Moths of Plainsboro, Second Edition

Hand-tinted Woodcut Moth by ammodramus88
Hand-tinted Woodcut Moth, a photo by ammodramus88 on Flickr.

Happy new year. I’ve just uploaded a revised and corrected version of my Moths of Plainsboro, NJ, list. Here it is. There are a few corrections, as well as a bunch of new months added for various species, since a number of the usual moths decided to stick around later than normal in the year.

I’m also leaving the original version of the list up, just for the record.

New moths of Plainsboro list, mark 2

Dark-spotted Palthis by ammodramus88
Dark-spotted Palthis, a photo by ammodramus88 on Flickr.

My apologies for the technical difficulties in the last version of this post.

A couple of days ago, I uploaded a list of Plainsboro moths (it’s a PDF file and can be found here). It’s pretty simple: it’s ordered in Hodges number order, includes scientific and common names, and also includes flight period information. The grand total so far is 305 species (not 303 as I originally announced on Twitter), which doubtless just scratches the surface. The information comes mainly from over seven years’ worth of moth photos that I’ve taken in Plainsboro, along with some additional reports from other sources. As new reports accumulate, and old unidentified photos are identified, the list will be updated and revised. With the advent of this new list, my old webpage listing moths of Plainsboro (with links to Flickr photos) has been retired.

Last year at this time, I had just embarked upon the huge project of organizing my moth photos. There are hundreds of them, and they were sitting in a virtual pile on my big backup hard drive. Once I gave up on typing info into a spreadsheet and started moving photos into folders, the organizing process went more smoothly. I finally completed it sometime this spring. Now what I have is an archive of the best photos arranged by location and species, along with separate categories for unidentified moths.

Although organizing the photos was a long, tedious process, it was worth it. With an organized archive, I can now look up observations from the past and quickly incorporate new photos as they are taken. Even better, I was able to compile my sighting information and submit it to Moth Photographers Group for inclusion in the site’s range maps. Finally, I was able to complete this list of my local moths. Submitting to MPG and making this list makes my moth reports accessible to others as they study moths.

Archival materials, copyright, and teaching history

Micalee Sullivan has written an interesting post on the blog for the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative.

Sullivan, who is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Michigan State University, wanted to take digital photographs of letters held at Arizona State University’s Archives and Special Collections and post them on a website as materials for her class. As she says in her blog post:

“Allowing students to view high res photos of the actual documents gives them the opportunity to struggle with interpreting the faded, spotty, and outdated handwriting just as a historian would and can be much more interesting to view than just transcribed material on a word document.”

However, the copyright for those letters was not retained by ASU and they therefore cannot give permission to reproduce the letters on a public website, even if they have been reproduced for educational purposes.

Sullivan’s post does a good job of listing the various ins and outs of the copyright advice she received from various sources. The post also highlights the potential pitfalls of using archival materials as a teaching aid (not to mention the restrictions archivists face when they make decisions about access to and use of their holdings).

The thing that really resonated with me was Sullivan’s interest in using the original documents (or facsimiles thereof) in her teaching. Quoting again:

“As a historian, maybe it’s naïve of me to think that history can be exciting to most people. But when your only experience with the subject has been confined to textbooks and lectures, it would be difficult to find the thrill of it all. Digital technology provides teachers with the tools to make history more than lectures and textbooks. When students are given a variety of historical materials they can form their own opinions about certain time periods and events, rather than just taking notes on them. While distance may seperate [sic] students from the actual artifacts of history, digital archives can provide a close substitute. Hopefully the legalities won’t get in the way.”

Maybe I’m naive too, but I believe history can be exciting, possibly even to “most people.” Just look at the interest in genealogy, which essentially is a way of using research about your family’s ancestry as a way of learning about history. Sure, some genealogists never get beyond “name-collecting,” but others find their interest expanding to include the larger history of a location, or of a time period. The interest is there. The question is how (or if) historians, archivists, amateur history geeks, genealogists, and other interested parties can work together to support the cause.

H/T @ndiipp via @EinAtlanta and @archivesnext

In the field and on assignment

One frequent theme in “learn how to bird” books is the necessity of taking field notes. The process of taking field notes about the birds that one observes makes the birder a better observer. It can also supply invaluable evidence when an unusual bird is seen and reported to others, such as a Bird Records Committee (BRC). Field notes can be text, pictures, or a combination of the two. As technology has changed recently, more and more birders are choosing to use digital cameras as their preferred documentation device. The processes of photographic documentation and written documentation, however, have different strengths and are not interchangeable.

Two recent posts from BirdFellow that talk about the advantages of traditional forms of documentation are A Lost Art? Writing Descriptions of Rare Birds and Lost Art? Revisited: Alternatives to Taking Notes (though it should be noted that one of these alternatives is field sketching, which I consider to be part of the note-taking process, not separate from it). The decline of traditional note-taking is a frequent topic of discussion among those who review documentation, such as editors for regional birding journals of record, or BRC members.

I’m used to following these discussions in the context of the birding community, so I was surprised and delighted to find this post from the Tooth and Claw blog:…

Blogger and journalist Hillary Rosner compares the scientist in the field with the journalist on assignment, a comparison that would never occur to me, but once I read Rosner’s post, it made perfect sense. Not only that, Rosner stresses the importance of note-taking to both the scientist and the journalist. She also talks about the differences between written documentation and photographic documentation. Although this post has nothing to do with birding, it has everything to do with birding documentation practices.

H/T @BoraZ