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