I am not a birder.
I mean, I’m obsessive enough I guess, just not the right kind of obsessive. I don’t have a big enough… camera (what did you think I was going to say) and I don’t own either a vest with a bazillion pockets or a Tilley hat. I have never seen a red-whiskered bulbul and I don’t really care that I have never seen a red-whiskered bulbul. But I do enjoy looking at them, watching their behaviour and watching other people watch them. (Birders are so cute when they gather in flocks with their huge… lenses. (You’re thinking of something else again, aren’t you? Shame on you.)) With that in mind, a few months ago Ms. Rose and I visited the extinction capital of the world.
That’s not why we went, but it is an interesting factoid that the native flora (not that one) and fauna (or that one either) are often hard to find. Foreign versions of both are ubiquitous, of course. Heck, even the official state bird is Canadian.
Sort of. Would national geographic lie to you?
While we were there we did some of the traditional things one does when visiting remote tropical islands — we put on parkas and looked for snow, we (only me, really) played chicken with Ms. Frizzle and we both ‘acquired’ giant green bugs from a highway patrolman. (I did it under false pretenses, but I’m like that.)
We also did some more conventional stuff — toured public bathrooms (and took photographs), stalked edible birds (non-native only, I assure you), got lost (my fault), admired the flowers (the evil ones were particularly pretty) and checked out art that we couldn’t possibly afford (although there was some affordable stuff — it was just hidden in a box under a table in the back room).
And one morning we even went to the beach.
But which one? Remote tropical islands are full of beaches. Just type ‘best beach name-of-remote-tropical-island-of-choice into google and you’ll get, well, a metric buttload of results. Top ten lists out the wazoo — and all of them include what appear to be real gems. But our guidebook suggested a hidden gem. It was just down the road, it wasn’t on any of the lists I looked at (slow wi-fi so I didn’t look at all that many) but did have the best possible name for a beach. (Relax. It’s not what you think. It’s named after a telephone pole.)
We arrived there on a Thursday morning. It was a beautiful day, full of sunshine, promise and little birds singing as they sat on windowsills.
There was a machine in the parking lot — apparently even paradise has parking meters. I immediately burst into song because machines in parking facilities have been known to cause me problems. I mean, technology in general has been known to cause me problems. In parking lots it’s just worse.
As we walked toward the machine someone was walking away from it, clearly unhappy. Apparently the machine had taken his money but hadn’t given him the little ticket thingy. (Obviously there was no little bird singing on his windowsill.) So we prepared for trouble. To our surprise, though, at first there was no trouble — it didn’t take our money but did give us a ticket. (Score!) Except it was pretty clear that the ticket belonged to the disgruntled guy; we tracked him down and gave it to him. (It didn’t magically un-gruntle him, but it helped.) Then back to the machine because, you know, we still wanted a ticket thingy.
The machine persisted in not taking money for a long time — a long enough time that we (a) acquired an intimidatingly long line of impatient people behind us and (b) flirted with despair. (More than usual, I mean. I flirt with despair on a daily basis.) But eventually it did take money and (inevitably) didn’t produce a ticket.
One more try Several more tries and we had a ticket so, with a feeling of triumph, we walked back and put it in the car so it could get all brown and icky in the sun. By the time we got back to the machine, the guy who had been behind us in line was screaming and punching it. (Have I talked about schadenfreude recently?)
(Apparently it wasn’t just us: a review on a travel site fourteen weeks later said that the machine was still broken.)
We moved on to the beach. It was stunning. Everyone there was having a good time.
In one of the many patches of shade (a beach with shade — what a concept) there was a couple. The husband was happily asleep but his wife was neither; she was wide awake and looked like she had got out of the wrong side of the bed that morning or something. I looked back at her husband. He still looked happy, but then most people napping look happy. Especially if they’re napping on beautiful tropical beaches. I looked down. In the sand, inches away from his feet, were at least a dozen (non-native) birds. They were dancing. There’s no other word for it, they were dancing. (They weren’t wearing pastels, though.) I looked back at the woman. She had moved on from the wrong side of the bed to an oft-criticised song. I looked back at her husband — he was still asleep but his entourage was still dancing — possibly a conga line but I couldn’t be sure. I looked back at the wife — she had moved on from Alanis but it looked like someone had peed in her corn flakes. (It wasn’t me. I can say that with some confidence.) Hubby snored on, oblivious. I think the birds were setting up to do keg stands but we decided to move on before I could get a good look at exactly what they were up to.
So. While the birder in our group was observing something totally new — an extremely rare endangered species in its natural habitat, I got to fight with a parking meter, watch a guy nap on the beach and see a ubiquitous bird do something mildly amusing..
I’m not sure he’d agree, but I think I won.