Did I Just Become a Birdwatcher?

I’ve never understood bird watching.  You take your binoculars to a specific spot, you wait and you tally up the number of birds you have seen over time.  As a matter of fact, I can easily see why this is hobby that people mock.  It’s quiet, lonely, and isolated.  Solitary hobbies can be hard to understand and I don’t understand bird watching, but it seems the birds are stalking me.

The strangest musical screaming sound woke me before 5am in my Coolangata hotel room a few years back.  The sun was just barely coming up.  The song was beautiful but it sounded artificially amplified.  I wondered how it could be so loud.  That bird woke me every day of my trip.  I wasn’t annoyed that it woke me, but it drove me nuts that I couldn’t figure out which bird it was.

A few days after that mystery bird first woke me we were hiking in the mountains nearby.  I swear I heard a giant animal call out – I was sure I was about to be eaten.  Brad just laughed.  We turned the bend in the heavily forested trail to face a waterfall and an array of beautiful birds.  I took many photographs trying to get one I loved.  I never quite caught that image.

Cockatoo, Australia

Cockatoo, Australia

Fast forward to our relocation to Oman.  When I arrived in Oman Brad was away on a business trip and I was alone.  The first morning I woke up at the Millennium Resort Mussanah and went to their patio for breakfast.  I was literally alone. I was up too early for most vacationers and again I heard the most amazing exotic music.  This time when my eyes met the bird I was shocked because it was tiny and its sound was enormous.  My first thought was why didn’t I bring my camera.

My fuzzy attempt at catching this noisy little guy a few days later.

My fuzzy attempt at catching this noisy little guy a few days later.

I think that was the moment I was hooked.  I’m a photographer.  Okay, an amateur photographer.  I rarely get the shot I want.  But I was hooked.  Birds are exotic, swift, and almost impossible to capture on film unless you wait.  I stopped pretending I was too cool for birds.

I wouldn’t go so far as to consider myself a bird watcher but I can’t help myself when I hear a new song or see a tiny brown bird open his wings and reveal multi-colored plumage.

Think of that moment a bald eagle flies across the sun or a flamingo stretches out its wings.  Most people would stop and stare. 

When I received an invitation to join a wetlands tour hosted by the Environmental Society of Oman (ESO) I relented.  I’m an amateur photographer and birds are elusive.  They are the perfect target practice.

The tour started at 6:45.  I rose with sun, dressed in olive green and black and strapped on my camera.   The directions were easy, but the construction detours were confusing. Thankfully, the canary yellow Haya Water trucks were easy to follow.  Haya Water built and supports the Al Ansab Wetland to preserve habitat for the local and migratory birds.

Our tour guide was adorable.  A young Omani woman dressed in navy and tan she had a lovely, friendly attitude and obviously enjoys her job and the birds.  The first pond had shallow water and was full of birds and ducks searching for fish.  As a Marsh Harrier (bird of prey) flew up the guide said, “Oh no, here she comes, she is going to be naughty again,” and as if on queue the lake erupted and birds raced around trying to avoid the predator.   The guide went on to say, “Every time I come here to count the birds I wish the harrier would arrive and startle them so I could count the ones that hide in the reeds, but no, she only comes when I am trying to give the tours.”

On the way to the second set of ponds we came across a tall white bird (Intermediate Egret).  The guide gestured toward the white beauty and said with a smile, “This bird a bit lazy bird.  The harrier goes to get food.  This bird just stands and waits for food to come by.”  Her casual grammar and charming explanation about the life and times of birds made us all smile.

Intermediate Egret. Identification by tour guide.

Intermediate Egret. Identification by tour guide.

We continued on the path.  The second ponds were much larger and deeper.  Our guide saw a spotted eagle and focused her telescope on the bird for us.  She said we were lucky to see the eagle.   I have no idea how she saw it with her naked eye.  I could barely find it even when I knew where it was. 

We rounded the corner to see the new bird hide.  From this hiding spot I could see many birds.  I missed more photo opportunities because I’m not quick enough with my camera.  Wildlife hides are a fascinating way to shoot. You can get so close. 

At the end of our tour we were taken to a little grove with shade trees.  It had small wooden benches and a table covered with white linen and breakfast.  We chatted, ate breakfast in the grove and wandered around the property.  I found myself entertained by the people on the tour and caught a few candid shots of them as well.

Setting up her tripod to shoot the stream.

Setting up her tripod to shoot the stream.

Ultimately, I love photography.  Birds are tricky to capture on film.  I suppose their elusiveness calls to me and it means I’m a little bit of a bird watcher.

Little Grebe. (Identified by my best efforts with the use of Common Birds In Oman by Hanne & Jens Eriksen.  Please forgive any errors.)