Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, a magical encounter

On the evening of Thursday, which would have been Thanksgiving here in the US, we were winding up our 10+ hours of birding, with Noam Weiss, of the International Birding Research Centre. We had already racked up a huge number of great birds, and gotten to spend some time trapping birds for banding.  He had saved the Greater Flamingo flocks for just before sunset, and the view was spectacular. I had resolved from comments Noam had made very early in the day, that the Lichenstein's Sandgrouse was too late in the day, for us to try to see it.  But we got along well, and I maintained my enthusiasm throughout the heat of the day, and smell of the sewage ponds, and I think he decided to go a bit longer, and take me to my beloved sandgrouse (we were also going to see the awesome Stone Curlew, but that is also better viewed in the evening hours just before sunset, at least for this time of year, I also think we both forgot about it, when the prospect of the grouse came up)
  We had to sit on a certain corner, where there was not a spot of brush, and sit silently.
Suddenly Noam pointed smiling into the air, we could hear the soft calls of this beautiful but elusive bird.  They landed a few feet in front of OUR feet, and we remained motionless, although the smiles plastered on our faces and looks towards the birds and each other, were unavoidable. My heart was leaping out of my chest, and I could hardly contain myself. We were able to get good looks at the beautiful markings of the male, and saw just how quickly his two female companions disappeared into the sandy gravel, as they sat motionless.  They only took a couple of sips of water, not more than three, which surprised me. Then they walked a bit upward, towards the levee road, called, and flitted out of sight. It seemed an endless encounter, almost a spiritual encounter, with one of God's special creatures; and yet it was just a few moments.  I will never need a camera for this, for this moment has been imprinted on my heart and brain, and will always be a part of me.  This kind of spectacular encounter truly changes you, and makes you hungry for more........more birds, more of nature, and a greater desire to protect what is theirs, not ours.

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