Dear followers… we need to talk

Dear Why? Because Science! friends, family, and followers,

For six years, I’ve been in a relationship with this blog. Together, we made beautiful blog babies, learned metric tonnes about the natural (and sometimes unnatural) world, connected with science enthusiasts from around the world, and even made lifelong friends out some of those connections. Our relationship was a richly fecund source of ideas, inspiration, and creativity and it even became the bedrock of a book, Why? Because Science!

However, as much as science remains at the forefront of my interests, I have a new love. Well, truth be told, it has been my love all along but now it beckons to me the way an emotional affair seduces you out of an old, stale relationship. And that love is travel.

I’m leaving you for travel

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What I’m saying to you all is that I now intend to chronicle my adventures as a traveller and all the bizarre foods, fine beverages, tips, tales, and tipsy tales they come hand-in-hand with.

I have agonised over whether to start a fresh blog or evolve this one to become the platform for my new adventure. On the one hand, it feels somewhat like moving a new lover into a home you shared with an old one – it feels a little disrespectful to the old relationship. On the other hand, Why? Because Science! is not my partner, it’s my intellectual child, which means that I can damn well do what I want with it!

Said more respectfully: it is time for me to move on.

New travel blog announcement

I am sad to say goodbye to science, even temporarily, but if I am to maintain a happy and healthy relationship with my creativity, I need to migrate with its flux. And its powerful current is carrying me towards travel writing.

What does this mean for you?

You all came on board with Why? Because Science! because of your interest in science. But now I intend to transform this very blog into a travel blog, which will become a chronicle of my adventures on my home turf of Cape Town, South Africa, as well as abroad. In other words, if this creative journey were a train ride, we’re no longer heading to destination science; we’ve switched tracks to planet travel. If this bores the pants off of you, I understand that you will be getting off at platform “screw this, I’m out!”

Just remember to put your pants back on before you disembark.

It is, however, my sincerest hope that you stay on the train, which brings me to the fun bit. Where exactly are we going?

Destination known…sort of

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My new venture/adventure already has a name and it’s (insert lengthy drumroll) Wander Woman Thea. Yes, it’s cheesier than Swiss fondue and that’s exactly how I like it.

This new blog is essentially a tell-all of my extreme, borderline obsessive passion for travel and it will provide readers with all kinds of value and entertainment, from travel tips, advice, and thrilling stories to green monster provoking pictures and gut-busting travel anecdotes. Wander Woman Thea will endeavour to connect with, satiate the curiosity, and expand the minds of travel, wine, and food lovers from all over the world.

And, yes, it’s all written in my trademark irreverent style laced with saucy innuendo, bad puns, and tequila jokes. The Facebook page is already set up, which you can check out here and follow and share with all of your friends.

Are you in?

It has been a pleasure and privilege writing about science and having you join me for that adventure. Now, I’m riding off into the sunset (on the back of a T-rex) to a new destination.

Why?

Besides science, I’m obsessed with travel and adventure.

Here we go!

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Bird Watching: Making Your Safari Way More Awesome

Juvenile Bataleur Eagle
Picture: An immateur Bataleur Eagle taken at the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Thea Beckman (2015)

It can be said without a doubt that bringing a bird with you on your safari makes it way more awesome. Especially if said bird looks tight in a bikini. You can share in the joy of spotting that elusive leopard, watching cheetah chase ill-fated gazelle across the savannah and being stranded in a herd of elephant; desperately hoping that amorous-looking bull doesn’t take a fancy to your Jeep. But I’m not talking about THAT kind of bird. Birds, the feathered variety, are awesome. And the next time you drive home from Magaliesberg feeling short-changed because you didn’t see any lions AGAIN, perhaps you’d better start thinking about becoming a twitcher.

Bird-watching: A Definition

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Green-spotted dove, Kruger National Park in South Africa.

I’ve harboured a deep interest in birds since I can remember. Some people are addicted to nicotine, amphetamines or Robert Pattinson. I love bird watching. I really do. And I’m pretty sure that, psychologically, it has something to do with a love of collecting meaningful things. Every time my family would go for a weekend, week’s or month’s vacation somewhere in southern Africa, I would make and keep a list of the different species of birds we identified during the course of that holiday.

Bird watching and safari
This trusty field book has travelled with me all over southern Africa and bears the dirty smudges, rugged braai (barbecue) smears and cheap brandy stains to prove it.

 You experienced a shudder of awe and excitement when you saw a lion on your African adventure. I experienced a shudder of awe and excitement when I saw a Violet-eared Waxbill at the Karoo National Park. Partly because, against the drab semi-arid landscape, it is one of the most beautifully coloured creatures you could ever imagine; something straight out of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. And partly because this particular species of waxbill didn’t appear on the Karoo National Park’s bird list, meaning that we were the first to report seeing it there. Essentially, we made history.

I See Your Lion and Raise You a Bataleur Eagle

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Mature bataleur eagle, Kruger National Park in South Africa. Picture by Thea Beckman.

I experienced another shudder of awe and excitement when I saw a Drakensberg Prinia in Pilgrim’s Rest; a Pallid Harrier at the Blyde River Canyon; a Collared Sunbird at the Nelspruit Botanical Gardens; a Striped Cuckoo at the Pilansberg Nature Reserve outside Rustenberg and again when I saw a flock of Southern Bald Ibises in the Drakensberg. None of these are particularly striking birds – except perhaps the Bald Ibis, whose head resembles an unmentionable male body part. But they were all new! I had never seen them before! It’s like discovering the Mufasa marble in your Engen Garage lucky packet back in the day when the Lion King and marbles were all the rage.

For the record, the Lion King was, is and always will be awesome.

Identifying a brand new bird and ticking it off in your book may sound completely nerdy, inane and lame. But it actually makes you feel amazing; like you’ve accomplished something. It’s a tiny intellectual victory and one of those ingredients that makes life rich and exciting.

I saw a brand new species of bird!

You saw a lion.

I saw a Crowned Eagle!

You saw another lion.

I saw a Giant Eagle Owl!

You saw (oh wow!) another lion.

I saw a Carmine Bee-eater.

You saw (surprise) a lion!

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For every one species of awesome animal you see on safari. I see 10, maybe 20 different species of birds. This is no war, my friends. No competition. The point I’m trying to make here is that if you can culture and develop an appreciation and then a love of identifying birds, you can get so much more out of any holiday, any getaway and any safari experience. You’ll also totally impress your chick who, through your appreciation of soft feathered creatures, will see your softer and more vulnerable side.

And then you’ll get to show her your softer and more vulnerable body parts.

 Kgalagadi Case Study, August to September 2009

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African Ground squirrels (Xerus inauris) enjoy an eclectic diet of roots, seeds, insects, pods, fruits, grains, bird eggs, small vertebrates and pink marshmallows.

Many years ago, I went on a 10-day vacation to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which straddles the three borders of Namibia, Botswana and the Northern Cape. The bird list I had kept for that holiday totalled 106 different species. The animal list I made totalled 12. Actually, it was more like 11. Animal #12, which we thought was a leopard prowling around the camp at night, turned out to be nothing more than my mother’s snoring. Or so we suspected after three consecutive nights of rhythmic zzzggghhhnnnnngggg, zzzggghhhnnnnngggg, zzzggghhhnnnnngggg-ing, which is actually quite similar to a leopard’s cough-like grunting.

We saw ONE lion that entire holiday. And it was a female so pregnant with zebra meat that she had hitched a leg up onto the bole of the acacia tree she was food coma-ing under in order to make more space for her distended gut. She didn’t so much as bat an eyelid at the rocks we were throwing at her to get her to move.

I am, of course, just kidding.

On that same trip, we spotted a beautiful Giant Eagle Owl in her nest in broad daylight; identified the tiny Pygmy Falcon killing machine; heard the haunting yelps of Pearl-Spotted Owls at night and kept the campsite company of the flamboyantly coloured Burchell’s starling.

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The handsome Burchell’s starling, Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Class Dismissed: The Take-Home Message

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Wahlberg’s Eagle? Malachite Kingfisher? Violet-eared Waxbill? Now that’s a handsome bird list…

I have always kept bird lists for the various holidays our family has been on. I also keep a list of animals on the occasions we go to wildlife reserves. Every single time, my list of different bird species, which has often stretched into the hundreds, dwarfs the list of different animal species. Nothing can be more exciting than actually spotting a leopard in a tree, seeing cheetah in action or watching a hippo emerge from the water (or doing that funny tail-thing when they poop.) But to go on safari and never notice the activity constantly going on around you, in the bushes, in the trees, on the ground, in the sky… well you are cheating yourself out of 90% of the fees you paid at the park entrance.

Open your eyes friends.

And whatever you do. Never, ever sit under a hornbill perched in a tree. They have impeccable aim.

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Zazu, I mean, Yellow-billed hornbill, Kruger National Park in South Africa