Category Archives: adorable animals

The Tidal Pool Treasures of Thailand

There is a place in Thailand that, to me, is the most magical place on Earth. I found it by accident, but I think I’d like to die there someday. I won’t say where it is, but if you ever want to go, tell me and if you’ve been kind to me over the years I will hand-draw you a map. In the mean while, I think we could all use a little magic during these tough times, so I’ll show you what I found there.

It all began when I woke up in my cliff-side bungalow the morning after I arrived, and looked out the window. By the first light of dawn, I saw something interesting outside:

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It looked like the entrance to a cave off in the distance. I’d stayed here once before but this was a new bungalow—two years ago the jungle was covering this particular view and I didn’t know the cave existed.

While eating  breakfast I chatted with an adventurous Slovakian couple. After finishing, the man hopped over a low rail partitioning off the dining area from the rocky cliff, and waved goodbye. I turned to his partner, and asked where he was going. She pointed to the rocks below. I was amazed they were going down there, because not once had the idea occurred to me last time I was there. I assumed it was too dangerous and stuck to the several sandy beaches, each offering its own slice of nature that was more than fulfilling for me. Minutes later, she finished her yogurt and prepared to walk down to find her mate. Knowing nothing about them I thought perhaps they were the rock-climbing type, and asked about the decent. “Yeah the path is kind of treacherous but it’s worth it,” she said, climbing down in flip flops.

Surely if she was wearing flip flops, I could do it in sneakers. But she wasn’t lying about it being treacherous. When I climbed down later there was barely a path through the jungle overgrowth, and I crabwalked and bouldered down most of the way. When I finally reached the bottom though, it was magnificent peaceful rocky heaven.

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Follow the parrots

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Watercolor rendition of the Hague parrots.

I can’t explain why, but I’ve felt a connection with birds (all birds, but parrots specifically and much moreso than birds of prey) my whole life. Nothing really makes me happier than parrots. Some of my friends call me “the parrot whisperer,” and I somehow always manage to find the wild parrots in the most unexpected urban areas. So far I’ve tracked and observed flocks in Brooklyn (NY), Austin (TX), Barcelona, Paris, Dubai, and more.

A few days ago a friend and I were walking around The Hague, a city in the Netherlands perhaps most known as home to some of the foremost international peacekeeping organizations int he world. After leaving an artist co-op, when we happened across a park neither of us had before been. The entrance caught my eye the previous week when it was pouring down rain, but I was too wet to explore. That day the skies were gray but the weather was calm, so we wandered in and found ourselves amidst a Dutch wonderland—a juxtaposition of carefully spaced trees and rugged overgrowth, bell-shaped flowers and purplish leaves smearing color across the green backdrop. Cubed metal sculptures doubled as a play gym for kids, imposing modernity upon the aged backdrop of regal brick buildings bordering the park.

We walked along the path and through the grass, admiring nature, when I started to tell my friend about the wild parrots of Paris. Seconds after the words left my mouth, a flock of green parrots flew directly over us, chattering distinctly, and landed in a tree next to the path ahead. I stopped in my tracks and pointed up.

“OMG they’re here too!” Their squawks were unmistakable.

“No. Really?”

“Yes, look!” We watched them swing around the branches and fly onward. Looking up to the trees, we noticed new flocks joining, dozens of little green rose-ringed parrots.

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Though I hadn’t consciously heard their calls before spotting them, maybe part of my brain is always listening for them, a remnant of growing up with a little flock of my own.

A smile spread over my face as my eyes darted around the sky, observing these carefree creatures in their pre-dusk clamor to regroup the flock and discuss an impending rain cloud over a rare assortment of tree nuts. They swung upside down from tree branches, chasing each other flirtatiously, finally landing in groups of two. I was momentarily jealous of the simplicity of their courtship rituals: pick your most genetically compatible bae and snuggle up on a branch for eternity? If only it was that easy.

My friend and I perched on the stone steps leading down to a pond patrolled by a fanciful duck, the parrots flying overhead in coordinated formations like miniature fighter pilots. It was as if nature was giving us a private show in our own secret amphitheater. We watched them until we felt rain drops and then moved on, passing cotton-tailed bunnies on the way out.

I’m beginning to notice a pattern of parrots picking the lushest and most serene environments to gather within urban landscapes—something noticeably lacking from my life, spent mostly online and within the confines of human architectural creations. I think I’ll make it my goal to find the parrots in every city I visit.

I will leave you with this video, shared with me by three people independently of each other this morning (thanks Dave, Evan, and Pilar!), featuring a member of the Saskatoon Parrot Rescue and his friend Pebble making a statement about confining captive parrots in circular cages. It may seem a bit extreme, but it is well-documented that parrots, if contained, prefer rectangular or other polyhedron-shaped cages so they have corners to retreat into. A circular cage can actually be quite damaging to a parrot’s mental health, as they leave the birds feeling exposed and deny them agency over their interactivity with the surrounding environment.

That cockatoo is probably not yelling nonsense…

Being the parrot enthusiast that I am, about five friends have sent me this video over the past few days:

Ok, I will admit it is funny. It’s amusing to watch parrots run in the same way it’s fun to watch Americans use chopsticks for the first time. But at the same time there is also something sad about this cockatoo’s tantrum. It reminds me of a passage in one of my favorite essays of all time, Parrots I Have Known, by Paul Bowles:

The next pstticine annexation to the household (in the interim came an armadillo, an ocelot and a tejon – a tropical version of the raccoon) was a parakeet named Hitler.  He was about four inches high and no one could touch him.  All day he strutted about the house scolding, in an eternal rage, sometimes pecking at the servants’ bare toes.  His voice was a sputter and a squeak, and his Spanish never got any further than the two words perquito burro (stupid parakeet), which always came at the end of one of hs diatribes; trembling with emotion, he would pronounce them in a way that recalled the classic orator’s “I have spoken.”

This description of little Hitler almost brought me to tears of laughter the first time I read it, but after our amusement subsides, we should consider what kind of torment the parrots must have endured to lash out in such a grandiose effort of futility. In the cockatoo’s case, I suspect he is the frequent unwitting eavesdropper on domestic disputes. When he runs into the other room, you can make out a mumbled “I’m so angry!” How sad to be trapped in an environment where you are exposed to the stress-inducing warfare of two members of a different species. The consolation, however, is that you can hear the couple chuckling on the other end of the camera. Parrots, very emotionally attuned creatures, will often go to great lengths to improve their human companions’ moods. Perhaps this parrot discovered that by mimicking an argument while it seeded, he could effectively derail it.

Why I’m not getting a parrot

Nine months ago, I set out to travel the world. The goal wasn’t to find myself, as the cliche goes, although I have done a good deal of that, incidentally. Believe it or not, the main motivating factor for my journey was a parrot. Not just any parrot, but the future parrot I would get when I returned to New York City. Growing up with birds most of the first 19 years of my life, then spending the next eight years without that source of happiness and loneliness prevention, I decided that I would travel so that I could get all the wanderlust out of my system, come home, and be stable and content with staying in one place. Only then could I be the kind of person who was fit to care for a parrot—perhaps I’d even raise one from an egg like I did with my last parrot so it would be more inclined to learn an expansive vocabulary.

But now, after much deliberation, I don’t think I should have a parrot. I think that we, the parrots of the world and me, should all be free to travel for the rest of our lives. We should never involve ourselves with anyone trying to cage us or control us, only with those who simply extend a hand to hold us from time to time.

As someone who cried through almost the entire duration of Pixar’s Rio, the decision to not adopt a parrot is not something I arrived at easily. Part of this change of heart came from tracking wild parrots around the world, as I have been doing in my spare time.

In Barcelona I found flocks of wild quaker parrots. I first found them in the trees near the marina while walking to get ice cream with the guy I was seeing. I heard their sunset feeding frenzy and followed the calls. He had the same reaction most people do when they find out about my parrot affinity: a mix of incredulity, amusement, and was probably a little weirded out or maybe charmed. As they were the same species as my beloved pet Kiwi, I could recognize their calls from a mile away. I followed them everywhere I could and let them guide our walk through the Gaudi park, hoping for the chance to observe their green-and-grey feathers and clownish ways in the wild.

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Not satisfied, I started to find reasons to run errands around sundown and would hurry over to the marina parrot zone. There I met the local bird lady who fed them loaves of bread and water. I told her in broken Spanish that yo amo los pajaros verdes, and she smiled and gave me some of her bread to feed them. Every day around sundown, she would go to these trees and toss the bread specifically to the parrots, shooing away the gluttonous and bullying pigeons in an act of eugenics I fully condoned.

IMAG0894In Paris, I followed a lead given to me by the famous giant squid hunter Steve O’Shea (who also happens to be a hobbyist birder), “around the Lac Daumesnil over near the Buddhist temple,” which I deduced to be the Kagyu-Dzong. It was the day of my flight out of Paris to Berlin and I’d been walking for an hour around the lake when I finally found the temple. I searched the sky for the Parisian parrots, but I didn’t hear or see anything. I asked a woman coming out of the temple if she’d seen them, and she looked at me like I was crazy and said she didn’t think there were parrots in this region. Then, just as I was about to give up, my eyes welling up with tears of disappointment at myself for not being the parrot tracker I thought I was, I caught a brilliant flash of green out of the corner of my eye! I imprinted its call and followed its trail, cutting through the trees until, behold: A dozen Indian Ringnecks, bright green with beautiful blue neck rings, sitting in a fruit tree gorging themselves. I’d brought them some stale baguette to feed them that they had absolutely no interest in, so I threw my offering on the ground and just watched them. A friendly young guy walked up behind me and began to flirt in broken English, but I had no interest in anything that would take my attention away from the parrots. When I’d reveled in observing their majestic ways for long enough, I hit the guy’s joint, thanked him, and triumphantly went along to catch my flight.

IMAG2036Almost every city I’ve visited, I’ve located the wild parrots. To my surprise, the first morning I woke up opened the door to the second story balcony of my current residence in Dubai, I was greeted by a tree full of parrots, laughing and squawking away.

While in the Netherlands, I happened to catch a tweet from fellow parrot enthusiast Rich Minnerich about a documentary called Parrot Confidential. I watched, and the decision I was already leaning toward from seeing these creatures so happy and free in the wild was solidified. Parrots are unwanted as pets. Owners purchased them for selfish reasons and couldn’t take care of them, so these poor, incredibly emotionally sensitive creatures wind up in terrible situations and wind up afflicted by psychological ailments just as humans are. Raised in environments so different from their natural habitats and without any members of their flocks, they live lives of confusion and frustration. As one person in the documentary says, “they don’t even know they’re birds.”

So, I will not participate in perpetuating the cycle of parrot humanizing, for to humanize them is to destroy them in this sense. What I will do is devote my time in the future to appreciating them in the wild, rehabilitating troubled parrots, and helping out with projects to protect their natural habitats and restore their wild populations. And I will learn to find my happiness in human form, or maybe get a cat or some stupider animal that is bread to be domestic.

Casual Predation: Postscript

A week ago I published an essay on LadyBits called Casual Predation, about the ways in which women are made to feel hunted by random passersby. You can find that essay here:

View story at Medium.com

Since publishing, I have received quite a bit of feedback, both rewarding and distressing.  The best was the overwhelming response of acknowledgement from women I respect, such as Cindy Gallop, Kelly Bourdet, Nilofer Merchant, etc. Part of the reason I wrote this is that when I’ve spoken with women about the incidents I’ve experienced in the past, they always have some kind of story about being alone and freaked out because they were being hunted in some way—every single one.

The other part of why I wrote this is because I’ve noticed a major lack of understanding from guys about this very real, very common occurrence—even from the most awesome guys who I adore to pieces. And so another facet of rewarding feedback has come from guys who were finally able to have some sort of revelation through this essay about what it feels like to be a woman. One man emailed me so say: “Thank you for writing that. As I seek to reflect on making more positive contributions to the world (and at least quit being a jerk, to quote Marshall Goldsmith), I find writing like yours to be very useful.  I’m sure you catch all sorts of troll crap, and I wanted to provide a voice of thank you.”

You are welcome.

On the flip side, I’ve gotten some very bizarre feedback from a handful of guys who have read my story and been very defensive. Their line of reasoning seems to go something like: “I enjoy looking at women and having sex with them, and it’s offensive to me that you’re calling me a predator for doing this and trying to mate.” First of all, no. The whole point of the essay was to describe a very specific behavior that women notice that sets off defensive alarm bells in our bodies. While some people are certainly more sensitive than others, we can usually tell the difference between a look from someone who is a potential predator, and anything else. It isn’t hard to do if you are paying attention (provided you don’t have a condition that prevents you from detecting human emotion such as autism).

I used to have a parrot and sometimes he would bite me. Eventually, via observing his behavior prior to the bite, I learned to recognize his intent to bite me before he would lunge. He would get very attentive to the part of my body he was preparing to attack and his pupils would dilate. I learned to move just in time before he would fly into a monstrous rage, lashing his beak in every direction, and would put him in his cage to chill out.

If we can detect these warning signals in our animal companions, we can certainly detect them in other humans.

A happy ending for Twitter the Wonder Budgie

As you may know from my web postings, a budgie flew into my life a few weeks ago and I named him Twitter. Many people described Twitter’s appearance as “fate” and tried to convince me that the universe was trying to tell me I should stay in NYC. But I decided my friends were just being adorable and wanted to keep me near them and that I needed to carry on with my plan.

If anything was fate, it was that by coming to me, that little blue bird was destined to wind up in the best home possible. When Twitter first arrived, I immediately posted on the facebook group for my apartment complex (kind of an artist co-op) to try to find Twitter’s original owner. I never did, but one of my neighbors, Cecilia, responded to the thread when I posted a longshot inquiry to ask if anyone had a spare bird cage. She did, and it just so happened to match Twitter’s blue exactly.

I recognized her name as the neighbor I volunteered to bird sit for over the holidays. I carefully placed Twitter under a spaghetti strainer and went upstairs to get the cage, where I was greeted by her love birds, a moustached parrot, and a bunny rabbit hopping along the floor. Her boyfriend, Brian, offered to take Twitter right off the bat, but Cecelia was reasonably hesitant. She was thinking about getting another bunny, they would have to think about it.

I had some friends inquire about taking him, who all would have been fantastic bird owners, but extenuating circumstances derailed that plan. Also though, I knew from watching Twitter during the two short weeks he was in my life that he really wanted to be with other birds. He would hang out with me, but his favorite spot was on the window sill, where he would sit and stare out at the trees in the courtyard for hours. He tried in vain to start conversations with the birds out there who would abruptly stop tweeting once they realized the response was coming from an undesired recipient. I think he got sad that he couldn’t be a part of the flock.

So I sent Cecilia a facebook message and asked her to take Twitter. She agreed in an instant, and when I took him up to his new home the night before my flight, I knew I had made the right choice. They hugged me hello, and the birds were out and about, being social. She had toys for them to play with all over her cozy apartment. And most of all, I could tell her and Brian were both true bird lovers, people who reveled in their ability to provide a good life for the birds more than the satisfaction they got from being exposed to their beauty.

The day after I left, Cecelia posted a picture on my Timeline:

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There’s Twitter, getting a smooch from his new best friend, Tia. (And no, he’s not trying to bite him. He wouldn’t just be sitting there if he was in danger, he has wings.)

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There’s Twitter and Sunshine…

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And him hanging out with Speedy, pretending he is the kind of the mountain by being higher than everyone else (overcompensation, Twitter?)

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There’s them all playing on their play gym together <3

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Even the bunny, Totoro, loves Twitter! Or at least his food.

I’m more confident than ever that I made the right decision. Twitter found his flock, and I found some peace of mind. Thank you, Cecilia and Brian, for the wonderful photos, and for saving the day! <3