October 15, 2015: Dasyueshan, Taiwan — I didn’t have many birds left to search for around Chengdu before my flight out today, but the morning didn’t pass without some excitement. Sid and I were driving into the city before lunch when he suddenly asked, “Hey, what day of the week is it?” As usual, I had no idea (weekdays don’t mean much this year) but my phone told us it was Thursday. “Aw, man,” said Sid, “Sorry, I forgot—we’re not allowed to take this car into town today.”
Chengdu, like a few other cities around the world, has instituted license plate restrictions to curb traffic: If your plate ends in a certain digit, you can only drive on certain days. No big deal for us—we headed back to Sid’s house to swap for his van before continuing into the city. To get off the motorway, though, we had to pass through a toll booth, and an overloaded truck in front of us could not fit through the toll. The truck pulled right into the booth before its driver realized it wouldn’t go through, and things ground to a halt.
After a minute, a guy with a radio appeared and directed the truck to reverse out of the toll gate, inch by inch, while we watched and waited from alongside. Somehow, the radio man missed a parked car sitting behind the truck, and the truck backed straight into the car. Drivers jumped out, other people jumped out, and suddenly the toll booth turned into a complete blockage. Luckily, Sid had edged off to one side where we could squeeze through a closed lane, and, after a quick negotiation with the booth operator, we were on our way with the slow-motion wreck in our wake.
“Once you’ve lived in China,” said Sid over dinner a couple of nights ago, “it’s not easy to go back to a place like the U.K. Minute for minute, this country is more interesting than almost anywhere else! It’s like living inside a TV drama: Once you get swept up in it, you just have to stick around to see what happens.”
It’s certainly been a memorable week birding with him in Sichuan. Sid has himself lived an interesting existence: Born in Wales; spent two years as a shepherd in the Falklands right after the Falklands War, then an intense few years working with Bosnian refugees with the Red Cross in Denmark; then moved to Sichuan ten years ago to teach English and fell into bird guiding, which now occupies him full time. He is a sharp birder and uncommonly good company in the field, and keeps all kinds of helpful information at http://sichuanbirding.cloudaccess.net.
I landed in Taiwan this evening and headed straight for the mountains, where, after dark, I had time to see a Savanna Nightjar before bed. The big year rolls on!
New birds today: 3
Year list: 4822