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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Those Hyphenated Colonials

I alluded recently to those awkward chimeric hyphenated bird names we're lumbered with in Australia, in the recent post about the shrike-thrush that started spring recently, and cuckoo-shrikes. Our European forebears were faced with a continent full of birds, most of which were unfamiliar, but some of which inevitably reminded them of species back home. Very few of the new settlers sought the advice of the original inhabitants, on this matter or any other, but preferred to coin new names. Some of them weren't very imaginative, and so we have 'wrens', 'magpies', 'choughs', 'robins' etc, which certainly aren't those things, but which vaguely resemble entirely unrelated northern hemisphere species. Where they did show some imagination (which I might suggest was misplaced) was in blending names of bird groups - unrelated to each other, and to the bird in question!

It's a holiday here (not that that means a lot when you're self-employed and your partner is doing her usual shift!), so I just want to show, in a light-hearted way, what the originals of some of these compound names look like, with an example of the birds to which they were appended; you can decide how appropriate they are! (You will be unsurprised to hear that my answer is universally "not very".)

Here are examples of some of the mostly Old World groups that were most favoured as name building blocks. Some of the shots are either poor, or borrowed from the web; I was last in Europe decades ago (other than a couple of fleeting stopovers), and without a camera.
European Magpie, Madrid. A crow.
It was the colour combination they seized on.
Common Fiscal Shrike, Cameroon.
There are no true shrikes in Australia, but several 'shrikes'; the relevant aspect here is the predatory hooked bill.
Austral Thrush, Chile.
There are a couple of true thrushes here, but the name has been applied to some non-thrushes,
in reference to the song.
Horsfield's, or Singing, Bushlark (juvenile), Canberra.
This is Australia's only native lark, but the family is abundant elsewhere; again the song is probably the relevant feature.
Great Tit (from the web)
Here the colour combination was the basis of the choice.
(The group is known as chickadees in North America.)
King Quail, captive birds.
Apparently the only relevant aspect of them is that they live on the ground...
OK, so what are some of the combinations that these birds inspired?
Eastern Shrike-tit.
Perhaps the most convincing of them, with the tit's colours and the shrike's bill.
Grey Shrike-thrush, Fraser Island.
Again the shrike bill, with a glorious song (if I'm being parochial I reckon it's better than any thrush!).
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Canberra.
The shrike bill again, with a sort-of cuckoo-like dipping flight... Mmm.
Magpie-lark male, Canberra.
The black-and-white (ie magpie) bit's OK, but lark? Great bird, but not melodious!
Spotted Quail-thrush female, Namadgi National Park, near Canberra.
This is a total mystery to me. Quail presumably for living mostly on the ground; and it sings a bit (like a thrush?),
but really! This one is impressive too for joining not only two different families, but two separate orders!
I may think of more later, but this is enough silliness for today. And the names are mostly about us, not the organisms, which are always more interesting!

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