Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Things I Saw in Cape May in Addition to the Whiskered Tern

First, because I need to say it, I saw the Whiskered Tern. It's dead center in the photo below.  It wasn't a great look, but after a few long hours of trucking up and down the hot beach (in jean! why did I wear jeans!), it was a relief.  Thanks very much to the Guy in the White Hat for finding the bird, and sorry I didn't get your name.

But I saw a lot of other things, too. Here are some of the things I saw, with photos where I got them.

 A mini ferry:

Some ferry-goers enjoying the view:

A ton of Laughing Gulls feeding on things stirred but by the ferry (enlarge to see):

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Let's Give Some Birds Their Dignity Back

Let's face it, the names of some birds are better than others.  In fact, one could argue (that one being me, perhaps, after a cocktail or two) that MOST common names of birds are pretty lame.  I'd put the common names of birds into eleven categories, ranked here from best to worst:

  • Originals: These are one-word English names unique to a single species.  Killdeer.  Whimbrel.  Anhinga.  Bufflehead.  Like humans with single names - your Madonnas and your Bonos - these guys are clearly the coolest.  No sharing.  No confusion.  When you look them up in the index, they are a single line, not indented and listed with their cousins under a family name. (Note: before Rick Wright corrects me, I get that a lot of these names were probably descriptive somewhere back in their etymological past, but I'm only concerned with modern English [er, not Modern English, though I do like that song, I mean the actual modern usage of the English language]).

  • People Birds: These are birds named after people.  Townsend's Warbler.  Ross's Goose.  Blackburnian Warbler (which I did not know were People Birds). These are close to something original, because the human name has nothing actually to do with the species.  I like these.

  • Description-Positive: These are birds that have a descriptive first name (first name? Is that the correct term?), but it's at least a positive description.  There are not many of these, unfortunately.  Magnificent Hummingbird.  King Eider. I am also including in this category birds that are named after colors OTHER than primary colors (I'm going with black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, and gray) because they're often cool words that people don't get to use very often, unless you work at a paint story or at Crayola.  Roseate Spoonbill. Cerulean Warbler. Dusky Flycatcher. Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

  • Location-Specific: These are birds named after geographic locations no higher than state-level.  Mississippi Kite.  Baltimore Oriole.  Savannah Sparrow.   They have a broad appeal but they aren't sellouts.  The Baltimore Oriole is like Natty Boh (ie cool), while an American Crow is like Bud Light (accessible and, frankly, very tasty [and I'm not going to get into an argument about it right now] but not "cool" no matter what their commercials try to say).

  • Song Birds: Birds named after the noises they make typically end up with cool names, so I'm going to list them separate.  Good on them.  Whooper Swan.  Song Sparrow.  Mourning Dove.

  • Diet and Habitat: We're getting into the lame ones now.  These are birds that are just named after something they eat or a specific type of habitat they live in.  There is at least some thought put into the specific species, unlike some of the ones below.  Snail Kite.  Sedge Wren. Wood Duck.

  • Description-Neutral: Most birds are in here, I'd say.  These are either birds named after primary colors (I'll do one for each of the colors I listed: Black Scoter; Gray Flycatcher; Yellow Warbler; Red Crossbill; Green Heron; Blue Jay; Brown Booby; White Ibis), or primary-colored body parts (Black-headed Grosbeak; Gray-crowned Rosy-finch; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker; Red-tailed Hawk; Green-winged Teal; Blue-crowned Parakeet; Brown-headed Nuthatch; White-winged Scoter).  This also includes birds named after some physical feature, such as Crested Auklet, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel; Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, or Tufted Puffin.  These are just descriptions, nothing more, nothing less.

  • Location-General: Birds named after countries, regions, oceans and cardinal directions.  Snoozefest, am I right? American Crow. Boring. Western Tanager. Boring. Atlantic Puffin. Boring. Northern Hawk-owl. Boring.  Let's put a bit more imagination into it, no?

  • Comparative-Positive: These are birds named in relation to other birds.  Their identity only exists in relation to something else.  However, at least they came out on top.  It's mostly birds with "greater" in their name, as I include "kings" in the Description-Positive group because kings are important. Greater Roadrunner.  Greater-prairie Chicken.

  • Commoners: All birds called "common" somethings are just awful.  You know that feeling when you're on a bird walk and some novice birder sees a bird and gets excited and asks what it is and you're like "it's a common yellowthroat" and they're like "oh, just some common bird?"  Well that feeling sucks, for both of you.  I hate "common" birds.  Common Grackle.  Common Raven.

  • Comparative-Negative: But at least "common" isn't a straight up insult.  Comparative-Negative birds only exist in relation to something else, and that something else is better.  It was a jerk move by our birding ancestors to name these guys they way they did.  Least Sandpiper.  Lesser Goldfinch. Lesser Scaup. [Note: some birds - Elf Owl and Little Gull - can be named after their small size without being insulted.  I put these birds in the Description-Neutral category].
So, those are the categories.  It's not an exact science, but it's pretty inclusive in the end.  But I'm not just here today to break up bird names, I'm here to help.  I feel bad for all the birds in the Commoners and Comparative-Negative categories, and I want to fix them up right.  There are plenty of words that can get the same ideas across without being insulting - or at least without copying the first name of another bird.  Let's give it a shot.  Here's a list of formerly "common" species with new names that I found in some online thesaurus.  There may be SOME repeats, but there are a lot of commons out there (I'm not going to do rare ABA birds like Common Sandpiper).
  • Frequent Eider
  • Everyday Gallinule
  • Customary Goldeneye
  • Prevalent Grackle
  • Casual Ground-dove
  • Natural Loon
  • Conventional Merganser
  • Probable Murre
  • Daily Nighthawk (I like the irony in that one)
  • General Raven
  • Stock Redpoll
  • Accepted Tern
  • Familiar Yellowthroat
Aren't those better?  They're all unique names, without betraying the idea that they are abundant.  Let's be the change we want to see in ourselves.

Here are some for Lesser and Least birds, trying to give them some damn dignity back.  I'm ditching the whole "comparative" angle here when I can and just giving them names based on their small size.
  • Wee Bittern
  • Toy Flycatcher
  • Dinky Grebe (still kind of an insult, but wouldn't you want to see the Dinky Grebe?)
  • Mini Sandpiper
  • Bantam Tern
  • Scant Black-backed Gull
  • Elfin Goldfinch
  • Peanut Nighthawk
  • Petite Prairie-chicken
  • Minute Scaup
  • Snub Yellowlegs
I wish all those birds were real so I could go find them.  They're all turned from losers into hipster winners.  Let's make it happen.

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