Birdwatching: A Different Sort of Guide

This book covers birdwatching (or birding) from 89 different angles, starting with the issues of first taking up the hobby, and gradually moving into areas that perplex and enthrall the experienced birder. The collection has grown continually over the years, as columns have appeared regularly in naturalist publications, and now few birdwatching stones remain unturned. Some articles are humorous, while others are more serious, but all will entertain or enlighten anyone interested in birds and those that watch them.


Initial stuff, including a guide to bluffing your way at a gathering of serious birders.

  • Preface
  • Contents
  • Photographs
  • Glossary & Bluffer’s Guide

1. First Things
Ten essays on the theme “Why exactly do we go birding?” including plenty of scurrilous advice to beginners.

  • Know Thyself, said Socrates
  • The Central Park Effect
  • Flames from a Spark Bird
  • Peculiar, but Most Instructive
  • Taking up Birding Later in Life
  • Some Basics
  • Things to Avoid Saying
  • Oh, All Right
  • The Tao of Owling
  • Birding: Harmless Fun?

2. The Wide-eyed Birder
Five essays on why birders’ eyes often are very wide indeed.

  • Loitering With Intent … to Watch Birds
  • Expecting the Magic Moment
  • The Eyes-lighting-up Moment
  • Learning to See the Obvious
  • Seen it Already

3. Naming of Parts
“Whip-poor-will” is a surprisingly good name, but why doesn’t the Red-cockaded Woodpecker have a cockade, red or otherwise? Four essays on such mysteries.

4. The Tick
The joys and sorrows of administering the avian tick, unveiled in six essays.

  • Ticked Off
  • When is a Tick Not a Tick?
  • When is a Tick Not a Tick, Reprised
  • Is There Life after Lifers?
  • How Not to be a Lister’s Pain in the Butt
  • Final Words on the Tick

5. Getting it Wrong
One of the best ways of getting it right is to figure out how to get it all wrong. Six essays show it’s as true of birding as of the rest of life.

  • The Shame of It
  • Anyone for Pelagic Birding?
  • Phrases no Birder Wants to Hear
  • Giving Up Giving Up
  • See, Toldyer
  • How Not to Learn Bird Songs

6. On Birders
Birders are almost as much fun to watch as the birds, and the theme deserves nine essays.

  • The Taxonomy of Bird-Spotting, Part 1
  • The Taxonomy of Bird-Spotting, Part 2
  • Who Become Birders?
  • We’re a Competitive Lot – and That’s Just Fine
  • To Pish or Not to Pish
  • ID Guides with a Colon
  • I Want to be Alone
  • You’ve Got Mail
  • The CBC

7. On Muggles, or Whatever We’ll Call Non-birders
How to be polite when you’re told that a starling is a crow, and advice on not becoming the neighborhood bird bore.

8. Favourite and Unfavourite Things
Whether any birds are boring, why some people are addicted to shorebirds, and a description of the awfullest bird ever, in eight episodes.

  • Are There Such Things as Boring Birds?
  • Shorebird Mania
  • Those Little Brown Jobs
  • Whiskers on Kittens
  • The Least Favoured Bird
  • $%@^ing Fall Warblers
  • Cherchez la Femme
  • The Joy of Winter Birds

9. Where to Go Birding
You have to find the birds before you look at them. Five reasonably sensible essays on where, how and when to go see them.

  • Birding Locally
  • Have Binoculars, Will Travel
  • More Thoughts of Overseas Birding
  • Birding the Backyard
  • Creating a Feeder Station

10. Guidance
Words of wisdom on some of the subtler points of birding.

  • It’s Not Just About the Plumage
  • Birding by Impression
  • Learning the More Difficult Birds
  • One Man’s Pish
  • Asking for Directions
  • Alternative Birding Equipment

11. On Photography
Five essays originally written for a photography publication on wildlife photography, including lots of how-tos.

  • A Dummy’s Guide to Wildlife Photography
  • Wildlife Photography 2: Getting Close and Personal
  • Wildlife Photography 3: Democratization
  • A Perfect Match
  • Wildlife Photography – a Codicil

12. Advanced Birding
Six essays aimed at birders who have been around the block a few times.

  • Learning the More Difficult Birds
  • Beyond the Archetype
  • Mastering Bird Songs
  • Focus Through eBird
  • The Patch – Quintessence of Birding
  • Correcting Correctly
  • The Seven Stages of Seeing

13. Anthropomorphic Thoughts
Essays that horrify the BF Skinners of the world.

  • Avian Inter-species Rivalry
  • Do Birds Have a Sense of Fun?
  • Reflections on Avian Beauty
  • Life Lessons from a Snail Kite

14. Being Serious for a Moment
Some serious stuff that “might have been glimpsed, like the continuo in baroque music, underneath much of the preceding banter.”

  • Birding: All Sweetness and Light?
  • The Raptor Dilemma
  • Neither a Splitter Nor a Lumper Be
  • Holding One’s Tongue
  • Going over to the Offense
  • Reflecting on Birding Humour

Three essays that move from the ridiculous to the sublime, and a highly detailed index.

  • Don’t Wait for Me While I, Um
  • A Pedantic Note, with an Apology, Sort of
  • Closing Thoughts: The Numinous Moment
  • Index
  • About the Author