Congratulations and Ululations
With an Egyptian wedding at the hotel coinciding with the Eurovision Song contest, I couldn’t resist the sub-title. Apologies to anyone outside Greater Europe, to whom this indulgence probably means nothing at all.
My original remit as International Birder of Mystery has rather fallen by the wayside, but it felt as if I had returned to my roots during a trip to Cairo. Sneaking past guards to infiltrate the theatre of operations against a backdrop of historical political change is all part of the job.
Political stability beckons as the presidential elections move towards a second stage run-off and the transition from autocratic rule becomes a reality. Uncertainty and unrest loom however, as neither of the candidates are popular among the people of the January revolution in Tahir Square. One of the candidates is even implicated in trying to quash the uprising.
In the circumstances, my attempts to bring the treasures of Egypt’s birds to a wider audience must have seemed inconsequential and I was ejected from the Cairo Race Track by a steward who had far more pressing worries to deal with. The site is usually open to anyone who cares to visit, so I tried to regain entry through a couple of holes in the fence further along. Security guards here thwarted my attempts to gain access, but I was determined to complete the mission and eventually had to resort to overcoming the guard at the main gate and hiding his body behind the hedge. Running and rolling, I made my way across the track and into the dusty, trash strewn desert at the centre. Screened by a stand of large eucalyptus trees, I was at last able to concentrate on my quarry and complete my mission to bring you the Senegal Thick-knee (How many have you seen so far?).
Burhinus senegalensis is found in west and north Africa. Usually, it is associated with water, but avoids damp vegetation. In common with its relatives in the Burhinidae family, they are nocturnal or crepuscular birds that emit eerie calls into the night. After darkness at the nearby hotel, they fly across the terrace, lit from below, like fluttering white wraiths.
During the day, they spend their time quietly, perfectly camouflaged. Like all Thick-knees, they rely on their camouflage to avoid being seen and will often crouch low, using the lie of the land to keep themselves hidden.
They are shy though and quick to flush if you approach within about 20 meters. They prefer to run from any perceived threat rather than taking wing as their inflight patterns make them very obvious with a sudden and unexpected show of black and white.
The grey panel separates them from the otherwise similar European Thick-knee that carries a black bordered white stripe on the coverts.
In case you were worried about the guard at the main gate, the truth is that he was an old chap who waved me through from his lawn chair in the shade. The security men patrolling the gaps in the fence had been instructed not to let anybody through from the race track into the hotel grounds. They were unused to anyone trying to pass in the opposite direction and in the tradition of gate guarders everywhere, they reverted to type and refused movement in either direction.
Mind your step!
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