Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Holy Grail of Birding

Or, how two humble, decent guys, changed the thinking of the scientific community......

Birders go birding for many different reasons: the love of the outdoors and nature in general; loosing once self and getting away from the rat-race; the thrill of the chase; the competitiveness between friends; and because it is fun! The thrill of finding a new species for your area, your county or even a new bird for a country! Of course, these events are rare, most birders never find a new species in their area (birding in developed countries has a long and distinguished history and it is increasingly difficult to find something new). Imagine then, finding a new species for the whole world! A species which has never been seen or even imagined before! This is the stuff of legends! The person or people who discover this new species are automatically elevated to super hero status within the birding world. I am tingling anew, just writing this, so let the story begin…..

My birding buddy, Dave Clark and I, were walking along the banks of a crocodile invested river in South Africa. (Notice, that all rivers in a good story, are crocodile infested, just like swimming in the shark infested waters in the sea. Otherwise, it is just not interesting)! Many different species of birds were rapidly filling up our notebooks. We were having fun!

Then, it happened! I spotted a ripple in the murky waters, then it vanished, but reappeared a little down stream. I had only the briefest of glimpses, but I was sure, that nothing quite like this, had been seen before. I alerted my companion, his eyes sparkled, he smiled, the quest was on!

Gingerly we moved along the top of the river bank. We didn’t want to scare it did we? If we could see this species again, if we could, by some miracle, get a photo, then we could alert the whole world and bask in the glory of self-congratulation and adoration from others, who were just mere mortals in the birding world! We would be famous! But not like those morons on telly who do anything for five minutes of fame. This would be real fame, that would last our entire lives. We would never be able to go shopping again without our army of bodyguards, to keep the seething mass of adulating humanity at bay! We would never be able to go in Kentucky Fried Chicken again! There would be riots wherever the famous two were. Morcombe & Wise; Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid; The Lone Ranger & Tonto; Bill Clinton & Monika! Dave & Steve, or would it be Steve & Dave? (I think the latter has a better ring to it, don’t you)? We would be joining this illustrious group, we would belong!

But, back to the crocodile infested waters of darkest Africa. Anticipation had reached fever pitch among the chosen ones. Sweat dripped off our brows, our hands were shaking with excitement. I scanned the fetid (huh)? waters for a glimpse of our prey. Dave, clutched his camera tightly. If only he could get just one shot! National Geographic would come calling! Then, there it was! A swirl, then an eruption of water, as this beamoth rose in all its glory, out of the waters of mediocrity! We both stared opened mouthed, in complete awe of this beast. Was it a bird? Was it a mammal? No, it was the mythical Duckpopotamus! A creature so embroiled in darkest African folklore and mythology. A creature doubted by many. A creature scorned by western scientists as just an illusion, seen by dacca fuelled natives. But it was real! It was there for the famous duo to see. The camera clicked, Dave had got his shot! The shot that would turn science on its head! The camera never lies and we had the proof between us.

 But, as all rare and mythical creatures do, it slowly sank beneath the water, leaving just a hint of its greatness lurking  below the calm surface of the river. It had vanished, back into its own little world, where no man could venture. The moment was over! Dave turned to me and in that crude north American way of his, wanted high fives! But, I was having none of it! The blue blood in my high society veins, came to the fore. We celebrated, by me teaching my uncouth friend, the pleasures of The English! The virtues of Morris Dancing! We delved for our hankerchiefs, not to wipe the tears of pleasure from our eyes, or to sweep the sweet sweat of success from our fevered brows, but to dangle the deliciously white handkerchiefs from our limp wrists, among those Lion invested banks, on one of the darkest and most secret rivers, in the forbidding continent known as Africa. Civilisation and true science met that day on the hollowed ground of ambition.
The rest of course, is history. We published the finding in the most prestigious scientific journal. Scientists and laymen alike, fawned in our distinguished presence. We positively glowed and cast our fame and good fortune wide, so that all the lesser people, could at least get some warmth, from the fires of our grand achievement.

We heard rumours, wicked unfounded rumours, of course, that the fame had gone to our heads. That we were conceited beyond belief and worst of all, that we were lucky! These poisonous barbs, did not of course, harm our fame and fortune, or even mark our perfect persona.  One can tell, by this modest little account, that this momentous scientific breakthrough did not change us one little bit. We are still the same, great, perfect guys that we were when we were born.

Bill and Monika; Steve and Dave! It rolls deliciously off the tongue doesn’t it?

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