TARTS' TICKS

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Abirding

 

There is a long and helpful road in Thailand that leads all the way from Bangkok to Cambodia, taking in Fun City on its way down. It is a road I have used many times and it intersects with waterfall country and so inevitably with bird country. After Rayong is Klaeng, then Chanthaburi (where Rosta refused to buy Nok a gem necklace and had to live through two days of silence as punishment from his queen of sulks) and then you hit Trat. The road from Trat to Koh Kong is marvellous — with sea, hills and forests, but there is a wasteland halfway down where rubbish is tipped, and stinks.

Navigating the road and staying in resorts, swimming in the sea, being forbidden by amazing families of baby jellyfish from poking a toe in on several occasions, being overcome by the banging of insects on the log cabin, kept awake by the innumerable, noisy reptiles that make it their life-mission to decrease the insect- population, which only seems to increase, ducking bats at dusk, listening at break of dawn, with my head half in, half out, of the warm and salty sea, the dawn air moving humid, already hot, made me come to my senses about birds, and once I had tracked only a few hundred meters into the light undergrowth and seen my first green-billed malkoha (which had also seen me and given me its red-eyed stare) made it simple : Yes, Jomtien was good but Trat was better. Inevitably, I eventually crossed the border with La to gamble the casino at Koh Kong, then, on my own, I ventured on and into Sihanoukville, Kampot and Kep. Later this year it is on and into Vietnam with a bought visa in Sihanoukville. (No need to buy now, autumn 2015, because it is free visa-time for guys like me from outstanding countries – according to the Vietnamese authorities!)

In Thailand I had seen just one oriental pied hornbill, just one white-bellied sea eagle. In Cambodia, my twitcher’s mind was about to get blown away by megabirds, fabulous colours, delusional ornithological delights. I have on occasions cheated myself, dipped out but pretended otherwise. For now I will aim at honesty and attempt to portray the delights of twitching, very ample and similar to fishing, not so far away from swimming in unknown waters, sensual, mysterious and dangerous, wherein a positive relationship with Lady Fortune always stands you in good stead.

Like the reptiles whose mission it is to keep down the insect-population so too do many exotic birds perform a similar committed task and the innumerable bee-eaters prove the point. There are the red-bearded, the blue-bearded, the green, the blue-throated, the blue-tailed and the chestnut-headed. The formidable, manly, and mainly black drongos are forever at it, too, and the insects never fail to satisfy. No black, ashy, crow-billed, bronzed, lesser racket-tailed, greater racket-tailed, spangled or andaman drongo goes hungry. To see shafts and twisted rackets, long streamers of bird extension, is to see, or to feel you are seeing – which is really the same thing – a crippler, a surrogate lifer, a megatick of majestic proportions.

And more.

These magnificent, voluminous wingers and wizard-wanderers of the currents are like Pattaya punters themselves, forever at it on an impossible mission to lay as many birds as they can without being able to complete the mission because the lays are too many, the punters too few, and the inevitable wastage too great. How many fall off and die? Can Google (Search) tell me that? Can Google liken the insect-hunting species and reptiles who never complete their mission of diminishing the insect-populations to Pattaya punters and get the statistics to the pen-pusher of this missive in mega demi-seconds and last syllables of recorded time? Ho! ho! I do not think so but come on, baby, and prove me wrong! Punters and twitchers galore we have our strings, our dubious, ropy records, and the ornithologist with his tarts’ ticks is forever at it. Far be it from me to claim we are all dude-heads but there are always unfortunate similarities. I know strings of farangs who at the drop of a hat will show you their titillating photos and close-ups, their viagra-kamagra-cialis-and-levitra-fuelled-bedpost-notched conquests as they tear into more and more birdy delights of the condom kind.

 

(From Chapter Six of "Collected Selected Words")

 

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