Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Re-tire or re-energize?

Reflections on Retirement After Seven Whole Days

There were gatherings, lunches, parties, glasses of bubbly, cards and flowers, quiet moments, and loud cheers. And one really incredible poem (yes, it's below). My first week of retirement coincided with the start of our summer rains, both so desperately anticipated and welcomed like a cool drink to a parched throat. The rains have been fairly light at our house (torrential storms elsewhere); we've been waking up to gentle, cool winds; cloudy skies; and the smell of damp grass instead of the relentless, bone-dry weather of the last 8 months. It's been a perfect way to turn the corner from managing conference calls and meetings to suddenly empty calendars and deleted e-mail accounts. There's little opportunity to rush-rush-rush to cram every outdoor recreational sport I've envisioned for my empty days because, well, it's wet out. Cloudy, rainy mornings just beg for lingering on the back deck with my morning cuppa, for watching the hummingbirds wake up and start their territorial battles for feeder ownership, and for letting what happens....happen.


On my first Monday-is-now-just-another-Saturday, I thought what better day would there be to...wait for it... wait for it...dust the house? Why in the world would dusting be on the list for my first "Monturday"? Holy dust bunnies, Batman, I hate dusting. Take the framed pictures, the fancy glassware, and the knick-knacks off a shelf; dust the shelf; dust the stuff; replace the stuff; rinse and repeat ad nauseum. After about the third shelf I just want to burn the house down rather than ever having to deal with SO MUCH STUFF. So, naturally it gets put off (see Realities: Point Three, below).


But by the time First Monturday rolled around, I could no longer ignore the clumps of dog hair and everything becoming more opaque by the minute. I figured yes indeed, what better day to dust? It was the ultimate in celebrating "A day doing THIS is still better than a day at the office!!!" Out came the Pledge, the microfiber cloth, the Windex, and a roll of paper towels. I got to work.

Stuff. But very good stuff.
With this little bit of mental joy infused into my dreaded dusting routine, I found myself enjoying this task. Well, almost; it's still dusting, mind you, and I would rather be doing just about anything else (except be at the office!), but it wasn't so bad! Instead of picking up a knick-knack and wanting to throw it out the window, I would look at it, remembering where we got it and who may have presented this to us as a gift, and recalling fond memories the item in question represented.

More good stuff.
I would smile at every photo, remembering what, who, where, or why. I gently caressed the photo of Mom and Dad, and read through their memorial service programs that were carefully tucked behind the frame. Champagne glasses that are treasured wedding gifts brought back our wedding toast to each other. Old books we've read as youngsters stand together on one shelf so they're not lost among the forgotten paperbacks stored in the guest bedroom. I touched all the things that are always there, gracing our lives, that we don't really notice anymore until dusting must happen, and each touch brought a smile or a tear. Why, I asked myself, did I detest dusting so much?

When weekends were just two days off during a work week.
So, miracle of miracles, my first day of retirement fundamentally transformed this thing, this chore, this task I dreaded into a time of reflection, remembering, and honoring the life I've built with Bruce, friends, family, dog(s) and the home containing it all.

Check! A successful first day of retirement!!!

As the world turns and the stomach churns, so went my week. I got into a groove with pickleball, biking, reading (wow, I read a book!), knitting (I can see the light at the end of my sweater!), and a fairly consistent 4:00 p.m. happy hour. I paid more attention to both Bruce and Carly. And, I've had a few jolts of "this is my reality now!" (it is telling that I still feel the impulse to create an orderly, numbered list. Some things will take longer to let go):

1: My work accounts and e-mail inbox, calendar, and contacts were deleted. Before I left, I moved many of those contacts I wished to keep over to my personal email system. The process of who made the cut was a psychological wrestling match. With whom, really, will I keep in touch? Contact list or Facebook? Ugh, scary, a bit sad, but also freeing.

2: Things on my calendar have shifted from conference calls, meetings, and product due dates to....well....nothing. Other than Friend X Visiting this day and Husband Leaves for Fishing Trip that day, I have nothing. I'm leaving it that way for awhile before I populate it with self-inflicted responsibilities.

3: Things I Can Do During The Week: Sunday, I had the usual (weekly) realization that I didn't get some of my weekend tasks done. My first thought was "crap, they'll have to wait until next weekend," because that's what I usually think, as a typical Employed One who generally kicks more and more cans down the road because that's life. But then it hit me that I could just pick them up the next day! No longer do I have to wait 5 more days to wash the throw rugs or run vinegar through my Keurig. I could do that stuff on...a Tuesday!

4: Running to the bank on a Monday afternoon when the bank is wide open instead of frantically trying to get there before they close was one of those little things that made me realize that barely-bothersome-but-still-there stresses are falling by the wayside.

And then there's The Poem. Writer, artist, videographer, photographer, and most importantly dear friend Barb pulled this magic out of her creative gray matter for both myself and friend Ann, both of us retiring within a week of each other. Presented to us at a lovely luncheon hosted by Barb and fourth Musketeer Julie, we read it aloud. The quiet contemplation afterwards was a testimony to the power of the words that encapsulated what both Ann and I were blindly grasping for:

Free Range Living by Barbara L. Davis

Adventures abound for those who dare
To live life fully without a care.
It takes deep courage to choose a time
To leave behind that extra dime.

You are superb at what you do,
And your boss will feel the loss of you.
But the hour has arrived to claim your life
Free Range Living is without the strife.

Money be damned. Freedom is here.
You are all you need. Let go of career.
Live a life that takes you where you want to go
With plenty of time to make it so.

But - don't rush to the next thing without some thought.
Give yourself time to form a new plot.
A time to be without major choices
Will allow you to hear new inner voices.

There's much to consider as you move on
Like who you are now without the song
Of your past identity with allegiance to others.
It's time to play with your sisters and brothers.

Who you are now, is what the world needs.
Simply being yourself grows the seeds
Of ongoing life on this beautiful earth.
We're all better off because of your worth.

Thank you for your special career
Your work was beneficial far and near.
Congratulations to you. Retirement is your reward
For a life of work that truly soared.

You've given much to the world at large.
And stepped up to every charge.
It's time to relax into the gift of time,
And finally say, "This life is mine."

Got more Facebook likes on this photo than any other I've ever posted.
I still want to develop Sue's Retirement Lifestyle, a plan to stay healthy and active. I want to take this amorphous blob of a "build my jewelry business" goal and piecemeal it out to have concrete things I can check off a list. I want to blah, blah, blah, and so on and so forth. But for now, I'm OK sitting on the back deck, petting Carly, knitting a bit, watching hummingbirds fight and other birds sing, and spend time actually listening to what the world around me is trying to say.


Many, many thanks to many, many friends, family, colleagues, and co-workers who helped me celebrate, who understood what this change might mean, and who gave me support and cheers when I needed it.

Thanks, Sharon and John!

Thanks, Cathy and Jim!
Thanks to my husband who took this giant leap of faith for me and for us.


And from an extremely grateful and appreciative daughter, thank you to Mom and Dad; without your love, this happy life would not be possible.

Nicely dusted as of July 9, 2018





Monday, May 28, 2018

From Laya to Leech Socks: The Highs and Lows of an Asia Adventure, Act X

Act X: The Gift of a Bird


For all my Bhutan and Thailand entries, please see the above "Bhutan & Thailand" tab


"For it is in giving that we receive.” Saint Francis of Assisi


They were my parent's old, dusty, mis-aligned set of binoculars. The bird was a common one, so common that a thousand birds later, I can't even remember what it was. Probably a robin, blue jay, or mourning dove. But the moment the two came together through my 15-year-old eyes, I felt my world shift under my feet. That's what I remember. To see close up the glint in that bird's eye reflecting its drive to survive, the subtle coloration of one feather among a million others, the tiny movements of feet scratching a branch and a beak probing treebark; well, nothing was ever quite the same again for me. What's the next bird going to look like, and the next one, and the one after that? What other things did I miss when I didn't take the time to look closely enough at something that I relegated to the periphery of my world? Why did it take me 15 years to figure out this magic?

The simple "ooooohhhh!!!" reaction when one sees -- I mean really sees -- their first bird belies what happens behind the scenes. In about two seconds, the brain runs through the following:

1) Ooooohhhh!!!
2) These things are around me all the time, and I never knew that a -- pick any common bird group: dove, duck, robin, sparrow, hawk -- really looked like that!
3) Astonishment on face.
4) You all gotta see this!!!

This....versus
...that
And then comes the quiet as your mind processes that you're seeing this amazing thing for the first time; that this amazing thing has been there the whole time you've been busy-busy-busy living your life; and that you can never look at a tree, the top of a telephone pole (or in Arizona, a saguaro cactus), a pond, a lake, a clump of bushes, the air, the sea, the heavens, or the earth the same way again.

Because now you know a secret. And it changes your life. Truly...one's first bird is a gift.

Ralph and Nit


Nit and Ralph, actually
After the first four days of birding on one side of Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand, Kaeng Krachan National Park, and areas in between, I was dropped off by my guide Nick back in Bangkok at the familiar Hotel Mariya for the evening. Early the next morning, British guide Ralph and his Thai wife Nit would pick me up, and we'd be off for Khao Yai National Park and the last three days of my Thai birding adventure.


A sampling of Khao Yai National Park
It wasn't hard to spot Ralph and Nit when they pulled up to the hotel with their SUV. Highly organized birders through and through, Ralph and Nit were already wearing their birding vests, binoculars strapped on, ready for birds. We packed the car with my stuff and I climbed into my space in their rig, anticipating what might be seen over the next few days from through that very window.

Our digs near Khao Yai National Park
Off we went. I chatted about my first few days with Nick, and Ralph outlined his general plan for us that centered around Khao Yai. We'd stay at a hotel in a nearby town much like my earlier set-up -- small cabin-like duplexes that were comfortable, clean, and air-conditioned. We'd focus on Khao Yai for most of my remaining three days, and visit other "birdy" spots along the way back to the Bangkok airport my last evening to arrive in time for my 9:00 p.m. flight back home. Ralph and Nit supplied me with a very much appreciated "tea box" of all the things needed to make tea in my room (water heater, mug, spoon, tea, and coffee boxed up perfectly) and just so happened to have stashed the makings for gin & tonics to end our long days of birding. I settled in with them comfortably and felt right at home. Indeed, both were just some of the added touches that made me feel welcomed like a friend. It really was the perfect way to cap off my Asia adventure!

The well-earned G&T for all back at the hotel.
His cooler contained more than food!!!
Khao Yai was busy! It was Sunday, and the park was crowded with Thai visitors I assumed were mostly from Bangkok, getting away from that bustling city to pitch a tent in a bustling campground. Rolled-up tents and sleeping bags indicated most were packing up to head home. We pulled into a crowded campground that had some good birding spots including a huge tree in the middle of a grassy field and a nearby creek.


Ralph opened up the back of the SUV to pull out lunch supplies. Out from the cooler came some deli meat, cheese, bread, and condiments. "I brought some mealworms too," he said casually, as a plastic tub full of inch-long squirming worms came out from next to the cooler. Ah, birders. Mealworms set in strategic places attract birds, and, well, you can't be fussy about traveling with mealworms, right? I didn't even blink. Birders don't pause at mealworms for company.

The full image; I didn't want to give it away!


We parked ourselves at a picnic table near the big tree that was fruiting with something that attracted multiple birds. We sprinkled mealworms around, ate lunch, and birded the tree and surrounding environs as most people cleared out.

Moustached Barbet

Thick-billed Green Pigeon
Surprisingly, a huge monitor lizard walked around the campground and aside from me, no one paid it any attention. This, readers, is Thailand.



Leech Socks


After lunch, we decided to explore the nearby creek and it's adjacent jungle-ness. Let's go, I said. Wait a minute, said Ralph. We have to dress the part. It's time for leech socks. What? Leeches? I remembered the three-to-four-inch things that I once or twice had to pull off my legs swimming in a northern Minnesota lake. Holy cow, there's not a bird in the world important enough for me to tramp through leeches to see.

Noooooooo!!!! (photo credit)
Well, explained Ralph, these leeches are tiny, perhaps a half-inch long, and are probably not even present as it's the dry season. It's mostly a precaution. Nit pulled out these canvas knee-high sock-type booties and showed me the set-up. Take off shoes; hike the leech socks over your regular socks and pants; tie below your knees, and return shoes to feet, laces loosened a bit to adjust for the additional material in your shoes.



Nit ensured that leech socks were worn whenever we ventured into wet forests. A native Thai and a field biologist, she had seen enough to not take chances. I respected that. Sure enough the only leech we saw, a singular tiny thing, found its way onto one of Nit's leech socks. Figures; just like me and my squickiness with cockroaches -- I could be with 50 people in a room, and I'd be the only one who would get a cockroach zipping over my foot. Nit gets the leech. "See???" she said. Yes, I get it. 



Not a leech; a hammerhead worm....but still...

The Gift of a Great Hornbill

A target bird for me was the Great Hornbill. One of the largest of hornbills, it's a formidable, strikingly-marked bird that, while not common, can generally be found at Khao Yai. We packed up lunch and drove the main park road up to a saddle offering a lovely vista of the park's tropical forest. Often, Ralph said, hornbills fly by in groups and feed in the large trees adjacent to the vista's parking lot.


We were not the only ones at the vista. It's a popular spot for park visitors to stop and take the mandatory selfie, so a paved parking lot and walking areas greeted us as we pulled up. Groups of laughing friends peppered the length of the parking lot, their backs towards the view as they stared into their phones to capture that view with smiling faces (the irony was not lost on us). A few serious photographers sat next to their enormous cameras on tripods, waiting for hornbills to arrive. Yes, this was the likely spot for hornbills, so let's see what we can see.

Waiting....waiting....waiting for hornbills

Could it be????
Sure enough, in a few minutes we saw movement in the large trees at one edge of the parking area. Something, or many things, were deep in the tree, shaking fruit off large branches. Great Hornbills!!! Ralph quickly set up the tripod and spotting scope, zoomed in, and there they were.


Grand, awesome, amazing. Once again, I felt that sense of wonder that comes with seeing a bird, this creature, this living wonder, close up. Minding their own business, the hornbills focused on food, on surviving another day, on living. I sucked in the view through the scope like I was quenching a thirst. Slated, I stepped away from the scope. As their client, Ralph and Nit obligingly let me get the first look, but I certainly wanted them to enjoy the view as well. After them, I took another look. The birds seemed to be sticking around, and we all smiled at each other. Success.

It was only then that we saw a few people glancing our way. We could see they were following the line of the spotting scope into the trees, curious as to what we could possibly be seeing in those shaking branches. Ralph looked inquiringly at me, and I nodded back. We both didn't need to speak to know that it was time to invite other people into our world.


We waved our hands to the nearest group, gesturing to come look, come over and see! A few smiled and obliged. The first fellow approached the scope, figuring out just how to work it. We could tell the second he finally saw his first bird.


"Ooooohhhh!!!!!!" Excitement bubbled over as he nearly jumped back in surprise. Gesturing to a friend to hurry up and look, the next one peered through the scope. "Ooooohhhh!!!!!" Ralph and I smiled at each other as we recognized the thrill of someone just like us seeing, really seeing, their first bird. Their surprise was like an electric current touching more and more people as it flowed through the parking lot. Soon, a line of eager people waited their turn; the hornbill-viewing party was in full swing. Nit explained to them what they were seeing.


They were seeing hornbills, and I was seeing them, remembering myself at age 15, when dusty binoculars, a common bird, and my eyes joined forces. I knew that today, there were a few more people who just had their world rocked, perhaps changing them forever. In their eyes, excitement sparkled with unspoken gratitude from receiving the gift of their first bird.

Thank you Nick, Ralph, and Nit for giving ME the gifts of over 200 birds, a pangolin, wild elephants (yes!!!), and so much more. The icing on the cake was paying it forward and giving something back to a few people with whom I could not communicate in anything but the universal language of birds.

Readers, thank you for experiencing my Asia adventure! Some closing photos from my time with Ralph and Nit:









Typical walkway through the Thailand national park forests





Finally, on my last full day....elephants!!!


A short video of these incredible animals:






 The End of my Asia Adventure. Next up? Reality.....but for now, g'bye!!!!!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

From Laya to Leech Socks: The Highs and Lows of an Asia Adventure, Act IX

For earlier entries on my Asia adventure, 
click on the Bhutan & Thailand tab above

Act IX: Choosing Pangolins Over Palaces
(Birding in Thailand #3)

Any Bangkok guidebook or tourist web page lists the Thai King's Grand Palace as the "#1 must-see." You have one day in the city? Grand Palace. Two or more days? Then see Grand Palace, Thing 1, and Thing 2. Me, visiting Thailand for the first time? No Grand Palace for me.

What I didn't see
Image grabbed from here
My time in Thailand was arranged to see birds, not palaces. I was solidly seeking birds from 5 a.m. my very first day in Thailand until I was dropped off at the airport the evening of Day 8, my last day in Asia.

It'd be tough to top my first day of birding Thailand. From spoon-billed sandpipers and meeting bird and nature artist Kamol Kamolphalin to boating in Bangkok Bay with Mr. Deang, Day 1 was chock full of neat stuff. I had 7 days left, and had visions of colorful birds, national parks, and maybe even wild elephants dancing in my eyes. What was the rest of the trip going to be like?

Happiness is birding
On Day 2, my guide Nick and I made our way to the privately-owned Baan Maka Nature Lodge with cabins and other amenities nestled in the forest outside of Kaeng Krachan National Park. This was going to be our overnight home for the next three days.

Example of cabin/rooms at Baan Maka
Example of a room in their cabins, looked very much like mine

A very pleasant outdoor, shaded dining patio
 After getting settled into each of our comfortable rooms and having lunch in their outdoor dining patio, we set up our general schedule. Leave before daylight and bird until lunch. Back to the lodge for lunch and some down-time during the heat of the day (nap? read? more birding on the lodge grounds?), then head out for some afternoon jaunt to bird some other area until dark. Then back to our lodge for the evening dinner, complete our daily bird checklist, and get some sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Part of the grounds at Baan Maka; makes for good birding too!
Entrance to Kaeng Krachan National Park
Each trip into the park had a different focus. Nick planned it all to capitalize on the variety of elevations and typical bird activity. We'd get to the lower, hotter forests at first light, when still cool, moving to higher elevation forests as the morning warmed up. Our afternoon jaunts would find us exploring higher elevations until dusk, where we'd then visit certain night-time roosting spots Nick knew about to catch birds coming to their nightly tree cavities or nests. We'd be one of the last cars remaining in the park as we made our way out in the enveloping darkness, back to our lodging.


Nick and I had many chances to chat as we were driving about. I knew Nick was British, but how'd he land in Thailand? After touring much of the world after college (birding while doing so), Thailand seemed to be a good fit, so he put down roots. Over 20 years of birding and guiding birders in Thailand, he continues to expand his guiding services to several other east-Asia countries. He also speaks what I would consider fluent Thai (seemed like it to me!). His website, thaibirding.com, is one of the foremost information sources on birding Thailand; my internet searching would lead me to various sites which would all point back to his.

Nick's website, filled with information
Being that he's crawled all over this part of Thailand, Nick had a list of spots to check -- heck, even individual TREES -- throughout the trip. See, this is what you get from a professional guide that I simply couldn't know about on my own. How would I know to go to Place A during the morning, but not the afternoon? Or that this one watering hole is better in the afternoon than it is in the morning? Or I'd see some non-bird creature -- a butterfly, a lizard, a monkey, some deer-looking hooved beast, or even a crab -- that Nick would identify and give me its general natural history rundown. It was invaluable to have Nick be able to add various pieces of the puzzle that created my experience of Thailand.




Dusky Langur

Muntjac


One of our first lunchtime "siestas," Nick had retired to his room as I stuck around the dining patio. The property had a bird-feeding station placed nearby; a platformed buffet of seeds, nuts, and fruit. Even tree shrews found it irresistible.


I enjoyed one of my first hornbill sightings here; the Pied Hornbill:



Orange-bellied Flowerpecker photobombed by a butterfly
Our daily ventures were always interesting. Even if the midday warm temperatures silenced many birds, we would find other things of interest: butterflies, elephant poo on park roads, or pig-tailed macaques hanging out at roadside stops waiting for an opening to nab some snacks from unsuspecting humans.

A butterfly hotspot

Elephant droppings that were NOT there the day before

Sign crunched by an elephant scratching an itch?

Pig-tailed Macaques checking things out 
Nick also had some very birdy spots outside the park we'd visit, particularly Baan Song Nok (translation: A home to spot birds, which it is!), a property owned by retired art teacher Auntie Aek. A very nice background on her and this property can be found here. She developed her land into a birder's attraction by adding man-made ponds and viewing blinds (or you could sit comfortably in a shaded patio, watch television monitors showing those same springs in real time, and sprint up to the blinds when something rare is spotted). One afternoon was spent sitting in the blind, enjoying the various birds (and those cute tree shrews!) stopping by for a drink.

Hours spent in this blind, waiting...waiting...

Our view from inside the blind
Black-naped Monarch, photo credit Nick Upton


Male Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, photo credit Nick Upton

Black-crested Bulbul, photo credit Nick Upton

And...at dusk, when we were about to give up, the long-awaited
Slaty-legged Crake showed up. Cheers!
Photo credit Nick Upton
All of the above bird photos were taken on our visit by Nick Upton, with even more found here. Here are a few of mine from the viewing blind at Ban Song Nok:

Red Junglefowl, looking suspiciously like chickens but aren't

Another rascally Tree Shrew

Spotted Dove
One day of birding in a foreign country feels like 5 days of normal life, only without the equivalent sleep. It's GO-GO-GO (keeping all your senses sharp, because: birds) interspersed with downtime (minutes go by with no birds in sight) that leads to lethargy; and then BOOM, there's a bird! Wake up and go-go-go again. Your brain goes into overdrive trying to remember bird names and identification tips. Plus, being in a place with overwhelming new sights and sounds? The combination is both mentally exhausting and spiritually exhilarating. You're battling with yourself as you try to stay on point constantly while hoping for the chance to close your eyes for five seconds (and risk breaking the Rule for Serious Birders: Stay Awake Or Be Sorry).

On the second night of our park visit, we were driving towards the park exit at dusk after a particularly slow afternoon of birding (we had spent much of our afternoon taking close-up photos of butterflies and flowers since all birds seemed to have disappeared). As darkness fell, I momentarily forgot the Rule. I tucked away my binoculars and camera, thinking the day was done. A birder's biggest sin. I let the feeling of riding on twisty roads in the dark hypnotize me. True to birding karma, I was unprepared for what happened next.

Reflective glints from a pair of eyes low down in a bush appeared on the side of the road. "That's probably a cervet or some small critter," Nick said, slowing down as those eyes with a peculiar body attached to them started to walk onto the road. I slowly started waking up from my hypnotic state. It wasn't a bird, but second-best: some other non-bird critter.

In the next nanosecond, Nick slammed on the brakes and shouted "$&!#!!!!! It's a PANGOLIN!!!" Grabbing his camera, he jumped out and started clicking away. I knew three things immediately: 1) whatever this pangolin thing is would only be visible in our headlights for about 5 seconds until it vanished; 2) I had put my binoculars and camera away, and I'd waste the entire 5-second pangolin display fumbling around to get them up and ready; which led to 3) I needed to just watch, enjoy, and absorb what I was about to see. So I did.

Here's an image I grabbed from Google of what I would consider the closest representation of what I saw:

Similar to what we saw. Why did the pangolin cross the road?
The pangolin stepped out into the headlight's glow. This curious creature had the hump-bodied shape of an anteater covered with what looked like a armor of armadillo-type scales (they are, actually, also called "scaly anteaters," and at times referred to as "walking artichokes"). It shuffled carefully across the road and vanished into the dark forest on the other side. I had never seen anything quite like it. Taking a few seconds to gather what had happened and picking my jaw up from the floor, I looked at Nick, who was standing outside his car door. He was almost as open-mouthed as I was.

Curling up for sleep or protection, image source
Nick got back into the car, his excitement bubbling over. Turns out that in the 20-plus years he's thrashed around the jungles of Thailand and southeast Asia, this was his first pangolin. That immediately made me understand the rarity of what we witnessed. I was also very happy that this birding trip, which really didn't offer Nick expectations of anything new and different for him, ended up giving him a truly memorable experience.

The bummer was Nick's camera had been set on macro from our afternoon's butterfly photography; his settings were opposite for what was needed to catch a moving animal illuminated only by headlights. Thrilled about the sighting nonetheless, we went back to our lodge cabins with memories, not photographs. And that's OK.

From that point on, I made a point to pick up whatever information I could about pangolins, and it's a sobering picture.


There are eight species of pangolins in the world, inhabiting Africa and Asia. The "health, virility, and aphrodisiac benefits" myth that many of us are familiar with regarding rhino horns, elephant tusks, tiger penises, and bear gall bladders persisting in some cultures extends to pangolins as well.

It's far too soul-crushing to wrack your brains trying to understand why, why, WHY, WHY is this still a THING in the 21st century?

Being a generally slow-moving animal, they are fairly easy to poach. Not being a charismatic critter in the limelight raising funds and awareness like elephants, tigers, and rhinos, conservation and protection efforts can't keep up with the devastation this poaching is doing to these animals.

Adult and young pangolin
Pangolins are the most illegally-trafficked mammal in the world today. Their plight is being noticed more as this crisis deepens, but efforts and funds are, sadly, lacking to combat their precipitous decline. There is an annual World Pangolin Day (this year: February 17, 2018) which helps bring recognition to these unique animals and their plight. Some of the conservation or protection organizations for pangolins are Pangolin Conservation, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Pangolin Specialist Group, and WildAid. A CNN article from 2014 has some good information as well.

World Pangolin Day, February 17, 2018
Find more information at pangolins.org

Nick and I spent the first half of my Thailand birding trip thoroughly enjoying Bangkok Bay north through Kaeng Krachen National Park. Certain targets such as Great Hornbills and wild elephants eluded us, but that would leave me with a few desirable treasures to seek out on the final leg of my Thailand birding journey. I was now going to be put under the wings of two of Nick's subguides, Ralph and his wife Nit, who would guide me on the final 3-4 days as we explored Khao Yai National Park, northeast of Bangkok.

Funny thing. The sheer number and observations of birds on this trip was astounding and beyond my wildest expectations. But when I think about that portion of my trip, it's the pangolin I remember first. I will likely never see another pangolin in my life, and I'm glad the path I chose to explore Thailand was the one that allowed me to see a pangolin, not a palace.

Pangolin with young. Source
Additional photos from my days with Nick:

Kaeng Krachan National Park

Orange-breasted Trogon

White-handed gibbon

Sambar deer (musk gland on upper chest apparent)

Blue-throated bee-eater


More Kaeng Krachan National Park

Chestnut-headed bee-eaters

Common Flameback

Pied Hornbill (again)




Stay tuned for the last installment of my "From Laya to Leech Socks" Asia Adventure, where leech socks FINALLY make their appearance!

Update Jan. 20, 2018: A Thai wildlife trafficking kingpin has been arrested; pangolins were one of several Asian and African wildlife species that were poached and sold through his network. Here's an NPR story about it.