Hot and Bothered.

I’m standing on the north shore of a small, woodland lake. The wind is blowing out of hell.

It’s a hot wind. But temperature is not the reason it’s from hell. This wind has come up here after blowing over Chicago, which sits to the south. It carries factory smells, car exhaust, burnt rubber from highway tires, greasy urban humidity.

A Green Heron comes in for a landing. His skinny wings stretch and slow him, like a jet on a carrier. He walks in the shoreline mud. Doesn’t see me because I’m not moving, just watching.

Green Herons are small for herons, but have the predatory beak and long legs. It hunches its shoulders, and is all eyes, looking for fish or frogs.

It’s got orange legs, white neck, a rusty body. What it doesn’t have is the color green. This bothers me.

Yeah, there might be a weak excuse for some vague greenish-gray on its back, but that doesn’t cut it.

Reminds me of another heron, another visitor to this lake, another misnamed bird. The Great Blue Heron. It’s tall as a big kid; with eagle wings, long legs and a sword beak. It’s gray, white and black. What it’s not is blue. It’s a great heron, okay, just not a great BLUE heron. That bothers me.

Not so green

When the wind is blowing out of hell, you get bothered by things.

Author Raymond Chandler wrote that when L.A.’s hot Santa Ana blows, “…it can…make your nerves jump and your skin itch…every booze party ends in a fight…”

I think about bird names on this day when the temperature’s pushing a hundred, and wonder what the hell caused some to be so wrong.

Herons are only part of it. The Great Crested Flycatcher isn’t great, and doesn’t have a crest. It’s pointy headed. But so are other flycatchers. Including one called a Peewee, which isn’t especially small.

Ever see a Red-bellied Woodpecker? The word “belly” is amusing in any bird’s name. But this guy’s belly isn’t red. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has a tinge of yellow near its crotch. But not much. You couldn’t even call it a Yellow-crotched Sapsucker.

The Bald Eagle’s not bald. It’s got a full head of thick, white feathers. The Golden Eagle’s not gold; it’s brown. And so it goes.

Sure, some birds have okay names. The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher works. Especially if you spot one catching gnats. And the Blue-footed Booby’s a good name, because it’s got blue feet, and c’mon: Booby.

The Green Heron takes off while I’m thinking this. Must’ve got tired of finding no food on my shoreline, or maybe he noticed me. He flew south, into the heat. He seemed comfortable, just another day at the office for him. He didn’t know he was called a Green Heron even though he’s not green. Or that the wind was blowing out of hell.

Why should he be bothered about such things? Why should I?

~    ~    ~    ~

These thoughts were originally expressed with slightly different words in a Daily Sightings post about two years ago, also written during a heat wave. 

6 Responses to “Hot and Bothered.”

  1. patrickquillin says:

    Norton: Hey Ralphie, today down by the sewer I saw a yellow bellied sapsucker.

    Cramden: How do you know it was a yellow bellied sapsucker?

    Norton: Cuz it had a yellow belly, and it was suckin sap.

    …just a little levity to ward off the heat.

  2. Marshall Claassen says:

    I remembered the piece from two years ago as I read it. Following your musings and observations vicariously are no less appreciated when restated out there on that bird trail for us, especially on a day like yesterday.

  3. pat says:

    Many is the time that I think our bird-naming forefathers were color blind & their studies were done on dead birds so maybe the colors & shapes were warped but really I just think WTF

  4. Marc D. says:

    Another reference to Chandler. What is the meaning of these repeated invocations? Some of the people who hung the names on these creatures may have been color blind. Or the misnamed birds may have evolved other colors, subsequent to their official naming, as a surival mechanism. Or perhaps it’s all a taxonomic joke.

  5. Jeff says:

    On a somewhat related tangent to fly-catchers and stupid names, why are the Chicago Cubs called the Cubs? Aren’t cubs technically immature bears, or immature younglings of other animal species? Doesn’t sound too fitting for a sports team. And I don’t really see anyone actually wearing white sox on that other team, either.

  6. Francesca says:

    My Dad (a non-birder) asked me if Gnatcatchers actually catch gnats. I said, “That’s a good question…I’m not sure if they specialize–” He interrupted me: “They must. Otherwise they’d be called Gnatmissers.”

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