It’s Birding Big Day on Saturday. I’ll be there with my bins. Bins are bird talk for binoculars, don’t y’know? Some call them “nocks” but that’s pure affectation.
The annual BBD has become very competitive with teams of four, some full of performance-enhancing substances liked laced coffee, start at midnight to pick out calls of nocturnal birds. The idea of BBD is to “pi” (birding talk for “positively identify”) as many different kinds of birds as possible within 24 hours and within a 50 km radius of any chosen point.
There’s even a category for those who would prefer to stay at home and just count the birds in their garden.
All the data are collected by Birdlife South Africa and then analysed by scientists who can tell all sorts of things by examining bird densities and distribution.
There are categories – and prizes – for amateurs as well as serious birders.
The recent and aggravating changes in bird names needn’t be a handicap. I just use the old ones and to hell with the birding police.
Changing the names of birds has become something of a fad among scientists. Officially the dikkop is now the thick-knee and so on.
Years ago Canadian birders had a bit of fun with bird names – they were invited to alter a letter in the name of a bird and then suggest an appropriate diet, habitat or behaviour pattern for it.
They came up with Long-billed Curfew (instead of Curlew) – “a quiet bird rarely seen after nightfall”. And the Vowl (instead of Owl) – “a night hunter identified by its call of ‘Aeiou!’ ”
Two or three years ago I invited readers to do the same and Andy Rice came back with a dozen quite brilliant ones.
Three of our four species of ibis – the Hadeda Ibis, Sacred Ibis and Bald Ibis – became the “Ladeda Ibis – a toffee-nosed bird that thinks it is infinitely superior to the cowardly Scared Ibis and the very much braver Bold Ibis.”
I liked most the Fiscal Shrike and the Waxbill which became: “Fiscal Shriek – a bird that cries out in alarm on encountering the common Taxbill”.
The Giant Eagle Owl became the “Giant Beagle Owl – often seen circling menacingly over the SPCA kennels”.
The Karoo Bustard – became the “Karoo Bastard – common name for a very large, chronically incontinent bird that navigates by flying directly above busy highways”.
Another amusing one was the Weaver Bird which became “the Beaver Bird that builds its nest over water by chopping down entire trees and damming up streams”.
To help you on BBD, here is the latest birding jargon (seriously):
Burn up: to scour an area intensively.
Dip out: to stand there like a fool while everybody shouts: “But can’t you see that Flatfooted Bog-Creeper, for Pete’s sake? Anyway, it’s gone!” (You have dipped out.)
Dross: very common species.
Dude: birder who is not prepared to wade through marshland to pi a bird and who puts his bins back in the case each time he uses them.
Flatties: Road kills. Real birders will not count flatties. I do.
Grip: to pi a bird.
LBJ: unidentified “little brown job”.
Lifer: to see a species of bird for the first time. Never dismiss an enthusiastic birder’s “lifer” by calling it “dross”.
Megatick: identifying a really rare bird.
Ticker: birder who is not interested in a bird once he has it ticked.
Ultimate: more than a megatick – something so rare that it could cause you to keel over and die with smile.