This isn’t the first time I’ve relocated. It isn’t the first time I’ve had to jump through the hoops of bureaucracy in order to become part of the country I want to live in. However this time, I moved home to where I was born and have lived most of my life, if you don’t count the last five years. The hoops don’t get any bigger or any easier to navigate, despite the harp on the front of my passport. Breaking back into Irish society is an interesting slow process.
However today there was a breakthrough. Today we managed to buy car insurance. It doesn’t sound like something you would usually celebrate, handing over your hard earned cash, just in case you crash into someone, but I assure you, it is. It took over a week, not to mention the car hunt itself, but that’s another story. A week digging through our past for documents to prove we were good drivers, or at least hadn’t caused an accident. A week attempting to explain how the insurance system operates in Denmark (a world does exist and functions perfectly fine outside the UK and Ireland). A week of starting from scratch with many call service operators (bless their patience and ours) and endless time listening to bad hold music. But today we bought car insurance. Today we will celebrate. Today we can (once our car, sitting in the garage is re-assembled) in theory drive somewhere, and get on with the 101 other tasks which relocating presents. It is a relief in itself, but more than that, we will soon get the golden proof of address.
This is a major stumbling block for anyone entering the country. Every time we try to do anything official, like for example try to open a bank account, so we are not charged every time we go near an ATM, to get access to our hard earned cash which is rapidly disappearing (see above) we need proof, evidence, which is not that easy to get. Maybe we should invite the powers that be for tea, show them where we sleep, our dirty laundry, that would be proof. I’m not a detective, but smelly clothes and left-overs in the fridge say “I live here” more than a piece of paper that’s come through the post with my name on it.
At first I thought I had found a short cut, kinda cheating the system, if you like. This was through helpful advice from Crosscare, who provide advice for people returning to Ireland. On returning to the country, you need to prove that you are here to stay. Habitual Residence Condition, they call it. So there is a list of things you can do to show your commitment to living in Ireland, and drinking 10 cups of tea a day doesn’t really count. On our second day back in the country, filled with energy and motivation, we registered to vote, which was met with slight confusion, as the marriage equality referendum was held only a few days prior to our arrival in the country (the YES vote won, in case you were wondering). Too late they told us. But there was a method in our madness (or at least I thought). We printed and filled out the forms, visited the local Garda station to get them signed and handed it all over to our local count council office. Easy I thought. Fourteen days and we would have proof of address, via the electoral register. After the time had passed, sitting on my hands with a spot of car hunting thrown in for amusement, I checked the on-line electoral register but no sign of my name. I contacted the local county council office (by email), who replied very promptly (by email), to my surprise. In simple terms, that the draft register (I’m not sure what that is) would not be updated until November. Dead end, or at least a very slow end. No short cut here.
An interesting development occurred while applying for a public services card, which is a new thing which didn’t exist before I left the country, of if it did, I knew nothing about it. Continue the enlightenment of an ex-emigrant / returning immigrant, what’s the right term anyway?. Again, we were asked for proof of address, after being in the country for a grand total of two days. I explained that we were staying with family. This provided more than a little amusement for the man dealing with my application – “How’s it going for ye, living with the mammy?”. After this, a piece of paper, a statement was produced, which could be filled in by the house owner to state I was indeed living there. Magic. It appears that the system obviously doesn’t work in some cases, so a little “get around” was developed. That allowed us to cross one barrier, but the success was short lived, and applied only in this situation. The hunt for proof continued.
Today we know our proof is coming. It could take anything from 3-7 working days by snail mail, because the snails are affected by the warm weather in the summer, more difficult to produce slime, I can only imagine! But we have to wait, sitting on our hands again (or blogging) to fill the time. Throughout the last few weeks we have come to realise that snail mail, seems to be the only recognised form of official mail in Ireland. After getting used to how things worked in Denmark, I have to sit on my hands (again), and get to know the postman. Now I’m starting to understand where all the postman jokes came from.
On a number of occasions, I have asked for a document to be emailed to speed up the process, but this option is definitely not available. The internet is a dangerous place. Someone might steal my car insurance details and, um, pay it for me?! On the one hand, it was perfectly fine for us to send sensitive information, like a copy of my driving license, proof of no claims history by email, but to return the favour, to save money on stamps let alone the environmental cost (don’t get me started on that), was out of the question. I’ve stopped asking now, and will sit patiently waiting for the green van to appear outside the door. This could be my new hobby, while sitting on my hands, green van watching.
Another trick I have learned, which works very well and saves us a little of our hard earned cash, is on-line customer support. Call charges in Ireland are high, and astonishingly it is the same price to use my Danish number to make local calls. As a result I’ve been doing my best to avoid speaking to anyone, and keep everything in writing. With wireless here at home (next to the smelly laundry), I’m exercising all the free options before dialling a number. All the big companies are doing it, well in the private sector anyway (car insurance, banks, mobile phone companies), the public sector hasn’t really cottoned on to that technology, still being a little afraid, it appears (also of emails). A quick search will reveal a web-chat facility or even better a Twitter customer support account for most companies. More money saving magic, and you get to avoid the painful hold music. Quick and painless!
Now, back to the 101 tasks, or was that a green van I spotted outside…
Over a month after leaving the jungle, I’ve managed to find the time to finish this post, or as much as I can from here (Bolivia), with limited Internet. I could add so much more, especially about the great people we met and non-avian experiences, but hopefully this will give you a taste of our experiences over the four wonderful weeks. Between January and February 2015 Rasmus and I spent a month in the rainforest, in the lowlands of Peru close to the Bolivian border on the Madre de Dios river, a tributary of the Amazon. With help from CORBIDI, the national organisation for bird ringing in Peru, we organised a stay of one month to assist with the ringing campaign carried out at ITA (Inka Terra Association). During that time we opened nets at six different sites in various habitats to determine the species present and examine the moult strategies.
All transport in the area is by boat and getting to our ringing sites was no exception. Above the boat is packed with equipment, tents, food, water and we were lucky enough to bring a cook too! We worked closely with Helmut, a biologist, who organised the logistics which included transport, accommodation, food, equipment and additional staff when required. The experience was unique in countless ways for us. It was all that we hoped for, as we were given the opportunity to actively contribute to biological research in the jungle. Our accommodation was basic but comfortable, with mosquito nets and cold showers, all you needed after a hot sticky day catching birds and warding off biting bugs. On many occasions we were based far from any form of shelter so we built our own temporary ringing hut in the woods, where we could shelter from the rain and enjoy breakfast(s) between net rounds.
As usual, nets were opened early in the mornings, and we carried out a few afternoon sessions too. We learned early on the disadvantage of opening the nets a few minutes too early, when we encountered some not too happy bats. It was a slightly nervous first encounter for me, but I survived bite free.
Bats were not our only concern when setting up and checking nets. At one site we unknowingly set up a net very close to a bullet ant nest. Bullet ants are known to have the most painful sting of all insects, which takes up to 24 hours to dissipate. We also encountered snakes, various biting insects and countless ant species during out net rounds to keep us awake. Wellington/rubber boots are essential dress in the jungle, both to keep your feet dry in the rainy season and for protection!
When a bird was captured the first step was to identify the species. With 1,800 bird species in Peru, and about 600 in the lowlands, this wasn’t always straightforward. Thankfully as time went on our identification skills improved. Once a ring was fitted we recorded moult, feather wear, reproduction status, age & sex where possible, wing length, weight and skull ossification. Thankfully my experience with European birds came in useful, but at times I felt like a beginner all over again! Before being released we took specific photos of the wings, head, body etc to support our records.
Towards the end of our stay we helped to carry out ringing in the forest canopy. It was in some ways an experiment and we used an existing set of raised platforms, bridges and towers at approximately 25m in height to set up the nets. Ringing in the canopy required a lot of patience, but we succeeded in capturing two birds in two days, maybe room for improvement!
During our stay we trapped over 120 birds (I need to compare my records with the official ones). The majority of the birds tapped were passerines in 7 different families. The most frequently caught were pipridae, furnariidae and thamnophilidae (more details in a later post, I hope).
Above a male Band-tailed Manakin about to make his escape. The male and female of Manakin species are highly sexually dimorphic. We also captured a variety of hummingbirds, which was a real treat for me. It took time to learn how to handle these tiny birds. We also ringed a number of pigeons (much to Helmut’s delight) and a variety of kingfishers, a single motmot and a single aracari.
This Lettered Aracari had an exceptionally strong and sharp bill – much caution was needed to avoid bloody fingers. As the majority of birds in the area are residents (non-migratory) we didn’t trap large numbers, which gave us time to carefully process each bird, and recaptures were relatively common. A large percentage of the birds were classified as first year (FCJ or FCF) and many birds showed signs of active reproduction. Over the next weeks and prehaps months, I hope to find the time among our travel adventures to review the photos and data collected and compare it with what has been published on moult and breeding in neotropical birds. Hopefully this can assist others working in this area in understanding the biology and life cycle of these amazing but lesser studied species.