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We soon follow suit, returning to Leningrad overnight. Nine and a half hours on the Murmansk "express" is not something I recommend. It is plenty cold, and there was no heat in the compartment. Each bunk is provided with a single threadbare blanket. At morning muster, several birders report head colds.
Moscow meant the Kremlin, GUM department store, the subways and big. big Beriozka souvenir stores. For the birders, it meant disaster. According to the schedule, a certain Dr. Flint who had been billed as the Soviet Union's leading field ornithologist was to join our group in Moscow for the rest of the trip. At a reception for Soviet naturalists the Ardent Birders get the bad news. Dr. Flint, a sad-eyed young man with a beard, will be unavoidably detained in Moscow, it seems.
"I'm sorry, but my wings are clipped," he tells Galina, nibbling at a plate of zakuski from the buffet. He doesn't look particularly sorry.
"His wings are clipped," translates Galina, our Intourist guide.
The word spreads: Dr. Flint's wings are clipped. Little cries of outrage circle the room.
Rostov-on-Don, badly smashed during the war, has been completely rebuilt. But they didn't seem to get things quite right again. The new seven-story Hotel Rostov proudly boasts of a piano in each three-room suite. But the room doorknob comes off in your hand, and the toilet roars all night like a Don River rapid. Never mind, we're in Rostov to observe the avifauna of the great southern steppe.
At 5 a.m. a nearly full complement of bird watchers gathers for roll call in the hotel lobby. After an hour's ride we tumble out of the bus onto the great southern steppe, rich in soil, history and, we hope, birds. It is too dark to see anything and too cold to wait around outside. We tumble back into the bus. We doze and munch our breakfast—crusts of bread, cheese and apples.
Someone spots a bird. Amid exclamations of joy, there is a general exodus from the bus. We wind up in a chilly line strung out along the highway marveling at some swallows perched on the telephone lines.
Later on we're working the edges of a large pond. An Ardent Birder spots four delicate white birds floating on the water to the left of a gaggle of domestic geese. "Oh, look," she calls, after consulting her Russian field guide, "little white herons—four of them."
"No," sniffs the Peerless Leader, focusing his binoculars, "they're cattle egrets."