As the blog’s resident “biologist,” and I use that term very loosely, I not only enjoy reading about all things natural, but feel obligated to share such insights with the rest of you so that you, too, may fully appreciate these things. Bear with me. (You should hear the dinner table conversations at our house – with two biology majors at the table, our poor children are regularly subjected to strange topics.)
I have found myself in uncharted waters on the Heath, however. Apparently, my knowledge of flying creatures does not extend to Egdon Heath. I’m reading along in Chapter 10 and begin to encounter a variety of birds. First there is the bustard found “haunting a spot” on the Heath. A bustard? Well, change one vowel and I’ve heard of the word…hmmm. Well, a-searching the internet I go to find that a bustard is “a large and highly terrestrial bird mainly associated with dry open country and steppes in the Old World. They range in length from 40 to 150 cm (16 to 59 in). They make up the family Otididae (formerly known as Otidae). Bustards are omnivorousand opportunistic.” Thanks Wikipedia. Apparently they have really interesting mating displays as well, and prefer to walk or run rather than fly. Here’s a picture for your viewing pleasure:
Uh, oh. Here’s another one I’ve never encountered. “Marsh-harriers looked up from the valley by Wildeve’s.” Boy, my education is either deficient or just so far in the past I don’t really remember it anymore. A marsh-harrier is apparently a medium-sized bird of prey (raptor) found in open wetlands pretty much all over the world. Except America. Whew. Maybe I’m off the hook. No need to protect your American chickens or bunnies from this predator:
Here we go again. “A cream-colored courser had used to visit this hill,” but, sad, sad story, a “barbarian rested neither day or night till he had shot the African truant, and after that event cream-colored coursers thought fit to enter Egdon no more.” Well, I found that tale of relocation and barbarism very compelling, didn’t you? A courser is a fast-running, plover-like bird. What does plover-like mean? Well, like this:
Now that’s cute, isn’t it? Makes you mad at the barbarian who hunted it to extinction on the Heath. What was he thinking? It actually reminds me a bit of the sandpipers we have in Michigan. Next time I see one I’ll think of the courser. Poor bird.
And now I’m feeling really dumb, as I’m down three in the Jeopardy Heath Fowl category. Thankfully, with number four, I scored. “Here in front of him was a wild mallard – just arrived from the home of the north wind.” Now I’m in familiar territory. I could identify a mallard in my sleep. So could you, I bet. Thanks, Hardy. I think.