LOS ANGELES TO TEXAS
On April 14 we flew back to California to deliver two more lectures. Again we stayed at Muriel’s house in La Canada. The first was to the Pasadena Audubon Society. As before, some previous clients who had become friends joined us there, and it was a very convivial meeting. As in my other lectures to Audubon societies I covered some of the other fauna and flora of the Top End, some of my background and that of my family, both Aboriginal and otherwise. The meeting was very well attended.
Some unlikely people are birders. Muriel and I were talking about unlikely people who were birders, one day, when she told me of a trip she took. The small group included Henry Paulson, who was Treasury-Secretary to President Bush, and a keen birder. Henry is also interested in snakes, and according to Muriel, was so knowledgeable that others in the group thought he was the guide!
The day after the Pasadena trip, Michael and I went to San Diego. An internet friend I met through the Singapore Taoism chatline, Anne, and her husband, Binh, drove us there.
We were in for a real treat. Anne had made a special bag of goodies for us ‘ nibbles, a Barack Obama commemorative package, and a beautiful little gold pendant, of a bird and binoculars. She said she couldn’t resist it! They also took us to a Vietnamese restaurant where we learned something of Chinese etiquette, such as tapping three times on the table to thank someone who serves one food. We were treated to a real banquet, with enough food left over to last us another day. Binh regaled us with some tales of the trials and tribulations of being a fire-fighter, such as rappelling down a hillside into a giant cactus ‘ not fun at all!
We ended our trip together at a wonderful national park overlooking San Diego where I had my first sighting of wild brown pelicans. Then they drove us to the home of Bob Sanger where we were to spend the night.
Bob and Kathy’s beautiful home overlooked a hillside and valley covered with vegetation, and there we spotted several birds, including kingbirds and an elusive wren-tit. Like every other home we visited the yard contained bird feeders, some holding seed and the others sugar water for the hummingbirds.
Not long after we arrived we had to leave for a restaurant where we were to meet members of the San Diego Field Ornithologists.
As these people (so I was told), were ‘more serious birders’ I’d cut out most of the other information, and added more bird slides and information about safety. It was true that the club had formed because the members were more bird-oriented than the local Audubon society. However, the several women present and some men said they were interested in hearing about other fauna, and learning something of my Aboriginal family as well. One large man, Guy, said he’d been in Darwin in 1983 when a Black-tailed Gull had been spotted and had seen the bird with John McKean, a local, well-known birder. I mentioned that I’d also seen the bird, with John’s friend Hilary Thompson whom I later married!
Two birders I’d previously guided were present, Ed Hall and Jim Zimmer, and they greeted me enthusiastically. Ed asked if I was going to mention something I’d told him, that if they were attacked by a crocodile, I couldn’t help! (This is a warning I give all birders who may be rather gung ho about safety!). He asked me to mention this, and I did, along with several other warnings! As with the other groups people approached me afterwards to ask about trips to Australia and the Top End. I suggested they email me and I would send them information on guides in other states and hire car companies (such as Apollo) that would allow them to drive in the dark.
Jim and Ed told me they’d enjoyed the presentation, and Jim asked if there were any up and coming guides in the Top End to replace me when I retired. I told him the truth ‘ that I knew of no one with my level of knowledge, not just of birds but of other fauna and flora.
Obviously birders want a guide who can show them birds, but most international birders visiting the Top End wish to see more than just birds. This is not just my opinion. Several international nature tour operators have said similarly, one telling me that he had advised Tourism NT of this fact. And at least one published paper also mentions that bird tour companies are at long last recognizing this as well.
Years ago I was appalled at the behaviour of some of these companies. Tour leaders would race off ahead with the few hard birders leaving the majority of their group leaderless. On occasion when guiding with such groups I had been forbidden to mention other fauna or my Aboriginal relatives. Consequently I began to refuse such work, until a couple of years ago when more far-sighted international tour operators approached me.
The next morning Bob and I went birding leaving Michael asleep. We drove to a nearby dam where I saw such gems as Black and White Grey Warbler. I would have liked to have spent at least another day in the area taking up Jim’s offer to show me around as well. However, Texas called, and soon we were on our travels again.
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