Archive for Bulgaria
Ted set a quiz the other day:
What widespread and common bird has the number EIGHTEEN in its name? And for a bonus: Without googling it, WHY is that bird thus named?
The first question isn’t that hard. Though it’s not widespread or common in New Jersey yet, the Eurasian Collared-Dove bears the remarkable species epithet decaocto, “eighteen,” assigned to it in 1838 by the Hungarian botanist and entomologist Imre Frivaldszky.
A poor girl was in service to a very hard-hearted lady, who gave her only eighteen para a year as salary. The girl implored the gods to make plain to the world how miserably her mistress rewarded her. Zeus thereupon created this dove, which still today cries its recognizable deca-octo to the entire world.
That’s the story I “knew.” I can’t hear those syllables myself, and the chain of transmission — from the collector Carl Hinke, to Frivaldszky, to Johann Friedrich Naumann, to Fisher, to posterity — is uncomfortably attenuated, but I’ll buy it.
There’s more, though. Though this is the story made canonical by its endless (and irresponsibly embellished and unattributed) repetition on the internet, Hinke, in Naumann’s summary of Frivaldszky’s letter to him (see what I mean?), goes on to report another circumstance:
They are shot in the autumn, but by only a few of the Turkish inhabitants; most of the Turks spare them, as do to an even greater extent the Christian inhabitants, who even think them holy birds and never do anything to harm them. Thus I attracted considerable annoyance when I shot these birds at Filibe, not so much from the Turks as from the Christians.
The significance of the dove in Christian iconography is obvious, but is there something else going on here? Maybe.
There is a different story making the e-rounds about how this bird got its scientific name:
The Greeks say that when Jesus Christ was in agony on the cross, a Roman soldier took pity on him and tried to buy a cup of milk to ease his thirst. The old woman selling the milk asked for eighteen coins, but the soldier had only seventeen. There was no way to bargain: she kept repeating eighteen, eighteen, eighteen. Jesus cursed her, changing her into the dove that can say nothing but eighteen, eighteen, eighteen in Greek. When she consents to take seventeen coins, she will be changed back into a human being. But if she ever raises the price to nineteen, that will mean that the end of the world is near.
I haven’t been able to find an authentic source for this “Greek” story, which seems to be out there only in Spanish. If it is not entirely contrived, and Hinke/Naumann/Frivaldszky’s allusion to the bird’s odor of sanctity makes me think it is not, this tale suggests that there is more than one strand of Balkan folk narrative behind the very strange scientific name of what will soon be, if it isn’t already, one of the most familiar birds in your neighborhood.
I hope many of you can make it to tomorrow night’s lecture at the Sonoran Audubon Society‘s meeting in Glendale, Arizona. I’ll be talking about birding a part of the world many North American birders never even think of–and the ways that birding can help the establishment of a conservation ethic in some fascinating and ancient landscapes.
See you there!
Just back from nine great days in Guatemala, I’ll be giving a lecture tonight to Tucson Audubon Society about the birds of Bulgaria and the BSPB‘s efforts to save them.
Join us at 7:00 this evening to see some photos, hear some stories, and learn something about what you can do–and what only the Bulgarians can do–to help preserve this country’s amazing natural richness.
Meanwhile, I’m busy, busy getting myself ready for the keynote speech this weekend at Wings over Willcox, and looking forward to birding with many old friends and new! The lecture is sold out, but no doubt more for the food that precedes it than for the wisdom to follow the banquet.
Just what is the relationship between birding and bird photography? I know people who won’t ‘count’ a bird unless they’ve got a good image of it, and I know, alas, many people who leave the identifying of their photos to the sometimes dubious expertise offered byÂ one or another of the internet “forums.”
I’ve ranted before about how twenty-first-century birding is on the path to overvaluing images and undervaluing thought; it’s part of a greater anti-intellectualism, I suppose, and it’s turning birding into something I don’t recognize and don’t much like. There is a very good, if slightly miscellaneous, article by Ted Eubanks about these problems in the newest issue of Birding; the author’s call for a return to “intuitive birding”Â should be required reading for those who post their House Finch photos under the terse heading “Identify, please.”
I wonder what the forums would say about these two images. I know what both birds are because I watched them, listened to them, took notes on them; but as usual, my pointing the camera at them was a tardy afterthought, and the images I got show it.
I suspect that this first one, of a bird singing in a small thicket on the Black Sea coast, is probably identifiable by someone who really knows her warblers.
Or maybe not. But knowing what it is, I can convince myself that I see the long, sloping forehead, the outsized bill, and the rounded tail of a Hippolais warbler; adding in habitat and range information, I suppose we can get to Olivaceous Warbler with some confidence. And that’s exactly what the bird was, one of many we got to enjoy all across Bulgaria.
The second one is much harder. It’s the only photo I got of the only member of this otherwise common speciesÂ I saw this trip, and I’m not sure that anyone could make anything out of it. The bird was hunting in an open patch of woods near a couple of buildings.
Clue number one: No, it’s not a Mexican Chickadee.
Even knowing what the bird is, I’m stumped. The exquisitely slender tarsus suggests one of the ‘booted’ families, and rules out nicely such relatively clumsy groups as finches, sparrows, and tits; its length tells us we’re not dealing with a swallow. The square tail, the slim tarsus, and the habitat might lead us to…. I’d better stop, because I can feel myself already beginning to cheat, dropping my Cartesian pose and getting all a priori here.
What do you think about this bird? It’s an easyÂ ID in the field, but is it even possible from this image?
[Answer: it was a Common Redstart.]