Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Birder’s Tale – A Play in One Act – By Adam Hejnowicz

When learning your bird species, the best way to remember them is…whatever works for you – as Adam demonstrates below…

Principal Characters:

Purple Gallinule as The Resplendent Lord and Lady Gurdo
Bare-throated Tiger Heron as Francois Lelac, Baron de Cano
Northern Jacana as Court Jesters
Anhinga as Count and Countess Von Hindberg
Great Egret as Reginald Monroe, Secretary of State
Rufescent tiger-heron as The Secretive Madame Beaufort
Snowy Egret as Dimuo, servant to Countess Von Hindberg
Little Blue Heron as Wilton, personal secretary to Francois Lelac
Green Ibis as The Shadowy Villans

Guest Starring:

Rich as Bill Oddie (stretched and thinned)
Dave as Tom Selleck or Davy Jones

Walk on Parts:

Mealey Parrots as The Chattering Chorus
Red-lored Parrot as The Artful Dodger


A crisp humidity pervades the air. The eager EMs depart the boat dock in their Beagle equivalent, as full of expectation as Darwin himself. What secrets will the rainforest waters reveal today? What new discoveries await? Will they be able to identify what they stumble upon? Helped on their voyage of discovery they are ably accompanied and assisted by their helmsman and chief, Davy Jones, and his second in command the slender of design Bill Oddie (Rich). Off they go binoculars at the ready, expectant, eager…

Act I

So it’s the morning of our preliminary bird survey…whooooo…a chance to put those many gruelling, candlelit hours spent pouring over Costa Rican bird encyclopaedias and other weighty tomes into action (well, that may be to overstate my studiousness somewhat), but it was an exciting opportunity to get into the field and eventually spot some wildlife!

As we weaved our way through the canal system, eyes peeled, the first of our characters to appear on the scene (and by far the most abundant) is the diminutive little blue heron – bluish plumage – tentatively residing in the short reeds at the edge of the water. As the personal secretary to Francois Lelac Wilton had the heavy responsibility of overseeing his rather overbearing, sarcastic master’s personal affairs, which included not only administrative concerns but also keeping quiet Lelac’s many affairs with a number of ‘off the list’ bird species, frowned upon by French aristocratic society. Given that it is not the most outwardly exuberant of the species on our list, nevertheless, it was nice to see it, recognise it and tick it off.

Along this particular stretch of canal there were a great many heron and egret species. The yellow footed snowy egret was the next to grace the grassy verges – both juvenile and adult forms. Poor Dimuo, being servant to the gossipy, pretentious and cold-hearted Countess Von Hindberg was a constant nightmare, no wonder in response he had developed a rare medical discolouration of his feet, which became aggravated by the presence of his mistress. Apparently, it was not in anyway life threatening but it did become a source of constant embarrassment. Thankfully, due to its custard-yellow feet it is a very distinctive bird to identify!

The third of our species was first heard rather than seen. From the sound of its throaty buffo voice one would expect the abominable snowman to be lurking in the lower canopy, in fact what graced our binoculars was the very French aristocratic looking bare-throated tiger-heron. Lelac, although a pompous overbearing individual was in fact a highly gifted orator, having spent many years debating in the Sorbonne on the rather esoteric subject of French common law from the 16 – 18th centuries. A distinctive white-throated bird with Gallic ideas of grandeur, though of the heron sp. this is my personal favourite. As if not to be out done, whilst observing the two bare-throated tiger-herons two green ibis flew overhead – the least said about these villainous creatures the better – however, another species tentatively identified….I’m on a role!

A little farther on in the distance we spotted two anhinga, male and female, majestically drying their feathers in the sun – like holiday makers sunning themselves on a beach (though not your typical Benidorm kind, rather classy Monte Carlo types – no beer-swilling, pie-eating, white sock-sandal wearers here). The Count and Countess were the talk of current high-society gossip having embezzled large amounts of funds under the auspices of a Save The Canal Carp fund. Needless to say they had been less than scrupulous about their dealings and the Count in particular was up on charges of fraud. Similar to the Neo-tropical cormorant, with which it can be confused, these birds are fish eaters catching their prey by zipping underwater and spearing the poor little fishes with their sharp-tipped beaks.

The two most impressive bird species were yet to show up. The first to disclose themselves were the two local court jesters of the resident bird population, the reed-dwelling purple gallinule. A vibrantly coloured – somewhat obese looking – bird of some rarity (basically a complete show-off) waddled through the reedy undergrowth. For centuries these birds were engaged in court activities, entertaining the gentry and royal circles with their numerous talents. Lastly, but by no means least the second remarkable bird to reveal itself did so somewhat cautiously. Nesting, the rufescent tiger-heron was secretly installed on a branch over-hanging the canal. So secretly installed in fact that it was difficult initially to get a clear view from the boat, but thanks to the deft handling of the boat by our helmsman the small bird appeared to all…Madame Beaufort had been the secret lover of Lelac in their early days as students at the Sorbonne but due to a scandal, which nobody can quite discern, she was removed in her second year. Lelac, through personal guilt, looked after her personal upkeep ever after.

And according to all stories….well the ending is up to you!