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Infrequently Given Answers - vol 6.

Well, 2003 has dawned, and another year has gone by. It must be about that time again - for another round of Infrequently Given Answers. And this one reveals, if you didn't see it first time around, where that word "twitcher" came from. It also talks about sex. But first it is, as I said, that time again...

From: Mark Etheridge
Subject: It's That Time Again
Date: 19 Dec 2002 

On the first day of Xmas I sent ukrb
A Perdix perdix in a Pyrus calleryana
(and a latin-english dictionary)

On the second day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Two Turtle Doves
(but one of 'em was too red so it was forwarded to Orkney)

On the third day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Three French Hens
(Mindful of the dangers of the introduction of non-native species they
will be served with fava beans and a nice Chianti - slppp slppp slppp)

On the fourth day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Four Calling Birds
(They were originally "colly" or "collie" birds or black birds of some
description and that sparked off a discussion in ukrb which only ended
after vast tracts of usenet had been laid waste)

On the fifth day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Five Gold Rings
(Actually this was misheard as "five cold rings" which was the number
of unsolicited telephone calls from double-glazing salesmen who were
referred to my house by the neighbours after the calling birds were

On the sixth day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Six Geese a-laying
(at least one of which was a suspected Lesser Ross's Snow Greylag,
thus causing considerable confusion amongst the geese experts in the
vicinity of Islay)

On the seventh day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Seven Swans a-swimming
(One Mute, one Whooper, one Bewick, one Trumpeter, one Whistling, one
Australian Black and one Coscoroba and what happened? Yes, another
furious argument about the pronunciation of "Whooper". I wonder why I

On the eighth day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Eight Maids a-milking
(and was promptly flamed by alt.vegan to whom I had inadvertently
cross-posted. I had to send the cows as well, I am awaiting the bill
for dung removal)

On the ninth day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Nine Ladies dancing
(I was beginning to struggle at this point, I actually meant to send
99 ladies, one for each of Pete's aliases over the last year, but
there was a distinct shortage of "available ladies" in Basildon)

On the tenth day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Ten Lords a-leaping
(Actually they were bloody furious, having been recently deprived of
huntin' shootin' and fishin' rights, they'd heard that someone called
Angus had been instrumental in this and he had been spotted hangin'
about on the fringes of ukrb. Hangin' was a word they were using a lot
as they went out of the door)

On the eleventh day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Eleven Pipers piping
(Plus twenty four tons of sand to keep them happy. I also had to pay
return fares from foreign climes, not many sandpipers available in the
UK at this time of year)

On the twelfth day of Xmas I sent ukrb
Twelve Drummers drumming
(The snipe for this present were most unco-operative; instead of
drumming as advertised, they just sat on fence posts looking
miserable. Who can blame them? It is Xmas after all)

Season's Greetings

From: Mike Humberston 
Subject: Re: Spring Sprung Dunnocks
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2002 

Chris Mead wrote:

>The message from  Mike Humberston contains these words: 
>> The pair of Dunnocks in my garden which are usually quiet, unassuming
>> birds have gone mad this morning.  They're zooming all over the place,
>> one after the other, accompanied by a lot of twittering.

>Are you certain they are a pair?  Dunnock sex life can be very complicated!

Perhaps I should have said two Dunnocks as I don't know if they were
a pair.  Please would you elucidate on the complications of their sex

From: Malcolm 
Subject: Re: Spring Sprung Dunnocks
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2002 

Mike Humberston writes
>Perhaps I should have said two Dunnocks as I don't know if they were
>a pair.  Please would you elucidate on the complications of their sex

Read the book!!

Dunnock Behaviour and Social Evolution, by N.B.Davies
OUP 1992. ISBN 0 19 854675 0 (pbk)

and be prepared to be amazed, or disgusted (!), depending on your point 
of view.

And, like everything Nick writes, it is an eminently readable book 
despite being a scientific work with a liberal sprinkling of graphs and 
other diagrams.

He begins with a quote from the noted Victorian ornithologist, the 
Reverend Morris:

"Unobtrusive, quiet and retiring, without being shy, humble and homely 
in its deportment and habits, sober and unpretending in its dress, while 
still neat and graceful, the dunnock exhibits a pattern which many of a 
higher grade might imitate, with advantage to themselves and benefit to 
others through an improved example."

and then proceeds, in the book, to show just how wide of the mark this 
is, as he goes on:

"The Reverend Morris's recommendation turns out to be unfortunate: we 
now know that the dunnock belies its dull appearance, having bizarre 
sexual behaviour and an extraordinarily variable mating system. Had his 
congregation followed suit, there would have been chaos in the parish 
and the Reverend Morris's devotion to ornithology and the writing of his 
'A History of British Birds' would have been severely disrupted."

Beg, borrow or steal it, and enjoy :-)


Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2002 
From: Chris Mead 
Subject: Re: Spring Sprung Dunnocks

I have little to add to what Malcolm has said.  Suffice to say that 
the well known cloaca pecking behaviour has simply been explained by 
one male getting rid of the sperm of another from the female (and 
Nick has found the displaced packets of sperm) and that the male's 
gonads may make up 8% of his weight.

Beg, borrow or steal, read, enjoy and be amazed!

Chris Mead, Hilborough, Norfolk

From: "Karl Johnson" 
Subject: Re: Spring Sprung Dunnocks
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2002 

"Chris Mead" wrote ...

> and that the male's
> gonads may make up 8% of his weight.

Hmmm?.. What would be 8% of 11 stone 3lbs then?

Just wondered... or wished!!!  :-)


A little while ago I pontificated that the origin of the word "twitcher" was unknown. (Well, Bill Oddie said it was, so who was I to argue?) But don't underestimate uk.r.b.

From: "Jason Smart" 
Subject: Re: what is "twichting" and a "twitcher"
Date: Fri, 26 Apr 2002 

Stephen Poley wrote ...
> On Wed, 24 Apr 2002 11:41:10 +0200, Markus Jais wrote:
> >I am a german birder and I have seen the word "twitcher" and "to twicht"
> >but when I look up the words in my dictionary the translation doesn't seem
> >to fit, maybe because this is some birder slang.
> >
> >could someone please explain me what "twitcher" means?

> Yes, it is indeed a bit of birding slang. "Twitching" is making a
> special journey to see a rare bird that someone else has found.
> "Twitchers" are people who do this, and the term is usually reserved for
> people who do it often. No-one is quite sure where it comes from, but
> probably from the nervous twitches of people who are frightened that
> they will fail to see the bird (or "dip out on it", to use another piece
> of slang.)

Here is a letter from "British Birds", 76/8 (Aug 1983), p.353:

"'Twitcher' is actually a John Izzard-Bob Emmett word which was coined in
the middle 1950s to describe our good friend Howard Medhurst, alias 'The

"Birdwatching transport was very much a two-wheeled affair in those days.
John Izzard and his girlfriend, Sheila, rode a Lambretta, whilst Howard rode
pillion on my Matchless. The Lambretta had a unique luxury built into it: a
back-warming, lap-warming dog, 'Jan', which used to travel jammed between
John and Sheila. There was no such creature comfort on the Matchless; on
arrival at some distant destination, Howard would totter off the back of my
machine and shiveringly light up a cigarette. This performance was repeated
so regularly up and down the country that it became synonymous with good
birds, and, as we all felt a slight nervous excitement at the uncertainty
involved in trying to see a particular bird, it became a standing joke, and
John and I would act out a nervous twitch to match Howard's shiverings. This
led us to describe a trip to see a rare bird as 'Being on a twitch'.
Inevitably, this led to the term 'twitcher'. It was our association with the
Portsmouth Group in the New Forest that extended the term into more general
use. In the late 1960s, it became a derogatory term to describe unscrupulous
tick-hunters (and as far as I am concerned it still is). It is pretty safe
to say, however, that Howard Medhurst was - in the nicest possible way - the
original twitcher.

"R. E. Emmett"


From: "Gordon Hamlett" 
Subject: three new species - well at least they ought to be
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2002 

Editing the UK Bird Sightings for BWM this month brought forth the
following typos:-

Bared Warbler

Snooty Shearwater and

Mars Harrier - which surely beats even the Arctic Tern as our longest
distance migrant <grin>


From: (Steve McDonald)
Subject: Re: three new species - well at least they ought to be
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2002 

     On our regional bird list we've had a Hored Grebe, a Shmew (Yiddish
name?) and a Marbled Martinet (its mother may have been French).

Steve McDonald

From: (Mike McDowall)
Subject: Re: three new species - well at least they ought to be
Date: Tue, 08 Oct 2002 

On Tue, 8 Oct 2002 10:50:00 +0000 (UTC), "Gordon Hamlett" wrote:

>Mars Harrier - which surely beats even the Arctic Tern as our longest
>distance migrant <grin>

This causes regular confusion amongst novice space ornithologists. I
don't think this was deliberately set up as a hoax to improve
marketing, but the Mars Harrier is a chocolate confection, not a
migrant bird.

The target market for this confection was originally the leisure
exercise market, hence the name.


From: "Jason Smart" 
Subject: Re: three new species - well at least they ought to be
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2002 

And there was me thinking that the species hunts Mars bars and they're what
makes the females brown.

From: Stephen Poley 
Subject: SBC - NL
Date: Sun, 15 Dec 2002 

Another one from the Dutch section of the SBC:

A White's Thrush was reported from Piaam in Friesland. The bird was
skulking among some fallen leaves and twigs, but could be observed at
close range, and the description was encouraging: spangled black and
gold, with a black bill and a large black eye. Someone else went looking
for it, and eventually found it. It was a sick Golden Plover.

From: "Bill Alexander" 
Subject: Re: SBC - NL
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2002 01:20:06 -0000

An easy mistake to make :-)

From: Malcolm 
Subject: Re: SBC - NL
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2002 

There's clearly a need for a new field guide. I think it is pretty 
certain that none of the existing ones offer Golden Plover as a possible 
confusion species with White's Thrush, or vice versa.

The problem might be getting people to admit their wilder 


And when the uk.r.b folks can't find anything to talk about, they have a simple solution - they talk about nothing instead.

From: "andrew.howes1" 
Subject: please ignore this message
Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002 

Just testing out my new set up.


From: "Bill Alexander" 
Subject: Re: please ignore this message
Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002 

"andrew.howes1" skrev i meddelandet
> Just testing out my new set up.
> AH

If you want anyone to read a message just head it "Please Ignore this
message" :-)


From: "Tony & Sally" 

And unfortunately your not the only sad (*& to reply! :-)


From: "Karl Johnson" 

LOL! I know what you mean, I couldn't resist it either!!

It's like the old 'Wet Paint - Do Not Touch' sign dilemma!!  :-)

From: "Tony Parkinson" 

Personally, I find more temptation to read replies to a message titled
"Please Ignore this message"

From: "Martin van der Mijden" 

Or replies to the replies to a message called "Please ignore this message"


From: Paul Rooney 

On Mon, 30 Sep 2002 08:37:40 +0100, "andrew.howes1" wrote:

>Just testing out my new set up.

I appear to be the only one in the thread who has managed to ignore
your message  (-:

From: "Anne Burgess" 

> I appear to be the only one in the thread who has managed to ignore
> your message  (-:
> Paul
I must protest! I have also been busy ignoring it (whatever it said) <g>


From: Mike 

In article <an9ftr$94e$>, Anne Burgess writes
>I must protest! I have also been busy ignoring it (whatever it said) <g>

Ignoring what?

From: "Anne Burgess" 

> Ignoring what?
Whatever he claims he was ignoring  .....  sorry, there's a bird at the
window, I have other things to do


From: "Malda" 

andrew.howes1 wrote...
> Just testing out my new set up.
> AH

Works then!!!!

From: Mike 

Colin A Jacobs writes
>Why does this rubbish cause more post threads than something to do with

Because people like you, me and the others reply to it for a bit of
light relief   :-))

Or do you think the Net Nanny should jump in and stop it? 

"I think not" ;-)
Speak not always of what you think, but think always of what you 

From: Richard Candeland 

Really sad, but......

I found all your replies so amusing that I've put a 'Keep' on the whole
thread so that I can come back to it when work either bores or depresses

Hmmm ... and now you mention it Richard - so did I!

From: "Gordon Hamlett" 
Subject: Re: Bill's return to Blighty
Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2002 

"Michael J Davis" wrote ...
> Bill Alexander observed
> >
> >Bill....
> >available for gigs and bar mitzvahs, now businessless, so seeking job for
> >the first time in 30 years.Anything considered!

> What actually do you *do* at a bar mitzvah? Bird impressions?

Yup. Here are some of them:-

1    A little tern - what the audience asks for. See also little stint.
2    A common tern - what they usually get.
3    A sandwich tern - as performed during the half time interval.
4    swallow - see number 3.
5    swift - the exit when the audience realises it is not going to be
     number 1.
6    Brambling - as in 'what's the silly B rambling on about this
     time?' See also who's that Raven idiot.
7    Ptarmigan - as in the Rolf Harris classic Ptarmigan-garoo down

Hi Bill - welcome back


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