Monday, April 11, 2011

New names for old birds and flowers

click photo to enlarge
Yesterday, on a short pre-prandial Fenland walk with friends, I saw my first barn swallow of the year. What, I hear you ask, is a barn swallow? Is it some kind of rare vagrant, blown off course, fetching up over the flat Lincolnshire landscape in search of flies? It is, of course, no such thing, merely the new name for Hirundo rustica agreed by the British Ornithologists' Union in its revised taxonomy.

The Lincolnshire Bird Club, from which I gleaned this information, began using the new names for wildfowl and gamebirds in its 2008 report. The current volume (2009) extends the revised taxonomy to grebes and passerines. Molecular studies of the past twenty years have prompted the revision as the relationship between birds have become clearer, and a number of ornithological bodies and publications now use the new nomenclature. It is a minority of names that have changed, and then usually by the addition of an extra word. Thus for example, the jackdaw becomes the Western jackdaw, the nuthatch the Eurasian nuthatch, the wheatear the Northern wheatear, and the scaup becomes the greater scaup. I imagine it will be several decades before these revised names become widely used.

What, you might also ask, has this got to do with a photograph of some beautiful bleeding heart flowers in my garden? The answer is that plants have also been undergoing name changes. In the case of bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) the change is to the Latin name, and it is now known as Lamprocapnos spectabilis. Perhaps the reason for the switch is the same one that prompted the re-naming of our birds. I must find out.

Incidentally, to return to the swallow (sorry, barn swallow), my first sighting last year was April 1. That surprises me because the weather has been significantly milder recently, and I'd have expected to see the first bird earlier as a consequence.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/80
ISO: 250
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On