“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.

Last March in Borneo. We were masked, not because of Covid, but in preparation for entering a bat cave. It was about as delightful as you can imagine

Anyway. I know that hiking through the rainforest in godawful heat and 100+ humidity while being swarmed by flies and/or mosquitoes, peed on by bats, and squirmed on by leeches isn’t for everyone — but I confess I absolutely heart those trips.

Sometimes you need more than masks to protect yourself from the local fauna

You hang out every day with a tight little band of people from all walks of life — biologists and doctors and teachers, career military and architects, and a guy who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (hey, Larry!) You’re with each other pretty much every waking minute. You sit together, eat together, take bathroom breaks together (well, not together-together, at least not all the time). Come to think of it, it’s a lot like jury duty. There’s even the part at the end where you exchange email addresses and promise to stay in touch — but do you?

Merry band of new best friends boards plane

(I was going to say where else can you forget about makeup and your hair and not worry about what you’re wearing, but that’s been pretty much my house these past several months.)

You get to ride in pop-top Range Rovers and luxury houseboats and seaplanes and dugout canoes. You hike where no one’s hiked before, hear no traffic or planes, and see no one who looks like you for days and days on end.

You even get to walk across flimsy bridges — some so much higher than this that I could not let go to take a photo

And there are the colorful characters. The female birder with the perfectly-good name Deborah who insisted on being called “Raven.” (I, of course, pretended I couldn’t remember and kept calling her “Sparrow.”) There was the lady who fell in a pit of ants. There were the two guys who kept fighting and had to be separated. When I remarked to this guide, “Gosh, it’s a lot like kindergarten,” he replied, “No. Worse.”

Hipster Birder at work

This guide himself was colorful. He had lots of tattoos, shoulder-length hair he often man-bunned, and practiced a martial art called “grappling.” We called him “Hipster Birder.”

Hipster Birder at play

Oh, and of course I can’t forget Warren, more-or-less affectionately known as “Where Ya Lookin’.” As in: “There’s the spoonbill!” “Where ya lookin’?” “Red Bishop at three o’clock!” “Where ya lookin’?” And my very favorite: “Check out the elephant!” “Where ya lookin’?” “Straight up from the warthog!”

Nope. Warren wasn’t in this boat. But these were a pretty colorful batch of characters too

And yes, there were the birds. Technicolor ones a guide called “Fancy Birds.” Big ugly ones that looked positively prehistoric. And my favorite, the really sneaky birds it took a lot of time to find — so that, when you finally did spot one, it gave you a real rush.

Anyway. It’s getting late and I want to get outside. Even if “Outside” is a ten-minute walk down my driveway. At least I won’t have to fend off leeches.

See you next week. Same place, earlier time.

Amagansett, New York. January 2021

Up in the air, Junior Birdman

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‘Just not upside-down, if you please.’

I amaze (and amuse) myself sometimes with the mere fact that I go on these Crazy Birding Adventures. (See last week’s “Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid” for gory Guyanian details.)

Not only are there bugs and spiders and scorpions to deal with (along with the occasional dollop of gecko poop on one’s pillow) but these trips usually have several of my own personal psychological bugaboos layered on top, including (but not limited to) an almost-paralyzing fear of heights. Oh yeah, and lest I forget, there’s The Snake Thing.

Before we move on to heights, here’s that snake — a big ole rattler, no less — that The Dude and Ron were trying to photograph in my story from last week

You may recall from my story “The Year of the Snake” that I have a particularly acute aversion to creatures of the slithery persuasion. Unlike, say, Intrepid Fellow Birder Linda (who snapped this snake), you won’t hear me cooing “That’s the most beautiful snake I’ve ever seen” about this specimen we found on a nighttime hike. Though I did have the gumption to take this movie. So there’s that. Continue reading

Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid

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‘But we did catch the Birding Bug’

If you’ve missed me (and/or my stories), may you find your reward in Heaven. Or maybe South America. Which is where The Dude and I spent the last couple of weeks — in Guyana, which is a country we had to look up on Google Earth.

We’d both remembered that movie Papillon, with Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen, where Steve’s character escapes from Devil’s Island in French Guiana. But we couldn’t decide whether Guiana was in South America and Guyana was in Africa. Or the other way around. (The Guiana/Guyana thing didn’t help.) And of course there’s Uganda (where we’ve been) and Ghana (where we’ve not), complicating matters even more. Turns out Guiana and Guyana are both in South America. But only one of them is famous for its Kool-Aid.

It drove our new Guyanian Pal Francis — here with me atop the Georgetown Lighthouse — crazy to realize that The One Fun Fact we knew about his homeland was The Kool-Aid Thing

Yup. Guyana is where the Rev. Jim Jones took his followers and, ultimately, treated them to a Kool-Aid Party. Grape, it was. (Take a sec to check out Jim Jones’ Wikipedia entry. It actually lists his “Occupation” as “Cult Leader”.) Continue reading