What’s in a name?

As dusk closed in, the graceful flock of Glossy Ibis featured above sailed toward me in the waning light.  From a distance, I wasn’t quite sure what they were, but as soon as I could discern their body shape and size, it was clear that these were Glossy Ibis and not some other wetland bird coming to roost.

I often wonder why we feel some curious sense of satisfaction in knowing what they are called!?!  As author Jonathan Rosen points out, “We name things, we classify them.  In the Bible Adam gives names to the natural world, imposing a human order on a chaos of life. a kind of second creation,” (The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature, 2008, p. 2). IMG_6722 The other day, I came upon this wonderful Osprey, perched high up in a crag, surveying the water below for a tasty fish, no doubt.  A man who’d watched it swoop down and land, asked me if I knew what bird it was.  Shortly afterward, a couple walking by noticed the large bird in the crag and also asked, “What is that?!”  As a novice who only just learned to ID an Osprey this past year, I was happy to tell them!IMG_5779One of the joys of birding is learning to identify more and more species correctly by name.  And, when we don’t know, we inevitably ask.  I’ll always recall the first wetland bird whose name I learned, the marvelous and handsome bald Wood Stork, like the one above, spotted on a recent very sunny walk. IMG_6481 IMG_9276 The little Green Heron, who can be seen sitting on a branch for what seems like forever, is another one of the very first wetland birds I learned to recognize by name.  Hard to believe I used to think the Green Heron (top) and the Least Bittern (bottom) were indistinguishable…. IMG_6219 I recall thinking at one time that certain birds were so elusive that I’d be lucky if I ever saw one.  The Limpkin, with its loud, raucous vocalizations is known for keeping its neighbors awake all night!  But sometimes the Limpkin is hard to spot, hiding in the marshes.IMG_6193 IMG_6184 Another large bird that blends in with his surroundings is the handsome Black-crowned Night Heron.  We spotted the one above munching on a supper of something green, in the evening shadows under the boardwalk. IMG_6448The first time I heard about this little bird hiding in the shade above, was a couple of years ago when we crossed paths with a group of birders / photographers who’d come to our preserve on a visit from South America.  Three or four big, burly men in camouflage vests, sporting gigantic cameras with very long lenses (also in camouflage design) on tripods,, were peering over the railing into the water.  My husband asked what they were looking for, and they whispered to him, with what seemed at the time to be reverence (!), “Sora“.  Although I never saw the secretive Sora that day, I later learned that this little bird is quite common in North America, but nonetheless hard to spot in its marshy hideaways. image The joy of seeing these lovely Great Egrets makes me think about another of Jonathan Rosen’s lines in Life of the Skies: “Everyone is a birdwatcher, but there are two kinds of birdwatchers:  those who know what they are and those who haven’t realized it yet.

I do believe that he’s right!!

5 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

    • Yes, I definitely believe that’s a big part of it, Sonja. After posting this, it occurred to me that I never even wrote about what inspired me in the first place – stay tuned for ‘What’s in a name, Part 2?’!


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