Orange-Crowned Warbler

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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).

Dr. Michael Warren – The Compleat Birder

Worthy and interesting …

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Michael Warren’s Interview on his book _Birds in Medieval English Poetry_

The Compleat Birder

Bit of a cheat post this one, but Boydell and Brewer have recently published an interview they conducted with me on my book, Birds in Medieval English Poetry, so thought I’d share it. Click here, or simply read the text below.

Thank you for assisting our discussion of your book, Dr Warren. To begin, could you tell us a little about how you came to write this book, which is now the second in our new series Nature and Environment in the Middle Ages. What first drew you to the natural world in literature? 
When I decided to return to medieval studies after some years in teaching, it was an obvious choice for me to pursue a subject that combined a personal love of mine with literature. I knew that there was plenty to say about birds, in fact, because I’d written on this subject for my…

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Red Whiskered Bulbuls at the Huntington Library and Gardens

Calliope Hummingbird


Calliope Hummingbirds breed in the willow thickets of coniferous woodlands in the San Gabriel Mountains between May and August, but at least one came down to the foothills near Amber Ridge this morning:  a female with a vividly spotted throat and a distinctive Calliope chitter — compared to Cornell’s Online Birding Lab recordings — sounds like no other SoCal hummer!

(Did you know that Calliope is the muse of eloquence and epic poetry?)

Band-Tailed Pigeon

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