Monday, March 18, 2013

Zitting Cis-ta-whaaat?


Reputation. I’ve never met Barack Obama, but I’ve heard he’s a solid guy. In the same vein, certain species have reputations that waft to their seekers long before the birds ever reveal themselves. Conversely, there are banalities like Meadow Pipits. Brown and streaky, they are obviously pipits, and they do indeed inhabit meadows. Nary a thought had I donated to this species before I saw my first one in January; now, they only come to mind as the epitome of blandness. 

And here I must contradict myself and write of another brown and streaky bird that nevertheless has a grand reputation, at least in my mind. Zitting Cisticola. I received my copy of Birds of Europe at the tender age of ten; upon hitting Sylviidae, I remember thinking that the Old World Warblers had been designed by some highly uncreative child who moreover clumsily smeared his hand across the blueprints, effectively destroying any inequality or difference between species. To make matters even worse, this avian engineer hastily bestowed upon this myriad of brown blights the most unhelpful of names: Green Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Dusky Warbler…

One stood out. Zitting Cisticola. Pronunciation was futile; all I knew is that I wanted to see one.

That desire remained unfilled for a decade for the simple reason that Zitting Cisticolas live in southern Europe and that I lived in various parts of the United States. But, two days ago, as I was hiking through the coastal bluffs north of Luanco, a small, virtually tail-less sprite lofted into the air and began calling—zitting, you could say—before diving back into the cover of some gorse. I knew what it was. I cautiously stalked forward and, with a bit of patience and pishing, found myself looking at the little bird with a big name that had caught my attention all those years ago.