Archive for the ‘BIrd Names’ Category

Warren on birds in “The Seafarer”

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“The earn (white-tailed eagle) can be confidently identified, and the swan and mæw labelled at genus and family level, respectively. Which swan and which gull we are dealing with is less certain. Whooper swan has been suggested more than once (Goldsmith, ‘Seafarer and the Seabirds’, 226–7), which ts well with the scene and theme of migration, but the mute swan with its familiar ‘musical’ flight is more associated with song (see Exeter Riddle 7 and Etym., XII.vii.18–19). OE swan derives from an Indo-European onomatopoeic cognate broadly meaning ‘sound’; see W. B. Lockwood, The Oxford Book of British Bird Names (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), s.v. Swan. Moreover, OE does have two terms for the genus: swan, and that which appears in The Seafarer, yflete. In the glossaries, these terms correspond to different Lat. names (olor and cygnus, respectively), indicating that Anglo-Saxons may have differentiated, although this is inconsistent. If we are to go on which species was most likely to be seen over the swanrade, the arctic migrating whooper (or Bewick’s) seems more likely, whose modern name refers to its distinctive trumpeting call. For further discussion on the possible distinctions, see Peter Kitson, ‘Swans and Geese in Old English Riddles’, Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, 7 (1994), 79–84. Ganet seems straightforward, but is problematic in that the term glosses more than one lemma in the glossaries. The undeniable portrait of a labelled juvenile gannet in the Sherborne Missal (British Library, MS Add. 74326; c. 1400), however, makes it clear that this term was applied to this species by at least the late medieval period. Lockwood also gives an attestation from 1274 (British Bird Names, s.v. Gannet). The prevalence of this white species, the largest British seabird, nesting en masse on coastal cliffs (Bass Rock has the world’s largest colony), could hardly have been missed by Anglo-Saxon observers, though, and there is no reason why the word might not have been assigned to this species even if it was also used as a more general term for sea-fowl. The huilpe and stearn have never been positively identified. For a full discussion on possible species, see Goldsmith, ‘Seafarer and the Birds’, 228–9 and 230–4, respectively, and Lacey, ‘Birds and Bird-lore’, pp. 93–5. Following most editors, I translate huilpe as ‘curlew’ on the basis of cognates in modern Germanic languages (e.g., Mn Dutch wulp; see Lockwood, British Bird Names, s.v. Whaup), the distinctive ‘bubbling’ or ‘whaup’ call of this species (BWP, vol. 1, p. 660), and its common presence in British coastal regions. Poole and Lacey recommend the whimbrel instead (‘Avian Aurality’, 408), but these species are very similar and it is impossible to say which might be intended. The whimbrel also causes the same problems as stearn (usually translated as ‘tern’) because it is a brief, summer passage migrant. Stearn does appear in the glossaries, but all we can say with any likelihood is that it names some sort of gull or gull-like species. The kittiwake (as suggested by Goldsmith) or fulmar might be other possibilities.” ~ Michael Warren, Birds in Medieval English Poetry: Metaphors, Realities, Transformations (Boydell & Brewer, 2018), pp. 37-38 (footnote 35).


Handlist of Birds Seen in England, Summer 2018

Leeds Castle
Barnacle Geese
Black-headed Gull
Brown Wood Owl
Chacao Owl
Eurasian Eagle Owl
Harris Hawk
Snowy Owl
Steppe Eagle
White-Fronted Goose

Canterbury Cathedral, WWI Memorial
English Robin

Warwick Castle
Andean Condor
Black Kite
Egyptian Vulture
Golden Eagle
Milky Eagle Owl

University of Leeds
European Kestrel
Giant Saker Falcon
Red-Tailed Buzzard
Saker Falcon
White-Faced Owl

House Martin
Sand Martin
House Sparrows
Wild Pheasant (from the train window)

York (on the river)
Canada Geese

Kennilworth Castle
Stock Pigeons

Royal Victoria Park, Bath
Canada Geese
Common Gull
Garganey (female)
Great Black-Backed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-Backed Gull
Rock Doves
Yellow-Legged Gull

Carrion Crow

Abbey in Lacock

Castle Combe
Mute Swan


Chalice Well Garden, Glastonbury

Glastonbury Abbey

Stock Dove



Swallow-Tailed Kite

Tonight I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Brian McClaren speak at the University of La Verne about spiritual migration. He began his lecture with reference to the swallow-tailed kite, which migrates between South America and Florida, where the speaker lives:


To me, the most meaningful part of the presentation came during the Q & A, when Dr. McClaren spoke about “the dilemma of multiple belonging” in the context of an individual belonging to a faith tradition that defines an “us” vs “them” … and of how that expression of the faith tradition forms a restricted circle … but the individual believer may walk to the edge of that circle and come into contact with those who believe another way … and together with those in the other circle, form a new circle that overlaps both circles — so that we may begin to talk with one another about the way of love as a way of life.

Dr. Brian McClaren

Spice Finch


Last time I went hiking in Bonelli Regional Park, I saw a bird that looked like a purple-headed finch — but wasn’t. I couldn’t find a comparable species at Cornell’s Online Birding Lab. That’s because the Spice Finch is not yet recognized as a California or U.S. bird. But a population established itself in Los Angeles in the 1980s after being imported from Asia (according to Garrett, Dunn and Morse, Birds of the Los Angeles Region, p. 449). It is a strikingly pretty finch, and it is known by other names, such as Nutmeg Maniken and Spotted Munia. Today, I saw it in the reeds beside Puddingstone Reservoir again, and I just loved it! My beloved little dog Joyful was with me, and she patiently waited while I watched a pair together. Then a third made a short flight, flashing a yellow tail, into a pine tree!




“At length did cross an albatross,

thorough the fog came;

as if it had been a Christian soul,

we hailed it in God’s name”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Rime of the Ancient Mariner

(drawing by Gustav Doré)

730 Birds of North America in ONE Chart

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To zoom in and see the birds close up,

visit Co.Design Infographic


Zipporah (from the Hebrew צִפּוֹר or tzippor) means “bird” or “sparrow.” According to the book of Exodus, she was the wife of Moses. She is celebrated in American pop culture especially in the animated film, “The Prince of Egypt,” voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer.

“16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?”19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” 

Exodus 2:16-22