Bird Watching


For some reason, birdwatchers get a bad rap. In movies and shows, if they want to portray someone as nerdy, they throw a goofy vest on them, a safari hat, a pair of binoculars, a bird guide and bam!... the epitome of a nerd. In fact, I think the only thing we consider nerdier than a birdwatcher is a butterfly collector, who basically dresses like a birdwatcher with the addition of a butterfly net. 


At any rate, I recently had the pleasure of meeting this nice Russian guy named Roman on a journaling website. I corrected some of his English entries, and he helped me with some of my Russian entries. Before we knew it, we were chatting all the time, and in the course of getting to know one another, the topic of hobbies inevitably came up. When he told me he was a birdwatcher, I'll* admit that I kind of chuckled to myself. Not in a mean way... more of in a How adorable! kind of way.  God, that sounds condescending! Well you know what I mean.


Now, I live in South Florida and I'm outdoors all the time. We have a huge park near my house, and I go practically every day and walk around it several times for exercise. It has beautiful ponds, lots of trees, and lots of wildlife. Florida is absolutely teeming with birds, reptiles, and all kinds of critters. And of course, I've noticed birds before. I knew there were big white birds with long, skinny necks; and that in the ponds, there were small black birds with red beaks that made a cute beeping noise. I just didn't know what any of them were called


In my defense, I'm not a total stranger to birds. As a matter of fact, I have a pet bird — a cockatoo named Rocco. And I've always enjoyed seeing birds in the park — especially after a big rainfall when they all jump around in the puddles. I've just never been into them. But reading Roman's posts about certain birds that nested near his home somehow sparked a curiosity in me. I started wondering how many different kinds of birds actually live in the park, what they're called, what they eat. So, I decided it'd be fun to photograph and catalog as many of them as I could with my phone. Naturally, I couldn't get too close to them, but I could zoom in and get some pretty nice shots. This was in early spring, so a lot of the birds had chicks. Within two weeks, I had photographed a good 25 different kinds of birds. 


So naturally, I was curious to know what they were called. I pinged some of the pictures to Roman, but of course he wasn't familiar with a lot of the birds in my neck of the woods. So I took the plunge — I bought a bird guide! Yes, folks, you're hearing it right! I went to the bookstore, found a good guide with lots of pictures, walked up to the counter in front of everyone and bought it. Then I went about the exciting task of identifying my birds. 


Some of them took quite a bit of searching in my guide, but I managed to find them all. Now when I go to the park, I'm always on the lookout for any new bird, and I've actually sleuthed out a few more. In other words, meeting Roman and getting into bird watching has added another dimension to my life. But more importantly, it's taught me that if we're open to new experiences, we can learn something new from almost everyone we meet. So thank you, Roman, for broadening my horizons in the short time I've known you. I'm enjoying being a "bird nerd", and, although I'm not exactly a Trekkie... yet, may you Live long and prosper!


*In this blog, you'll see words in red. These are CONTRACTIONS — two (or more) words combined into one, e.g. we're = we are; and REDUCTIONS — forms that have a different, reduced pronunciation when they're unstressed, e.g. hăs added = [hɛz ͜ æːɖɪd] where has is reduced to [hɛz]. These forms are an integral part of speaking (and writing!) naturally. Read more about contractions and reductions

to get/have a bad rap

This expression has nothing to do with rap music. It means to be unjustly criticized or to have a bad reputation that isn't deserved. For example, in this story, I use it to express that people make fun of birdwatchers and consider them nerds unjustly. 


The noun nerd and its adjective nerdy, basically refer to someone who isn't "cool" in the traditional sense. It's normally someone who likes science and computers, is studious and intellectual, is obsessed with outer space, aliens, medieval roleplay, etc. In other words, a nerd is the opposite of a badass. Note that when you're really fanatical about something, it's ok to say about yourself that you're a xxx nerd:"I'm a total language nerd. I can study languages for hours."

to teem with

This simply means to be full of something, to have a lot of something. Here, when I say the park is absolutely teeming with wildlife, it means that everywhere you look, you see something wild."In the summer, this town is always teeming with tourists."

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New Words and Phrases

before I knew itThis phrase describes something that happens so gradually and smoothly that you don't even notice it happening, and basically means before long, but with an element of surprise at how unexpectedly it came about. For instance, in this blog, Roman and I were interacting quite often and (to my surprise) before long, I realized we were chatting every day. "When I was learning Spanish, I decided to watch a Mexican soap opera even if I didn't understand anything. I started picking up little words here and there and before I knew it, I was understanding almost everything they said."

to take the plunge

To plunge is to dive quickly and energetically into something — usually the ocean, a pool, etc. In this expression, we use it figuratively as a noun in the sense of finally doing something daring and perhaps risky after having hesitated for some time. For instance, deciding to spend a lot of money on that thing you've been wanting, to leaving your job to follow your passion, etc. In this blog, I decided to do something that might potentially mark me as a nerd — I finally went out and bought a bird guide. I'm using it humorously here, of course, as if buying a bird guide takes a lot of courage."After dating Karen for three years, I decided to finally take the plunge and ask her to marry me."


This is an onomatopoeic word that describes the high-pitched beep heard when one receives a text message or an email. As a verb, it means to send someone something by email or text."If you could pick me up after the concert, that'd be great. I'll ping you when it's done."

my neck of the woods

This is just a cute way of referring to where you live as opposed to someone else — that's why my is normally stressed in this phrase. For instance, in this blog, I send Roman some pictures of some of the birds I've seen, but naturally he isn't familiar with the birds where I live, in my part of the world, in my country. 

to be into something

This means to have an interest in something, to be a fan of something. We also say that someone is into someone if they're interested in them romantically. Note that later in the blog, I say getting into bird watching to mark the beginning of my interest in this hobby. Note that in this usage, the word into is always stressed."Every time I look at you, you're watching skateboarding videos. If you're that much into skating, you should ask your dad to buy you a skateboard for your birthday."


A general, informal word for animals. Although this often refers to the creepy, crawly animals that live in the wild, it can also be used for animals like hamsters, rats, mice, snakes, lizards, etc. sold in pet shops, just to name a few. Also, there may be an added nuance that the speaker finds them scary, annoying or repulsive, but not necessarily. In this blog, I just use it to refer to the wide variety of wild animals I see in the park.

sleuth out

Sleuth is another word for a detective and is pronounced [sluθ]. As a verb in the phrase to sleuth out, it means to find with a little investigation or intense searching. In this post, I meant that after discovering the many species of birds in my park, I did some careful watching and discovered a few more."They say Tommy hasn't been here all week because he got fired. I'm going to have to sniff around upstairs and sleuth out what really happened."

to throw something on

This phrasal verb is used for putting clothes on oneself or someone else, but in a quick or mindless way. For instance, someone who overslept can throw on their clothes and rush to work. Or  people who don't care what they look like will just throw on the first thing they find in their closet. In this post, I use it to humorously refer to the way writers dress their characters when they want them to be nerdy."If you're going to the supermarket, let me throw on a shirt and come with you — I need some stuff."

to go about (doing) something

This is just another way of saying to start doing something — especially something that's going to take some time and effort to complete. But it's also commonly used to refer to the process involved in doing something:"If I want to stay in the US, how do I go about becoming a resident?" 


Star Trek was a long-running American tv series in the 1960s about the Starship Enterprise and its crew in outer space. Fans of this show are called Trekkies, and they hold gatherings all over the world, where they dress up like the characters of the show. I mention them in this blog because, like birdwatchers, they have a reputation for being nerds. In fact, they're probably the ultimate nerds in a lot of people's minds. My point here is that although I'm now into bird watching, I'm still not enough of a nerd to the point of becoming a Trekkie... but you never know! 😉 Note that the phrase not exactly a Trekkie is another way of saying I can't say that I'm a Trekkie.

"Live long and prosper!"

This is a cultural reference. One of the crew members aboard the Starship Enterprise was an alien from the fictional planet Vulcan, named Dr. Spock. As a goodbye, he would make the hand signal you see above and say Live long and prosper! Again, I used it here to end the blog humorously with a Vulcan salute to my friend, Roman (although I'm not a Trekkie... yet!)

Study Notes

In this post, we're focusing on REDUCTIONS — shortening a word phonetically from its original full pronunciation; and CONTRACTIONS — combining two or more words into one word. I've marked all the reductions and contractions in this story in red, and as you can see, there's quite a bit of them. That's because we use them extensively in both writing and speech in order to give our English a natural rhythm. As you listen to and read the story, note how the reductions and contractions affect the rhythm of the spoken content. 

Paragraph 1bad rap | These words are pronounced [bæ:d ræp]. Vowel length is important to good pronunciation and is indicated in the transcriptions with the symbol [ː]. For the most part, words that end in voiced consonants like [b d g] are long, and those that end in voiceless consonants like [p t k] are short — especially those that end in -t [t̚], which sound very abrupt and clipped....if they want to portray someone as nerdy | The pronoun they is commonly used in a general sense — to people in general. Here, for example, it refers to people who make movies and shows, but without having to say that outright. This they is also commonly used when we don't know or don't specify someone's gender: they throw a goofy vest on them. Here, them refers to someone/anyone, since this person can be of either gender. Also note that want to is pronounced wanna in normal speech. We say it like this all the time, but only write it like this when we're being silly, for the most part. Avoid overusing it in writing.Nerdy and nerdier contain a very difficult sound combination for a lot of speakers: [rɖ]. It's the same sound heard in the words party and turtle. Pronouncing an American [r] followed by a tap with the tip of the tongue will take some practice, but don't give up. throw a goofy vest on them | Note the reduction of them here: on them is pronounced [ɑ́nǝm]. Interestingly enough, the pronouns him and them are both reduced to [ǝm] when unstressed, but the context usually makes it clear which one is meant. Read more here.In fact, I think the only thing... | The phrase in fact is used when the speaker wants to make a point, or present a scenario or statement that supports what they just said. In this usage, it means the same as another phrase, as a matter of fact. Both these phrases can also express that this thought just occurred to the speaker. You can read about them here.Paragraph 2when he told me | [wɛ̣nị tʰóʊ̯ld.mi] | When the pronoun he is unstressed after a word ending in a consonant, we often reduce it to just [i]̄God, _that _sounds _condescending! | The exclamations God! and Man! can be used with this intonation to express surprise or wonder: the exclamation God! or Man! is pronounced at a high pitch, and the rest of the statement at a low, steady pitch. In this example, I use it because I can't believe how condescending I sounded when I said I thought it was "adorable" that Roman's a birdwatcher. (See more examples here) Paragraph 3Now, I live in Florida | This now doesn't mean that I'm living in Florida at the moment. It's a discourse marker used to signal that I'm going to give a little side information before I continue with my story. It lets the listener know that what I'm about to say isn't part of the main storyline, just some side or background information before I get back to the actual story. See more herefor excercise | Note that the preposition for is commonly reduced to [fʀ] when it's unstressed. Also as a prefix: forget [fʀ.gɛ́t].it has | [ɪ̣t̚.hɛ̣z] | Note the reduction of unstressed has expressing ownership. (Read more)I've noticed birds before | In this paragraph I use italics and emphasis to make a point. Note the words noticed, knew and called and how they correlate in this context. I'm using them to assure the listener that I of course noticed them and knew they were there... I just didn't know what they were called. Without this written and spoken emphasis, these statements wouldn't have the same force, the same contrast. Here's another example. Pay attention to the intonation: "I can read Spanish with no problem, and I write it relatively well — I just can't speak it."
Paragraph 4I'm not a total stranger to birds | Here, again, I use emphasis to make the point «there's a lot I don't know about birds, but I'm not completely ignorant». I've always enjoyed | I've never been into them | Here we have two examples of the present perfect. In this usage, it refers to experiences you've had at some point in your life. The important thing to bear in mind with this usage of the present perfect is that it never pinpoints when you experienced something, just that you already experienced it at least once. That's why here it's used with the general time expressions always and never, but you could never use it with specific past time markers like yesterday, last week, last year, etc. Read more about the present perfect herehad chicks | had photographed | Although both these phrases contain the word had, its pronunciation is different in each case. When had is used to express possession, it's pronounced [hæ:d], but when it's part of the past perfect, it's commonly reduced to [hᵋd] with a very short, almost whispered vowel. See more here.Paragraph 5So naturally, I was curious | When the word was is unstressed, it's often reduced to a very short [(w)ʊz]: If he was here, why didn't he answer the phone? [ɪfi.ʊzhìːr wàɪ̯ɖɪt̚ni æ̀nsʀ ðǝfóʊ̯n] Note the reductions of he and was. In faster speech, reduced was can sound a lot like is, so it's important to pay close attention to the vowel.Yes, folks, you’re hearing it right! | In this paragraph, I humorously go through all the steps of buying the bird guide as if I were doing something unbelievably brave. That’s the humor in this section. This is the "plunge" I referred to. Normally, we hesitate to do something so publicly that would label us a nerd, but here, I threw caution to the wind and just did it!Paragraph 6took quite a bit of searching | This means that some of the birds required a lot of searching in the bird guide to see what they were called. Take is often used like this — especially in reference to time: I went to get my driver’s license this morning, and it took forever! Note that the expressions quite a bit and quite a few actually mean a lot — a considerable amount.has added | Here the present perfect is used because meeting Roman in the past has affected my life now. There’s been a change in my life after meeting him, and the present perfect perfectly expresses this change: my life now has another dimension thanks to meeting Roman. The same in the next sentence: It’s taught me… I’ve learned something which has changed me. This is a very important use of the present perfect — to refer to how things are now because of something that happened in the past. (Read more)I’m not exactly a Trekkie | The adverb phrase not exactly is used to express something along the lines of I wouldn’t say or I can't say… where the speaker doesn’t want to exaggerate. But colloquially, it’s also used when you want to point out a reality somewhat sarcastically: You’re laughing because I got a D on my math test? You’re not exactly Einstein yourself — you got a C! In this usage, it’s the opposite of a regular, used to say that someone is exactly like someone else — usually someone famous for a certain quality: "You got an A on the math test? You’re a regular Einstein!"