It was not easy bird watch-
ing with my old pal Bill. He was
hard of hearing and had cheap
hearing aids. He never learned
how to close a car door softly,
he was always hungry, and he
snored like a B-24 bomber.
Another reason for not going
bird watching with Bill was that
he was part Cherokee and had
papers to prove it. Don’t misunderstand: I have nothing against
Native Americans, but Bill had
learned the old names for birds,
and it could get confusing.
Once on a bird-watching trip
to Texas, we found ourselves in
the Rio Grande Valley, and Bill
spotted it first.
“Rain crow!” he announced.
I thumbed quickly through
the field guide. “The field
guide says it is a yellow-billed
“Rain crow,” said Bill as he
ate another of the sandwiches
we had brought for lunch, even
though it was only 10 a.m.
So I wrote “rain crow” on the
trip list, wondering if I would be
allowed to add it to my life list,
as well. Arguing with Bill had
not led to any positive conclusions before.
At Bentsen-Rio Grande State
Park, we saw a green heron.
“Shitepoke,” said Bill, so I
added “shitepoke” to our list.At
Santa Ana National Wildlife Ref-
uge, we saw a large dark bird sit-
ting on a post in the water at Wil-
low Lake. “Snake bird,” said Bill.
I erased “anhinga” from our trip
list and wrote in “snake bird.”
Another long-necked bird
appeared. “Water turkey,” said Bill.
I was glad about this one
because I didn’t know how to spell
neotropic cormorant, anyway.
Actually, Bill and the book
were both right, although the
American Birding Association
does not recognize rain crow,
shitepoke, snake bird, or water
turkey on their checklists. But
a number of birds have been
known throughout the years by
different names. The magnificent
frigatebird was called the man-o-war bird back in the 1950s, and
the loggerhead shrike is known
Some call it a green heron,
others a shitepoke.