Jury duty, only with feathers

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‘What those crazy birding trips are like’

I just flew back from a birding trip to Brazil, and boy are my arms tired.

The jury is in: Birthdays are Birddays on trips like this one. Here we celebrate my latest at Itatiaia National Park

People often ask me what these trips are like. Well, here’s how I often describe them. Picture yourself thrown together with eleven random strangers from all walks of life. For several days you spend nearly every waking moment with these people.

Our team of twelve doing a bit of problem-solving together

You eat every meal together, you take breaks together, you even spend the night together. (Well, sort of.) You consult, you deliberate, you draw conclusions.

Which owl was this? Group conclusion: Tawny-browed owl — a baby one

You form bonds and promise to stay in touch. Then, when it’s all over, you go home — and never see each other again. Jury duty, right?

Twelve Angry Birders on the hunt for the Gray-Winged Cotinga. Well, not all twelve. And definitely not angry. Cold, maybe. But worth it, because yes, we found the cotinga

Well, this trip was a tad different. For one thing, there were two people on it that Dude Man knew already.

Bird Nerds of a Feather: One of the two already-Dude-known peeps on this tour. Known to me, too, after 17 days of close contact

Before I get to the other difference, let’s talk a little about that eating together deal. The tour company we use (and which I highly recommend and plug shamelessly whenever possible), Field Guides, has been spreading their wings, so to speak. They’ve been marketing tours to wider audiences by enticing birders with Extra Added Attractions. Like, they have birding/wine tours. (See their “Birds and Wines of Chile and Argentina” for just one example.)

Birds and Buddhas? Guess which gets the most attention here at the site of the largest Buddha in Brazil

Next to the buddha: the largest cat box (er, Zen garden) in South America

They have tours that combine birds and art, too. Like this one with Dutch birds and Dutch masters.

Sometimes the birds ARE the artwork. Check out this extremely rare — only about a dozen are known to exist — Cherry-Throated Tanager. Which, yes, we saw. Our guide took this photo. (So did The Dude, tho his shot is still trapped inside his camera)

Well. I wanted to call this trip “Brazil and Buffets” because practically every meal we ate was one. A buffet, that is. Some were at the hotels, natch. But others were pretty fancy places — like the one pictured at the top of this post — where you’d fill your plate with all kinds of goodies, then waiters would go around and offer you meats they’d carve right for you from big ole skewers. (Or, in one place, offer you pieces of freshly-baked pizzas from big ole platters.)

Dude Man meets some meat

My favorites, though, were the by-the-kilo places. You’d fill your plate, then place it on a scale. You’re charged by how much it weighs. My suggestion that each diner be weighed before and after eating and charged accordingly wasn’t exactly a hit, especially later in the tour.)

Our trip itinerary. Dude Man and I only had time for the top half — Linhares Reserve to Sao Paulo — who knows how much more bonding would have occured had we done the whole thing (!)

Oh, the other thing that was different about this trip is that we were missing The One. You know, the person in the group — whether jury or birding trip — who is difficult or annoying or sometimes even a full-fledged pain in the tuchus. Oh, there was this one guy we dubbed “Mr. Sunshine” because he had a darkish streak. But he turned out to be too darned lovable to be a full-fledged One.

A dead end — at a graveyard. Maybe The One is in there somewhere

In fact, everyone on this trip turned out to be loveable. So goldarned lovable that we made sincere promises to get together in our future nonbirding lives. Will this really happen?

The jury is still out.

Amagansett, New York. November 2022

 

 

 

Doomsday Dude

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‘”While we still can” and other Dude-isms’

Gee, last week I wrote about “Doubleknit Dad.” And this week it’s “Doomsday Dude.” What’s next? “Downer Debbie?” (I actually have a lot of material for that one.)

Anyway. Alliteration aside, I see nothing wrong about writing about the two most important men in my life — though I suppose I could have spaced them out a bit. But Tuesday’s getting long in the tooth and I don’t really want to write about Wordle, so here goes.

The Dude, as lovely as he is — and he truly is a lovely man — has, you see, a rather negative view of Life. You know the saying about seeing the glass half full or half empty? Well, for his Dudeness, the glass is broken. And he’s clutching the shards in an underground bunker filled with gold bars.

Proof that the world isn’t all that horrible: this plant bloomed recently for the first time in 30 years

See, for Mr. Dude, we’re well on our way to The End of The World. But, before that, the population will explode and there will be crazy shortages of resources that will spark class warfare. When you point out that he’s being a bit grim, he begs to differ. “I’m just realistic,” he’ll say. Why, he probably thinks Station Eleven is a reality show.

Of course, he’s not always negative. He teamed up with me to bring a baby into this soon-to-be-ending world

On a more, say, granular level, he insists that we do things “while we still can.” This gives us a rationale for doing things like going on rigorous birding trips to remote places, sometimes with dicey accommodations and/or no hot water.

And often with dangerous and/or scary stuff that must be joined in on or you’ll look like a total loser. (Yes, I did this; I’m the one toward the back looking up, not down

There will come a time — not too far into the future because, after all, “we’re not getting any younger” — when we will no longer be able to do these things. So we need to do them now. “While we still can.” Continue reading

Tough act to follow

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‘What could possibly beat this?’

One of my best Bridge Buddies (hi, Laurie!) says she always reads my blog (thanks, Laurie!) but that she can tell when I’m, well, at a loss for words. I won’t mention specific posts, but if you, like Laurie, follow me regularly, you probably have your “favorites.”

Who wouldn’t be at a loss for words? (Well, except the Bridegroom, I trust)

Last week this happened because The Child had just wed The Beau in a quickie ceremony to satisfy the immigration authorities. (See “Runaway Bride” for cinematic photos and storybook details.) I sat there at my laptop wracking my brain, then gave in and wrote about the wedding. I could literally think of nothing else.

How could I possibly think of anything else? This is my brain on “wedding”

This week it’s because that story got kajillions of views and likes and comments. I’m thinking, “What can I write about now that could possibly capture your interest, O Faithful Readers?”

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“Straight up from the warthog”

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‘Oh, how I miss those wacky birding trips.’

I know I’m really late with this week’s post. But just today New York lowered the age requirement for getting the Covid-19 vaccine, and I wanted to make sure I got a shot (haha, very funny) at it.

Among other reasons to get poked, like not getting sick or dying and being able to see my friends and family in 3D, we have a birding trip coming up.

Our last birding trip–last weekend, at Sagg Main Beach–was a wild goose chase. Literally. We went looking for the White-Fronted Goose and didn’t find it

See, last year’s all-bought-and-paid-for exotic birding adventure (to the Galapagos) was, of course–like everything else fun in 2020–cancelled. But the good news is it’s rescheduled for this summer. Except you can’t go if you’re not vaccinated. Being a physician, Dr. Dude got his shot a couple of weeks ago so he’s all set. But, unless I wanted him gallivanting off without me, I had to score mine too.

I was on that website for about an hour and a half. The slots kept disappearing while I was applying for them; I guess I wasn’t the only newly-qualified 65-and-up banging away on her computer.

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Social distancing, the Borneo Way

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‘Forget masks and Purell; just crack open a Durian’

A couple of weeks and a lifetime ago, we were birding our way along a highway (and I do mean “high”) up in the mountains of Borneo when a ramshackle car sputtered to a halt on a steep stretch of roadway right alongside us.

Another roadside attraction. Nope, The Dude isn’t looking at that gorgeous mountain. There’s a bird over yonder somewhere

Our guide sauntered over to see what was what and reported back that the driver was on his way to the City (in this case, Kota Kinabalu) with a load of fruit to sell. He and his load couldn’t make it up the incline, so he pulled over for a smoke.

That’s Mt. Kinabalu, at sunset of the day we survived the durian episode

Now, we’re in Borneo, remember, so by “load of fruit” I don’t mean a whole batch of apples or pears. Not even pineapples or bananas. Nope, these “fruits” were completely unrecognizable. Our guide Hamit (a name I committed to memory by using the mnemonic “hah! meat!”, because what passed for meat in Borneo was pretty darned amusing) — well, Hamit thought it was pretty darned amusing to offer us tastes of some of these fruits and then watch our faces.

That’s Hamit on the right. I not only forgot the guy on the left’s name, but also his mnemonic. He was our driver, and he didn’t make us eat any fruit

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Birders gotta bird

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‘Even if it’s from a rooftop, waiting out a plane delay’

Today I almost wrote about the trials and tribulations of dealing with a major renovation on a somewhat minor apartment. But just thinking about it was making me exhausted, not to mention bored.

What I wake up at 3 in the morning and think about

So instead I’ll write another story about our last birding adventure — the one where most of the spine-tingling moments happened wondering when and if we’d ever A) get to the birding location, and then B) get home once the trip was over. (See “Paradise Lost” for excruciating detail.)

What I wake up at 4 in the morning and think about

See, we’ve been on a bunch of these birding trips, but this was the first time we had any problem with the to-ing and the fro-ing. Still, the inbetween-ing was pretty sweet.

What I wake up at 5 in the morning and actually do — at least on these trips

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The Dude celebrates another bird-day

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‘Whooping it up, the nerdy birdy way’

You’ve heard how there’s a bumper crop of babies nine months after a power blackout, haven’t you? There was a famous blackout in New York City in July of 1977, complete with a baby boom the next April. I didn’t move to New York till 1979, so I missed out on the action that time. I was around for the blackout of 2003, but the most exciting thing I remember was being so engrossed in a client conference call — planning a Huggies shoot! in Africa! —  that I almost missed being evacuated from the Ogilvy building.

Anyway. I bring up this blackout-then-nine-months-later baby boom thing because The Dude’s family is, well, “organized” somewhat along those lines. Out of six total Whitmore siblings, four have birthdays within a few days of each other at the end of May and the beginning of June. I guess, in their family, Labor Day was kind of like a New York City blackout. If you get my drift.

Three of the five Whitmore kids here have birthdays in late May or early June. Not pictured: Older Sister Wendy. Birthday? May 31

If that weren’t coincidentally wacky enough, Close Cousin Charlie has his birthday two days after The Dude’s. Though I don’t think a blackout — or Wayne’s Dad’s Labor Day vacation — had anything to do with it. This cousin is so close, birthday-wise and just regular chummy-friendly-wise that he and The Dude often celebrate together. And this year was no exception.

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Planes, boats, and sorta kinda automobiles

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’Getting there actually is part of the fun. If you’re a Crazy Birder, that is.’

Our chigger bites from our Guyana trip hadn’t even healed when we were off again, this time to Western Panama. (See ‘Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid’ and ‘Up in the air, Junior Birdman’ for hair-raising Guyanian adventures involving hitchhiking bugs and bullet ants.)

The first Panamanian Plane. De-icing outside, pre-birding inside

A few years ago we started traveling with this company whose motto is “seriously fun birding”. (Look out: plug coming.) And I’m happy to report Truth in Advertising: Field Guides takes both the birding and the fun, well, seriously. Of course, not everyone has the same idea when it comes to “fun”. Take the travel — please.

Our 4-wheel limo. Standing-room only, but with terrific air-conditioning

We’ve found that there seems to be an inverse correlation between gorgeous birds and efficient transportation. The countries with the best birds have, basically, the worst roads. (The teeth-rattling tarmac in Kenya comes to mind.) Or no roads to speak of. (Amazonian Brazil and Downcountry Guyana, I’m talking about you.) Continue reading

Monkey see, monkey do

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‘Up close and personal with the Burt Reynolds of chimps’

Okay. I realize only too well that there are some of you out there who may not ‘get’ the reference in the subtitle of this piece. Well, Once upon a time, there was an actor named Burt Reynolds. He was considered quite hunky at the time. So hunky, in fact, that he agreed to pose nude (yes, nude!) for a women’s magazine centerfold. (Equal Rights, you know.)

Anyway. This piece is not about feminism; it’s a piece about chimps. Check out this link, and see if you don’t think there isn’t a rather strong, um, family resemblance between Burt and the cheesecake cousin I’ve pictured up there at the top of this story. And no, I don’t mean that as an insult. We are all primates, after all. Even Donald Trump.

Some folks thought there was a resemblance between Burt and my Starter Husband. This was, at the time, considered quite flattering. But, being sort of a naughty person, when Mr. Starter would bring up this supposed resemblance on social occasions I used to say that, yes, he did look just like Burt — from the feet down. Check out ‘My Polio Shot Marriage’ if you’d like to make up your own mind. Continue reading

Stalking the wild Shoebill

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‘On the hunt for a Ugandan bird as big as Idi Amin’

This morning I got locked in a bathroom. I mean seriously locked in. The kind of locked in where you beat on the door till someone hears you, but, worried that no one will, you actually consider clambering on top of the tank and climbing out the window — except the window has bars on it. Then someone finally does hear you, but that someone doesn’t speak English and it’s ages before a gang of guys comes with tools to break you out.

The bathroom in question was located on the banks of Lake Victoria, on the outskirts of Entebbe, which is in Uganda. Where Idi Amin used to be Head Dude and Dictator. Idi is long gone, but there are still plenty of ways to scare visitors. Like making a bathroom door that locks just dandy but, well, see above.

Once I emerged from said potty prison, unharmed except for a severely wounded dignity, our little Band of Birders boarded (more than a tad belatedly, due to my bathroom emergency) a local boat that was supposed to take us to a swamp so we could search for a rare bird called the Shoebill. My fellow birder/boaters had put the finishing touches on their potty jokes and had arranged ourselves on deck when a gigantic black cloud blew in and our leader, thank the Birding Gods, decided it wouldn’t be safe to continue.

While waiting patiently in an abandoned shelter for the storm to pass, our saintly leader happened to remark that in fact it was a good thing that I got locked in the bathroom — otherwise we would have already left shore — and been out on the open water when the storm hit. Which wouldn’t have been a good thing. No, not a good thing at all.

Gimme shelter. Nothing dampens The Dude’s birding ardor. Here he waits patiently for the torrent to subside. Yes, he’s laughing — probably about me getting locked in the bathroom

Anyway. I’m writing this in the Boma Guesthouse, where they do (obviously) have wifi. But it’s getting late in Birder Hours (it’s, like, 9:49!) and I have to get this done so I can schedule it to post tomorrow (yes, you can do that, unless you screw it up, which I’ve done) because tomorrow (usual Posting Tuesday) we’ll be staying in a place that (and I quote) “has seen better days”. I’m doubting it has running water, much less internet. Continue reading