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.

Older Bro Bill looks on as Close Cousin Charlie and The Dude make friends with a snake. All three have birthdays within days of each other. Not sure about the snake

So, for this joint birthday bash, I grilled up some steaks, popped open some wine, and whipped out (of the freezer) a big ole Carvel Cake, the Whitmores’ celebration cake of choice. I served one of these babies for the Fourth of July, and we famously had one for our wedding cake. Trust me, Carvel Cakes do not disappoint. Incidentally, Close Cousin Charlie and his wife are both vegan, bless their hearts, so I also grilled some tofu. It’s a good thing I got a large Carvel Cake.

Best (delicious and large) birthday cake ever. We even scared up a couple of candles

In keeping with the spirit of close cousinly cooperation, there was, in addition to a joint birthday cake, a joint blowing-out-of-the birthday candles:

Oh, and what about birthday presents? you may be wondering. Well, The Dude and I have gotten to that stage of our relationship where one of us looks at the other about a week before whatever celebration is coming up (anniversary, Christmas, birthday) and go, “Hey, you know that trip to Borneo? That’ll be our anniversary present this year. OK?”

But this year I thought I’d be different and give his Dudeness an actual present: a book I’m making (courtesy Shutterfly) commemorating our first Big Crazy Birding Trip, the one to Kenya and Tanzania. Well, I didn’t get it done in time, but he doesn’t know about it (and he doesn’t read this blog) so heck. Happy Father’s Day, Dude Man!

One of the pictures that’ll be sure to make the cut in the Dude’s Birthday (er, Father’s Day) Book

Oh. Speaking of birds. The Dude did get a very special gift, and he got it on his Actual Birthday too: he saw a Very Rare Bird on a bike ride that morning. (Thus combining two passions, biking and birds.) He went back later on his other bike to take its picture. (This other bike is the Zero, which is an electric motorcycle; he calls both this and his recumbent “bikes”, thus causing much confusion around the Amagansett manse: “Want to go for a bike ride?” “You know I can’t keep up with you.” “I mean on the motorbike.” “Oh.”)

The Dude birding on his “bike”. It’s electric, thus absolutely silent. The better for sneaking up on his avian quarry

He took his Good Camera, the one that contains zillions of photos that have never been downloaded or shared anywhere, and snapped this picture:

And here it is: The Sandhill Crane. Very rare sighting. Even more rare sighting? A photo from The Dude’s camera

Happy Bird-day, Dude! Here’s wishing you — and that Sandhill Crane — many more years of nerdy, birdy adventure.

Amagansett, New York. June 2019

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

Along the Rio Grande with the Birder Patrol

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‘Keeping an eye out for migrants from Mexico’

I was on the phone with my Mom the other day and she mentioned that she almost bought a set of camouflage sheets at her church rummage sale. She said she decided not to because she was afraid she “wouldn’t be able to find her bed.”

That’s my Mom (!) Not only did she get me laughing, she got me thinking about camouflage.

We saw a lot of camouflage when we were in Texas recently for one of our Birding Excursions. We saw camouflage-bedecked guys zooming in boats along the border waters, cruising in vehicles along the border roads, and even sipping lattes in the border Starbucks.

Border Guys in camouflage along the Rio Grande, just upriver from us Birder Guys. (Photo by Lynsey Addario for the NY Times)

Note how the Border Guys are doing exactly the same thing as Birder Guy Dude in the photo at the top of this post. Scanning the shoreline with binoculars, looking for Mexican migrants. Except ours were Summer Tanagers, not “bad hombres”. Continue reading

Gender identity is for the birds

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‘How to tell the ornithological girls from the boys’

Take a moment (before reading on in amusement) to check out the flock of bird-watchers pictured at the top of this post. Just how hard is it, on a scale of one to ten, to tell the males from the females?

Well. As someone who has actually been on more than one ‘birding’ trip and traipsed around many a field a-flutter with fellow ‘birders’, I’m here to tell you that it can be a tad difficult to distinguish the sexes. No, I’m not talking about the sexes of the birds. I’m talking about the sexes of the people watching the birds.

That's Mr. Scarlet Tanager on the left. With Mrs. on the right. Interesting how she gets to keep the name 'Scarlet', tho there's not a trace on her

That’s Mr. Scarlet Tanager on the left. With Mrs. T on the right. Some pretty marked sexual differentiation going on here, wouldn’t you say?

By the way, I’m not crazy about the terms ‘birding’ and ‘birder’. Almost as much as I’m not crazy about other nouns-turned-into-verbs-and/or-adjectives: ‘parenting’, ‘crafting’, ‘kidding’. (I’m kidding about ‘kidding’.) Continue reading