Friday 25 July 2008

Modern Birding Terms Explained

Despite being (quite rightly) rebuked for previous posts on this and related subjects (see here), like a hungry Turnstone returning to a bloated tideline corpse, I just can't help having another go at it...

Do you find yourself baffled by some of the more obscure 'hip' birding slang being bandied about by the 'in-crowd' at twitches these days? Are you tired of being sniggered at as you gamely try to join in their conversations by talking about dudes, cripplers and cosmic mind-fuckers? In short, are you past it? Then fear not, my fellow old-timers; the Leicester Llama has helpfully scoured the Internet on your behalf to bring you the very latest, coolest and hippest slang terms around:

Common: 99.9% of the birds that you see on your annual birding holiday to Shetland/Scilly/wherever. Or at any other time of the year. Also known as trash, dross, jack shit etc. If you can't handle the fact that most birds are common, look at it this way: if we keep on screwing the planet, today's common is going to be tomorrow's rare (or worse). Keep twitching long enough, and one day you'll be able to impress kid-listers by telling them you've got House Sparrow on your list!

Credit crunch: the sound made by your old scope as it 'accidentally' hits the rocks below Sumburgh/Flamborough/Beachy Head, as claiming on the insurance is the only way you can afford the deposit on a new one.

Digi-waste: to fill up Surfbirds Stop Press Rarity Photos pages with images of common and/or obviously escaped birds, e.g. Rose-coloured Starling, Red-backed Shrike, Hooded Merganser. Alternatively to post yet another shot of a long-staying rarity that has already been posted a million times (with a comment apologising for doing so, of course).

Digi-whinge: accompanying comment to piss-poor photo on Surfbirds, making excuses about poor light, distance from bird, or jokey self-deprecating references to the incompetence of the photographer.

Fuel poverty: the state of most twitchers' finances these days. Ironically, this may ultimately be the saving of many of the species twitchers would most like to see. Let's hear it for market forces!

Pager: expensive electronic device alerting you to rare birds that you can no longer afford to go and see (see previous entry). Inexplicably kept by many ex twitchers, possibly for sentimental reasons.

Rare: the sole reason for going birding. Best found by going to Shetland, waiting for a good day, and then putting on a hat. Or maybe two hats (fucking hell, don't start that again).

Recession: regularly recurring period during which local patch birding undergoes a massive increase in popularity. Also responsible for huge decline in profits of the various information services.

Sack off (alternatively sack it off): to stop birding when it becomes obvious that there's nothing other than common around, and go and drink tea/watch TV/have a wank instead. Possibly all at the same time, if it's an interesting enough programme and there's no-one else around.

Scarce: species such as Richard's Pipit, Pallas's Warbler or Rose-coloured Starling, that we quaintly used to call 'beebeerarities' when I was a lad. Due to rampant 'rarity inflation' these are now barely worth a look, unless there really is fuck-all else around.

Scopac: a (usually middle-aged) birdwatcher who carries their spotting scope/tripod in a 'Scopac', the reason being that they never use it and don't know what they're looking at anyway, so don't mind that it takes ten minutes to set it up from this position. The use of the Scopac also keeps the hands free for important things such as using mobile phones, consulting field guides, eating sandwiches, taking binoculars out of their case and gesticulating wildly at Marsh Harriers thus scaring off the rarity in the reedbed that others are trying to watch. (and don't whinge at me if you use one - it's a joke, OK?)

Self-found (often abbreviated to sf): a bird which you, or one of your friends, or someone you've never met but happened to be on the same island as, has seen and identified before anyone else. Or after someone else. A bird that you've seen, anyway. (See here for some proper, if a little complicated, self-found list rules).

Skor: actually I genuinely have no idea what this means. Is it somewhere on Unst? Perhaps someone will enlighten me.

Vizmig: hip modern spelling of the old bird observatory abbreviation vis. mig. - stuff flying over that you can call whatever you like as no-one else is going to see it. Another useful way of inflating your self-found list (q.v.).

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Wankers - an apology

I've been asked to tone this down, so it may have changed from the version you read earlier:

The observer whose Pallid Harrier was rejected by BBRC (see Things that wankers (still) say, below) has informed me that his description was actually 16 pages long, not eight as I mistakenly wrote. I apologise unreservedly for underestimating by 100% (or should that be 50%? Fuck knows - maths was never my strong point) his ability to bore the arse off overworked BBRC members by writing about 10 times as much as was really necessary to describe the bird.

He goes on to suggest a worthy addition to the list of things that wankers say:

'It is perhaps inevitable that birders will submit records to BBRC members who have less knowledge and experience of that species than the people submitting the records'.


Having been privileged to see a copy of his thesis, sorry, description, I suggest that he ought at least to be awarded a PhD in "creative writing", even if BBRC felt unable to accept the record. However, he'll probably have to make do with a Llama Certificate, if I ever get round to doing it.

Is that better Andy?

Tuesday 15 July 2008

You have to ask yourself... this a dignified way for the President of the British Birding Association to conduct himself in public? I'm shocked and disappointed quite frankly. The birding public expects better from its leaders who, it must be remembered, are also important role models for up-and-coming young ornithologists. Shame on you, Mr President.

Thanks to several people for sending me this photo, and to the anonymous birding paparazzo who took it. You know who you are...

Monday 14 July 2008

Things that wankers (still) say

Another old favourite updated:

What do you mean you didn't go for the AHG at Chew?!

BBRC are all cunts - they rejected my Pallid Harrier even though my description was eight pages long!

I've just digi-wasted a Sprosser.

AHG on my fucking list!

We've seen plenty of common and a few scarce, but no rare.

Distant record shot in poor light. More on my blog!

Prints available - £3.50

I'd really love to meet Simon King.

The UK400 Club have reviewed the Citril Finch and put it in Category A, so I'm ticking it.

Hi, I'm the President of the British Birding Association.

And while we're on the subject, I stumbled upon this while searching for inspiration. You really couldn't make it up.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Tonight's TV

An old Llamas favourite updated:

Teal or no Teal
5.30pm, ITV1
Noel Edmonds challenges contestants to guess which box contains a dead duck.

Don't Forget the Larus
6pm, Sky 1
A bearded Scandinavian gull expert drones on for five minutes about morphological characters and species limits in the Herring Gull complex. When he stops, the contestant has to finish his sentence before the audience falls asleep.

Doctor Hoot

6.45pm, BBC1
The time-travelling Tawny Owl investigates classic mysteries from the past. Just what was that reported Dendroica warbler at Kergord last year?

What Not to Wear
7.30pm, ITV1
Trinny and Susannah give a well-known twitcher a much-needed makeover...

8pm, BBC2
Bill and Kate present more hilarious cock-ups from Norfolk.

Big Plover
10pm, Channel 4
Ten birders with serious personality disorders are locked in the Rutland Water Visitor Centre and watched 24 hours a day by a giant Lapwing. Who will crack first?

Wednesday 9 July 2008

The Good Old Days

I don't know about it being autumn already (see previous post), but today feels more like winter! It's pissing with rain and bloody freezing, so I thought I'd indulge in some warming nostalgia...

1999 was an exceptional year for rarities in Britain, and two birds in particular stand out for me. In April, Steve Lister found Britain's fifth (and first twitchable) Crag Martin at Swithland Reservoir. This was so unexpected that when it came on the pager (yes, I had a pager in those days) my first reaction was to assume it was some sort of cock-up. Fortunately sense prevailed, and I got to the reservoir in record time to become only the ninth person to see a Crag Martin in Britain (which then became totally un-noteworthy as thousands of people saw it). This bird surely ranks alongside the Rutland Water Bridled Tern as proof that anything can turn up even in a 'crap' county like Leicestershire.

The only other ticks I had in the first half of the year were the Iberian Chiffchaff at Portland (yawn) and the Baillon's Crake at Stodmarsh, but it was the then annual visit to Scilly in October that made 1999 really outstanding. Just before we arrived for our two weeks on Tresco, both Siberian Thrush and White's Thrush had been found on St Agnes, and the Short-toed Eagle was still hanging around the Eastern Isles. The Siberian Thrush had disappeared by the time we got there, and we spent the first two days of our holiday not seeing the White's Thrush (Rob & Richard saw it briefly). On the 11th we finally got round to having a proper look for the Short-toed Eagle from the southern end of Tresco, and were very fortunate to have it fly right over our heads as it buggered off for good!

And so to the 'Glorious Twelfth'. Not being a huge fan of standing around in a crowd seeing nothing, I decided not to go back to St Agnes, reasoning that I'd see a White's Thrush one day (I was right, although it took me another eight years). I spent a pleasant day wandering around Tresco on my own, but saw nothing of any consequence and ended up back at the Borough Farm chalet at about 16.30. A cup of tea and a 'herbal' cigarette ensued, and that could so easily have been the end of my birding for the day, but for some reason I staggered back out and headed down to the Great Pool.

At about 17.45 I came across a load of small birds mobbing something in the bushes. This struck me as odd, as there aren't any resident owls on Scilly, so I thought it was worth investigating. Finding a convenient gap in the bushes I raised my bins and immediately saw a yellow eye ring and yellowish beak straight ahead of me. In the space of a couple of seconds I thought 'that female Blackbird's doing a good impression of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo' and then 'fucking hell - it is one!!!" as it moved slightly and I saw the whole bird.

Fuck, shit, panic! No digital camera in those days of course, but mobile phones had been invented (just), so I was able to get the news out. RBA pissed me off by putting it on the pager as 'reported' but that was soon corrected once other people arrived and saw it. The boatload that arrived from St Mary's famously included a very pissed John Hague and Mark Skevington, who had somehow managed to get from the Bishop all the way to Tresco, a journey almost as remarkable as the cuckoo itself had made from America.

The remainder of 1999 added three more birds to my list: Blue Rock Thrush on St Mary's on 14th October, Chimney Swift again on St Mary's on the 22nd, and a Red-flanked Bluetail at Rame Head on the way home, which meant that we missed Mark's wedding reception. Sorry Mark.