Thursday, 21 June 2007

A case of mistaken identity

"Hooded Robin - a pair!", I say in excitement, after scanning the landscape carefully with my binoculars. My companions are restrained in their reactions. In fact they are looking sceptical and askance. I'm just starting to lose confidence in my identification when I realise I've done it again!
The wind is whipping sand onto my legs and face and there is a smell of salt in the air but we're not at an inland lake we're on a beach. The waves roll ashore and the 'Hooded Robins' are just beyond the high-tide mark. The Hooded Robins are in fact Hooded Plovers.
Once again I've shouted out a name before the brain has clicked into place. It's embarrassing to admit that I've done this several times – I have a mental block about the names of several birds, switching them at random. I'd hate to acquire a reputation as a stringer. [Sean Dooley's definition of a stringer in The Big Twitch is 'someone who makes claims of non-existent birds … rarely done deliberately, stringing usually occurs when a birder doesn't see a bird well enough, jumps to the wrong conclusion and is too proud or stubborn to back down.']
And there are several birds that I cannot name quickly at all. One is the Crested Shrike-tit. It's a beautiful bird, looks like its head and its body were designed by two different Grand Masters, is an eccentric and noisy feeder – but its crest is not the most noticeable thing about it so its name doesn't immediately come to mind. Sometimes it's minutes before I can recall it.
Another bird I have trouble quickly naming is the Dusky Moorhen. I can't work out why. Maybe it's the word 'dusky'. I've been known to compile a bird list at a wetland including, for example, '5 x those birds!'
And don't get me started on the Spinebill. Why can't it be called a Honeyeater like all the others?

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