(This article first appeared in the January 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)
I’ve eaten Chicken Kiev in Kiev; bought Moroccan leather in Marrakesh and sat listening to the Beach Boys sing Californian Girls in Long Beach with a Californian Girl. Each of which, along with a Tuna sandwich in Tunisia represent lost opportunities.
The thing is that my interest in birds was sparked in my early childhood and the embers were fanned in my youth, but then there was the almost inevitable gap, shared I’ve found by most ‘lifelong’ birders.
Ian Drury sang, “Sex and drugs and rock and roll, are all my brain and body need”. During our young adulthood we tend to spend time chasing the opposite sex, getting on down to the sound and over indulging in alcohol.
Many of us get coupled up and form families, money is short and time even shorter, so hobbies slide to the smallest back burner, barely kept warm for future use.
My travelling days started when I visited family in New Zealand, being routed through Singapore and back via California… all without optics let alone a field guide. On another occasion I went via Fiji on the coat tails of a hurricane, which took the tops off most of the palm trees and blew the birds into hiding. I recall seeing one cormorant, one tropicbird and a strange hook-beaked bird delving into the banana flowers outside my hotel room. I eventually identified what it was, but not until over thirty years later!
I’ve racked my ageing brain, but still cannot remember seeing any birds on a trip to Russia, except for the feral pigeons in Red Square. I must have seen birds in Morocco… particularly as I recall wandering around a fish market on the edge of a harbour. How is it that I can remember Ribbon Fish and Hammerhead Sharks being there for sale, but not what gulls were around the harbour? At the camel market I definitely remember being offered several camels in exchange for my girlfriend, but surely there would have been some birds knocking about the camel pens? The blank spots are so frustrating.
Being a bit of a ‘lister’ makes it worse. On a trip to Poland I managed to create a list of one for Belarus, as I watched a Common Buzzard fly over the border post. I have several species on my Angola list even although I’ve never been there… just watched from the other side of the river separating it from Namibia. I never stepped outside of the airport grounds in the Cayman Isle en route from Jamaica to Cuba, but managed half a dozen birds including an Island endemic and the famed Blue Iguana.
I never lost my love of birds, wild places and nature in general, so how come my bird ticker got turned off for a few years during my salad days?
I remember the point at which it began to come back… it was in Tunisia on my one and only ‘beach holiday’. After a night watching the most incredible light show when noiseless lightening lit up the Mediterranean I was turning lobster red on a sun bed when a beautiful swallow-tailed butterfly got up close and personal with my sun tan cream. Too hot to burn more I had a wander around the hotel grounds to find we were within viewing distance of some saltpans. They were behind chain link and I had no binoculars but the distant, heat haze disrupted pans were alive with waders. I could make out stilts but the rest were obscured… that feeling of frustration marks the beginning of finding my way back into birding.
It was further peaked on our last outing before the flight home… when the guide announced that, if we turned to our left and looked at the salt pans we would be able to see a large flock of ‘Pink Floyds’! Whoever knew about those songbirds?
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