You’re sitting in a hide and overhear other birders talking. The conversation ranges from ‘LRPs’ and ‘roosting Leos’ to the ‘jizz’ of the ‘lancy’ that one of them discovered on Fair Isle last autumn. You scratch your chin as you try to decipher their code – welcome to the world of birding jargon.
Birders love to abbreviate or give nicknames to species, family groups and even individual birds, such as George the glaucous gull that used to overwinter in Norfolk.
Add to that the panoply of slang used in identification, plus the strange parlance for certain birding activities, and things can get pretty confusing.
Almost any species with a three-word name can be subjected to a slicing from the birding scalpel. So, little ringed plovers are LRPs, long-eared owls are Leos and, for the rarity hunter, olive-backed pipits are OBPs.
It doesn’t work for every species, however, because I am still waiting to hear someone shout GCG (great crested grebe) in the field.
Other birds have had their names altered to make them easier to say. Lanceolated warbler becomes a ‘lancy’, while the sharp-tailed sandpiper that showed up in East Yorkshire was quickly christened ‘the sharpie’.
My favourite is the alternative name of the Pallas’s grasshopper warbler – PG Tips. You’ll even find whole taxonomic groups transformed by birding jargon, with ‘hippos’ representing the warbler genus Hippolais. And if a ‘Sibe’ is a Siberian migrant, you can guess what a ‘Yank’ is.
More generally, you need to know that ‘jizz’ is used to describe a bird’s overall essence, and that its jizz is as important as its appearance. Even parts of the bird have not escaped: the supercilium, or eyestripe, becomes the ‘super’, while the pectoral band of feathering across the chest area becomes the ‘pecs’ (and is also the abbreviated name for the pectoral sandpiper).
Sometimes, the jargon covers up what is really going on in the hide: a birder who has ‘dipped’ has missed seeing a bird, while one who is accused of ‘stringing’ is suspected of making dubious reports.
With this in mind, I’ll leave you with a short quiz: any idea what a barwit or a black red are?
If you hear an unfamiliar term, don‘t suffer in ignorance. Ask what the person means, because new names are being invented all the time.