What’s in a name?

by on Jan.17, 2009, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

I have recently been dipping into an old book that a friend had given to me when he was having a clear out. The book, published in 1936 is called “Birds of the Wayside and Woodland” and is a fascinating insight into a bygone age and just reading it can transport me back through the decades. It does give a fascinating insight, however, into names and how they have changed. I was particularly reminded of this today when we were travelling down the A19 to take Martin’s grandma out for lunch on her birthday. We passed fields of pheasants, and usually you may not give this colourful game bird a second glance, but look closely and you will see wide variation. These birds, which feature in the Northern Experience logo, are really quite remarkable. Some of the males can be almost black in colour and some have vividly marked neck rings whilst others have none. My book gives some indication as to the reason for this under the entry for Pheasant. It refers to two species: the “Common Pheasant” Phasianus colchicus, introduced into this country centuries ago, and the “Ring-necked Pheasant” Phasianus torquatus introduced more recently. Of course, the pheasants that we see now are a mixture of various species and races and it is impossible to distinguish their ancestry. One of the distinguishing features of all pheasants, the long tail, does mean that the name is given to other species, colloquially, and I was interested to read in my book of “Reed Pheasant” and “Sea Pheasant”. I had never heard of these species before but, turning to the relevant pages, all became clear. They referred to Bearded Tit and Pintail, respectively birds of reed and sea and both with long tails. Whilst Bearded Tit is a rare bird in Northumberland, Pintail can be seen off the Northumberland coast in winter and is a spectacular sight on our Lindisfarne safaris.

Browsing through the book, I also got to discover some other local and now forgotten names for other bird species, for example ‘Black Curlew’ (Glossy Ibis – a rare visitor to Britain), ‘Common Bunting’ (Corn Bunting – now almost absent from Northumberland) and ‘Blueback’ (Fieldfare – a winter visitor from Scandinavia).


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