Ask the Experts: #10

We all love a good scare, from time to time; or more precisely we all enjoy hearing about a good scare. Here are three scares that happened while guiding or birding, as reported by three of our Experts. (FYI: this will be the final Ask the Expert column for a while. Hope you enjoyed this feature.)

From SVBC member Anzu Matsuyama; Kobe, Japan.
‘What is the most frightening experience you have ever had while birding or guiding?’

David Rodriguez Arias: Tropical Biologist and natural history guide in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Each day of a birding trip with customers is not easy. You always have to be attentive to any kind of circumstances that could happen. Probably the most scary one I experienced so far was the day I was with a couple in the Caño Negro Wetlands. That day we decided to go all the way up an observation tower that is in the protected area. The idea was to check for American White Pelicans that were hanging around the area. When we were at the top of the tower (almost 60 ft high), one of my clients did not see a hole that was in the floor and he  fell into it! Luckily he got stuck when half of his body was passing through the hole. After we helped him up, one of his legs was covered with blood, so we came down from the tower and started to clean his leg. At the end of the day I was so happy to think that this guy only got a scratch on his leg, and there was no greater tragedy. And lucky for us, the story has two happy endings: the next day we did find the flock of American White Pelicans!

Greg Homer: Natural History and Birding Guide–retired.

In Australia they often say, ‘Most everything down here is either poisonous, venomous or just in a bloody bad mood.’

I was escorting 20 clients on a remote stretch of beach on an even more remote island in the Great Barrier Reef for a day of snorkeling, exploring and lunch. Two of the clients were not comfortable in water so I stayed with them on the beach while another guide lead the snorkelers.

‘Hey Greg!’ I heard one of my clients shout, from about 100 meters down the beach.

‘What?’ I responded. (When you’re guiding 20 people you hear that same shouted phrase about 48 times each day…equalling twice per hour.)

‘There are some snakes on the beach!’

‘Do they have big heads or little heads?’ I replied. Knowing that there were harmless Children’s Pythons in that area and that Children’s Pythons have big wide heads, while the extremely deadly Brown Snakes (also common) have narrow little heads. No sense running the 100 meters for nothing, right?

‘Little heads!’


Sure enough, this client had stumbled into a group of about 5-8 young (but very deadly) Brown Snakes.

No harm done to anyone and I found out I could run the 100 meter dash in 11.3 seconds which is not bad in beach sand, wearing sandals.

Basil (Baz) Kirilenko: Owner and Operator of Mindo Valley Tours; Mindo, Ecuador

Without a doubt, this was the scariest experience I have had while guiding. One of my clients–an extremely enthusiastic, charming and energetic woman (in other words, the PERFECT client)–stood looking out at water birds on a beautiful lake about an hour before an apricot-colored sunset. One might say this was one of life’s perfect moments. Except…except…except, she was standing square on a fire ant mound. I don’t know how many fire ant stings she took but in a very short time, her leg swelled up to twice its normal size and her face became quite red. Clearly an allergic reaction was occurring and anaphylaxis could be next. I iced down her swollen leg and I loaded up the rest of my tourists and drove, very fortunately, only about 45 minutes to a small rural medical clinic. The staff there were quite familiar with fire ant symptoms and gave her antihistamines and some pain killers. After a night in that clinic she was fine and once again became the perfect client!