Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Museum poetry

Beryl Patricia Hall (1917-2010) may not be a familiar name to many who study birds these days but  there is a good chance that those interested in the taxonomy of birds would have come across the name ""B.P. Hall". The chances drop however for a little book of poems written with Derek Goodwin - it is called Bird Room Ballads - and was privately printed in 1969 with just a few copies around the world perhaps. The title is clearly inspired by Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads and the first entry is even titled as "the law of the jungle"! 

Pat Hall appears to have been another of those ornithologists who was influenced by R.E. Moreau thanks also to her wartime work in Africa. A couple of obituaries including one by Robert Prys-Jones make for useful background reading but sadly Bird Room Ballads is largely an inaccessible gem of ornithological humour. Here are a few gems of wisdom in verse:

The latest on Picathartes based on molecular techniques puts it as a basal member of the clade that includes the flycatchers and warblers and is a sister of the corvids. Picathartes can also make the claim to fame of getting David Attenborough his first job as an anchor.

Nome, Alaska 1968
86th A.O.U. Congress, - Field Trips.

Forty birders in a bus
Seek bristle-thighed Numenius;
And all are anxious to discern
A black-billed, pale, non-Arctic tern.
Among the peeps they hope to note
A "Western" with a rufous throat.

Some are tickers-off of lists,
While two are super-optimists
Who hope on tape to hear each bird
Above the chatter of the herd.

Among the forty-odd of course
Photographers are there in force
They stealthily approach each nest
Step by step in line abreast
So none does better than the rest.

Along the road a voice cries "Stop!
A Snowy Owl!" and out they hop.
Back again and on their way;
A ptarmigan makes more delay.
A Tattler next? "You must turn round
I thought I saw one on the ground!"
The driver tries, as in a jeep,
But in a trice is axle-deep.

But if the wretched man had hope
That eighty hands would help him cope,
His birding world he little knew.
One by one went out of view
While by the bus disconsolate
Three wives were left to contemplate
How many hours they'd have to wait,
And whether food would be kept late.

Sketch: A.M. Hughes

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