LIOCICHLAS ARE IN vogue. On February 14 I wrote briefly about one of these delightful softbill species, and this week on page 15 Chris Green shares his experience of a second: the Emei Shan or Omei Shan liocichla or babbler, or something. Liocichla omeiensis, anyhow. 

Why do bird names get mucked about so much? For those like me with a mental block about scientific names, it’s irksome not to be able to reach for a standard English (vernacular) tag. In this case it’s at least understandable, since there’s no standard pronunciation of “liocichla”: is it -kitchla or -sikla or what? (I’ve heard one heavy ornithoboffin say both in the same paragraph.)  So I guess that’s why the European Stud Book (maintained by Chris) has jettisoned “liocichla” for the easy “babbler”. But it’s a surrender, really, because Liocichla is a beautifully definite genus within the shapeless profusion of babblers, so we’ve dropped a precise and unique word for a blanketing and dreary one.

Besides, the latest thinking is to include Liocichla in the family “laughingthrushes and allies” (scientific name Leiothrichidae!), well separated from many of the babblers. So should it be “Emei Shan laughingthrush”? Wait up – I’ve got a better idea. The great James A. Jobling’s bird names book says Liocichla stems from leios (smooth) and kikhle (thrush).  And nobody knows whether it’s Omei or Emei, but most of these birds definitely live in Sichuan. So I present Liocichla omeiensis, the Sichuan smooth-thrush. Any other problems need “smoothing” out while we’re at it?

The C&AB team was extremely sorry not to attend the Stafford Spring Bird Show as usual, but road conditions in the South-East were too treacherous for travelling. We’ll have to settle with meeting up with friends old and new at the October National Exhibition. I hope that by the time you read this, spring will have been resumed. The great tits I can see as I type seem to be thinking along those lines!

Welcome to our pages in this issue to the distinguished canary breeder, exhibitor and judge Ernesto Gracia. Ernesto is a native of Gibraltar and hence well placed to observe both the UK and European birdkeeping scenes. He was also lucky enough to judge at the record-breaking World Show this year, as he recounts on page 16.

Have a great week with your birds.

Rob Innes