Thursday 28 March 2013

So That's Why It's Called Purple Sandpiper

Penzance - 26th March 2013

Some bird names only make sense when you remember they were generally invented by people who only ever encountered the species as a specimen. Is the plumage of Soft-plumaged Petrel really that soft?  Not particularly, as it happens. And what's so pomarine about Pomarine Skua - it was originally pomatorhine (via French pomarin) meaning nose with a lid, i.e. horny plates covering the nostril - a cere. So, a feature shared with other skuas and not terribly helpful in the field.

Purple Sandpipers have never looked particularly purple to me, mostly dark grey.  Then I was processing some shots from a few days ago and noticed a faint, but definite purple tint to the scapulars of this bird. It's not obvious and I certainly didn't notice it at the time but it's definitely there. It's another 'museum name', obvious when you've got the bird in the hand, less than helpful from any distance. Still, I can't help wondering why, given its habits, it didn't get called Rock Sandpiper - I know that name now goes with Calidris ptilocnemis but that species was described by Coues in 1873, surely by then C.maritima (described by Brünnich in 1764) should have taken the name?

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