The Duck Man cometh…

12 Dec


Our Intrepid Hero.

I thought that since Zippy (Richard Thorns) is due to feature in tomorrow’s lavishly linked episode, I’d give you a bit of an update on his intrepid quest for the bird of his dreams.

The Pink Headed Duck, that is.


A decoy, yesterday -“He went that way”

I first met Zip in the early ’80s when we both did newspaper rounds for competing news agents before school and our routes crossed paths at the same point each day.

We soon discovered a common interest in music, with a few exceptions (we both liked prog rock and heavy metal at the time, but Zip was a Genesis fan, whereas I’d rather gouge my own eardrums out with a rusty spoon than allow Phil bloody Collins to aurally assault my senses) and we also shared a love of daft humour and shows like The Young Ones.
Even now, thirty years later, it takes the merest hint of a suggestion to persuade Zippy to wheel out his faultless Rik impression in all its angst-ridden, haughty glory.

A couple of years after leaving school we reconnected via mutual friends and took up where we left off (he still likes bloody Genesis) and have kept in touch ever since.
When Zip invited me to see him give a talk on his favourite thought-to-be-extinct species at the 2012 Weird Weekend I was really impressed at how passionate and knowledgeable he was on his subject, and since I originally mentioned it I’ve had a number of readers asking for progress reports on his future exploits.

Well I’m happy to report that I secured an interview with the fearless adventurer this very afternoon, and some great photos from his previous trips to boot.


So to the first question;

What made you choose the Pink Headed Duck over and above other supposedly extinct species?

“Well, it all began in 1998 when I picked up a book on extinct birds on my lunch-break, and if that hadn’t happened that day, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation. There were 3 case histories on extinct birds: the dodo, the great auk and India’s pink-headed duck. I’m the sort of person who gets frustrated if I’m interested in something and then I find there’s something, some knowledge assumed of me within my interest I don’t know about – then I tend to go a bit overboard to catch up. I hadn’t a clue about the pink-headed duck. And just to rub it in, the pink-headed duck’s gorgeous plumage, exotic location and the superb narrative in the book captivated me. It described the British raj, dense, vanished grasslands infested 150 years ago with crocodiles and tigers; shallow, warm lagoons and pools; elephants, pink and white lotus flowers and many birds, the rarest and most prized being the pink-headed duck. That whole lost world grabbed me. Then I learned that the pink-headed duck’s extinction was really very recent, and when that happens you’re sort of in with a chance! So it all led from that one lunch-break. I think India is no longer realistically capable of bringing up a live pink-headed duck although there are a few areas on the eastern borders worth looking at. But by chance Burma, which is largely unexplored and documented has ecosystems that match those vanished ecosystems around Calcutta and eastern India that pink-headed ducks once thrived in. There’s been a fairly credible sighting last year of three birds, and I must say it was enough to re-direct the next expedition from the south-west to the north-west. 

{Told you he knew his stuff}


I understand your second trip to Burma ended in a bit of a disaster, tell us what happened. 

“Last time there was a lot of political disturbance from the Kachin Independence Organisation, and they were effectively at war with the government, and so there was no way of getting upriver from the town of Bhamo. No boats or foreigners were allowed north of the town. I managed to wangle a few trips up into the wetlands where I wanted to go to, but then the guide told me that my boatman, whom I had used before, was getting very scared because a few villagers had commented that he was taking me upriver, and it only really takes one informer to drop him in it, and then off he goes to gaol for three years or so! So obviously I couldn’t risk that happening, so I called off the trips upriver. They didn’t say anything about bicycles, though! So I hired a bike and cycled a few kilometres upriver parallel to the river, up to where I knew there was a bamboo bridge that led over the river to the wetlands. 
Unfortunately a couple of kids came round the corner on a moped, and their hand-guard hit the back of my left hand at about 35 miles an hour. I knew instantly that most of the bones in my hand were badly smashed, and that turned out to be the case. Then of course there was a bad case of shock setting in; the fact that the police then got involved. I wasn’t in any trouble, but they did want to find the kids, and I was very worried that on my camera were all the pictures of me upriver, including Po-se’s face and pictures of his boat! It was a pretty bad time all round. The nearest big city was Mandalay, which was 300 kms downriver, so I had to get a boat down there. On the boat I suddenly realised that all the people I was speaking to also had THEIR left arms in slings and plaster!
It turned out they were all in the army and had been caught by the rebels and been disabled by being shot in their left arms. They were all off to Mandalay to get fixed up. It was a pretty weird journey downriver.”




Blimey, I hope your new expedition will be a little less eventful.
I know you have to be discrete about the details for local security reasons, but could you tell us a little about it?

“Well, three pink-headed ducks were allegedly seen last year in the Khamti wetland, so that’s where I’m going because hopefully this is the breakthrough I have been waiting for. 
From the 12th to the 18th January I’ll be exploring, with Ko Lay Win (my guide) the area where the 3 ducks were seen, and floating pink-headed duck decoys to draw in any birds, which you can see pictures of, along with past adventures on my website.
Camping isn’t allowed in Burma, so I’ll be staying in people’s villages along the Chindwin river.”



Finally, what would you hope to be the result, should you manage to locate a live specimen of the Pink Headed Duck?

“Well, if the pink-headed duck does show up in Burma it will likely be critically endangered at best, and on the edge of extinction for real, this time! So I plan to give the co-ordinates to BirdLife International prior to the announcement, which will be big news. Of course, the only photo of a living pink-headed duck could possibly I guess pay off my mortgage, but it’s really not about that. It’s about changing history and I suppose we all want deep down to be remembered for something; to be thought of as having made a difference, I suppose.”




Posted by on December 12, 2013 in cryptozoology, Guest spots., Photography, Travel


Tags: , , , , ,

3 responses to “The Duck Man cometh…

  1. Ron

    December 13, 2013 at 00:59

    Great interview Dale! Great questions!

    Richard, these are some awesome photographs. The last one of the sunset is stunning! Love your sense of adventure. The best to you in finding the Pink Headed Duck in Burma!

    ” but it’s really not about that. It’s about changing history and I suppose we all want deep down to be remembered for something; to be thought of as having made a difference, I suppose.”

    How true that is!

  2. Zippy

    December 13, 2013 at 08:01

    Hi Ron, thanks so much for your kind comment and support! Yes, it’s always a strange time around a month before the off; that pesky optimism (pesky because more often than not it precedes a crashing comedown) just never seems to go away. 🙂 Hopefully this time with the help of the locals (and the offer a fat reward), something may happen. I will let everyone know through Dale. Have a great Christmas and thanks again! Yours Richard.

    • dalecooper57

      December 13, 2013 at 08:06

      Thanks Zippy. All the best of British luck, and let’s be careful out there…


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