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Extreme Birding in Cuba

Ornithologists Tim Gallagher and Martjan Lammertink went looking for the possibly-extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker in the protected Ojito de Agua area of eastern Cuba. They took along writer Mac McClelland, photographer Greg Kahn, plus a guide and a driver to get them to the remote forest. The group was sidetracked by government regulations before finally getting permission to enter the forest, but even locals doubted they would be able to get past the point where the pavement ends.  

The government driver tries anyway. He takes a deep breath and gathers himself when the pavement ends, and they crash forward through the uneven landscape, jeep rocking violently and Gallagher and the media trying to keep from slamming into one another in the backseat. Until they stop. Stuck. Mired in a deep mud trench. Everyone ejects, and rocks are collected and thrown under the tires and into the muck ahead, and after a while the truck is dislodged. And then more crashing—and some very near tipping—and then they get stuck again. And the driver kills the battery trying to drive out. And everyone again decamps, and the gear and luggage and provisions are offloaded, splayed around the muddy clearing, and the driver runs away, and after a long time he returns leading two yoked oxen from a farm somewhere and they’re tied to the truck and everybody pushes and rocks it while the farmer beats the oxen relentlessly, breaking branches and then entire small trees over their backs and across their faces until they break free and escape and don’t trample anybody but have to be chased down and wrangled and re-tied to the truck.

After a couple of hours of this, Gallagher turns to the writer and remarks, “This gives you a little idea of how hard it is to study these birds. And why nobody’s doin’ it.”

The expedition was difficult for everyone, but Gallagher and Lammertink tell of worse, where they dealt with violent drug cartels, botflies, and water that can kill you. Read about the quest for the Ivory-billed woodpecker at Audobon magazine. -via Metafilter

(Image credit:  Greg Kahn)  

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