My first nighttime field trip during the Eilat Birding Festival was titled the “Rambo Tour.” Yes, the RAMBO TOUR. Fists clenched, chin wag, and guttural groan.
The idea behind the RAMBO TOUR (grrrr) is that a self-selected group of hard-core birders would spend most of the night driving deep into the desert to find the Nubian Nightjar, one of the Western Palearctic’s rarest birds, and the enigmatic Hume’s Tawny Owl, both on the same evening. We would return anywhere between 1 and 3 am by the time our trip was complete.
Eight bad-ass birders from Britain, Germany, Israel, and the U.S. squeezed into a tight van and made haste for a deep canyon in the Judean desert, planning a first stop at an agricultural field that regularly returns Nubian Nightjars – a species that hangs on with only 6-10 remaining pairs.
As a side note, several women attended the Eilat Birding Festival, but it definitely had a “male twitcher” bent, which is just fine with me as it means there’s more banter and better jokes. This night, however, I was the sole female. As I filed into the van I overheard the Israeli’s joking with another (in Hebrew) whether I would be prepared to relieve myself “au naturel” on the evening’s RAMBO (grrrr) TOUR. Of course, when someone questions the size of my cajones like that I stand ready to leak next to the best of ’em.
So when, only an hour into the trip, our dutiful guide asked the van full of men (and me) whether we’d like to make a comfort stop at the Yellow Mini Mart, I thought the timing was slightly outrageous.
No way, let’s keep moving! We have WORK to do, people!
I didn’t catch who the first sell-out was, but right before my eyes, one man after another decided that he, too, would enjoy a bit of “comfort” and scrambled out of the van to take a leak or pamper himself with a cappuccino.
When I found myself the last man standing, so to speak, I was rather put out. Of all the upright humanoids on that trip, I was the only one lacking the mechanicals to keep me upright during urination. I was the only one who would later find myself squatting in the desert dust by moonlight and shaking my backside for a drip-dry, hoping that scorpions had better places to bite.
But it seemed all the full-grown sissies in my van wanted their potty break and a toilet, too.
As I watched the men file across the parking lot and disappear inside the crowded Mini Mart, I began to wonder if my ‘last holdout” stance was a little extreme. And besides, the dry desert air left me insanely parched, so I left the van and returned with a most delicious prize: a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream sandwich. This was an attempt to make up for the precious 15 minutes of desert birding we’d lost to a porcelain rim.
As I approached the van with my new birding pal, Neil Glenn (a British guide with immense wit and talent, but an EMBARRASSING case of Ben & Jerry’s envy), a German birder comes running back to the car screaming “Babbling Fountain! Babbling Fountain!” and claws into the van to grab some gear before running back across the parking lot.
I moved out of the way of the crazy idiot and plopped down in my seat waiting for the girls to come back on the van.
You can see where this is going, right? All of you?
I mean, I’ll wager that every single one of you reading this right now knows exactly what was going on when this German guy came running back to the van shouting “Babbling fountain!” while reaching for gear.
Well, in all fairness, “Babbling fountain!” sounds an AWFUL lot like “Barbary Falcon!” with a German accent.
By the time I realized what was going on, the falcon was gone, my ice cream was melting, and Neil was hyperventilating, having caught a glimpse of both the Barbary and my Ben & Jerry’s in the same lens.
And there you have it….
My biggest dip, the Barbary Falcon.
I know. A “real man” wouldn’t admit this to such a discerning crowd. But I gots cajones. Bigguns.
A notable exception was the Nubian Nightjar – this bird was EXACTLY where our guide expected it and when. Thus, our nighttime RAMBO (grrr) tour went on to be a major success for viewing this preciously rare being, plus it delivered my best capture of the week:
The Hume’s Tawny Owl? That’s a different story for a different day.
Here’s another image, compliments of Yoav Perlman.
Special thanks to Yoav Perlman (read his Birding in Israel blog here) for use of his falcon images and for leading that night’s wonderful RAMBO tour. It was the highlight of my week. I highly recommend anyone going to Eilat festival to take the RAMBO tour.
Just be sure you can stay awake past 9 pm, are steady on your feet, aren’t afraid of the dark, poisonous snakes, scorpions, NOR predatory cougars (“What, them? They’re TINY!”) and be sure you can HOLD YOUR PEE FOR MORE THAN AN HOUR!
One more thing: it might help to know the difference between Babbling and Barbary. It might cost you a tick.
End note: Proceeds from every specialized RAMBO tour go towards conservation of the Nubian Nightjar and Hume’s Tawny Owl.
Tell us, what was your Biggest Dip?