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YOUR TURN: Does a Girl Go in the Woods?

For a subject (and activity) that comes up so regularly on birding trips, the actual mechanics of “going” in the field are seldom openly discussed by birders. And I think that’s a shame. Based on my years of leading birding tours, I know how difficult it can be for about half of the birding population to just hop out of the van and “use a bush”. There is no lack of remote and/or third world birding locations where use of bathrooms is simply unavailable or inadvisable. In many of those cases, having the right equipment could likely have made the process much easier and less stressful, especially for some participants whose knees aren’t as flexible as they once were.

The December 2014 issue of Birder’s Guide to Gear features an article by Sharon Stiteler entitled “Does a Girl Go in the Woods?” Within, she reviews the efficacy of devices manufactured to help women use nature’s facilities more easily.

Even though you may be part of the 50% of birders reading this for whom the topic has little relevance, I hope you’ll agree that it has the potential to significantly improve the birding lives of the other 50%. If you agree, I encourage you to read the article by clicking here to access the free e-magazine. Sharon’s article stars on page . Or, if just can’t stomach reading about peeing, please flip on to one of the other articles. I am confident you will find something of interest.

Do you have tips or stories to share regarding the art of outdoor evacuation? Have you used a product or method not mentioned in the article? Sharon and I are especially interested in hearing from female birders, but all views are welcome. Please join in the conversation by offering your questions and opinions in the comment section below!

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Michael Retter
Michael L. P. Retter is the editor of the ABA's newest magazine, Birder's Guide. He also wears his ABA cap while working as a Technical Reviewer for Birding magazine. When not at home, Michael is often leading tours in Middle America (Mexico through Panama). He currently lives with his fiancé, Matt, in Fort Worth, Texas. In his fleeting free time there, he pursues interests in horticulture (especially orchids), music, cooking, and numismatics. Michael also runs GBNA, the continent's informal club and email list for LGBT birders.
  • My name is Mya-Rose Craig, I am 12 years old and live in the UK. I do a lot of world birding and normally my mum and I “go” together, with one person standing watch blocking the view and then swapping over. We have a device, and only have a choice of one type in the shops here. It is a bit fiddly and can be messy but is a life saver when there are no trees or bushes to hide behind or just a lot of people.

  • Sophie

    Working in the Antarctic I used something similar to a lady J, often too cold and complicated to pull down those overalls, long underwear etc or get out of the tent (then the water bottle with a big U printed on it was also used) . Took a little getting used to “letting go” while clothed but worked well. Travel in South America, at least on long bus journeys, a long skirt, or a light sarong for modesty worked for those places where one’s only option was somewhat public…..

  • Alexandria Simpson

    I’ve always used a buddy system…one girl stands guard, one goes. Never been a fan of it, but it’s necessary sometimes. Biggest problem in West Texas is finding something to go behind, lol.

  • The devise is a five-gallon bucket and a fitted cushion.

  • gograyghost

    look for a dip or hollow in the ground. Stand on the high part and pee into the hollow. Keeps your shoes dry.

  • WoodsWoman

    Are you serious? Really?? If I ever entertained the thought of re-joining the ABA, you just totally blew that thought out the window. Into the woods. The woods where women just do what needs to be done without reading, or even worse writing, a lame article about it.
    The ABA has sunk to an all time new low.

    • Sharon Stiteler

      This article was written because sometimes “just doing what needs to be done” is a challenge and not everyone was raised with an outdoor family or culture.

      I dislocated my knee a few years ago and during the long recovery, squatting was not an option. Many birders have knee problems and though they can walk for long periods, squatting in the woods is challenging and affects whether or not they will participate in field trips.

      I have talked to many women who tried these products, only to have embarrassing results because they didn’t know to practice at home before trying it in the field, I want others to know they work and can make all day birding a better experience.

      This article was intended to help those who don’t have a natural inclination to go in the woods and also may have continence issues. Years ago I worked for Pfizer translating surveys of people with incontinence, it was heartbreaking to read accounts of how people didn’t engage in activities they loved because they feared being out in public with no bathroom. I don’t want that to be a barrier to anyone going birding or enjoying a day in the field. This is not a subject that’s easily talked about and I’m grateful that the ABA gave this sensitive and uncomfortable topic a chance.

    • Ashli Gorbet

      I completely agree with Sharon Stiteler. This issue is one of basic biology and a question/challenge that women who work and play in the field experience on a daily basis. There should be no shame in a discussion on the topic. If one does not want to participate in that discussion, that is well within one’s rights. I understand that not every article is for everyone, and you are certainly entitled to
      passing over this one if you feel you’d rather not explore the issue. I
      ask that you would not shame those of us who do want to discuss the
      issue, however.
      As for your statement about the ABA in general, the ABA is an excellent organization and I encourage you to re-consider joining again. In the last five or so years, new life has been breathed into an organization that had become a tad tired and a bit of a one trick pony. The ABA is forging ahead on conservation issues, leads the birding community in articles on the fine points of identification, and is cultivating a deeper camaraderie among birders within the ABA area and beyond, to mention only a few achievements. We would love to have you join us in that and more.

  • cestma

    A most welcome discussion indeed!

    Just last year I was birding in a place that took a few miles to walk into, and once you got to the right area there was next to no cover to duck behind. It consisted of a series of paired impoundments separated by elevated gravel causeways. As the need grew more desperate, I began eyeing the cattails at the bottom of the causeway I was on. “If I could just slide down there and get behind them, no one on this dike could see me….”

    Till it dawned on me–there were quite likely birders over on the other side of the impoundment; with spotting scopes.

  • Nancy DeWitt

    A little off-topic since it doesn’t involved a stand-up device, but I carry a travel umbrella when “birding the boonies.” When held sideways it provides an instant screen (for those who can squat) when there is insufficient vegetation to hide behind, at least for one’s lower half.

    And Sharon, thanks for reminding me about David Sedaris’s hilarious “Stadium Buddy” routine, which I saw live. I had no idea there was also a Stadium Gal.

  • Michael Retter

    Lani Raymond of Homer, AK writes…

    “Hi, Sharon. I just read your article in the Dec. 2014 edition of Birder’s Guide. It was great. But, when you said that you can’t squat when there are 10 inches of snow on the ground, you are wrong I’ve lived in Alaska for over 45 years and have had to make-do, if you will, with many situations in order to pee. If there are 10 inches of snow, one just tramples down a large enough area first. It works. Also for deeper snow too. And you can “cover it up” afterward like a cat.

    Your saying that you always think about where/how to go no matter where you are, rang true with me. Then you can focus on the birds and all! I never realized there were the devices you described but that’s good information.

    My worst having-to-go situation was not exactly birding but occurred when I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge years ago. There was NO PLACE to go and it’s such a long, long bridge!! A restroom at each end but nothing in between and tons of people even if there had been something to get “behind” which there WASN’T!! Most forests, beaches, fields and all seem easy compared to that experience.

    Thanks for your article!”

  • Sharon Stiteler

    As an update, GoGirl now offers an extension tube for use with their product. You buy a funnel with a tube or the extension tube on it’s own. This is a game changer and now allows me to use the funeral without pulling my pants all the way down.

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