Last Legs: Gap Year Week 36

The immigration officer is polite and apologetic but what he’s asking doesn’t change. “Please, miss, I’m going to have to ask you to disembark.” Continue reading “Last Legs: Gap Year Week 36”

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Time and Tourism: Gap Year Week 35

The coastal road takes us south past the cliffs of Dalmatia. The sea peels away from us in deepest blue as our bus rounds mountains creeping higher and higher. Continue reading “Time and Tourism: Gap Year Week 35”

Mountains in the Mist: Gap Year Week 34, Part 2

When we’re stuck in a traffic jam leaving Ljubljana, hugging a highway curve along with hundreds of other annoyed cars, I send a picture of our next destination to a friend of mine.

damnn, he texts. it’s like something from tolkien Continue reading “Mountains in the Mist: Gap Year Week 34, Part 2”

Backpacking Beginnings: Gap Year Week 33

London

It’s strange to say of a trip I’ve been looking forward to and planning for more than a year now, but I don’t want to go. I am worried, I am homesick, I am stressed, I am already counting the days back to London. Getting on the Eurostar, I feel like I’m just going through the motions. Show ticket, show passport. Sit down. Plug in earphones, click on the travel just-setting-off playlist I’ve been preparing for months now, only having listened to those songs over and over they now ring tinny. Continue reading “Backpacking Beginnings: Gap Year Week 33”

Birding the Chaff

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Put it simply, I do not know European birds.

Which is why I saw this one and sighed. Its vagueish eyebrow indicated its membership of that hated family: leaf warblers. A brief history – I have seen several in the Himalayas, probably some in the Western Ghats, and a total of nil have been identified. Their song is beautiful, but their bodies themselves are far from as colorful as it might make them out to be. All are the same oliveish tinge and the glances I get are usually not enough to figure out is the venting yellow-olive or more creamish?

That’s why it’s always nice to go somewhere new with someone who knows the area. When travelling, however, that luxury is ill-afforded; the next best thing – research. Research, research, research.

And that is how we ended up wandering down a road in the middle of (semi)rural Spain in the middle of the morning, searching for birds. A series of coincidences had led us there – some happy and some not so, but the end result was our arrival at a place knows as the Llobregat Delta. Every site I had visited had pointed newbie birders to Barcelona there, citing its proximity to the airport and diversity of waterfowl and, well, I rarely turn down an opportunity to bird, even if what I end up birding are birds I haven’t the faintest clue what they are, because all the field guides are in Spanish. My most likely chance of any identification was to meet a fellow birder.

Unfortunately, all the birders were also Spanish – and extremely apologetic about it, too. Through a series of hand-gestures and monosyllabic phrases that are the stock of any tourist in a foreign land, however, I managed to communicate my sighting of the above bird, at which point frantic nodding ensued and this (Spanish) field guide opened to the appropriate page. I backed up five meters to photograph it with my long lens, having forgot, as usual, to bring a notebook.

Then I went home to Singapore, because that was our second-to-last day there, and when processing my images, I stumbled across the picture of the field guide.

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I duly googled the scientific name, and I duly realized how little I know European birds.

It was a chiffchaff – as in a common chiffchaff, as in resident/migrant to most of Afro-Eurasia, as in not some obscure species of leaf warbler I had no chance of identifying.

And I suppose my severe overestimation of the bird is simply just the unbearable optimism any birder possesses – that any day might be the ‘lucky’ one, the thrill you get when leafing through a field guide. And I suppose that’s the reason I bird in the first place – for that optimism, and for the chance to encounter new species, common or not, for the thrill, and for the hoping, and for the song of a warbler on a sweet, sweet afternoon.

The Case of the Vagabond Wagtails

WhiteWagtailI’ve mentioned white wagtails before – and how my desire to see them twisted the identity of completely different bird species to fit my purpose – and so, having yearned and not achieved, I expected that they would be a pipe dream.

But fate conspired against me. And so you can imagined how surprised I was, when, at an intersection in Barcelona city, I spotted a suspiciously familiar-looking white face and characteristic wagging tail. A quick Google later, my suspicions were confirmed – I had finally seen a white wagtail.

I could finally boast of seeing it, though the fact that I had to traverse half the globe to do so undermined my argument slightly. Ah well. When this individual in question was literally just outside the airport to greet us, I’m not complaining.

Winter Coal

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Europe + birds + cold. What could be better?

This was one of the first birds I actually had the chance to photograph during our visit to the Spanish Pyrenees. Post-spotting, some dubiously legal fence-jumping took me to this pine tree where it was feeding on… something. Despite having seen the bird previously in the Himalayas (and, I may add, after much greater effort), there was something about this spotting that just screamed Europe. The bite in the air, the pine trees that were actually pine trees, the small, fluffed-up birds… perfection. (That is, until your fingers became numb. After that – not so much).

Also, pro tip: don’t ever, and I mean ever, google ‘tits europe’ or some other equivalent without adding bird at the end. Trust me. I almost learned the hard way.