Britons don't mind a little good-natured teasing about school ties, blood pudding and weather, but they object to anyone who trifles with their birds. In London recently a 100-page report in British Birds, an ornithological journal of international repute, concluded that more than 500 reported sightings of five species of rare birds in England were "completely fraudulent." The effect: as if Winston Churchill had held up crossed fingers instead of the familiar V.
British feathers were ruffled further by revelation that 32 of 49 rare species recorded between 1903 and 1916 may actually have arrived in the country dead and on ice. Collectors paid up to �50 for such specimens, thinking them native.
Throughout the Commonwealth shocked bird watchers braced themselves for the denouement of a rapidly unfolding scandal. If ornithological suspicions prove correct, a long-dead taxidermist, George Bristow of Sussex, may in time be charged with the most ingenious hoax since Lady Godiva chickened out on that ride she is supposed to have taken.
Bristow specialized in the sale of skins of rare birds—like the slender-billed curlew, the masked shrike and the gray-rumped sandpiper. Common in other parts of the world, these were unknown in Britain until the period between 1903 and 1916, when Bristow and friends seemingly began to sight and shoot them all over the Hastings area of Sussex. Enthusiastic private collectors and museum curators flocked to Hastings, but their luck was as consistently bad as Bristow's was good. As the town's fame grew, so did Bristow's skin game.
In recent years more thoughtful bird fanciers have wondered about Bristow's peculiar talent for sighting rare birds. A major analysis of the "discoveries" was undertaken. The resultant report does not accuse Bristow in so many words but it might just as well. The sightings at Hastings, it concludes, were "statistically impossible" and "cannot be other than false."
So much for the habitat of the gray-rumped sandpiper.
The racing yachts that compete for the America's Cup (see page 10) are splendid reminders of the glorious dead world of sailing ships, but we are obliged to report that these aristocrats of the sea are slowly succumbing to the ravages of modern science. Stately pine masts have long since been supplanted by hollow aluminum; cotton and hemp have given way to Dacron and nylon; wooden blocks are now plastic; even lovely wooden hulls are coated with special resins and epoxy. The latest scientific product to go racing for the cup is high-frequency radio. The air off Newport is not only brisk and fresh from the Atlantic but crackling with conversation.
The Australian challenger Gretel and Vim, her trial-horse companion, have a four-way wireless system connecting, electronically, the two yachts and their two tenders, Sara and Offsider. An eavesdropper might hear "Gretel to Vim, Gretel to Vim. Come in, Vim." Someone on Vim leaves the cockpit, goes below to the radio and answers, "Vim here. Come in, Gretel." Gretel then delivers herself of some important announcement like "What say, Vim, when we round the next mark let's stop for lunch."
A less pungent message might come from Sara in the clipped accents of Sir Frank Packer, owner of Gretel, who observes with a keen eye the tactics and maneuvers of the two boats: "Sara to Gretel, Sara to Gretel, the wind is freshening, what weight jib are you carrying?" Gretel answers she is carrying a 7�-ounce jib. Sir Frank then requests Offsider to report on the wind. Offsider says the wind is 12 knots. Sir Frank informs Gretel the wind is 12 knots, and perhaps a heavier jib might be in order. Gretel replies that her 7�-ounce jib is good for 14 knots of wind. Sir Frank is still dubious: "Who says that jib is good for 14 knots?" And the reply comes back, polite, courteous, but firm, "The sail-maker says so." Somewhat rebuffed, Sir Frank tells Vim her main is sagging. Vim promptly tightens the halyard, the sag disappears and racing resumes.