Tuesday 21 February 2012


Even though I saw that Yellowthroat for a total of about ten seconds, it was a pretty special bird. The vividness of the yellow was very surprising, but maybe against a backdrop of damp hedge it just shone out? When I started out on the measured and sensible endeavour that is twitching, I never thought I'd see American birds. I'm not sure what I thought really, probably nothing - fledgling twitchers don't spend a great deal of time thinking and I'm sure I was no different. Yay, rare bird, let's go!

I've not seen a huge number now, they truly are very rare. My Yank passerines are confined to a couple of Sparrows, two Dark-eyed Juncos, a Black-and-White Warbler, a Northern Waterthrush, a Swainson's Thrush and of course the Yellowthroat - eight birds in a period of four years, encompassing three trips to Scilly and two to Shetland. Clearly it's something you have to work at! In twitching terms, they're some of the best and most enjoyable birds I've seen, and I was wondering why it is that I like Yanks better than I like Sibes?

I think the answer boils down to two things. The first is that I've been to America quite a few times and seen all of these birds in their native habitat. You might think that might diminish the enjoyment to had from glimpsing a lost wait, but actually it increases the wow factor. The second is that I'm American. No, really. Mom, as I like to call her, is from California. American birds are therefore my birds.

If you were ever fortunate enough to actually meet me, you would not be able to tell I am part Yank. I have no twang, no ten gallon hat. I do carry a gun though so y'all muggers had better watch out! Not really. I might have the odd peculiarity of expression that comes from growing up with an American parent, but that's about it. Perhaps this is a good thing, Americans are not universally popular right now. Having spent a lot of time there, you can see where the stereotypes come from, but let me say right now that pretty much every person I have ever met in America has kind, generous, honest and genuine. There is very little snideness, very little rudeness, people are just nice - plain and simple. When someone says "you have a good day now", as many of them do, you feel that they really mean it. In this country, the default stance would be to assume they were taking the piss. Admittedly my experience of America is a fairly narrow one - a college town in Ohio, and a few coastal settlements in California - but nonetheless I believe that Americans are just nice people, just like me.

I feel American enough to religiously celebrate Thanksgiving every year, and to feel twinges of pride on dates like July 4th, Obama's inauguration, and other momentous dates. And also to know that if I ever find myself in a sticky situation, the Marines are on the way. Where my American-ness really shines out though is in my tastes. I bet you didn't know that I'm a country music fan? I tend not to publicise this too much, but having subjected a carload to it on the way to Gwent and back, I might as well come clean. No doubt this comes from being brought up on a diet of Emmylou Harris, John Denver, and Kate & Anna McGarrigle (actually Canadian), but it is a source of constant exasperation to Mrs L that if it falls to me to pick a CD, I'll likely home in on something along these lines. Tim McGraw, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Taylor Swift, Johnny Cash - I could play them all for hours if I was allowed. Bob Harris Country on Thursday evenings is required listening, and A Prairie Home Companion is the best radio program ever, up there with Test Match Special as far as I'm concerned. If you've never heard the gentle strains of the Tishomingo Blues introducing the show, played by The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band and sung by Garrison Keillor, you're missing out. Like various UK radio shows, it's something of an institution, and has been going for nearly 40 years. Here's a short clip of the kind of thing you can expect from this amazing live variety show - there truly is nothing else like it.

Sadly it's not restricted to birds, music and radio. I'm also somewhat addicted to Ben & Jerry's and pancakes with maple syrup. But you really wouldn't be able to tell that.


  1. You should get some pavement!

  2. AH, i've been listening to the news from Lake Wobegon for 20 (or is it 30) years now! It's always a treat!

  3. I forgot you had American ties. Thank you for your (mostly, ha) kind words. I'm proud of many things about my country, but feel like we are increasingly ignorant, insular, class-bound, and... (struggling to stop my list of adjectives there). On the other hand it is a tough time for many places around the world these days. And the Marines are pretty impressive.

    Also, we do have some excellent birds. Western tanager, painted bunting, California quail, roadrunners, assorted hummingbirds, the roseate spoonbill, etc. At our previous house located more out in the country, I had a yearly marker something like your wheatears: every spring a field of crabapples would bloom into pink, and then a few days later a number of indigo buntings would show up and sing in them. I am not sure there is anything much more beautiful than seeing an indigo bunting eating a pink crabapple blossom.

    Speaking of which, I think I may have to go see this flock of 3600+ snow buntings this weekend! http://www.flickr.com/photos/emhimages/6940083609/in/set-72157627782175313/