Scrabble Bag Names

Francine and I are not primarily birders; we do not go out twitching or listing. We are interested, however, and we do like to know what we are looking at or listening to when a bird happens by. Spain, being in southern Europe and on the migration routes from Africa, has opened up a whole new set of confusing possibilities.

About two years ago we noticed a bird call that we were unfamiliar with. Once heard, we began to notice it everywhere. We went to a shopping centre and heard it on rough waste ground beside it. We heard it in the fields below us. We would frequently hear it through the open windows of the car as we drove past places. It was a very simple call, a single “note”, short sound, repeated monotonously at approximately one second intervals. Other than distant birds in flight which may have been the culprit – these appeared to be the classic LBJ – we hadn’t seen it. The rhythmic noise resembled, to us, the noise made by someone bouncing on a trampoline. Our unknown frustration became tagged Trampoline Bird.

We tried to describe the sound to birding friends but to no avail. Someone suggested a Serin but from our experience they produce a very rapid, long, complex set of notes, referred to by another friend as “spraying it about”. (They do tend to turn their heads as they are singing and send it in different directions.)

J17_1211 Trampoline BirdToday we went to check out the Parque Natural del Hondo, primarily to see what dragonflies were about. As we approached the entrance from the car park, Francine spotted a bird perched at the top of a tree making our trampoline noise. We kept snapping as we got nearer. Eventually it flew, continuing to trampoline as it did so. We’d got some shots that should help, though.

Despite the record nature of the picture, you can see that it is, indeed, an LBJ. We did notice a slightly decurved beak, the striped tail and very pale breast and throat. Francine trawled our Collins Bird Guide. After a few minutes, sudden excitement. It’s a Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis). A WHAT!? A Zitting Cisticola. Yikes! Of course we were excited, even if nothing could possibly be called that, our longstanding avian mystery was finally solved; Trampoline Bird has a proper name … and what a name. Its call is called “zitting”.

J17_1245 Collared PratincoleWe continued our walk, snagging dragonflies as the opportunity arose. Being at a different time of year to our first visit, we racked up a couple of new species for the site. Then, towards the end of our circuit, I spotted a very strikingly marked bird, a small group of three, actually, sitting on a mud bank. I snapped it. A black mark descending from its eye reminded me of the markings of a Chinstrap Penguin, which this clearly wasn’t. 😀 There was a distinctive red blotch on the bill, too.

My turn to leaf through Collins Bird Guide. The bird’s flight, with long, pointed, elegant wings, reminded me of a Tern, not that it really looked like one. I knew there was a so-called Whiskered Tern and I wanted to eliminate that. No, of course it isn’t. Continuing to page, I stumbled across the distinctive culprit, rejoicing in another unlikely name – Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola). A WHAT!? A Collared Pratincole. Curiously, though not quite as curious as the name, this relatively short-legged bird is considered a wader.

Accepting that I’m not a twitcher, I don’t often bump into names that I’ve never even heard of but here I was with two utterly unfamiliar bird names in one day, both of which sound as if they were made of letters picked at random from a Scrabble bag.

Isn’t education wonderful?

Posted in 2017-Spring Spain

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