3 November 2004

Glossary of Terms

Like any hobby, birding has its fair share of jargon. There are probably thousands of phrases that a non-birder might come across - I will simply do my best to cover the ones I consider to be most important and those I think I am likely to use in these pages.

Birds: Actually not that easy to define. Descended from the dinosaurs, birds all (as far as I'm aware) have two legs, feathers, a beak and lay eggs. Beyond that, the variety is astonishing. The majority fly, but some swim so well they could seriously be considered water creatures first and foremost. Best just to use your common sense - they're difficult to define, but pretty hard to mistake for anything else.

Birder aka Birdwatcher: Someone who watches birds.

Bins: Binoculars, the tools of our trade. Birders can often talk for hours on the subject of binoculars, so here's a quick tip - if you're not really really interested, just don't ask.

Digiscoping: the practice of combining a digital camera with a telescope to get a really powerful lens. Not as high quality as a good DSLR and long lens combination, but cheaper (if you already have the scope) and capable of handling longer distances. All of the photographs in The Hornet's Nest before January 2006 are digiscoped (with a Zeiss Diascope 65 and Contax 300SL for anyone who is interested). Since then, the majority have been taken with a Panasonic FZ20 and TCON1.7 teleconverter combination, although I do still digiscoping occasionally.

Dipped: A twitcher term for not seeing (or 'connecting with') the bird you had travelled to see. Not a good feeling, as in: "I travelled 200 miles to see the Sooty Tern, and dipped."

Dude: someone who has all the gear but no idea. If someone has £1,000 bins, a smart new Barbour jacket and Tilley hat, but can't tell a Gannet from a gull - that's a dude. For some reason, being a dude is considered far worse than being a normal beginner ie. someone with £100 bins, any old jacket and hat, and also can't tell a Gannet from a gull (we've all been there by the way).

Gripped Off: A not-nice twitcher phrase describing a moment when you saw the bird, but someone else didn't (or vice versa). As in: "I saw the Black Lark and gripped off Dave, who travelled all night to get here but arrived an hour after the bird had left."

Joke #1: OK, so let's get it out of the way. I watch birds. Hurr hurr hurr - the feathered kind I hope?

Lists: Birders, like many other hobbyists, make lists. We list all the birds we have seen in this country ever (life list), or in the world (world life list). We also count those we have seen this year (year list), in our local county or state, and on our local patches. Some people have a walking-the-dog list, an out-of-the-office window list, and even a birds-I-have-seen-on-television list. As you may be starting to realise, it can get a bit silly.

Little Brown Job (LBJ): While many bird species are splendidly coloured and highly visible, many others are basically brown, prone to hiding in bushes, and very similar to a host of other (often closely related) species. These can often be difficult, if not impossible, to identify, and are labelled LBJs. ie "I saw a Green Woodpecker, two male Chaffinches and a couple of unidentified LBJs".

Migration also Migrant: Migration is one of the wonders of the natural world, with birds the master exponents. Every year millions of birds travel thousands of miles as the seasons change. In the summer, the UK get a huge influx of birds that have spent the winter in the south (in Europe, Africa or even as far as Antarctica). In the autumn those birds return to those wintering grounds, and in turn, we become a wintering ground for birds which have bred in the north.

Parus Major: Birding joke #2 is calling someone a Parus Major. This is the latin name for a Great Tit. And it's not a great joke.

Pod: Short for tripod, a bloody great big bit of equipment which is sadly essential if you want to use your scope properly. Sods law says if you get lazy and leave the whole kit and caboodle in the car, you'll really really need it when you're out.

Resident or Resident Breeder: Bird species which spend all year in this country, both breeding and over-wintering here. The picture with many species is slightly confusing however. With Blackcaps, for example, those which have bred in Britain head south for the winter, but other Blackcaps which have bred further north move south to over-winter here. The overall effect is to ensure we have Blackcaps all year round, making them appear Resident Breeders despite the fact that these are not the same birds.

Scope: a telescope, or more accurately, a spotting scope. These invaluable devices allow you to see much further than binoculars do (being often six or seven times more powerful). They are very useful for wide open spaces, such as reservoirs, estuaries and so on. The disadvantages are that they can be heavy, typically require you to carry a tripod as well (see 'pod) and can make you look like a berk / weirdo if you are near a built-up area.

Shortened names: There are far to many of these for me to list, but they are commonly used in the birding world – after all, birders are as lazy as anyone else. So a Tree Sparrow becomes a treep, a Grasshopper Warbler a gropper, and a Pied Flycatcher a pied fly. I tend to avoid them unless talking with another birder, and even then I think they are best used sparingly.

Summer visitor / migrant: Birds which winter to the south (Europe, Africa or Antactica) and then travel up to Britain and other parts of Europe to breed.

Twitcher: Someone who travels far are wide to see as many different species of bird as possible. Often perfectly happy to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to see a bird if it is particularly rare.

Winter visitors: Birds which have bred in the far north of Europe or the Arctic Circle and returned to the milder climes of Britain to see out the winter.

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