Talk about tenacious. According to a story from NPR, two guys are trying to identify a bird, quite possibly a new species, based on a wing found 20 years ago: Their subject is a bird Gerry Nicholls says no birdwatcher has ever seen. Twenty years ago a researcher found it dead and decomposing in a remote Ethiopian plain and brought back just a wing to the Natural History Museum in London.
"Halfway up the wing is a big, beige patch, so it was very distinctive," Nicholls says. "And on the basis of just one wing, it was described to science as a new species, Caprimulgus solala — solala meaning 'only a wing.'"
Now that is an interesting story in and of itself. It's my kind of birding: find a big piece of a dead bird and realize that it doesn't match anything in the field guides--how cool a mystery is that? But then the story takes an odd turn:
Nicholls, 61, grew up in England, but now lives in Connecticut, where he works as a nurse. He's been all over the world trying to get a glimpse of rare species. His fellow adventurers included Ian Sinclair, a South African author of several bird field guides, and buddies Vernon Head and Dennis Weir — whom Nicholls mostly refers to by their nicknames, Winky and Fruitcake. They knew finding the bird, which is more commonly called the Nechisar nightjar, was a long shot.
Winky? Fruitcake? This so does not help the cause of birding being for the nerdy/geeky. Although, I've been a little irritated that the American Ornithologists' Union is changing some bird names because of the widespread dislike of long cluncky names like Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow (it is now just Nelson's sparrow). I'd like to know who is this huge population of birders who can't handle six syllables? Most of the birders I know don't care or actually liked the name Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow. I don't know, perhaps the AOU is in collusion with field guide publishers so new guides can be published. Or perhaps they are odd little people.
Anyway, I digress. If this piece of wing turns out to be a new speices of bird, I think they should abandon Nechisar nightjar and just go for Winky's beige-patched nightjar. You can read the full story and see photos of the wing, Winky, and Fuitcake here.