Jizz

I originally joined the birder’s group to learn more about birds. I was having fun photographing them and thought it might be wise to know what I was taking pictures of.

It turned out; the field work is during the winter months. Once a month, we go out in groups to a specific area (‘the counting area’) and count everything we see within the borders of that area. (“I see a wagtail!” “Doesn’t count, it’s on the wrong side of the water”…)

Because I can’t make it every month, the knowledge I pick up each time usually slips way to the back of my cluttered brain by the time I go out again. And so I’m very slow at picking up any feeling for what birders call ‘jizz.’ That’s a term for the instantaneous recognition of a bird from a vague impression of its silhouette, flight, behavior, etc. The birder’s version of Gestalt.

And so I stand in the field, pretending I know exactly what I’m doing. As I raise my binoculars for a large bird, vigorously winging across our area, my neighbor remarks, “A crow.” I nod and try to look as if I knew that all along. A gaggle of raucous geese flies overhead. “White-fronted Geese,” my neighbor claims. I look up at him, “How can you tell?” He explains patiently, “Their call is a brief bark: ‘Ar, Ar, Ar!’ and they fly with short little wingbeats.”

Will I remember that next time? My companions don’t seem to mind my ignorance. “Lots of little gray birds over there,” I point out a patch of muddy ground. Someone slaps my back amiably. “Great birder you are!” I grin back. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday morning. And sometimes I even come home with good photos.

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