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My Life’s Birds: #482

March 9, 2011

November 23, 2008Lake Townsend, NC – The gap between birding cultures in North America and Europe is a broad one, and widely discussed as a way to needle the other side.  British birders, it is said* are single-minded twitchers who obsess over their lists as much as they obsess over primary projection and tertial wear because their birds are about as colorful as an original Ansel Adams.  North Americans, though, are genial and friendly, more prone to bird feeding and generally not as interested in the finer points of ID because, honestly, why do you need to even consider Gulls and Empids when you’ve got technicolor Cardinals and Orioles and Blue Jays all over the place?  But isn’t it interesting though, that so many of North America’s best birders tend to talk a little funny and add superfluous U’s to words like honor and color…

*by, um… someone…

Though the birding culture may differ in ways that are mostly arbitrary, the biggest hurdles from my perspective have to do with the bird names.  To whit, did I see an Pacific Loon at Lake Townsend just outside of Greensboro, or a Pacific Diver?

Despite going through a brief, but serious, Monty Python phase in my teens (as do all aspiring young nerds), I’m not what you’d call an anglophile.  At the risk of needlessly antagonizing what few British readers I have, American beer is far superior, the glorified welfare recipient on your money is lame, and David Beckham is a tool.  But you’ve got it right when it comes to Gaviformes; “Diver” is an infinitely more evocative name for those birds than “Loon”.

Loon refers, obviously, to the bird’s crazy sounding calls.  But how many of us have really heard them?  Certainly not me.  I’ve never lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line and therefore, the calls of lovelorn Loons is as foreign to me as the song of a Hoopoe.  Sure there was one time on the coast during early spring when the loons, both Common and Red-throated, were matted thick on the intercoastal waterway, when I heard a hint, the tiniest murmur, of a yodel.  But that is it.  Loons for me, and for many birders deep in their wintering range, have always been as silent as monks.

But they do dive.  Constantly, and often the very minute a scope has been trained on them only to re-emerge miles away necessitating a never ending hide and go seek game with a bird completely in its watery element.  Yes. Diver.  That’s far more appropriate  name for this bird.  I can get behind that.  One point for the Euros.

But you can have my Black-bellied Plover when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

PACLOO by New Jersey Birds via flickr (CC BY-SA-2.0)

  1. March 9, 2011 7:21 am

    Nate, you are hereby expelled from the glorious and sacred order of lazy American birders. Divers is an abomination! Many species dive! Grebes, cormorants, the Aythya ducks, eiders – need I go on?

    But only loons are loons.

    Also, what would we call the $2 Canadian coin? A Diverie? That would totally suck and likely take down the economy of our neighbor to the north.

    Why do you hate Canada, Nate?

    One of my favorite birding experiences ever was waking up pre-dawn on an Adirondack trip in Cranberry Lake and hearing Common Loons through a heavy fog. We need to get you to experience such a thing so you will never make such an insane suggestion again!

  2. March 9, 2011 8:00 am

    Indeed why do you hate Canadians? And what would be call our $2, wait its our $1 coin that’s called a loonie, the $2 one is a toonie.

    I live too far north to hear Common Loons with any regularity, but far too many birds dive to deserve that name. Loon it is.

  3. March 9, 2011 8:04 am

    Oh, man, I knew that too. I hope my idiocy doesn’t start an international incident! Would it help if I attested to the deliciousness of Tim Horton’s donuts?

  4. Nate permalink*
    March 9, 2011 8:20 am

    It’s not that I hate Canada, it’s just that as a typical American I feel comfortable telling Canadians what they should do. 😉

    I will not budge on this issue! Grebes are grebes and cormorants are cormorants. Their names are fine. But Loons? Loons? It’s silly. Loony even. Diver is just better. It just is.

  5. March 9, 2011 8:24 am

    As far as I know, we french and french canadians don’t have the same issue with that bird. It is a “plongeon”, a diver, on both side of the atlantic.

    So diver it has to be!

  6. March 9, 2011 9:23 am

    They shall forever be Loons.

    There is nothing more cool, than standing in the darkness of the Adirondacks and hearing the crazy yodels of Loons, which often goes on all night long. I’m not a religious man, but hearing Loons at night is about as close to a religious experience as you can get.

    Its at least better than that dang Barred Owl that has chosen the tree in your campsite to call alll night as well. He, however is just annoying.

  7. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    March 9, 2011 11:31 am

    You don’t have to go all that far Nate – I’ve heard Loons calling early in the morning at Ebenezer Point! And they’re pretty common down South here, Great Northern anything my ass…

  8. March 9, 2011 8:05 pm

    When Minnesota adopted the Common Loon as the state bird, there was a suggestion to make a tick the state bug. The Loon ‘n’ Tick State. Diver just doesn’t work

  9. March 9, 2011 8:12 pm

    Apparently I hit something to post the above comment before I was finished.
    I drove from Kennett Square, PA to Charlotte today. As I was driving down 85 I was wondering where I could pull off for an hour or so of birding. I will be returning on Friday afternoon and may have an hour to spare on the way home. I remember driving through a lake near Durham. Do you have a suggestion of a spot to pull of and stretch my legs while getting a chance to see some birds. I am not fussy about what, although starlings, pigeons and house sparrows would not be too exciting. A Red-cockaded Woodpecker would be nice.

    Thanks for any suggestions.

  10. March 9, 2011 10:01 pm

    Tally me firmly in the “loon” camp. I live further south than you, Nate, but I’ve still heard that haunting, thrilling sound. Granted, it was just once while on a winter pelagic trip. But now that I think of it, we did see a Pacific Loon on that trip…

  11. Nate permalink*
    March 9, 2011 10:22 pm

    @Laurent- Solidarity, brother!

    @Will- Tempting…

    @Robert- You’re more fortunate that I. Maybe I’m not there early enough.

    @Gerry- You probably went over Falls Lake, you can get off the highway at Redwood Rd and go to Hickory Hills Boat Ramp for a nice view of the lake. There’s a waterfowl impoundment nearby that may be productive as well.

    @Grant- Lucky you. Maybe this spring. I’m still partial to Diver!

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