Monthly Archives: October 2018

Zoological Curiosities

Beloved Birders,

We went away for a few weeks in September, and I just realized I didn’t write about it. The problem with coming back from a trip is that life hits you full force, and then suddenly you’re swamped and the fact that you stood face to face with mating ostriches in the Berlin Zoo just mere weeks ago no longer feels like it’s information in urgent need of sharing with the world.

But yes, you did indeed read that correctly. Our very first day in Berlin, we were jetlagged and decided that rather than facing Lucas Cranach’s masterpieces in a semi-conscious state, we’d be better off hanging out at the zoo. After seeing the resplendent, glistening hippos, the bears, and all sorts of other glorious fauna, including Snowy Owls, we happened upon an anxious looking ostrich. There he was flapping his wings like a bird possessed, and before I knew it he ran down the hill, and we followed, at a bit of a distance, and separated by a fence of course. As he got to his destination, we suddenly realized that there was another ostrich involved in the frenetic reunion, and that we had basically, accidentally, found ourselves in a nat geo documentary that often features commentary along the lines of, “and now the mounting.” Anyhow, I’m now pleased to add ostriches to my collection of copulating birds, in addition to Ring-billed Gull, Eastern Kingbird, and Peregrine Falcon. To be honest, the whole spectacle looked a bit unwieldy. And loud.

The rest of our trip, post-ostriches didn’t disappoint either. We visited the Boros Sammlung — a conceptual art museum located in a WWII Bunker in the heart of Berlin. A fascinating juxtaposition of historical layers. I finally got to hear the Berlin Philharmoniker LIVE, which was a highlight. We did get to Cranach and Botticelli and the gang post-jetlag, in the Gemaldegalerie, and even made it out to Dresden for a day, where we communed with more old masters (and ate delicious ice cream). And there was Klee and Giacommetti, and I had forgotten just how much art one can see in Berlin. On our last day it was unseasonably hot, so hot that I couldn’t think straight, so rather than look at more art at the Bode Museum, we opted for an afternoon at the Natural History Museum (Naturkundemuseum) in the company of extraordinary dinosaur skeletons. I became slightly obsessed with a stuffed hippopotamus who had apparently descended from the legendary Knautschke — one of the lone animals from the Berlin Zoo who managed to survive WWII — and couldn’t stop thinking of how he’d fit in perfectly into our apartment decor. As a side note, our audioguide also told us that Knautschke was apparently so fertile that he sired 38 children and if you visit a natural history museum in Europe and find yourself face to face with a stuffed hippo, it’s likely one of Knautsche’s offspring. Who knew?

But I am getting ahead of myself. Between the dinosaurs and the hippo, I actually had the birdiest moment of our entire trip. I SAW ARCHAEOPTERYX! Yes, the famous fossil! IN THE FLESH. In all honesty, it was better than Mona Lisa. This is the transitional fossil that proved the link between dinosaurs and modern birds — a truly a strange looking reptilian winged creature. Anyhow, the Archaeopteryx lithographica fossil is 150 million years old and probably the most famous fossil in the world. And all we could do was stare in wonder.

Just when I thought nothing could beat staring at a fossil, we travelled to the northern tip of Denmark and stood on a spit of sand in Skagen where the North Sea meets the Baltic. And suddenly windswept sand dunes displaced fossil talk. Travel is funny the way one thing gives way to another. Before arriving in Skagen all I could talk about was Cranach and Archaeopteryx, but now my mind focused solely on migrating sand dunes, Common Eider (IN THEIR PROPER BLACK AND WHITE PLUMAGE), seals, and Anna Ancher. And a few days later, we landed in Copenhagen, hung out in the park with Barnacle Geese and Eurasian Coots, and bought the cutest looking hippopotamus we’ve ever seen. In between the coots and the hippo, we visited the Louisiana Museum, which happens to be named not after the US state, but after the museum founder’s three wives, all of whom were named Louise. How convenient! What I love most about travel — and birds, come to think of it, and people — is how the things you see and learn are surprisingly so much stranger than anything I could have imagined. And isn’t that — opening your eyes to the strange –isn’t that the beauty of life?

Black Hippo. Designed by Kay Bojesen. It turns out this is everything I’ve ever wanted in life.