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Blog Birding #160

Another week of excellent bird bloggery, featuring seabirds in Newfoundland, Wild Turkeys in Arizona, the Surf in Scoters, the birder in all of us, and the newest I and the Bird.

The most recent I and the Bird at 10,000 Birds is about that most appropriate groups of birds for this fall, boobies (and gannets too):

Let’s address, up front, the funny name. We get it. If those 16th Century Spanish sailors knew the kind of grief with which they’d be saddling this remarkable group of birds for all time, perhaps they would have had something resembling empathy for those who will be forced to live with the ramifications of their irreverence. But sailors are notoriously unconcerned with decorum no matter what era from which they come. Puerile references aside, the actual story behind the bird’s name is potentially worse. Even if booby’s etymological origins comes from the bird’s reported naivete when it would land on the masts of ships to be captured and eaten – bobo is reportedly slang for stupid in 16th Century Spanish, from whence we get “booby” – then that is hardly evidence of stupidity; though admittedly, a booby on land is awkward to the point of parody. It’s a shame that these kamikaze diving, dagger billed, ocean wanderers are forever saddled with that unfortunate moniker simply for the fact that they were unfamiliar with the danger inherent in a boat full of hungry seamen. At least the juvenile version that persists has a sort of provocateur’s cache. Who doesn’t prefer the outlaw to the imbecile?

In late September, Bruce Mactavish was witness to a singularly remarkable seabird show from shore in Newfoundland. He recounts the experience at his Newfoundland Bird Blog:

Over night on 26/27 September 2013 a NNE gale with fog and rain pushed large numbers of seabirds into Conception Bay, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland.  When this happens, (couple times per autumn) some seabirds get trapped by the force of the wind in Holyrood harbour at the very bottom of the bay. This means good seabird watching for birders who get there in time, i.e. when the storm is still at full force. I arrived at Holyrood at dawn on 27 September in the teeth of the gale.  I parked the car on the shoreline in the shelter of a solid spruce tree. I opened the window and witnessed a spectacular seabird show from the comfort of sitting in the car.

November is the only month of the year for which a bird is the centerpiece for much of the general public. At Birding is Fun, Kathie Brown prepares a portrait of a Wild Turkey:

I first remember seeing Wild Turkeys alongside the highway in Vermont back in the late 1980’s. Back then it was a rare sight to see them and I was so thrilled. Later, when I lived in Maine I was surprised to have them as yardbirds, and even more surprised when I saw the flock fly to the top of a crabapple tree and devour every apple left in the crown. Turkeys are such large birds that they don’t appear to be good flyers, but they are. Though I have never hunted them, I have heard they are a wise and wary prey and difficult to shoot. Benjamin Franklin admired them so much that he proposed the Wild Turkey as a symbol of our nation. As we all know, the Bald Eagle won that race, but I propose you take another look at this colorful and magnificent bird. It reminds me of a dinosaur when seen up close, and it also reminds me of everything wild!

Some bird names are straight forward, but others are so odd that it’s practically impossible to comprehend where it could have come from. At Birding New Jersey and Beyond, Rick Wright takes a crack at solving the mystery of the Surf Scoter:

Nobody knows where the English word “scoter” comes from, whether it shares an origin with verbs like “shoot” and “scoot” or with the equally obscure waterfowl name “scout.” Lockwood‘s rather fanciful explanation that the word is a scribal or printing error for “sooter,” in allusion to the birds’ swarthy plumage, falls hard against the fact that there is no attestation for any such English word.

I can live with that uncertainty. As I watched this handsome bird at Sandy Hook this morning, though, I started to wonder something else: What’s so surfish about the Surf Scoter?

Does one need to be birding to be a birder? Or is the word, when applied to one’s self, more a statement of identity? At Backyard Birds Utah, Melissa Mayntz attempts to answer the question in a period where active birdwatching is hard to come by:

But how many minutes must be spent with wing and feathers to truly be a birder? I’m fortunate that my career leads me along internet connections and through published pages to all corners of the globe, spending a great deal of time with many birds in spirit. I long to see them in person, to spread my own wings even as I watch them spread theirs.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
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