Although, I always come across as someone who is educated, unflappable and a mine of useful information (Ha!), there are times when this probably couldn’t be further from the truth. Take the following as cases in point: –
Exhibit A: Technophobe
I thought I had made a pretty exciting and unexpected bird-related discovery on a lunch-time walk around Papercourt Meadows in Send. In the reeds alongside the River Wey, I could hear a bird call – a loud, rolling twitter – that I had never heard out and about before, but had, coincidentally, come across on an episode of Radio Four’s Tweet of the Day (Yes, I’m that cool!). Now what bird was it?
I reached into my pocket for my phone with the intention of scrolling through the past podcast episodes to try and prod my memory. When I unlocked the keypad, I found that my bird identification app had opened itself and was displaying information on Whimbrels (a large wading bird, with a long down-curved bill). A couple of seconds later, it began to play a recording of the bird’s call… It was exactly the same call as I had heard in the reeds moments earlier!
I marvelled at the cleverness of the app. It had recognized a bird call, opened the relevant section and played the call back to me… All whilst still in my pocket. Isn’t technology amazing?
In sheer amazement at such space-age wizardry, I totally disregarded what I had learned about Whimbrels from the podcast and ignored the fact that the chances of one skulking in the reeds in front of me on the banks of a small inland river were minimal – They’re more of a coastal mudflat kind of bird. I had also overlooked the fact that amongst all of its spangly features, the app had never mentioned an ability to ID a bird from a background noise without prompting.
For about ten minutes, I stared silently at the reeds, hoping for a glimpse of the unanticipated bird… but nothing. Then something in my very tiny, not very clever brain clicked…
… The app was bloody playing the call all the time, wasn’t it? I had obviously somehow pressed some buttons in my pocket and the bird was never there at all. What an idiot!
The sad thing about this error of judgement is that it wasn’t the first time it had happened. On a search for Turtle Doves in Norfolk, I had used the very same app to remind myself what one sounded like. Within about a minute of putting my phone away, I could hear the very same purring sound I was listening out for. I got very excited until, yep, you’ve guessed it…
At least I’m a consistent idiot, I suppose.
Check out Bill Oddie doing a similar thing with a Buzzard on Springwatch here. I guess this sort of thing can happen to the best of us…
Exhibit B: Not up on my ornithological lingo
I was fortunate enough to be volunteering at RSPB Pulborough Brooks when a Pectoral Sandpiper (a scarce visiting wading bird to the UK from North America) happened to drop into the reserve for a paddle around and some food (the café on site is supposed to be excellent).
When a bird of interest appears, lots of people descend to have a look. When on duty, my job is to provide information as to what species are around and where and also to have a good gossip with visitors. If I’m honest, I’m a lot better at the gossip than the bird-related stuff…
I was talking to a woman about birds and bobs and, after a while, she asked about the ‘Pec Sand’… For a moment, I didn’t have a clue what she meant. For another moment, I still didn’t know what she meant, so. I had to probe… It turns out she meant the Pectoral Sandpiper and expected me to know what she was on about – I don’t know why she didn’t just say that in the first place.
Sadly, this sort of situation is quite commonplace when bird people talk to me…
It seems that a lot of people have taken to using abbreviations to avoid having to waste effort with using unnecessary syllables – I don’t know if it’s down to a bit of laziness or suggests the importance of a secret code to keep those not in the clique out, but, I guess, it happens in pretty much every walk of life.
This phenomenon is no different in the ornithological world and seems to take one of three possible forms: –
- Sometimes, the constituent parts of the bird name are shortened and smashed together to form a ‘catchy’ shorter name – Meadow Pipit becomes Mippit… Sparrowhawk becomes Sprawk… Grasshopper Warbler becomes Gropper… Spotted Redshank becomes Spotshank and so on… Quite why Barn Owl doesn’t turn into Bowl or a Great Bustard into GreatBust! is beyond me.
- Sometimes, the parts of the name are shortened and kept separate. Examples include Spotted Flycatcher becoming Spot Fly… Green Sandpiper becoming Green Sand… and, obviously, Pectoral Sandpiper becoming Pec Sand.
- Sometimes, just the initials are used – which, in context makes sense, but out of context can cause confusion. To a birder, BWS means Black-Winged Stilt, but to an alcoholic, Beers Wines and Spirits might first spring to mind. The British Trust for Ornithology has its own set of two-letter codes just to make the matter just a little more challenging… According to the BTO, a BWS is an IT. OMG!
I guess it’s going to take me a while to learn this new language.
Exhibit C: Not as funny as I think
The woman who was after the Pectoral Sandpiper had to nip off to the coast to find an LTS (Your guess is as good as mine!) and I enquired if she had packed her Pectoral Sandwiches for lunch. She groaned and looked at me with a look of contempt. I get that a lot.