After Five Years
Well, the title is not as O'Henry-esque as it could be, but the story certainly is. The difference is I had only joy to meet that friend again, after I had given up as lost!
I saw the Purple-rumped Sunbird (Leptocoma zeylonica; Hindi shakarkhora; Tamil tenkili) in our garden again, last seen in 2004. It's a little brown bird, smaller than a sparrow, with a creamish-yellow belly. The hesitation in identifying it as the bird (after all, I had known it five years ago) was the bill - the chap I saw had a rather straight bill, while literature says it is a straight bill. Just like O'Henry's story - which also revolved around identifying the guy by the beak!
Trust me to fall into a trap it took evolutionary biology seven years to teach me not to. I studied diversity after all - in IISc and NCL; I should have known that all purple-rumped sunbirds will not be the same, that the curvature (which is already slight), would vary from bird to bird. But no, I had to rush headlong into the holotype-paratype trap, that great tradition that entraps many taxonomists drawing from Aristotle. There is no holotype (perfect form), nor are there paratypes (deformations) for any species, for a species is a population of diverse, interbreeding forms. The whole basis of human racism exists on this misjudgement, so emphatically and repeatedly demonstrated by geneticists, whose I ranks I once - in hindsight most undeservingly - swelled.
And so I met a friend after a long time, and that is still a great joy!
Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons.