January 18, 2005
For The Birds
I have always been what some people call a “nature nut.” I have my parents to thank for that. My Dad, who was a biology major when he attended Westminster College, used to take us on hikes and point out things along the way. “Do you see the May apples that look like umbrellas?” he would say. Or sometimes, “Look, there is a ruffled grouse!” He told us that his mother taught him most of what he knew about the world around us.
My mother helped teach us about the connection between nature and God. When we would go on camping trips, she would plan special outdoor Church School/Celebration of Worship sessions on Sunday mornings. She would gather all of the children that were around in a circle around the picnic table or fire ring and open our eyes to the Glory of God that surrounded us in the out–of-doors.
So, it is no surprise that when we go anywhere, I notice the natural things around us. When we went on a camping trip out west in 2000, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the wildflowers in the Grand Teton Mountains. I would call my kids over to the window at my sister Martha’s house in Melbourne, Australia and excitedly say, “look at all the brightly colored parrots on the clothesline.” They, like most girls their age, think that I have gone a bit overboard on my love of things wild.
Here in Africa, I have enjoyed all the animals, but especially the birds. I point out unusual birds each time I see them. At this point, my girls usually look at each other and roll their eyes whenever I say, “Do you see the size of that Egyptian Goose?”
But I can’t help myself. The birds here are remarkable. I have found a few others who share my enthusiasm. Dr. Sue Makin keeps a list of all the birds she has seen in Africa and has several tomes that help her identify each species, and the Rev. David Carver and his daughter, Ariel, who are visiting us right now, also have a list.
The other day, when we were enjoying a visit to the Zomba Plateau, we spotted over 15 species in three hours. I have never spent an entire afternoon bird watching before, but I have to say that it was just as exciting as seeing an elephant in the wild (for me at least). Some of the birds, like the Whitefronted-bee eater (which are like hummingbirds, except that they eat insects) are tiny and elusive, and thus hard to see. Others are large and noisy, like the Pied Crow, which is called the abusa bird because of its white collar (and loud voice.)
Did you know that swifts and swallows (which can be differentiated by the fact that the swallow’s tail feathers are forked) can sleep while they fly? I know some people that wish they could do that.
Some of the birds that we have seen are spectacular. The yellow billed Hornbills at Chobe National Park in Botswana and the Reed Cormorants at Liwonde National Park in Malawi, are sizeable and proud. But when we watched a small Pied Kingfisher hover over the water like a helicopter and then plunge in and come up with a fish in its beak, even the girls were impressed.
The national bird of Malawi is the African Fish eagle, and we saw one fly over the Shire River with a small monkey clutched in its talons. At Zomba, we watched the tiny iridescent green, yellow and red Miombo Doublecollared Sunbird buzz in and out of the flowers and scoop nectar from them with its thin curved beak. The most spectacular bird that I saw, however, was the Purplecrested Lourie, which, when it took to the air, showed off it’s green body brilliant red wings, and deep purple head and tail. It took my breath away!
Then, yesterday, an amazing thing happened. We were driving along and Heather shouted, “Hey, Mom, did you see that Red Weaver in the grass?”
It occurred to me during the quiet hours I spend watching our feathered friends, that people are a lot like birds. We all look different, and each of us has his/her own style. Some are loud and squawky, others are quiet (The Eastern Saw-wing Swallow has not been recorded in Southern Africa) and some do not like to be seen doing their work.
Some proudly display themselves and their attributes (like the Whitenecked Raven) others are more modest (like the skittish Blue Waxbill). Some are very industrious, and are constantly busy, others take their time getting things done.
Some birds build large showy nests, others tuck their homes away in hidden rock crevices. God does not love the brightly colored Yellowbreasted Apalis more than the meek Spotted Crake. He created them both, and according to Genesis, feels that each one is “good.”
So it is with humans. We may look and sound different, behave in different ways, have different styles of doing things, but we are all loved equally by our Lord. Malawi’s people and birds have continued to teach me what my parents started to, long ago.
So, I will keep watching…for the birds.