are not generally noted for their sense of humour when assessing descriptions.

6. DO make sure you fully eliminate Sparrowhawk (see note 3). Even if it was actually a Sparrowhawk.

7. DON’T include a photocopied page of ‘field notes’ from your notebook. Records committees know damn well that no-one really writes notes in the field any more, and they ALWAYS look fake.

8. Finally, DON’T put the names K***h B*****y, R****t M***s or S***e G****r (sorry, I’ve had to asterisk these for legal reasons) at the top of the description, as that’s just asking for trouble.

As always, look at the text in a good field guide, and re-write it in your own words. Unless you use words like “long sticking out bit at the end” for “tail” or “pointy bits that make it fly” for “wings” of course. These will just make the records committee think you’re retarded (or taking the piss) and reject the record anyway. And if you must trace the pictures and try to pass them off as field sketches, at least make sure you’re tracing the right species.

Good luck, and happy stringing!

Next month – 'Three Species for the Price of One': how the humble Sparrowhawk can also double up as a Goshawk...

23 comments:

beast said...

Very useful pointers there Andy!
I will take all of yer useful tips on board when i eventually get round to submitting me merlin sightings![actually only one sighting this winter....so far].
Guess Mr.Lister might want me last winters sightings of merlin at stoughton now....bollox! [will do it though...honest guv...not a problem].
In all seriousness...[something i avoid like the fuckin plague]....how many 'dodge' type records of wizard falc get submitted every year in Leics? [apart from mine o course...yeah...i know i haven't submitted em yet]!
Guess the answer might be too many...[by the by...wotz the 'bollox' count for honey buzzard in Leics]?

Best way to id a merlin [for some guys] is to hit 'suspect falcon' round the head with their big white stick...if it goes..kikikiki..it might be a merlin...if it goes...quack quack...then its a piggin' duck...if it goes 'for fucks sake mate..watch what yer doin with that fuckin stick of yours'...it's wot passes for being a human being....more commonly known [to me] as a 'virus in shoes'...thats someone else's quote by the way...

Happy stringing....

Andy Mackay said...

In the last few years the rejection rate for Merlin has varied between about 30% and 60%.

My 'article' of course wasn't intended to be even remotely serious, and the committee certainly isn't saying that all rejected Merlin records were Sparrowhawks. In fact in almost all cases where a record (of any species) isn't accepted, there simply wasn't enough detail in the description to rule out other species.

I have, however, seen a few descriptions of claimed Merlins that have sounded much more like Sprawks!

Skev said...

Andy, for some reason when I read this article all of the asterisks seemed to disappear. Is my monitor magic? Am I magic?

By the way, what is your view on submitting a Mistle Thrush in fading afternoon light as a Merlin - I guess the bounding flight jizz could be okay provided there is no mention of spots and rattling calls?

Andy Mackay said...

What were the asterisks replaced by? The real letters? If so, I think that's probably just your brain automatically filling them in!

Re stringing Mistle Thrush as Merlin, I didn't mention it as I thought it was best to start people off gently by stringing Sparrowhawks. Turning a Mistle Thrush into a Merlin is probably best left to the 'experts'!

By the way, I'm surprised someone hasn't pulled me up for using the wankerish 'Sprawk' in my last comment...

beast said...

Dear Mr.Mackay..

I am suitably appalled by you're use of the term 'sprawk' when referring to such a noble creature as the sparrowhawk. I am so fuckin upset, i have written to our wonderful government, the Daily Mail and Razzle, over you're continued inappropriate loutish language. This 'nonsense'must stop!!

yours sincerely,

Ima-Dickless FunstoppinCunt

[any good Andy...pulled up enuff]?

ps.....guess those 'asterisks' are a bit case sensitive? Let me know wot they refer to next time i see you...i'm intrigued!

pps.....tried my best to string merlin yesterday on local patch...unusual call....it chuckled...bit like a fieldfare.. ...today i'm gonna attempt to turn a jay into a waxwing....or maybe a buzzard into a rough-leg....any tips?

Andy Mackay said...

Surely you can work out who K***h B*****y is? Biggest stringer of all time? Smelly fucker, etc etc?

beast said...

Say no more Andy.....the coin 'has dropped'........! Clues very useful.....thank you...apologies for being such an old freakin bastard....[you knew that already]!

mental note to self: must find lost brain cells...where did i put em?....i remember now...flushed them down the shitter years ago gettin trashed on illegal substances...bollox]!

Bestwishes....Woolly-headed Dumbfuck....

Skev said...

Andy, that description of KB is a bit harsh. Still, the cold facts of life always hurt. I don't suppose you'd care to share your similarly sensitive clues for the other pair .......
Hadn't noticed the wankerish Sprawk in your comment. Now you mention it though, it's wankerish. Fucking hell, you'll be going all Sprosser and PG Tips on us next. I can see the smug grin on the vilified Punkbirders now.

Andy Mackay said...

Well Colin knew who I meant from those clues! As for the other two, you either know who they are or you don't. Although for the last one, perhaps I could give the clue 'sacked from his job at Holly Hayes after an incident involving late night nudity in the office'. Is that sensitive enough for you?

Skev said...

I meant harsh to run of the mill smelly fuckers, who would probably turn their noses up aswell. Unless they were desensitised to ammonia.
I'd forgotten about the Holly Hayes incident - don't recall seeing that load of bollocks recounted in the Mercury field notes.

beast said...

Think i've juz worked out other two names:

R****t M***s

S***e G****r

Is it Mr.Rabbit Mags [aka the 'porn fairy']
and...
Mr.Shite Ggrrr [a very angry man who's always less than impressed]?........

I cud be wrong......

Regards....F*****g Beast..

beast said...

Skev....

R****t M***s

[Here's cryptic clue if you ain't already guessed]

He's 'wheely' good and looks a bit like Raymond Burr.....
[with just a bit of 'irony' on the side]....!

Yes? No?.....[will post more clues if Andy doesn't].

Cheers...Beast

Andy Mackay said...

Thanks Beast - I think that's about as close to the wind as we want to sail with the clues to Leicestershire's 'top' stringers! Let's just hope that none of them happen to read all this arguably libellous stuff, and move on to something else...

Skev said...

Thanks Beast - I had the Leicester Three sussed from the original post - just wanted to see how far past sensitive Andy was prepared to go with his clues once he'd started down that route (not very it seems). Your cryptic clues had me laughing no end though.
Andy - think you are okay on the libel front. None of this is libel, it's satire and good old fashioned piss-taking. I could be wrong mind .....

Rob said...

Satire? I'll see you all in court.

Rob said...

Can we please have "how to get call-only Water Pipit accepted" next please? Special guest authors D & S ?

Rob said...

Actually there are a few raptors and the occasional rare phyllosc our special author D could write about. And S.... well, where do you start?

Rob said...

In fact, I'll do something on Pallid Swift if you like

Andy Mackay said...

Well, if the Grauniad can get away with writing a satirical piece about Sir Elton John (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/dec/13/law-press-and-publishing-elton-john-libel-guardian), then I think we're fairly safe taking the piss out of a few unemployed stringers!

Call only Water Pipit - a strident "fist" isn't it?

John Hague said...

Shouldn't a "strident fist" be in the discussion on porn and not Water Pipit Id. Please keep these stringing threads on topic or how else will i know how to fool the records committee?

beast said...

Does 'stringing' perhaps have it's root's in childhood trauma? Or is it born out of feeling inadequate in some way?...or simply a by-product of the two forming 'attention seeking' behaviour?
Or are they basically incompetent... or juz plain fuckin nutz? [not salted or dry roasted].

Most birders [like most people] are 'fucked-in-de-head' in some way....but wot makes some o them cross, wot is sometimes referred to, as 'the wallace line'? [if you don't know wot that 'line' is...then i'll explain if i see you in field..legal reasons?...leave that up to Andy]!
Also...is there any cure stringing?.....a visit to a therapist or brothel perhaps?

Ps...Andy....any more 'interesting' duck reports from a local reservoir?......

Regards...Beast

Steve said...

and . . . they dont sit on garage roofs looking hungryly (?) into a garden! Thats my favourite one. And it was used to back up a subsequent claim of Merlin in the same garden - 'oh but I know what they look like, I have one that sits on my . . . .'. Bollocks!

Harry said...

Whatever about Merlin, which aren't too uncommon over here, I certainly do find myself wondering about what proportion of claimed 'Goshawks' in Ireland are actually Sparrowhawks...