Getting out with Danish birders is delightful even if you don’t speak Danish. Birding is an international language, anyway; just watching and listening will get you pretty far. Many Danes speak quite a bit of English, too. When that fails, there’s always barking and pointing at the sky, but it really helps to learn a few terms and names to follow the action. You’ll want to write down the words phonetically, too, so get friendly with a Danish birder who’ll let you take notes. Then, when someone calls out, “Rød glente flyvende venstre”, which sounds like, “royl glinta floon ven-streh”, you can look up and see a red kite flying left.
The Danes are first-class birders. They move quietly and efficiently in the field. They know their birds. They are low-key and nearly single-minded; hunger does not slow the mission. They eat with binoculars held just north of the mouth.
And of course, I’m missing 15/16ths of the conversation- the buzz goes straight over my head like a flock of migrating lapwings (pronounced, vee-bay). I’m sure there were plenty of discussions on field marks and such, and I think there may have even been talk that wasn’t about birds at all, because nothing about birds could be that funny.
Actually, I take that back.
On a recent bus tour to southern Sweden with the Danish Ornithological Society, while we scoped out a marshy lake, my birder friend began telling me that the smew (which we didn’t see) is called a lille skallesluger, “the small one that swallows shells” and pochard, which we did see, is called a taffeland (the d is silent). He translated this roughly to “the snobbish meal duck”, so-called because, once upon a time, a Danish King handed them out as favors to his rich friends. Knortegås is the brent goose, and unless my friend is pulling my leg, “putgås”is its cute Swedish name. It means “farting goose”. I’m afraid I giggled.
I’m so immature.
At lunchtime, the group sat on an old concrete foundation by a stream, alternately eating bites and scanning the kites floating in circles overhead. Suddenly the trip leader hollered and I turned around in time to see a jackdaw-sized black bird flapping past a line of trees. It clearly held its head out front on a longish neck and wasn’t a jackdaw. It was a black woodpecker, one of my most-wanted birds. I turned back to the leader and gave him the thumbs-up sign and a silly grin.
I just hope thumbs-up means the same thing in Danish as it does in English.