Thursday, November 11, 2010

"BOLLOCKS! It's Not A Bullock's!" Bullock's Oriole

 
Bullock's or Baltimore? You decide!
Questionable oriole, species still in debate - Photographed in Phippsburg, Maine November 2, 2010
 
     A reader recently sent to me an explanation for the word "Twitcher" or to "twitch" birds. I said in a previous post that I didn't know why the urge to drop everything and rush off to see a new bird was called twitching. It turns out that the term comes from the twitchy, nervous behavior of well known British birdwatcher Howard Medhurst. Mr. Medhurst is reported to have frequently traveled long distances on short notice to see rare birds. "Twitcher," is most often used in Britain and Europe, and less frequently used to describe North American birders.
     Mr. Medhurst and I share numerous traits it seems; I am a nervous, twitchy kind of person given to chewing my cuticles, tapping my feet and generally not sitting still. Numerous times, I have, in fact, blown my life asunder throwing caution and duties to the wind in search of rare birds. My itchy, squirrely behavior makes me quick to pull the trigger, too. I'm not one to spend a lot of time analyzing and deliberating about things (unless they are emotionally unhealthy concerns. Then, I'll ruminate until the cows come home.). "Go with the gut," is usually my modus operandi. In birding, this isn't always a bad thing, either.
    It's true that much of birding indeed involves lots of studying of the subject, looking at books and web sites and brooding over field marks. It's time consuming and well suited to an unemployed person with some Obsessive Compulsive traits as I also have. But none of that concentration on a bird will suffice or measure up to seeing it in the wild, in it's natural habitat. Study does not replace the experience of a bird's gestalt.
     And what is a bird's gestalt, you ask? That quick flash of a wing, the song and call issued through the trees, a rustle in the leaves or scratch on the ground, the thing you catch from the corner of your eye. These are the flavors and nuances of a bird not quite captured in however beautifully  executed a lithograph, painting or photograph. I say that as a dedicated photographer, too. It's very difficult to represent in a single image all the little details that make a bird all of what it is beyond its physical self.
    With this bird, this damned oriole, I shot from the hip and killed the wrong perpetrator. I committed the Internet version of screaming "FIRE!" in a hotel lobby and exclaimed "BULLOCK'S ORIOLE!"  What rushed me down the river of judgement to start with was that I saw this bird on November second. Fittingly, that was election day. Haven't you ever gone to the polls then been presented with an issue which you realized you were ignorant about? Then, you filled in the little circle with your number two lead pencil (we still do that here, no hanging chads for us) making your best guess or simply going with your party, though not really knowing what the hell you're voting for? Well I voted, and I voted for the wrong bird; I voted for Bullock's oriole and it's probably only a Baltimore Oriole.  Having also voted for a losing gubernatorial candidate, I chose both of the wrong birds.
     To see an oriole of any kind in November in Maine is unusual. They are primarily nectar and insect eaters, so they migrate early as the food supply begins to wizzle up with the cold. I was sure this wasn't any old oriole either. I was sure it was a Bullock's which would be stunningly rare here.  Another reason that I leaped to this conclusion was that on exactly the same date last year, I saw what looked like the same bird. I had photographed it then, as well (photo below). The bird made quite a stir on the Maine birding circuit. With a pile of my photographs it was thoroughly reviewed by the Maine Birds Records Committee. "The Committee" is the body of experts that decides what a reported sighting truly is and if the sighting can be entered into official Maine birding records.
     The final ruling on last year's oriole was that it was probably a hybrid of  Baltimore and Bullock's orioles. So, it was not complete lunacy that I thought I saw that again. Besides, I have in fact, seen so many rare and unusual birds lately, that my identification coals were still hot. All it took to ignite them was a puff of air, a flash of orange wing and the wink of gold in the trees. Again, a stack of photographs has gone to "The Committee" for review. As if waiting for letters of acceptance to a prestigious university or in labor with child, I'm waiting on their decision. I'm thinking about taking up smoking again and drinking Scotch in the middle of the day and I've torn out patches of my own hair. I've got a whole lot of twitching going on. In my heart, I know I was wrong, though. I'm going to have runny egg on my face when the decision comes down. My bird and part of myself will be rejected. I will shout then, too. "BOLLOCKS! IT'S NOT A BULLOCK'S!"   
     "Bollocks," a fabulous British word meaning "testicles," is used figuratively to mean "nonsense." It's usually exclaimed after a minor incident or something unfortunate has happened. I find it a very satisfying expletive. And if "The Committee's" decision goes my way, if the bird is a Bullock's, there will be approval, admiration and respect for my birding skills, rather than the disdain I'm expecting. I can then declare "Top bollocks!" You've really got to love the British for their contributions to birding and the English language.
 Bullock's x Baltimore Oriole Photographed in Phippsburg, November 2, 2009
William Bullock (c. 1773 – 1849) was an English traveller, naturalist and antiquarian


27 comments:

  1. The phrase "a very satisfying expletive" sure made me chuckle.

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  2. hmm, the bars are very distinctive - tough call! Great read, and wonderful photo's!

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  3. Thank you, Andy. I'm glad you thought that was funny. You may use the explitive any time you wish. Try it, you may like it.

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  4. Pin-feathers, I'm glad some one else thought this was a little tough! Thank you

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  5. The bird looks like a Bullock's to me although admittedly unlikely. All photos are excellent but the first one is just fabulous - the cold blue green, the warm orange, the dark red ... I would love to hang it on my wall!

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  6. Thank you, HIilke for your support for my vote. And, if you really do want to hang the photo on your wall, the link to my photos for sale is on the right. It says Wanna Buy A Pitcha? or http://robinrobinsonmaine.smugmug.com

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  7. One of your best Diatribes.

    Thanks for sharing that.

    Jim

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  8. Hhhhmmmmm. "Diatribe?" I'm going to take this as a compliment, so thank you, Jim. Delighted that you are reading.

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  9. I have never seen the other kind of oriole, but this was a female Baltimore oriole; and yours looks quite different to me.

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  10. Tried to comment on your blog but,could not ??? wondered if you had

    considered Audubon's Oriole ? Great photos anyway.

    bmc

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  11. Great photos! Didn't realize how involved and particular birding was...Maybe you should fly south for the winter and relax and enjoy the warm sunshine!
    HG

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  12. okay,okay,you're the expert,I was just testing you,I knew all along it
    was'nt Audubon's.....ha,ha, lol
    bmc

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  13. "Never Mind the Bollocks"

    -Sex Pistols

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  14. Well alrighty then! Sex Pistols it is!

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  15. Hi Robin - This is one of your best.......photographs, general information, quality of writing, and delicious language. I am definitely going to incorporate "bollocks" into my repertoire. Happy Thanksgiving to you.....vicki p

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  16. HG, Thanks, and yes, birding can be a head ache maker of information and details. And, unfortunately, if I went south for the winter that's where all the birds have gone, too. So, there wouldn't be a lick of rest for me and I'd disappear into a field guide working on IDs of things I would never have seen before, too. My husband would find himself in Florida or somewhere, suddenly alone with nothing but my open suitcase before him. Can't have that.

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  17. More stunning shots!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  18. Robin, I remember those photos. They are gorgeous! I particularly love the colors in the first one, the juxtaposition of the warm gold in the bird and the cold blue-green of the leaves.

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  19. Gary and Boom, thank you and Hilke for the views and compliments.

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  20. Love it...Giving credit to the British for their contribution to the English language?! I'm sure your U.K. readers will relish in the wonderful absurdity of that one.
    I am a twitcher! No doubt about it. That describes it perfectly! Cheers!

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  21. Another good read Robin. We have had a recent television programme in the UK about the serious Twitchers who drop everything on hearing about a rarity and travel hundreds of miles just to see a lifer... but if that floats your boat.

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  22. Springman, thanks. And, "wonderful absurdity," indeed: all of it! Birding, language, twitching, the whole ball of wax. Andrew, thank you, too. If I had more money, I'd probably be more of a twitcher than I am. I'd still be pretty bad at IDs, but I'd get out more!

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  23. Wonderfully funny and quite a conundrum! Hope it goes your way. I won't even venture a guess but will bide my time 'til the decision comes down. Hope you will keep us all informed!

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  24. Such a wonderful word. A great post Robin.

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  25. Dearie, dearie me, the British making a 'contribution' to the English language?? I wonder where it originally sprang from!

    Don't worry about getting egg on your face, it is great for the complexion and the egg white actually shrinks wrinkles.

    Ever since I saw a Baltimore Oriole in one one of the original Audubon bird books, I have had a craving to see one. A bit hard to do from Australia so I am enjoying yours.

    Best of luck, you may yet enter the annals of history with your sighting.

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  26. Dang...I would be happy seeing either of these birds in my yard/garden.
    I am spooked by your writing. It is like you can read the section of my brain that is into birds and "read it".:-D)

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  27. beautiful and colorful. your pig makes me want to try harder with black and white.

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