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WHAT'S A 'BARWIT'? - 24 January 2015

We like our 'insider talk'. That does not make birdwatchers unusual, but it does make some of our conversation incomprehensible to non birdwatchers. You probably know that the word 'twitching' is associated with birdwatching, but are you clear what it means? For the record, it means going to see a specific rare bird that's been reported. 'Dipping'? Failing to see it. What about phrases like 'cleaning up' and 'gripping off'? Seeing all the species you could reasonably expect to see at a particular location for the former, whereas the latter phrase takes us back to 'dipping'. Someone who has succeeded in seeing the bird that you failed to see tells you all about it, perhaps somewhat triumphantly. It's not a good feeling to be told, "If only you had got there earlier!"

'Insider talk' also applies with abbreviations. We use a number of short hands for lengthier bird names. For example, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is shortened to 'lesser pecker' and Grasshopper Warbler becomes 'gropper'. Or my favourite - Meadow Pipit shortened to 'mippit'. Yes, I indulge in this and use birder shorthand like the rest. However, my friend and fellow Birdwatch Northumbria guide, David Rodger, used an abbreviated name during our birdwatching trip on Holy Island last weekend when he talked about 'barwits'. New term to me, but blindingly obvious after a moment's reflection. Bar-tailed Godwit of course! Given the large number we see in winter along the Northumbrian coast, that's one word that's going to stick with me. Yet our star bird that day was a Great Northern Diver. What's the abbreviation for that?

Mark Winter


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