Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Nature's own flash cards

There are a couple of things that I unashamedly will admit I know nothing the inside of a motor car's engine, the moves in a chess game.....and bird watching.  Despite my passion for the outdoors, I somehow never became interested in our little feathered friends.  Maybe they look too much alike and I never could bother to distinguish between the species, or maybe they never came close enough for me to see them properly. 

On a recent trip I had the privilege of spending a couple of hours in the presence of one of Vanrhynsdorp's keen bird watchers and tour guide, Salome Willemse. Salome was showing me around Gifberg, and my son was traveling along.  Funny thing though is that unlike myself, my son is into bird watching, has his own book on birds where he ticks the ones off that he has seen and knows the difference between a "mossie" and a dove. Ok, I know that too but I don't know the names of other bird species to make a better comparison.

As a child I always believed that only "old people" did bird watching.  When we went to the Kruger Park and stopped next to a vehicle to hear what they were looking at, I was always utterly annoyed when they said they see some sort of bird somewhere high up in a tree. I was hoping to see lions mauling a Springbok or something, not look at a bird that you can't really see. These people always used to be a bit older than me, maybe that is where I got this notion that it is only old people doing this. 

Whenever you see a car with a bumper sticker saying "Birder on board. Beware this car suddenly stops" or "I brake for birds", please do not take this warning lightly.  They stop when they see something move in the air...or when for the untrained eye there is nothing to see in a tree.  Yes, they could spot a bird in a tree when I am still trying to find the tree. Your chances of actually seeing the bird is very limited, because before you can look around the bird is gone.  This reminds me so much of the flash cards we had at school.  The teacher would show you a word on a flash card, remove it so fast that you could not even see the word. Then she would ask you to repeat the word and spell it. Some birds are like flash cards.  Before you can make out what it is, the bird is gone.  Your only luck comes when the bird is sitting still. This gives you enough time to see that it is in fact a bird.  Look down to your bird book to compare colours and feathers and size and when you look up the bird is gone.  Drive slightly forward to take a picture and the bird flies away. It's like throwing the flash cards through the window, like a buddy of mine did in Grade 2. All the required information to identify the bird flies away with the bird.

Because I am someone who tries everything, I have to say there is something special to this activity called bird watching as well.  Listening to someone who knows the birds better than what she know's her son's last exam results really make it a pleasure to hear the stories, to learn the differences between the last two birds that I obviously missed and to see that there are people who has so much passion for what they're doing.  Salome impressed me with her knowledge and she obviously knows more about the Vanrhynsdorp region than just its bird life.  She managed to find 16 new "lifers" for my son and still had time to show me some of the most amazing scenery Gifberg has to offer. For you ill-informed, a "lifer" is a bird that you have spotted and identified for the first time. It get's a tick in your Bird Book and you are supposed to add where you spotted the bird.  I saw Salome every now and again jumping on her phone when she had seen a bird.  At first I thought she was bored seeing the same bird again and texting a friend instead, but it turned out that she maps the sightings making it easier for other birders to come and find one that they have not seen yet. I though bird tend to fly away to other countries.  Typical what I would do if I was a bird, but apparently some hang around for longer. 

If you ever want to learn about birds, want to see them and want to have an enjoyable experience, contact Salome. Her contact details are on her facebook page. She has lovely cottages to overnight in. If you use olive oil you will find that too, specially pressed form her own olive orchards. Oh, and let me not forget to mention her Full Monty breakfasts. All round a delicious experience.

Birdie birdie, look this way please, I want to identify you.....

Picture courtesy of my son (c) Kai Photography

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