Member profile - Ray Turnbull

Many years ago, I worked one season as a divemaster on a marine archaeological survey, off the coast of Mallorca, Spain. There were quite a few volunteers who cycled through the project for a two-week stint, to assist in our work. One volunteer was a Professor of English, from a large university in the US. He used the project as background for a novel he later wrote, Atlantis Fire. (https://garybraver.com/book/atlantis-fire/ ). I liked the book, but I think my character died halfway through. We kept in touch and 30 years later, his oldest son, Nathan, came to visit us in Australia. Nathan selected a career, away from the academic environment which dominated his home life, to one of field zoology, working as a conservation biologist. His focus was on birds at the time.
Learning about Ray Turnbull (@ray_turnbull), the subject of this bio blurb reminded me of my time with Nathan. Years ago, I was not interested in birds, and he was not that curious about fish. Since that time however, driven by my involvement with citizen science, I now realise that many of the observation and recording tools are shared by these two disparate groups. From knowing Ray Turnbull, I now realise that a focus in birds, does not exclude a passion for fish.
Ray Turnbull, ranked No 17 in the project, with 1,600 observations for Australasian Fishes, is working as a Field Zoologist, most recently for a consulting firm based out of Perth in Western Australia. Most of his work focuses on fauna surveys, primarily birds, throughout the state. He also worked as an Assistant Warden at the Broome Bird Observatory, seasonal Firefighter in Victoria and a Ranger with the NSW NPWS. He even had a stint with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK, which involved species reintroductions and habitat management. This diverse background with a passion for the natural environment had its origin in fishing trips with his father, as a child. His father has been a long time, avid trout fisherman, providing an introduction to the outdoors through fishing forays throughout the Monaro region of NSW. While fish sparked his interest in the natural world, it led to a growing interest in other aspects of nature. At university, however, he developed an interest in other areas of nature, and mostly birding, took priority.
Even though he is a professional scientist, he developed a kindred spirit with friends who are amateur birders. He tells us, “The discipline, the observations, the data recording is very similar to what we are doing in the Australasian Fishes project.” In doing these bio blurbs, I have learned that quite a few of our project participants are birders as well, and many of them have showed me the software they use to record their images and how useful the historical observations have been to science. Ray introduced me to the software he uses, as he discussed his relationship with iNaturalist. He says, “I have been very fortunate in my employment to have been exposed to a wide range of environments and wildlife and this has also led to a broadening of my interests away from just birds and to becoming a better all-round naturalist, however, my main interest these days is birds. I am an avid birder, and the vast majority of my bird observations go onto eBird (https://ebird.org/home ). Observations of all other wildlife now go into iNaturalist. I stumbled upon iNaturalist whilst scouring the internet for identification resources one day and have been hooked ever since. I had been looking for a platform like iNaturalist for quite a while and love the fact that all of my observations, regardless of taxon or location, can be submitted in the one place. I was introduced to the Australasian Fishes project after I submitted my first fish photo. Mark (McGrouther) immediately replied with an invite to join the project and I have been adding observations when I can ever since. I haven’t submitted many observations since leaving Western Australia, but I am still working through a backlog of older observations, not only of fish, to submit. I am a big fan of citizen science. I find that if you are in the field anyway, and recording your observations, then the next logical step is to put those observations to use.”
But how did fish again enter his life? Ray says, “It was on a road trip home from Broome. We had camped a couple of nights at Cape Range on the Ningaloo coast and decided to go snorkelling one day. We hit the water at Oyster Stacks and the abundance and diversity of fish was truly amazing, and I have been trying to get in the water as much as possible ever since. Now we quite often plan our birding trips to areas such as Cairns, where we can squeeze in a bit of snorkelling on the side.” Ray is one of our many participants who only snorkels and favours Go Pros. Currently he uses a Hero 7 Black, on an extension pole and gives us advice, “I mostly shoot in time-lapse mode (0.5sec) rather than video as I find it gives me a better-quality image to work with than cutting a still from a video. It does mean that I occasionally miss a good opportunity, but I find that if I can follow a fish for long enough, I can get a reasonable image. I find that the long pole helps in this respect as I can keep a little distance between me and the fish. I use a 10x lens from Backscatter attached to the GoPro. I also have the 15x macro lens attached for things like blennies and gobies but mostly use it for other non-fish creatures. Overall, I find the GoPro extremely light and practical and very easy to travel with. I also try to do minimal post processing of my images, mainly just cropping and shadow adjustment or the removal of a colour cast.”
We are fortunate to have an experienced field zoologist as part of the Australasian Fishes project, as Ray’s experience can be very useful to both the new and experienced citizen scientists. When asked to provide advice for novice naturalists, he says, “I would suggest finding an area or ‘patch’ as we call it in birding and get to know it well. Learn what is common so that when something else comes along you’ll at least be able to recognise that it is different. Work your patch as regularly as you can as this will build a picture over time of your area, and you can learn things about seasonality and migration and so forth. Also don’t disregard making observations of common species as they might not be common in the future! On the flip side to this I would also suggest taking any opportunity to explore in new places. Looking at unfamiliar things stimulates the learning process and helps build your overall knowledge. Other suggestions for people new to iNaturalist would be to put up as good a photo as you can. Blurry or distant photos make it very difficult to help with identification. Also don’t be afraid to have a stab at putting an identification on your observations before you upload them. If your identification turns out to be incorrect then try and take the time to understand why. Use it as a learning experience.”
Fish identification is always a challenge for project participants, however, the AI of iNaturalist has improved greatly over the past couple of years. Even Ray admits that his fish identification is an ongoing exercise, and he still struggles with several groups. His advice is to do for fish the same thing he does for birds. “I learn the field marks from studying the field guides, and then put this knowledge into practice in the field. Also, the fact that I generally have a photo of the fish allows for further study once out of the water. One of the aspects I like about iNaturalist is the feedback you can get from people identifying your observations. It’s these comments that are quite often the best way to learn about identification, particularly of difficult groups. In my early days, it was my father’s collection of fishing books particularly the Encyclopaedia of Australian Fishing from the 1980’s that were my first fish books. It was these old books that I cut my teeth on with regard to fish identification. Well out of date now but still an interesting read. Other books and references I have found useful include:
Fishes of Australia website
• Tropical Marine Fishes of Australia by Stuart-Smith, Edgar, Green & Shaw
• The Rottnest Island Fish Book by Whisson & Hoschke
• Sea Fishes of Southern Australia by Hutchins & Swainston”
I too must admit I have close friends who are avid birders, and I now find talking citizen science with them (almost) as engaging as discussing fish with AF participants. While birdwatching can consume much time and requires a great deal of stealth, I have come to learn they are kindred spirits in the global effort to observe and document life on the planet. We both use similar tools, and create similar databases, so there is much to talk about, other than feathers for them and scales for us.
With Ray’s insight I now understand Nathan’ s work a little better and I hope our paths will cross again one day.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
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The above photo of the Talma was taken by Ray at Coogee Beach in Perth and the photo on the dune was taken in Witsand Nature Reserve in the Kalahari region of South Africa.
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Lähettänyt markmcg markmcg, 20. kesäkuuta 2022 01:56

Kommentit

Wow @ray_turnbull what an amazing amount of flora and fauna you have recorded. I had a look through some of your non-fish observations, I need to get out and explore more, inspirational. Thanks for sharing.

Lähettänyt amandahay 6 kuukautta sitten (Lippu)

After reading your comment @amandahay, I also had a look at Ray's observations. The breadth of organisms he has observed is impressive! :)

Lähettänyt markmcg 6 kuukautta sitten (Lippu)

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