Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Rig Birds

I arrived on this rig - about a hundred miles west of Mauritania, in the Atlantic - a couple of afternoons ago, and since then it’s been birds, birds, birds!

Kind of. In my experience, rigs aren’t the best location to spot birds of either variety (i.e. human female or um... bird) as they’re usually big metal platforms miles into the ocean, filled with sturdy, coarse men. They’re not the place for the weaker, more-refined sex, and not the place for a flying creature, unless lost. In my last rig before this, in Nigeria, there was a girl for a few days, and I also spotted a confused-seeming bird sitting on an aerial, but these really are the exception.

But this rig is bucking all the trends as there are two – yes, two! – whole girls. Imagine my astonishment. I walked into the galley soon after arriving and two young lasses were sitting at a table, looking a little pensive, drinking coffee and talking. They must be the cleaners, I thought, but later that evening my astonishment doubled, as I chanced upon them in the wireline unit. They are real , live engineers! I had to speak to the wireline unit about an issue, so spoke to one of the girls (this is quite a thrill for a young man on a rig) and she sounded Eastern European or something, but she didn’t understand my query so passed me on to her supervisor – a man, of course.

I’ve been reeling in the shock of that experience – a female engineer! – since then, but it should be noted that I’ve not actually seen them since that day, and rather suspect they have been replaced by some Asians, as they seemed to be the wireline operators yesterday.

My third and final encounter with a bird, was of the kind my friend Kitchen Mark prefers. My friend Kitchen Mark has recently requested I instead call him “Birder Mark” but this simply isn’t going to happen. Anyway, Kitchen Mark is a notorious birdwatcher, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all birds, and he regular makes visits to cold, wet locations near Aberdeen in the hope of spotting a finch, or a gull, or whatever. Why his lovely French girlfriend, French Claire, tolerates these eccentricities, I don’t know.

Anyway, this bird was hovering rather low above the helideck today. It kept craning its neck and pointing its beak down, as if ready to plunge down and spear a fish. It did a little swooping, some gliding and some coasting, but never managed a full plunge and so I never saw a kingfisher-style fish-execution – rather a pity. But I didn’t find its presence rather unnerving, as the beak looked very pointy and sharp, and the menacing way it was hovering hinted at the threat that the bird – in the absence of fish – might plunge down and try and spear me. These things can happen. Now, truth be told, if I had to die then I think being speared through the skull by a pointy-beaked bird on a rig near Mauritania would be quite a memorable way to die, but I am only 28 and aren’t quite ready for that fate yet. So after a short while of warily observing this pest's movements I became too afraid and scampered off inside.

I did however capture the bird in a few photos, on my recently bought digital camera I’m still trying to figure out. And so I include a picture of the bird here:

I would like also to put my friend Kitchen Mark to the test. Marky, what is this bird? This is a test of two things:

1. Does Kitchen Mark know as much about birds as he makes out he does?
2. Does Kitchen Mark read this blog?

My own feelings are that it is a Oceanic Thrust Swift.

I suspect this thrilling start to this rig might ease off a little now, as I can barely imagine it reaching new heights. My beating heart can settle and I can get on with my real job of drinking coffee, gorging myself and of course, sleeping very soundly. It’s a tough life!


Charlie Horsedennis said...

I think it's a matterley flipgull myself. The shape of the beak rather gives it away.

Norman Galeforce said...

The previous commenter is a joke, peddling clearly made up birds. Shame on you, sir! Birders shpould educate, not obfuscate! I charge that you are no birder, but a twitcher!!

Back to the subject in hand (or more accurately, air!). The configuration of the tail, the lack of legs, the caramel-latte underside plumage-tint, and the keen-as-mustard look on its face all indicate one thing: this is a perma-flying frenzy-thruster. Close, Nev 360, but no cigar for you! This rare bird is a tragic reminder of the fact that we can often not have what we long for: the legs mean that it can not land on any solid surface, so it must fly constantly. But all these birds want to do is perch! They can be seen circling the same site for literally years on end. I'll wager that character is where you saw him now. Such a sad tale, like the shark that just wants to lie down for a while.

Norman Galeforce said...

I, rather remissly, forgot to add that these beast can be seen at the bird racing meetings of Djibouti. A fasci-tragic sight, the perma-flying frenzy-thrusters circle a brightly-lit perch until they begin to die from exhaustion. The last flying birs is declared the winner. Unfortunately, most (if I am truly hones, all) of the champions die very soon after their glory moment. Sad, but the birds are, as the locals of the Obock region of Djibouti might say, "hella tasty"!

Mark said...

Bugger me!

You're going to love this,Nev. Your bird is a Brown Booby! They breed on the Cape Verde islands, which you are not too far from, and this bird is a juvenile, which is beginning to moult into its adult plumage. There is every chance you will see more birds as we progress through march, so, if you get any photos, I'd love to see them! (including any dead birds! they're easier to take pictures of, aswell)

Excellent bird, and a very nice shot too!

Charlie and Norman make valid claims and arguements as to the birds identification, but both make schoolboy errors. Norman indicates the "caramel-latte" underparts. To my eye, the colour is obviously mocchachino, and the birds expression is "ernest", rather than "keen as mustard". Charlie states the bill shape as diagnostic, but Matterley flipgulls bills are often subject to onion skin weathering, and thus can have highly variable bill structure.

Norman Galeforce said...

I can accept your points on the colour and demeanour of the bird, but I point to the fact that the beast has no legs. There is no such thing as a legless brown booby! It would be absurd to identify it as a legless inver booby, as Terry Wogan said this morning (on the BBC, no less) that they are all in Galway currently: hardly a surprise on this particular date!!!

Mark said...

the west african subspecies of brown booby, (sula leucogaster toplegeii) has its legs on the top, which is why they are not visible in the photo.

Nev 360 said...

Guys, don't mess with Kitchen Mark: the man knows his birds.

Mark, I am especially pleased that I spotted a Brown Booby, I knew it was something special the moment I saw it.

norman galeforce said...

I feel chastened by my childish error. Please accept my sincerest apologies, sir. I never thought that I would miss a booby!!!