Friday, June 24, 2011

Fallout? Surely, you jest.

Let's face it. I get annoyed by a lot of things. The list of things that bother me is horrifyingly long. Sometimes, I wish I lived in an ignorant hole, but alas, I don't.

There are benefits to living in a hole. You don't think about how your nation is perpetually at war. You don't think about our corporate-sponsored government. You don't think about climate change. You don't think about how the seas are quickly turning acidic (Goodbye seafood! So long, ocean life!). You don't think about the exploding human population, and the inevitable toll it will take on the Earth. I mean, its a hole. You don't get a lot of news in there. Problems seem like they are much more manageable when you don't have a constant sense of Doom following you everywhere...but for that, there is Bourbon.

But this is not a Communist tirade, no, not today....this is an attack on Grammar. This is an assault on guilty birders everywhere.

I was raised by a Grammar Nazi. Despite my best attempts to avoid my past, I cannot completely deny that it hasn't rubbed off on me, just a little. As I have said, I am not that bad, and will purposefully not correct people when they talk about "seagulls"...but that said, I notice when people "misspeak". Now, I'm not out to call people out on grammatical errors to make me feel superior or anything (I'm not that shallow), but one comes to mind right now, since we just dealt with the season where this phrase is used the most.

What I'm talking about today is a "fallout". A fallout is the stuff of birder legend, birder lore. They say you never see things the same way once you have encountered one. There is such a force of birds that you are brought to your knees, weeping openly, crying out to the bird gods, thanking them for delivering you this divine gift.

My definition of a fallout is simple. It is a MASSIVE number of migratory birds, usually passerines and landbirds, which inundate an area due to a weather event. A typical scenario is when trans-gulf migrants (i.e. birds flying to the southeastern United States directly from South America) encounter bad weather on their epic and extremely perilous flight north. When said birds are finally able to land on solid ground, arrive completely exhausted, and in huge numbers. Sometimes people are able to approach within a few feet of these birds, or even pick them up.

Fallouts are the stuff of birders dream of. For reals. We've all heard of them, and we all want to experience them, despite how it is a direct result of the birds' misfortune. Perhaps this is why birders left and right are constantly claiming that they saw one. Almost always just the other day, in fact.

Look, lets be clear. A hundred birds in your favorite patch is not a fallout. Five hundred probably isn't. And if they're doing their normal thing, foraging in the trees, singing their songs, then that's all it is. It's bird migration! It's great! It's so, so sick. But that's not enough to conjure up the magic word.

A true fallout describes a completely different scenario. It's bird apocalypse. There are not warblers "dripping from trees", no, they are sitting there like Christmas tree ornaments because they are dead-tired, and there are so many of them that they are giving up being Christmas tree ornaments because being a lawn ornament is easier. There is a fucking Cerulean Warbler perched on top of Purple Gallinule in a rosebush. Under a car there is a Gray-cheeked Thrush trying to forage in the back feathers of a passed-out Chuck-will's-widow. Who knows why? Fallouts are crazy. Old timers from the Gulf Coast and Atlantic seaboard claim fallouts don't even happen anymore, because there are not enough birds left for it to happen....of course we all know from radar data that this is bullshit, but it still seems to happen less than it used to. When you abuse the word you are settling for bird populations that, for many species, are a fraction of what they used to be, and that, my friends, is doing these birds wrong. So, in closing, watch your mouth birders! Especially ya'll out east. And if you tell someone to drive 5 hours to witness "the fallout" and they get there to find a couple paltry mixed flocks, there will be hell to pay. So this is for your own good, people.

The best has been saved for last. If you have never seen a fallout, or are trying to comprehend what it really is, I encourage you to scroll through the absolutely facemelting pictures here, which came from Machias Seal Island off Maine this spring. It boggles the mind. Thanks to The House & Other Arctic Musings for the crucial linkage.


  1. I am literally lightheaded right now... That Is In SANE!! And 100% agreed re: watering down what is a fallout as a disservice to the avian creatures on our beleaguered planet.

    That was amazing. Thank you for the link and the explanation and sense of perspective--what is NOT a fallout.

    I don't think, until today, that I've ever heard ANYone refer to their mother (or any parent) as a Grammar Nazi BESIDES me. That EXACT phrase.

    She'd even pretend not to hear me if I said something wrong (like using the dreaded "funner") so I repeat it and repeat it until I'd stare at her, mystified, "What, is she DEAF?!?" and then Click! My brain would at last realize what she's doing and I'd repeat said phrase with the correct language (like "more fun") and she'd respond normally.

    Deaf to grammatical gaffs.

    Annoying at the time, but now I get paid to write and edit, so THANK YOU MAMA!! =) Very grateful now for her determination to have her daughters speak well. =)

    Thanks again. That was shocking/stunning/amazing.

  2. Anything for you Babbler! Words are fun, although frustrating.