Big Day planned: Birders glass in the field to add to the list

Posted: Friday, February 04, 2011

I believe there might be some folks out there who are interested in the burgeoning hobby, pastime or sport (if you will) of birdwatching, but who might be holding back due to a fear there is too much to learn in regard to the specific jargon which it might take to be fluent in this activity. I want those of you who feel that way to put those fears aside -- I'll explain everything in the context of this short article -- you can thank me later.

Every sport has its unique vocabulary. There's golf, with its seemingly similar (to birding) vocabulary such as "eagles," "birdies" and "albatross" (otherwise known as "double eagles"). I'll leave those terms to your golfing buddies to explain. And there's baseball with its "runs," "walks" and "flys" that are unique descriptors in their own right. I must also throw a nod to football, with its "tight ends" and "first downs." I truthfully have no idea what those are, so I'm with you guys on the fear of the vernacular -- that's exactly why I don't play football today! But I digress.

Let's begin with the simplification of birding grammar, and for that I'll start with some advice. You'll need to loosen up a bit on the conventional thoughts you might have regarding words you've known for a long time and their respective parts of speech. Simply forget that the word "bird" is always a noun. In "birding," it is both a noun and a verb. It is actually the subject and the verb to be exact, because the verb, to bird, is the activity of seeking out and watching bird(s); or "birdwatching." See? It's getting simpler already, isn't it? Stay with me here

And then there's the word, "birder" -- a noun, meaning one who birds or a birdwatcher. Easy? Let's continue.

"List" is another of the interchangeable verb/nouns. A birder will keep a "list" (n. series of names of birds, usually in a vertical column). And, to find a bird to put on that list is "to list" that bird. Then there are "lifelists" (n. list, to date, of all the birds a birder has seen in his life). Then there is the "lifelister" (adj. usually followed by the birder's given name). What sport, eh?

An important phrase in birding is "in the field." The field is not a particular place, but more like a state of mind. The "field" can actually be attained at the exact moment a birder steps out his door in pursuit of his hobby. When a birder is not in his office or his home, he is "in the field" looking for birds. "In the field" can be in the woods looking for "LBJ's" (little brown jobs) or bobbing around on a "pelagic," another interchangeable term that can mean either an ocean-going birding trip or the type of bird you seek on that trip. So, you see, "in the field" really doesn't have anything at all to do with a "field," per se, but on the other hand, it could. Isn't this fun?

The activity of birding has specialized events as well. "Big Day" refers to the whirlwind type of road rally where a large group of birders cram into a vehicle and race from place to place to see how many birds they can see in one 24-hour period. It's amazing. Even more amazing is the "Big Year" where the ultimate birders spend lots of money and lots of time racking up a year-long list of species all across the continent -- this event was recently the subject of a book, aptly named, "The Big Year," by Mark Obmascik, and even more recently has been turned into a movie to come out within the next year, starring Steve Martin. A birding movie -- who would have dreamed?

Important to note: if you find yourself in a group of birders and are compelled for reasons of safety to shout the word "duck," please remember the typical response will be to look up. Proceed with caution.

Some additional specialized words include:

Glass -- to look through binoculars

Pish -- a word when said often enough, draws in closer an elusive subject (or bird, in the conventional sense) you might then have the opportunity to "glass" (try it, it really works!)

Shush -- see "pish", above

Twitcher -- British slang for one who tends to go long distances to pish, shush and glass birds

Well, Dear Reader, I hope I have added a bit of humor to your day, but my main objective is actually to both pique your curiosity and extend an invitation to come try out all your new words, and perhaps add a few more to your vocabulary.

Join us at the Kenai Visitor Center on Feb. 4 and 5 for the Kenai Winter Bird Festival. We have activities for all ages and all interest levels.

Check out the schedule at and click on "Events" or give us a call at 907-260-5449.

Janet Schmidt the Supervisory Park Ranger at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Previous Refuge Notebook columns can be viewed at, and check out the refuge on Facebook at

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