Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tallywhacking Birds

In the world of field biology, a tallywhacker—as it has come to be affectionately and universally known to those who have had reason to use it—is a simple, hand-held mechanical device for counting things. Technically, it is known as a tally counter.

In my days of conducting seabird surveys in coastal Alaska some 30 years ago, the tallywhacker was an indispensable piece of field gear. Armed with a tallywhacker or two and a pair of binoculars, observers would, depending on the situation, (a) sit in a boat below a colony of cliff-nesting seabirds or (b) position themselves at a vantage point above the cliff face where they had an unobstructed view of seabirds on the nesting ledges. Many of the colonies contained multiple species (cormorants, kittiwakes, and gulls), so the general procedure was to place a tallywhacker in the palm of each hand, scan a selected section of the cliff face with binoculars, and tally the number of attended nests. For example, one might keep track of cormorants on the left-hand tallywhacker and kittiwakes on the right-hand tallywhacker, while keeping a mental running total of gull nests. And so it went, slowly moving down the length of a colony one small section of cliff face at a time until all nests were accounted for.

Tallywhackers are useful for more than just counting seabirds. They are still commonly used, for example, to count salmon as they pass through weirs on their way to spawning grounds in Alaska.


Blogger John B. said...

I have one of those for the geese and gulls on Christmas Bird Counts. It's very useful.

June 14, 2007 12:00 AM  
Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

Knick Knack Tallywhack. Give a bird a beak.


June 17, 2007 2:16 PM  
Blogger Larry said...

Interesting-I always thought it was just an expression used by old ladies-

June 19, 2007 7:16 PM  

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