Humour from “Wild Birdwatchers I Have Known” by Gerry Bennett

Gerry Bennett (1921 – 1999) was a friend of my grandfather’s and I was delighted to receive a copy of this 1977 book recently. Here are some anecdotes from it:

Years ago, Ashbridge’s Bay attracted thousands of shorebirds each fall. At lunch time, you could park your car right at the edge of the marsh, eat your lunch in the car and add two or three good species to your year’s list. A railway spur line ran along the southern edge of the marsh. One lunch hour in the days when steam locomotives were still in use, Alf Bunker (a railway engineer) and I were there with binoculars looking over the Bay. When our time was up, I got into my car to drive away. Alf climbed into a mammoth, panting steam engine, parked on the rail siding, and drove off.

One year at Point Pelee, an enthusiastic beginner with an open Field Guide came rushing up to Jim Baillie and I saying she had just seen a pyrrhuloxia. Jim had been through this misidentification of cardinals many times before. In his quiet way he said, “I’m afraid there are no records of a pyrrhuloxia in Canada.” The lady gleefully replied, “Well, there is now!”


One June evening, my wife and I were driving at about 60 mph on a four lane highway in the Niagara area. I saw a male Baltimore oriole flying across the highway and thought it would be impossible to avoid hitting it. However there was no sound of impact. No feathers flew. I was relieved. The next day I was standing beside my car on a country road. The loud chatter of an oriole came from inside the car. I lifted the hood and out came the oriole, apparently unharmed.

Baltimore Oriole (male)

While birdwatching in Cedarvale Ravine in 1959 (a western tanager had been reported there) an odd-looking character was ahead of me. Catching up to him, I asked if he was looking for birds. He said he certainly was not. I asked if, by chance, he had seen a strange bird. He said he certainly hadn’t. “I just wondered because a few hours ago, a friend of mine saw a western tanager.” Whipping a pair of binoculars from under his jacket, he wheeled and said, “Western tanager! Where?”


My nomination for the birding goof of all time is the wartime song: There’ll be bluebirds over The white cliffs of Dover, Tomorrow, just you wait and see.” Well, everyone is still waiting. There weren’t any bluebirds in Dover before the war. There weren’t any during the war and there aren’t going to be any.

Eastern Bluebird (male)

Alan Outram went to great pains one time to trick Jim Baillie in the identification of some eggs. His budgie had laid eggs and then deserted them. Alan decided to put the eggs into whatever old nest he could find in the woods. The next day he took his eggs and nest to the Museum’ Department of Ornithology. When he saw Jim, he said, “Sorry to bother you, but do you have any idea what kind of eggs these are?” With only a one second glance, Jim replied, “They look like budgerigar’s eggs. How come you put them in a chestnut-sided warbler’s nest?”


Gerry Bennett

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