January 20, 2010


As a child I was enrolled in an amateur bird watching program at Coyote Hills regional park. Some of you may not know this. It's true. I was a "Birder." Our ranger guide went by the moniker "Dr. Quack" and claimed to have webbed toes. I can neither confirm nor deny that the man actually had webbed toes. He weekly led a small pack of misfit elementary school children through the hills, valleys, and saltwater marshes of Coyote Hills, identifying birds and teaching us nature-themed songs. My personal favorite:

It starts with an S
And it ends with a T.
It comes out of you
And it comes out of me.
I know what you're thinking,
But don't call it that!
Let's be scientific
And let's call it: SCAT!

I quit birders sometime in mid-late elementary school. I don't remember why exactly. I never became a "Hawk" which probably disappointed young, fiercely competitive me. For the record, being a Birder left weird, lasting effects. For example, I can still identify most California birdsong by ear, and can sometimes tell you if the bird is male or female. Some friends may have experienced this whilst walking through UCSC campus, when I would suddenly find the words, "Hark! A female Junco!" leaving my mouth. Useful, no. Oft embarrassing, yes. Although I never find myself singing the scat song anymore, I still love and appreciate the natural world and can't help but notice the feathered fowl that frequent it. Living here has enabled my Birder-dom to a new and frightening degree. There are so many birds here. With winter came a new influx of unfamiliar birds which apparently only arrive with cold weather. Why anyone would come here to escape the cold, I do not know. Birds are illogical.

Anyway, this is all a lead up to a really ridiculous bird. There have been bunches of these little diving ducks around lately, and they are really, really cute. They are black and white and striped with round little bodies and bottoms and big poofy heads and they whistle. They have never come close enough to the house for me to identify them, until this afternoon. I looked out the front window and noticed a small group of the little things in the shallow water and grabbed my binoculars, running outside barefoot to identify ducks. Yes, I got that excited. Binoculars revealed them to be even cuter than I had previously thought.

I came back inside and grabbed my Eastern Field Guide to Birds (yes, I own this book) and flipped through. After some back and forth (there are a lot of small black and white ducks, unexpectedly), I identified them as Bucephala albeola. Common name? Bufflehead. Bufflehead. This discovery led into what was probably as much as thirty minutes of me giggling ridiculously while imagining the process by which the bufflehead achieved its noble name. I like to imagine very serious, European naturalists with white powdered wigs in a large conference hall. A particularly distinguished gentleman stands and says, "I present, the bufflehead." They all clap earnestly, with gravitas. Honestly, it's like naming something the cutesy-bootsy-face. Just say the word to yourself. Bufflehead. Anyway. Over a decade later and I am still a complete nerd.


  1. My family has a genetic predisposition toward the second and third toes coming out of the foot together before branching out into separate digits. In my little sister's case, however, they never do fully separate, so in effect she has "webbed" feet.

  2. I've definitely heard the scat song.