Tim Foolery

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African Trip Review — Birders

I’ve never spent any time with bird watchers.  I have never actively gone bird watching.  I just don’t get it.  A bird is a bird is a bird, right?  Evidently I was wrong.  I’ve talked about the two other couples at our camp at Matetsi, a couple from Cape Town and Mervin (from Durban) and his wife Rene.  They were both birders.  They brought huge bird books with them and large expensive binoculars.  They were all horrified that we didn’t bring binoculars with us — honestly, we never even thought about it.  We didn’t really need it for the game we wanted to see.

We would stop quite a bit to look at birds in far off trees.  One of the South Africans would whisper “OOOOH, it’s a blue breasted, hook beaked swallow” or some such nonsense.  The others would get so excited and the jeep would stop, the binoculars would scan the trees for this illusive bird while one person flipped to the proper page in their book and once they finished reading the section, they would release a sigh of excitement.  As they stared at this little bird they would let little facts slip out like “This blue breasted, hook beaked swallow originally came from Malaysia, but was transplanted here by the Dutch in 1678 to help control the insect population, but they actually started eating smaller birds”.  Ugh. These birders were all very generous with their glasses or binocs (binoculars).  Every time they saw a bird that they loved, they would give us their glasses — and MAKE us look at it.  If we looked at it but didn’t spend enough time doing it, they wouldn’t take their glasses back — we had to stare until they thought we’d had enough.  Generous, but frustrating.

They were so passionate about birds.  On the final day when it was just us and Mervin and Rene, I asked Mervin how he got into birding…was it a cultural thing, was it a family thing was it a work thing?  He said he first got into when traveling throughout Africa with his boss.  They would extend their business travels by a day or two just to watch birds — if Mervin didn’t want to watch birds with the boss, he’d go back home and work.  Easy enough choice, eh?

I posed the same question to Rene and she said “I don’t like birds. He (Mervin) does. If I don’t go with him I won’t get to spend time with him. I’m more interested in plants”.  At which point she pulled out a big book of plant pictures (like the bird book).  “OH! This is a long stemmed, purple leaved bush grass”.  Oh god…plants are less interesting to me than birds.  Luckily we didn’t stop an look at every semi-interesting plant…whew!

Birds and plants don’t interest me at all…still don’t, but it was great to see people with such passion about thing.

Are you a birder or a planter?  Do you know one of these people?  How did you (or they) get started? Is there something when it comes to birding/planting that I don’t understand, but could change my mind and perhaps turn me into one of those people?

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