If you're curious about the avian life around you -- from the tiny chirps emanating from the backyard bushes to those large ominous black shadows circling overhead -- then maybe it's time to try one of Ted Pierce's birding classes. Pierce doesn't just show his students how to differentiate a pipit from a wagtail. For him, the goal isn't to build up a huge "life list," enumerating how many species you've seen, but rather to use birdwatching as a way to learn about the environment, and to simply relax and enjoy yourself. His classes, offered through Piedmont (510-594-2655) and Albany (510-559-6580) adult schools, consist of three or four weeknight classroom sessions and several field trips to local birding hot spots on weekends. He also schedules regular outings to more remote locations. Pierce uses an innovative approach: On his beginning field trips, he tells his students not to immediately call out the names of the birds they see. Instead, they list different characteristics they're observing. Thus, a robin could become a "medium-sized bird with a red breast and dark head, hopping across the lawn, pulling worms from the ground." It feels silly at first, but then you begin to notice how much more detail you're seeing, and how much more aware you're becoming of the world around you. And that may be what birding is really all about.