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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

Scariest birding moments (1 Viewer)

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Supporter
When I was posting on another thread "Birds I've Seen 2" it made me think of our scary moments when birding and if the birds were worth it, after a quick discussion we came up with these as our top three. I’m sure other birders have had even more hair-raising adventures


1) Drive from Negele to Yabello near the Somali border in South Ethiopia - where after a few days in Negele area with armed guys on the streets at night making some areas completely no go, being chased by locals when we went for the Ruspoli's Turaco and hearing another birding group had taken the 5 hour detour to avoid the area.

We were stopped in small town near the Dawa River, our driver put some black material on his rear window (some signal / symbol we thought) and we could tell the guide and driver were tense as we approached the town. In this one-street little town we were stopped at a checkpoint manned by armed locals – our guide wished them well asked how they were and if there was anything they needed, they said they were fine but could use some help for the children, some money changed hands and we were given a receipt and allowed to pass. We then stopped 100m further on at the edge of the village to buy some water – a ruse I think, as we were able to see and photograph the very range restricted White-winged Collared Dove while he did so, just before the drive across the bridge to the army checkpoint. When we crossed the bridge it was clear the soldiers were relaxed and chatty and said we picked a good day to cross as there had some trouble a few days before with people killed on a bus but thing were now peaceful.

2) Mountain near Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea

It was an election period and things were really tense in the area; we were coming down a trail after an early start to see Blue Bird of Paradise and King of Saxony Bird of Paradise we saw one side of the road with all the houses burnt down and smoldering, Max our guide said those two brother over there are at war and given the chance would probably kill or badly injure me do you mind if we go straight back to the vehicle and miss the Less Bird of Paradise lek. We did miss the Lesser BoP never did see it at our site but we considered it sensible even though we were later assured by the lodge manager at Kumul that they probably would not have attacked westerners. That said when we bumped into the camera man who shot the Superb and Blue Birds of paradise for David Attenborough some time later he said he had all his camera gear taken and held ransom for a few weeks.

3) Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur), Rajasthan, India.

This was quite a few years ago when the Siberian Crane was in the park. We were told where to find the bird but also given sheet of paper telling us there was a tiger in the park. We could see the Crane quite distantly but wanted a closer look so we decided to work our way around behind some scrub to get much closer. Sods law the normally elusive Tiger walks out of the long grass and crosses right in front off us, fortunately she wasn't hungry and just walked on by but it was squeaky bum time for us.
 

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Steve Babbs

Well-known member
On a bus to Carita, Java when the locals we were talking to suddenly moved away from us and three blokes came to the back and asked us for money. One lifting his shirt to reveal two knives. They underestimated my tightness and I refused to give them any. I think this rather threw them. After about 30 minutes they got off and my wife and I got our friends back who told us what bad men they were. We'd kind of worked that out. Yep I was dumb and should have given them money but I've never been good at being told what to do.

Edit: It was nearly 25 years ago and my wife has just told me I'm exaggerating and there were in fact two blokes. One was rather large.
 
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Bubbs

Well-known member
Whilst birding in and around the Hula Reserve in northern Israel, we had the bright idea to take lunch a short ride away up at Kiryat Shemona. No sooner had we sat down when Katyusha Rockets from Lebanon started to thunder in. Needless to say we left hungry.

48 hours later we called in to the very same restaurant......complete with clean underwear.
 
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Victor Vector

Well-known member
United States
Wow you guys are hardcore. So far the scariest for me was when I was out in the middle of the local refuge and a tweaked out guy pushing his bike through the sand walked up and told me that the government set the river bed forest on fire about 10 years ago to get rid of the sasquatch problem and that I was safe since they burned them all, lol.
 
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lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Definitely not a life or death situation, but during a birding trip to Oregon, we stayed in an odd hotel that had each of the buildings separated, this meant that everyone was in different rooms at different places.

We dropped our stuff and left for some afternoon birding (which gave us up-close views of White-headed Woodpecker and Pygmy Nuthatch), but as we got back for dinner, some in the group mentioned their rooms were open when they came in but we didn't think much of it and thought the staff was cleaning.

The next day, as we were having breakfast before leaving to the next location, someone went into the guide's room and they pretty much stole of his equipment, everything from his scope and binoculars to his laptop and recording equipment. The only thing they didn't take was the clothes because he already put those in the car and his phone that was in his pocket. After much talking with authorities the case was left open so they could find the robbers, and after much consideration the trip was decided to continue but the guide was with the worries that he would have to retire from being a bird guide and go back to an office job.


For anyone interested, the robbers were never found but the guide was able to continue his services outside of the office.
 

jurek

Well-known member
Most scary? When I was birding on a roadside in Bialowieza forest, looking for some flightly flycatcher in the bushes. This road is infamous for a large number of run over deer, wild boars etc. Suddenly realized I am standing in the middle of the road just behind a bend, and there is a car stopping behind me.

For another you should know that nothing like smells invokes human emotions. It is apparently because olfactory nerves pass more directly to the brain unlike other senses.

I was spotlighting at night in Gabon, on a roadside with thick tall bush, and near a sign stating 'Elephants dangereux'. The night is black. The bushes are thick, so you cannot see anything a meter away. So I am walking quietly, looking for Demidoff's bushbabies. Suddenly, I smell an intense wave of methane and a fetid, moist, vegetable smell of elephant dung spreads. Like an elephant just sh***d itself right next to me. I ran forward, shouted several times to make sure all elephants know I am there, and then slowly backtracked on the same road towards home.

In Papua, we arrived in a town when a civil unrest burst out, because apparently some Papuan students were insulted in Jakarta. We went out to buy coke, and saw a crowd marching on the street, burning and destroying everything. Next day, we were driving through something like a war zone, with burned tyres everywhere on the street.
 
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Maffong

Well-known member
Getting lost for four hours in the Ecuadorian jungle after following a small ant swarm resulted in pretty good birds, but was quite frightening. Luckily, I refound a trail just 50m next to where I was standing.

Also coming within some 2-3 meters of a noisy Boar in the middle of the night while doing a survey for owls, only hearing it but not managing to see it was not the greatest feeling.

And having some guy on a motorcycle aggressively ask for an entrance fee at Carpish Tunnel in Peru, when we were clearly on a public road made me quite uncomfortable. Luckily he left us alone after a while
 

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
I've had a few scary ones, as most of my birding's been on my own or with a partner, sometimes in places you're not supposed to go. But I think the funniest one where I felt genuinely scared is probably this:-

On my own in NE Argentina more than 20 years ago, I was hitching to a site I had rough directions to, called Urugua-i. There was almost no traffic on the road, and someone else came along to hitch at the same spot, who had a bandage round his waist. He showed me his wound and mentioned he'd been stabbed with a knife the night before. It was a bit awkward. No one stopped for either of us, and I gave up and walked back into town to get one of the few buses that went that way. Just before the bus left, the guy appeared and got on, after negotiating a free ride with the driver. I'd asked the driver to drop me off off at Urugua-i, and he seemed confused but said he would.

When the bus stopped it was in the jungle, and there had been no habitation for quite a few km. It was just a clearing with some empty huts. There was no sign of any people. It was very hot, and I was relieved to find a water tap, but it didn't work.
It quickly got dark and I set up my tent and then sat on the wooden patio outside one of the empty huts to make a sandwich for dinner. It was very dark, but I wanted to save the battery in my little torch.

I started to worry that this "dodgy guy" might know there's a tourist on his own at the abandoned huts. As I was thinking this I heard the sound of something big, or someone approaching in the dark. To my horror it came right up to where I was sitting I turned on my torch.

What I saw was so visually inexplicable that it transcended terrifying, and plunged me into the world of the supernatural, until I realised what it was. A metre or so in front of me was something that my mind was telling me didn't exist. It was a rat the size of an alsatian. Then I remembered there were things called Capybaras, though I had no idea they were in jungles in Argentina. My terror subsided. It even turned out to be a mother with cute little ones. So not threatening at all compared to some situations I've been in, but the most strangely scary, I think. Maybe you had to be there 😀
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
3) Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur), Rajasthan, India.

This was quite a few years ago when the Siberian Crane was in the park. We were told where to find the bird but also given sheet of paper telling us there was a tiger in the park. We could see the Crane quite distantly but wanted a closer look so we decided to work our way around behind some scrub to get much closer. Sods law the normally elusive Tiger walks out of the long grass and crosses right in front off us, fortunately she wasn't hungry and just walked on by but it was squeaky bum time for us.
The scariest thing to happen to me here, was the guide, offering me his wife, as long as he was able to watch, a Mr Gordon Singh for anyone interested in taking up the offer.
 
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Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Hiking along through a forests in the Tatras, looking for Pigmy Owls, got lost and took the longer black route by mistake. As twilight descended, the sound of slow heavy clambering through undergrowth just yards away off the track behind me. Then a loud snuffle. For some strange reason, I never understood, I suddenly felt the desire to sing ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes’. So I did, very loudly while speed walking all the way back to the hostel.

Perhaps I should add there were a number of Brown Bears around and no deer or other large animals 🙂
 
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Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
Baga Hill in Goa,
I was preoccupied, peering up at a Goldn Oriole, eventually lowered my 'bins' and three feet away, was a Cobra sp, erect, just looking at me. I took a slow step back and it lowered it body and slipped away but had I taken a step left, to improve my view of the Oriole, I could have stepped on it.

Picking up a freshly dead Black Mamba in Zambia, which promptly, wrapped it's tail around my arm, was a bit of shock.

The most scared I've ever been was in Sumatra when I heard the close, growl of a big Cat, two roars and five minutes later, a Sumtran Tiger walked across the path, I emerged back at camp at Way Kambas, out of breath and still terrified.

A suicide bomber, killing herself and a dozen others on Fort railway station, Colombo towards the end of the Tamil war in Sri Lanka, a few hours after I'd been on that very platorm, was a timely reminder of how quickly we can be snuffed out if the cards fall differenly.
 
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Steve Babbs

Well-known member
My wife getting lost for in Khao Yai was very scary. She did eventually turn up but I was at total panic stage as I tend to get when worrying about someone I care about. Incidentally a former Suffolk birder got lost there too and believes God led him out and so 'saw the light'. My wife had no divine intervention and somehow got back on the track by luck.

Most my other one have been from mad drivers.

Not birding but on a birding trip I ended up in a very rough nightclub in La Paz alone and not knowing where my hotel was after my new Bolivian friend never appeared again after going to the toilet. I luckily escaped okay. It turned out they'd been too drunk to refind me, had got in a taxi, been mugged and left in the surrounding hills.
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
We were told where to find the bird but also given sheet of paper telling us there was a tiger in the park.
I love the notice advising people not to ‘tease it’. “Oh can we go and tease the nice tiger, Henry?“. “No Dear, the notice says we mustn’t, so we mustn’t“ 😁
 

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Getting lost has been the most common one for me I think. That moment when you suddenly realise "oh sh*t" and you don't know whether your next steps will get you even more lost!
 

Andrea Collins

Registered User
Supporter
England
Not sure I've had any genuine scary moments. I remember once being out in my sea kayak with a fiend off the west coast of Scotland. It was rather windy and the sea conditions were a bit challenging. Spotting a Black Guillemot amongst the waves, I said rather cheerily in an attempt to lighten the mood, "Look, another Black Guillemot over there". It was one of many we had seen that day. My friend, feeling somewhat challenged by the conditions, simply said, "F*ck the f*cking Black Guillemot!"

We made it safely to the end of our journey.
 

tony.saw

Well-known member
dandsblair "1) Drive from Negele to Yabello near the Somali border in South Ethiopia - where after a few days in Negele area with armed guys on the streets at night making some areas completely no go, being chased by locals when we went for the Ruspoli's Turaco and hearing another birding group had taken the 5 hour detour to avoid the area."

We had a similar experience after seeing the Turaco in 2005. We came out onto the road after seeing it and were surrounded by men armed with rifles. They escorted us, in our vehicle, to the local headman who demanded to know what we were doing, giving our guide an especially hard time. We were eventually allowed to go after showing him the picture in the guide and our RSPB cards, explaining that the Queen was a big supporter of birds.
Tony
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Having only done limited travel compared to many of you, at least as far as less developed areas, my experiences are all pretty mild. THe closest was probably an attempt to see California Newts (I think they might be split now?) in San Diego, where they are pretty local. One known location was a rocky riparian creek, however the only access was a long hike through a near desert, on a very poorly maintained trail. I was fine going down, but I definitely got heat stroke on the way back, which entailed a shadeless uphill hike on a sunny July day. ick. Worst thing is we found no newts, and my exhausted self decided to forgo further bouldering up the creek, which also resulted in me dipping on American Dipper, an incredibly difficult bird to get in the county.

On a less serious note, the circus themed hotel I stopped in while in Florida en-route between sites was definitely one of the creepiest places I have ever stayed, given the high number of clown related statues and artwork...
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Not sure I've had any genuine scary moments. I remember once being out in my sea kayak with a fiend off the west coast of Scotland. It was rather windy and the sea conditions were a bit challenging. Spotting a Black Guillemot amongst the waves, I said rather cheerily in an attempt to lighten the mood, "Look, another Black Guillemot over there". It was one of many we had seen that day. My friend, feeling somewhat challenged by the conditions, simply said, "F*ck the f*cking Black Guillemot!"

We made it safely to the end of our journey.
A lesson for you there, never go kayaking with a fiend, their language is fiendish !
 

halftwo

Wird Batcher
I've a few, but the most scary was getting lost (yes, Larry!) in Oz.
Having chased a Chowchilla around in the 'bush' to get a good view, I then realised I was out of site of the only (dead end) rd in the area. Panic was close as set off in prescribed 100mt directions then returning to origin, then greater distances before my shouts were answered by a native who gave me a superfluous bollocking for being an idiot!
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

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