I am very much afraid that I am in danger of becoming an Ornithologist.
For years I've laughed at people who sought their excitement in something as tedious as birds. I can remember being infuriated by them in South Africa.
Trailing through wildlife parks in the search of Big Game, we'd get all excited at seeing a vehicle ahead stopped to peer into the jungle, long-range lenses at the ready. Only to draw closer and realize the source of the drama was some tiny dull looking bird, indistinguishable from any of the other dull looking birds filling the skys. "Ornithologists, the Scourge of ordinary Game-Watching Folk" we growled to ourselves, sullenly turning back to our quest for lion.
When I was first offered a placement in The Gambia, I admit I knew virtually nothing about the place, other than a hazy awareness that it was in West Africa. Scouring the net for further information, I quickly ascertained that the country was particularly famous for 2 things: i) sex tourism ii) birds.
I've yet to meet anyone who openly admits to traveling here for the former, but no end of people have unsuccessfully attempted to enthuse me about the latter.
Written up in the guidebooks as an "ecological crossroads" between Equatorial Africa and the Sahara., The Gambia apparently is a Mecca for boring people worldwide who flock here to coo over all things winged.
Well I've managed to live here almost a year without managing to pay any attention to the flying rats.
Even the attempts of my ever-hopeful father failed to incite an interest in his condescending eldest daughter. This was until a few weeks ago when I took a weekend break away with a friend who when it comes to birds, Knows His Stuff.
My interest was piqued when we wandered by a lake and he drew my attention to a dazzling display of eccentric behaviour from what I now know to be a Western Reef Heron. My first impression was that this bird had clearly got hold of the bird-equivalent of LSD, spinning as he was running in ever-more-dizzying circles around his poor bewildered mate.
Then it hit me. This was an attempt at Flirting! Now, I've seen some very amusing "lady-impressing" efforts in my time, inevitably destined to crash and burn as I cannot keep a straight face in such situations, but never have I witnessed such singlemindedness displayed by this bird as he attempted to sweep his lady friend off her feet with his RoadRunner impression. Perhaps out of pity, or possibly vertigo, his mate seemed to respond positively and soon the pair of them were locked in a schizophrenic ballet around the water.
It wasn't until later that I realized I had been watching them in absolute fascination for a good twenty minutes. Mortified, I stumbled away. My friend with a knowing smile on his face, sensibly opted not to comment.
For the three days we were wandering around Senegal he pointed out various feathered creatures as I feigned disinterest with decreasing success. By the time we returned to The Gambia, it was I who reached for the BirdBook to look up the species we'd seen.
Since then, I haven't been able to shake it off. Even just walking down my street, I find myself stopping to ogle every flap in every tree. It's like a disease. Does anybody know of a cure?
I have a confession to make. It's been burning a hole in my conscious like a guilty secret and I have to spill. Please don't judge me too harshly or let it change your opinion of who I am.