A major part of my research was done from a shelter measuring about one cubic metre: one metre wide, one metre deep, one metre high: the observation hut. I was an ethologist and observed the behaviour of birds, initially ruffs, later gulls. When sitting in the hut, I could see what the birds were doing. They were hardly influenced by me, although I sometimes excitedly shouted like a football reporter when recording my observations on tape.

There was, of course, more than an observation hut. The data had to be transposed and analysed. In those days it was impossible to do that automatically. In a very late stage, they were sometimes further processed by a computer, but one had to go then to the central computer facility of the university. Most processing therefore occurred by hand or by simple calculators.  

Occasionally, it was possible to do simple experiments. In one of the gull studies, for instance, experiments were done with dummy eggs on the nest rim to determine which features were important to the gull.

Sometimes, the birds were so active, that many details on the behaviour would become lost in an eye-witness account. In those cases the birds were filmed, initially on celluloid, later by video. One had to be skilled as a trouble-shooter in the field. It could be cold there and moist. Recorders may get problems under such conditions. Mostly I had only a pocket-knife for (usually successful) emergency repairs.

By the way, research includes not only observation, experiment and analysis. Writing a course for the Open University also requires thorough investigations, not only on the didactic approach, but the more so on its contents. Unfortunately, that notion has hardly been dawned on the scientific community. Anyway, even after my retirement, I did not unlearn to participate in approved scientific investigation, not only as a biologist, but also on the history of a family and a farm.


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