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The Duck Man cometh…

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Our Intrepid Hero.

I thought that since Zippy (Richard Thorns) is due to feature in tomorrow’s lavishly linked episode, I’d give you a bit of an update on his intrepid quest for the bird of his dreams.

The Pink Headed Duck, that is.

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A decoy, yesterday -“He went that way”

I first met Zip in the early ’80s when we both did newspaper rounds for competing news agents before school and our routes crossed paths at the same point each day.

We soon discovered a common interest in music, with a few exceptions (we both liked prog rock and heavy metal at the time, but Zip was a Genesis fan, whereas I’d rather gouge my own eardrums out with a rusty spoon than allow Phil bloody Collins to aurally assault my senses) and we also shared a love of daft humour and shows like The Young Ones.
Even now, thirty years later, it takes the merest hint of a suggestion to persuade Zippy to wheel out his faultless Rik impression in all its angst-ridden, haughty glory.

A couple of years after leaving school we reconnected via mutual friends and took up where we left off (he still likes bloody Genesis) and have kept in touch ever since.
When Zip invited me to see him give a talk on his favourite thought-to-be-extinct species at the 2012 Weird Weekend I was really impressed at how passionate and knowledgeable he was on his subject, and since I originally mentioned it I’ve had a number of readers asking for progress reports on his future exploits.

Well I’m happy to report that I secured an interview with the fearless adventurer this very afternoon, and some great photos from his previous trips to boot.

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So to the first question;

What made you choose the Pink Headed Duck over and above other supposedly extinct species?

“Well, it all began in 1998 when I picked up a book on extinct birds on my lunch-break, and if that hadn’t happened that day, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation. There were 3 case histories on extinct birds: the dodo, the great auk and India’s pink-headed duck. I’m the sort of person who gets frustrated if I’m interested in something and then I find there’s something, some knowledge assumed of me within my interest I don’t know about – then I tend to go a bit overboard to catch up. I hadn’t a clue about the pink-headed duck. And just to rub it in, the pink-headed duck’s gorgeous plumage, exotic location and the superb narrative in the book captivated me. It described the British raj, dense, vanished grasslands infested 150 years ago with crocodiles and tigers; shallow, warm lagoons and pools; elephants, pink and white lotus flowers and many birds, the rarest and most prized being the pink-headed duck. That whole lost world grabbed me. Then I learned that the pink-headed duck’s extinction was really very recent, and when that happens you’re sort of in with a chance! So it all led from that one lunch-break. I think India is no longer realistically capable of bringing up a live pink-headed duck although there are a few areas on the eastern borders worth looking at. But by chance Burma, which is largely unexplored and documented has ecosystems that match those vanished ecosystems around Calcutta and eastern India that pink-headed ducks once thrived in. There’s been a fairly credible sighting last year of three birds, and I must say it was enough to re-direct the next expedition from the south-west to the north-west. 

{Told you he knew his stuff}

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I understand your second trip to Burma ended in a bit of a disaster, tell us what happened. 

“Last time there was a lot of political disturbance from the Kachin Independence Organisation, and they were effectively at war with the government, and so there was no way of getting upriver from the town of Bhamo. No boats or foreigners were allowed north of the town. I managed to wangle a few trips up into the wetlands where I wanted to go to, but then the guide told me that my boatman, whom I had used before, was getting very scared because a few villagers had commented that he was taking me upriver, and it only really takes one informer to drop him in it, and then off he goes to gaol for three years or so! So obviously I couldn’t risk that happening, so I called off the trips upriver. They didn’t say anything about bicycles, though! So I hired a bike and cycled a few kilometres upriver parallel to the river, up to where I knew there was a bamboo bridge that led over the river to the wetlands. 
Unfortunately a couple of kids came round the corner on a moped, and their hand-guard hit the back of my left hand at about 35 miles an hour. I knew instantly that most of the bones in my hand were badly smashed, and that turned out to be the case. Then of course there was a bad case of shock setting in; the fact that the police then got involved. I wasn’t in any trouble, but they did want to find the kids, and I was very worried that on my camera were all the pictures of me upriver, including Po-se’s face and pictures of his boat! It was a pretty bad time all round. The nearest big city was Mandalay, which was 300 kms downriver, so I had to get a boat down there. On the boat I suddenly realised that all the people I was speaking to also had THEIR left arms in slings and plaster!
It turned out they were all in the army and had been caught by the rebels and been disabled by being shot in their left arms. They were all off to Mandalay to get fixed up. It was a pretty weird journey downriver.”

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Blimey, I hope your new expedition will be a little less eventful.
I know you have to be discrete about the details for local security reasons, but could you tell us a little about it?

“Well, three pink-headed ducks were allegedly seen last year in the Khamti wetland, so that’s where I’m going because hopefully this is the breakthrough I have been waiting for. 
From the 12th to the 18th January I’ll be exploring, with Ko Lay Win (my guide) the area where the 3 ducks were seen, and floating pink-headed duck decoys to draw in any birds, which you can see pictures of, along with past adventures on my website.
Camping isn’t allowed in Burma, so I’ll be staying in people’s villages along the Chindwin river.”

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Finally, what would you hope to be the result, should you manage to locate a live specimen of the Pink Headed Duck?

“Well, if the pink-headed duck does show up in Burma it will likely be critically endangered at best, and on the edge of extinction for real, this time! So I plan to give the co-ordinates to BirdLife International prior to the announcement, which will be big news. Of course, the only photo of a living pink-headed duck could possibly I guess pay off my mortgage, but it’s really not about that. It’s about changing history and I suppose we all want deep down to be remembered for something; to be thought of as having made a difference, I suppose.”

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3 Comments

Posted by on December 12, 2013 in cryptozoology, Guest spots., Photography, Travel

 

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Running commentary…

The more time I’ve spent writing Diary of an Internet Nobody, the more I’ve come to appreciate how important the part of comments is in helping to keep the stream of ideas flowing.

Since it appears to be the month for celebrating milestones – 15,000 hits, 200 followers – it’s also worth me taking a minute to congratulate you, my esteemed followership, on the fact that over 1000 comments have now been registered on the blog, (although I should point out, that does include my replies) and I’m grateful for each and every one.
I even had my very own troll for a while, but he seems to have crept back under his bridge of late.

Trolls aside, if it wasn’t for the opinions, advice and thought-provoking discussions that have begun in that little square box at the bottom of each post, many of the actual posts might not have been written in the first place.
Quite apart from the direct contributions so to speak, from old friends Oliver, who gave a personal account of a trip to Reading Festival in this post and Zippy, (Richard Thorns) who has added his own inimitable take on two separate stories which you can find at the top of the homepage, along with links to their sister posts.

[In related news, Zip’s passion for cryptozoology continues unabated and you can watch the video about his latest expedition to locate the fabled Pink Headed Duck right here…]

I have actually been congratulated by a writer I rate very highly (not without some degree of envy, I’m pleased to note) on the quality of the comments on the blog, and on the articulate calibre of my readers, so you should consider yourselves suitably flattered.

Both Bully for me… and Foot in mouth disease… were inspired by conversations I had elsewhere on the hard shoulder of one information superhighway or another.
While the time reading and commenting on other bloggers’ posts is time well spent, not just for the welcome reciprocal traffic this generates, but also for the chance to get involved in exchanges with like-minded people on subjects as diverse as the posts we all read.

The trouble is, if I see a good blog I automatically follow it. Likewise, if someone follows Diary of an Internet Nobody I’ll generally follow back, (although I’m starting to learn my lesson now, after getting spammed by various, deeply spurious, get rich quick schemes) which means I now have so many blogs to read that if I commented on them all, I’d need three of me just to give me time to write.

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And I like to leave a comment with a bit of thought behind it if I can, whether it’s just to join in with Adam, bashing the numpty-du-jour at A World Of Pain, trying my best to interpret the enigmatic art of Windhound over at Dragonshades, enjoying the eclectic mix of photography, video, reviews and comment in Emilie Rosson’s world, having an exchange of cultural views with Ron, flamboyant host of Vent or making terrible puns on Toemail.

But nothing beats the feeling you get when something you wrote generates enough interest or emotion in someone that they take the time to leave a thoughtful, well written comment.
These freely offered contributions act as additional insights into the subject of the original post, providing other readers with another point of view and sometimes even lead to cooperation and collaboration between bloggers.
Just this morning, turning my phone on to finish writing this post, I’ve commented on three blogs one of which, Tim Love’s blog is completely new to me, a recommendation from a fellow blogger.

Another problem I’ve had recently is trying to navigate the desktop site of the mobile-unfriendly but otherwise excellent BlogCatalog.com, so I’m going to find the blogs I follow on there which I can’t get through my WordPress Reader and follow them by email instead. That way I don’t need to spend hours trawling through dozens of microscopic notifications to find links to the latest pearls of wisdom from Rum Punch Drunk, to see the latest artistic offerings from the lovely Carol over at Anfinsen Fine Art or to catch the newest batch of scantily clad female fantasy warriors and/or poodle-haired ’80s rock drongos from the Assorted Thoughts of Big D’s Unsorted Mind.
And while we’re on the subject, Hey BlogCatalog, can we have an Android app please?
Thanks.

So thanks again for your help in making my blog what it is today. Because without all those wonderful interactions with all you other writers, readers and ranters to keep my neurons firing, what would I find to talk about?
And thank you once again to Ho, for his latest bespoke blog-toon.
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Rest assured, this will be the final burst of barely-disguised, self-congratulatory own trumpet blowing (for a while at least) but I am inordinately proud of my foray into the world of blogging and I’m not modest enough to care who knows it.
In fact, not since my days as a teenage theatre nerd have I been able to look at a body of creative work and said to myself “I/we did that from scratch and people like it”

And I like that.

 

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Return to odd…

Day two, and a good start with a hot shower and a bacon roll from the volunteer-run kitchen.
After a coffee, it was time to go meet the bugs.

This turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the weekend. Nick Wadham was there with his Bugfest, and you can see his talk from last years event here.

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Me, holding a giant millipede…

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…and me with “Mario”.

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Didn’t I see one of these on Star Trek?

Next up, a talk on Large Cats in Britain by Jonathan McGowanwhich was very interesting, and I shall certainly be more observant around the countryside, looking for signs of their passage through the undergrowth.

I have to admit to spending quite a lot of the rest of the afternoon in the bar, arguing with chatting to some of the more fervent believers in the more outlandish theories.
All in all, I found everyone I met there, including all the volunteers at the Woolfardisworthy Community Centre, extremely pleasant company, and in the case of the “Crypties” – as they’ve almost certainly never been called – put up with my arguments and gentle piss-taking with admirable restraint.

The rest of the evening was spent socialising with my new friends, congratulating Zippy on receiving the Golden Baboon Award for his contribution. (I’m not joking)

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This morning the sun came out for the first time all weekend, so I sat outside on the patio with some people I had been chatting to last night, including digital artist, photographer, and internet radio DJ, Shaun Histed-Todd, whose work you can check out here or on his Facebook page.

After that it was time to say my goodbyes to the Weird Weekend 2012, with promises to go back next year.
And I shall, because it really was a lot of fun.
And the people are lovely.

If slightly mad.

 
 

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The Odd Squad…

Have you ever found yourself amongst a group of very agreeable people who all have similar beliefs that you do not share?
The sort of harmless, mainly inoffensive people that are too easy a target to make it any fun making fun of them?
No? Me neither, usually.

This was the situation I had assumed that I would find myself in for the last few days, as I have been attending the annual Weird Weekend, hosted by the Centre for Fortean Zoology in Woolfardisworthy, North Devon.

I was to be pleasantly surprised.

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Abandon cynicism all ye who enter here.

This is the annual pilgrimage for all those interested in phenomenon such as yetis, ufos, ghosts, crop circles, sea serpents, and even some real animals that have previously been thought extinct, or live in unusual environments.

I had been informed that the event was taking place in a community centre, which brought to mind images of a cold breezeblock structure with hard wooden chairs.
However, when I arrived, what I discovered was Woolsery Sports and Community Centre, a large timber structure with green credentials – wind turbine and solar panels for electricity, underground geothermal heat pump for heating – incorporating a sports / lecture hall, exhibition space, kitchens and canteen, showers, and a social club bar!
This was an improvement already.

I was camping for the weekend, in the field behind the hall, and in contrast to my recent Glamping experience, this time I was roughing it in my car.

Still, no reason to be uncomfortable, so I rigged up an outdoor veranda too.

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Chez moi.

I was there, primarily, to support my good friend and ex-flatmate Zippy (Richard Thorns), who was to give a lecture on his specialist subject, the Pink Headed Duck, on Friday night.
And, up until now, that was the only reason that I would have chosen to spend the weekend with the sort of people who think nothing of starting a conversation with “Did you see my article about the flying snake of Namibia?”

Speaking of snakes and serpents, the first lecture was from Richard Freeman; “20 cryptids you have never heard of” describing a bewildering selection of giant reptiles, unremarkable birds, and frankly terrifying monster killer worms that apparently “explode if you poke them with a stick”.

After a fairly lengthy break in the exceedingly comfortable bar, chatting to a number of fellow attendees and other speakers, it was time for Zippy’s moment of glory.
He took to the floor of the auditorium with all the confidence of a man with all his ducks in a row, so to speak, and delivered a genuinely absorbing and assured talk on his trips to Burma, alone, in the search for his elusive quarry. His amiable delivery, and obvious knowledge off his subject, plus his ability to answer questions afterwards, impressed the crowd and organizers alike.

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All the world is Zippy’s stage.

Jonathon Downes even made a special point of congratulating him on his exploits, and asked him to come back after his next expedition.

Zip was delighted with all the attention in the bar afterwards, and even got booked to do a radio interview on Saturday morning.

After another pleasant hour or two in the bar, I retired to my car for a surprisingly good nights sleep.

Tomorrow was to be another day of weirdness…

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8 Comments

Posted by on August 19, 2012 in cryptozoology, Personal anecdote

 

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