“This is not what normal birding is like”
March 4, 2017 10:01 PM   Subscribe

That night, after hours of human pushing and oxen pulling, the jeep is freed. And with more pushing and pulling, it is rolled backward, and pop-started. But it cannot make it up the now rain-slicked mountain rock, though the driver tries for a terrifying 20 minutes with all the equipment and group again loaded inside. There is a Cuban military outpost a ways back down; the group makes its way there in the downpour, in the dark, and begs a patch of concrete floor to sleep on in a dwelling containing what Gallagher will refer to for the rest of the trip and maybe the rest of his life as The Worst Toilet in the World.
posted by Chrysostom (15 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
This is fantastic.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:23 PM on March 4, 2017

No seriously, just read it a second time. A brilliantly written account that reads more like an adventure story than what you might see in your head when you think "looking for birds." Mac McClelland's writing is at times hilarious, gripping, and somehow profoundly moving. Best of the Web.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:50 PM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is actually exactly how insane and yet comically unfortunate or inept most birders I know are. Even the pros.
posted by fshgrl at 11:10 PM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oh, this will be fun to read.
posted by mwhybark at 12:55 AM on March 5, 2017

Am I the only one who'd hoped to see a photo of the toilet?
posted by Paul Slade at 1:30 AM on March 5, 2017 [7 favorites]

Wonderful story. Yes. The worst day doing [thing] is ALWAYS better than the best day doing anything else, when [thing] is your passion, no matter how bad that worst day is. Thank you for posting!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:20 AM on March 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Living in Argentina and tramping often into the jungles after Helmeted Woodpeckers, Lammertink averages 40 botfly cases per year.

That is a level of dedication to my work that I do not share.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:38 AM on March 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

He has himself made “really bad decisions,” he says, for which he could have died.

My wife is an avid birder, and she has been to many of the places mentioned in the article; Cuba is totes on her bucket list. I used to go with her on some of her travels, but I stopped because of these bad decisions. When you are with birders you eventually figure out that safety takes a distant back seat to getting the next bird, and I got very tired of being the only adult in the room who was worried that we would get stuck in the woods after dark or that our driver was more interested in the hawks kettling in the distance than the thousand foot dropoff at the edge of the cliffside road.

This tendency of birders to do stupid things is usually played for comedic effect (as in the movie The Big Year) and it's almost startling to see it confronted with clear eyes.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:08 AM on March 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

LOVED this!!! Going to look for more of her writing, thanks for posting!
posted by lemonade at 6:54 AM on March 5, 2017

We are birders but not of this sort. The "worst" thing I've done is walk along the Boundary Bay in sleet storm looking for snowy owls. That's about my level.
posted by rtha at 9:28 AM on March 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Even in the absence of bad decisions, outcomes can be fatal. Ted Parker, another famed birder, did die, along with premier neotropical botanist Alwyn Gentry and leading Ecuadoran conservationist Eduardo Aspiazu Estrada, in a plane crash doing a treetop survey; so did Phoebe Snetsinger, then the most prolific birder in history, when her van rolled in Madagascar. Nathaniel Gerhart died in 2007 in a car accident in Indonesia—three years after he discovered previously unknown habitat of the Selva Cacique—and so did Siarhei Abramchuk in 2010, from an encephalitis-bearing tick bite in Belarus. Subramanian Bhupathy, head of conservation biology at the Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History in India, died in 2014 after slipping down a hill and landing with a bamboo spike in his eye.

Yes, there does seem to be a little bit of risk involved.
posted by ambrosen at 12:04 PM on March 5, 2017

Great story, but anything involving the Ivory-billed Woodpecker makes me sad. They sound like fantastic birds, but over the course of my lifetime I have seen them go from "hey, we haven't seen any in a while" to "shit, they may be extinct" to "damn, they're almost certainly extinct." I would love to hear of an indisputable sighting, but it seems unlikely. And even if they do find one, it still may be the Martha or Incas of its kind.
posted by TedW at 12:28 PM on March 5, 2017

> We are birders but not of this sort. The "worst" thing I've done is walk along the Boundary Bay in sleet storm looking for snowy owls. That's about my level.

You're forgetting waking up before dawn to stand around in the dark in the freezing, freezing cold waiting for eagles to fly by. Freezing. With a bunch of birders, and you know how weird they are...
posted by gingerbeer at 2:46 PM on March 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

My wife is one of only a handful of living westerners to have seen the Madagascar Serpent-Eating Eagle, thought to have gone extinct around 1910 but rediscovered in the 1980's. Their trek to see the eagle was ... not simple. Pictures I asked for were not provided because presumably the events were really too terrifying for the tour company to admit happened. Fortunately I still have a wife (for now) and she has awesome pics of the eagle. Since that trip she has gone to freeze her ass off in search of Snowy Owls in the dead of winter. Not sure where her next trip will go, but I am sure of one thing: I won't be going with her.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:01 PM on March 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

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