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.

But as much as I’d like to go on about how I’m working on my reptile fear, it’s time to get back to heights. And how I really really don’t like them. Maybe even more than I don’t like snakes. I’m still shocked that I got up so high so many times on this last trip. Must have been the malaria pills.

The biggest weak-knee-inducing experience was visiting Kaieteur Falls. In the photo at the top of this post you can see said Falls being snapped out the window of the extremely-small plane we flew in to reach them. This plane was so small it felt like we were wearing it. No kidding — we all had to get weighed and placed carefully around its interior so it could take off without tipping over. Or something.

Here’s another view of the Falls from the teensy plane’s teensy window. Teensy planes are, basically, the only way to reach these Falls. Let’s just say it’s not very crowded up there

Even the people (and not many of them) who work up at the Falls’ visitor center have to get there by plane. Unless they want to hike straight up a cliff for a couple of hours each way.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Visitors Center, Kaieteur Falls

Oh — and once you’ve deplaned, you don’t get a fear-of-heights break. You head off on a skinny path to a vertiginous vantage point — where you can enjoy a few more cold-sweat-inducing moments.

Look out, Danger Man! Don’t get too close to that edge!

But do these Birders pay attention to Danger Man? As for me, I’m thinking the Falls look just as spectacular from back here

Gotta love those Birders. They were so busy digging the white-tailed swifts (or whatever the heck was flying around up there) that they hardly noticed the Falls. Even though they are four times higher than Niagara Falls. And twice as high as Victoria Falls.

How Birders look at a waterfall

I like to soothe my height-traumatized ego by reminding myself that I read somewhere that a fear of heights is associated with creativity. Hmmm. In my case, the only creative thing to come out of cowering by a cliffside is coming up with colorful excuses not to go there.

But I was really into this Guyana trip, scary heights be damned. Heck, I even climbed up to the canopy catwalk. That’s a rope and mesh contraption (the “catwalk”) suspended high above the tops of the trees (the “canopy”). It’s so high up — and so precarious — that only One Birder At A Time is allowed to walk on it.

The Dude affects a blasé stance on the Canopy Walkway. Those are the tops of the trees. The ground is at least a hundred feet down

You go up there so that you are eye level with the treetop birds. As it were. As they say, it’s only scary if you look down. Or if you happen to put your hand on one of the Bullet Ants that hang out up there on the mesh. They say that being bit by one is like “being shot by a firearm”. I must say that avoiding the bite of the bullet ants did distract me from my fear of falling.

The New Yorker, bless their hearts, had a cartoon about a canopy walkway. Which I spied on the plane going home. Giving me a double dose of heights phobia

But before we could jump on that plane and go home, we had one more height to conquer: the Lighthouse in Georgetown. Finding ourselves with a free morning (and, in my case, a need for a distraction from my getting-on-a-plane-soon-itis) we took a City Tour. New Best Friend Francis showed us all the sights, including the Lighthouse. Which was even scarier than Jim Jones’ house.

Well. I just that’s about all the scary height and/or snake-related stuff I can think of. Till I go to sleep and my dreams kick in. (“Bullet Ants”, for heaven’s sakes!)

Bye-bye, Bullet Ants!

New York City. February 2019

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”.)

The house where Jim Jones lived. He didn’t do his Kool-Aid mixing here, though. That fun little party took place miles away, in the jungle at Jonestown

Anyway. Enough about Crazy Cults. The reason you didn’t hear from me wasn’t because I sipped any Kool-Aid, but because, once we hit the Birding Road, there wasn’t any internet. (There wasn’t any hot water, either. Which, trust me, took a whole lot more getting used to.) We did, however, have plenty of hot and cold running birds.

Can you find the bird in this picture? Great shot of a Great Potoo (which doesn’t do a lot of running, hot or cold), by one of our new birding buddies, Rhys Harrison

We saw shield endemics. And leks of mating Capuchinbirds. And many feathery others too numerous to mention. (No, I did not take photos of said birds, preferring instead to “just enjoy them”. Others took plenty, though, including The Dude. Though, if he remains true to Dude Form, his will never ever leave his camera.)

While they took pix of the birds, I took pix of them

The birds, of course, were amazing. But you know that “Birding Bug” I mention “catching” in the subhead? Well. It was a Actual Bug.

A bug that’s rather pretty. But no, this is not The Bug Of Which I Speak

The Bug in Question was a hitchhiker we encountered early on in the trip. We had been warned to zip our bags when not in use, especially if our bags were located on the floor of our cabins. Well, guess who didn’t read the memo — or pay attention when I read it to him?

You got it. The Dude was fussing with his camera gear one evening when a beetle the size and shape of a VW strolled casually into his backpack. Naturally Dude Man enlisted my help trying to get him out. We unpacked all the backpack’s gear, then tried shining a light in there, shaking it upside down, and even (very gingerly) examining the seams. We didn’t see Mr. Bug leave, but since we couldn’t find him anywhere, we figured he must have slipped out somehow and gone out to find some new bug friends. Then, seeing as how we had to get up at 4:30, we loaded the backpack back up with gear and tried to forget about it. (Urk.)

Nope. That’s not The Bug either. Within the circle is a jaguar footprint we spotted on the trail. Which is all we ever saw of the jaguar

(Needless to say, we used our flashlights even more judiciously than usual when tiptoeing to the bathroom that night.)

Next day, after hours of bouncing along a red-dirt road to our next destination, we were just settling in to our new digs when The Dude unzipped his backpack. Eh, voila! Out strolls Mr. Bug. And disappears under the bed. The same bed upon which I had earlier found a “mint” on my pillow which turned out to be gecko poop. “Happy new home, Mr. Bug; we hope you like Surama!”

Mr. Bug’s new home, the Surama Lodge. Somewhere outside the Lodge. We hope

Next night, after a long sweaty day of bird-studded traipsing, we were steeling ourselves for another cold shower when out pops Mr. Bug — making a beeline from under the bed to my bag. When I reached for the zipper to deny him entry, he actually jumped on my hand. I yelped in surprise (this was, as I mentioned, a Very Big Bug) and shrieked for The Dude’s manly assistance. “Get him off me!”

So there we were in partially-clad disarray, jumping around trying to dislodge and discard this darned bug. When The Dude finally managed to capture it with his bath towel, I urged “Throw it outside!” To which The Dude responded “But I’m totally naked!” “Just do it!” I hissed back. “They’ve all seen naked people before!”

Speaking of bugs, that’s one big termite mound there on the left. None of them hitchhiked, though

So much for Mr. Bug. Speaking of “creepy crawly critters”, as our guide called them, we did rack up quite a few: millipedes, crickets, termites, lizards, the afore-mentioned geckos, and even a couple of (gasp) snakes. But, as far as we know, Mr. Bug was the only one with whom we formed a lasting bond.

The Dude and Ron, our local guide extraordinaire, check out a rattlesnake right there in that bush. Nope, I didn’t get any closer than this. If you want to see that snake, you’ll have to wait till Dude Man shares his photo. Don’t hold your breath

Of course I have more Guyanian Adventures to relate. But time is short and this post is long. Let me leave you with a photo of our Nightly Ritual (other than the cold showers, that is), the Sundowner Toast: a shot of El Dorado Rum, made right in Guyana and served up in little Guyanian flag-embossed shot glasses. Which did get to go home with us in that backpack.

Balanced Birding. A shot of rum in one hand, binocs in the other

Amagansett, New York. February 2019