YOU KNOW MORE THAN YOU ADMIT

 

If you are of those who claim hardly to know one bird from another, and quite a few confess inaccurately to this state of ignorance (what, not distinguish a crow from a robin?), consider the list below. It occurs in the Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, in the volume on South Antrim. The compiler wrote this under the heading Birds of Lough Neagh.

Birds noted on or near Lough Neagh: Sparrow hawk, kestrel, barn or white owl, long eared owl, hoodcrow, rook, jackdaw, magpie, common starling, cuckoo, wood pecker, common creeper, kingfisher, swallow, martin, swift, thrush, blackbird, redbreast, water ousel, wren, red wagtail, grey wagtail, whinchat, meadow pipit, tit lark, woodlark (mistaken by many for nightingale), great titmouse, blue titmouse, long trailed titmouse, common bunting, yellow bunting, reed bunting, snow bunting, bullfinch, house sparrow, chaffinch, gold finch, ring dove, partridge, quail, plover, pewit, coot, corncrake, sandpiper, jacksnipe, common snipe, curlew, bittern, grebe, golden plover, teal, wild goose, gull, widgeon, golden eye, shag, woodcock, water hen, gannet, grey goose, duck.

(That's about 66, isn't it?)

Now, there are a few things to say about the list. There are obvious changes. We don't have bittern any more, no quail in the wild, except for an odd experimental sally. We have no woodpeckers now. (This list goes back to the 1830s.) And what's a red wagtail? And why no coal tits? And quite obviously there must have been a transcribing error or something of the order, for surely Lough Neagh had its herons.

Nevertheless, it can't be a bad list, for the ordnance people usually went to good naturalists for sources on such subjects. Templeton of Belfast is mentioned as supplying the names of species of fish, somewhere.

No, the point for your confessedly ignorant is that they cannot be so shortsighted or so deaf that they could not recall from their childhood, even if they lived in a town, the names and some detail or two about maybe half of those listed. This would go especially for boys, in an age when bird nesting was as common a juvenile pastime as marbles or hopscotch or skipping or whipping tops. Everyone knows more than he or she admits about the natural life around us.