Monday, 25 October 2010
I used to know most of the latin names of the birds of the Western Palearctic. I've forgotten a few of them now, but can still surprise myself with plucking them out of the air. A colleague at work would often test me, even though he isn't a birder, because it amused him. Some latin names are so apt, and I don't mean by their literal translation. Scolopax rusticola says Woodcock to me more than the word Woodcock does. Lymnocryptes minimus describes a cryptically-plumaged small skulking thing much better than Jack Snipe does. Pallas's Warbler does create an image by association, but not as much as Phylloscopus proregulus, which sounds far more stately and regal, as befits such a jewel. I had a birding friend who just couldn't get to grips with latin and used to make his own up, but he didn't make them up terribly well. So, in his birding world, Reed Bunting was, in all seriousness, Reedus Buntingus. I still think of that species by that name in honour of his ways. Maybe we should all wander around proclaiming species in latin - it would stop all this Wood Nuthatch and Pied Avocet nonsense.