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:
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!!!
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|
|A sampling of Khao Yai National Park|
|Our digs near Khao Yai National Park|
|The well-earned G&T for all back at the hotel.|
His cooler contained more than food!!!
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.
|Thick-billed Green Pigeon|
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)|
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 HornbillA 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????|
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: