Oh, Shrikes!


We continue with the bird taxonomy lesson/rant with another family on another continent – shrikes. The all-knowing Wikipedia informs me that the name is derived from the Latin word for ‘butcher’  – or, at least, its scientific family, Laniidae, is. (Linguist nerds: the Latin word is Lanius, which happily also means executioner.)

Now, “butcher” might seem a trifle macabre for a bird of such lovely colors. It might seem an unfair judgement of a perhaps overly – practical beak and a glint in the eye that appears slightly evil when viewed in the wrong (or right) lighting. Taxonomists, one might shake one’s head. When they have any imagination, it’s too much.

In the shrike’s case, however, “butcher” appears to be entirely accurate. In Africa, they’re known as the fiscal – which happens to be the word for hangman. It’s not an unfair likeness to a serial killer that caused it. They are in the habit of picking up insects or small prey and literally skewering it on acacia thorns. In the absence of acacia, barbed wire will do, or really just any sharp point. It’s really a very practical adaptation: this way, they can rip their catch into smaller, manageable fragments. Heck, it even works for short-term storage. Stick it on – well, a stick, and then keep coming back for a nibble before it rots entirely. In the case of the toxic lubber grasshopper, it’s perfect – one to two days of dead impaled grasshopper later, all the poison has degraded and voila, dinner.

Satay, anyone?

(Note: shrike itself has a rather less gruesome origin. It’s simply the near-screaming sound of the bird’s call.)

From the Lake to the Trees


Some lovely branches against the sky from the Pyrenees caught my eye. Their curling intricacies fascinated me, especially when the sun shone through – and so I photographed it.

On another note, posting will be sporadic to totally absent over the next ten days due to the fact I’m travelling and will likely have no internet, nor the time to schedule posts. But I hope to return with lots of lovely birds and other creatures to share.

The Case of the Vagabond Wagtails

WhiteWagtailI’ve mentioned white wagtails before – and how my desire to see them twisted the identity of completely different bird species to fit my purpose – and so, having yearned and not achieved, I expected that they would be a pipe dream.

But fate conspired against me. And so you can imagined how surprised I was, when, at an intersection in Barcelona city, I spotted a suspiciously familiar-looking white face and characteristic wagging tail. A quick Google later, my suspicions were confirmed – I had finally seen a white wagtail.

I could finally boast of seeing it, though the fact that I had to traverse half the globe to do so undermined my argument slightly. Ah well. When this individual in question was literally just outside the airport to greet us, I’m not complaining.