Birdwatching: Hawfinch, Coccothraustes coccothraustes

After a pitiable lunch, I was strolling the kilometer back to my office eyes firmly affixed to my Kindle and a particularly stirring passage of Moby Dick when my port ear discerned an unusual tweet off to the left. I say my port ear alone, as my starboard ear, turned roadside as it was, registered nothing but the continual passage of trucks that mark the unceasing soundtrack of modern Chinese urban life.

But I was raised well.

And that solitary, unusual note, finding safe harbor as it did in only one aural manifold, was enough to instantly tear my mind fully away from the digital Alexandria in my hands and focus all of my senses in pursuit of identifying the feathered author.

To my left lay the road shoulder, a line of low, dehydrated shrubbery, a chain link fence, and a copse of scraggly pines doing their best to grow amongst the sandy, polluted soil. Somewhere in that copse perched my friend.

With patience I paused to more easily discern any movement, but none appeared. The occasional tweet continued, however. With measured steps I ever so slowly approached the fence, but still could not spot the shy avian minstrel only meters in front of me.

And so I waited, with face pressed firmly into the chain link, staring straight ahead into the copse of low, scraggly pines, for my friend to reveal himself.

(mind you small groups of my coworkers are continuously passing by on the sidewalk only a few meters behind me all the while your brave author stands statue-still with his face jammed into a fence)

He did appear in time, and I added a new species to my life list – the Hawfinch, aka Coccothraustes coccothraustes.

The silver bill and sharp black mask of the male in summer are unmistakable.
The silver bill and sharp black mask of the male in summer are unmistakable.

I did not have a field guide at hand (nor optics, for that matter, other than those which Nature saw fit to issue me), but remembering the key features for identification later that day was easy enough.

One of which is the stubby tail.
One of which is the stubby tail. (source: Janika2)

This fellow goes down as a migrant for Shenyang.

Range Map
Hawfinch Range Map

And I was lucky to see him, as they’re generally only found in pine and berry-laden trees, of which there are none in my regular birding haunts. Not bad for a 10 minute stroll after lunch!

The New Pollution

Robert G. Heath, my grandfather and the oldest branch of the Heath Clan tree still walking this earth when I so unceremoniously arrived, was particularly fond of referring to weddings as pollutions.

By adding an outsider to the clan via the bonds of matrimony, as the theory went, you were inevitably diluting the great and noble Heath bloodstock.

Boot Hill - as the story goes, the townsfolk didn't like the sentence handed down for his organizing a bank robbery so they sprung ol' John out of jail...
Boot Hill – as the story goes, the townsfolk didn’t like the sentence handed down for his organizing a bank robbery so they sprung ol’ John out of jail…

The only alternative to pollutions, of course, is inbreeding. But that’s not going to get any family tree very far, as branches due tend to add a sort of value to the overall production.

But we mustn’t deny a venerable old man his illogical mischievousness! And so, to his final day, my grandfather took great delight in proclaiming any and all marriages to be pollutions:

“Hey everyone! There’s going to be a wedding! a pollution!”

Preserve the genome!
Preserve the genome!

Though he lived a long life, he did not live to see the day that the firstborn son of his firstborn son committed the greatest pollution in family history, marrying a lovely Chinese girl in mid-2008.

"Your bloodline is in tatters!" "Well, we had a good run!"
“Your bloodline is in tatters!” “Well, we had a good run!”

But the wedding is only a prelude, is it not? A bottle of tequila standing beside a glass of orange juice does not a Tequila Sunrise make!

…time passes.

Look out across your lands to the horizon.

See how it darkens!

The horses stir restless in the stables.

Feel how the very earth beneath your feet seems to writhe and shudder… it is coming…

May 7th, be prepared!
May 7th, be prepared!