Yes, I admit, I’m a novice birdwatcher

June 24, 2012

As we were getting ready to move to Africa, I have to admit I thought I’d soon be seeing a lot of wild animals. On arrival to our training, it became clear to me that I would be seeing a lot of cows and chickens. Our site at school is a bit better because it is so rural and we somewhat near a game reserve. But still, there are no impala jumping around my yard. I posted some pictures about six months ago of some of the birds, bugs, and animals we do see around here. I’ve been keeping a very careful eye, and have since been rewarded with a sighting of a mongoose, a black shouldered kite (a predatory bird), and a little brown mouse that I hear running away from my footsteps each morning through the leaves.

I bought a book about some of the local animals and Oliver and I have been keeping a list of what we see, when and where. It’s like a giant scavenger hunt. And adds a bit of triumph to my days—so what if the seventh graders clearly think I’m crazy, at least I saw a crowned lapwing today! But for the most part, I see things here and there as I go about my day, unlike going to a game park for that purpose.

But last week, Oliver and I went with a woman to see her garden near the dam (everyone calls large bodies of water “dams” here but I don’t know if they’re necessarily man made or not). We went to see spinach and lettuce plants but I also ended up noticing a kingfisher. After our excursion, we decided that there would have to be a ton of water birds at the dam and that we’d go back to see what we could find.

On Saturday, Oliver and I left the house with our camera bag, binoculars, granola bars, and Essential Illustrated Wildlife Guild to Southern Africa. I’m telling you guys, I’m pretty serious about this.

It’s about an hour’s walk to the dam. We make the trip every once in a while but never just to go and sit. When we arrived, we realized that, of course, since it was Saturday, there would be women washing their clothes. Cows and children alike were splashing in the water and the women were chatting to each other. It suddenly didn’t seem like an ideal place to bird watch. Oliver said hello to the women and we started walking around the edge of the dam. There were a lot of interesting looking plants. Too bad I’m interested in fauna, not flora.

As we reached the opposite side of the dam from the women and children, we spotted a heron standing in the water. He flew off as we spotted a whole collection of birds amongst some reeds. So, we found a spot to sit down. I felt a bit ridiculous pulling out my binoculars with such a large audience across from us, but luckily Oliver had no qualms about it. He spotted some ducks through the binoculars and soon I took them to look at some weaver bird nests hanging off of a tree.

It was a really beautiful tree with all these large roots spilling out in to the water, directly under the nests. But then I saw something large and reptilian move, climbing out of the water and over some of the roots.

“Oliver, I see a crocodile.”

“Ok. Hey, Bec, look at the bird over there! He’s taking a bath. Give me the binoculars.”

“No there’s a crocodile right over there!”

“Yeah, sure, I heard you. You have to look at this bird.”

I looked away from under the tree to Oliver sitting beside me just in time to see him reaching to take the binoculars out of my hand. I leaned to the side clutching the binoculars.

“Oliver! I’m serious! There’s a crocodile over there!”

I finally convinced him and although we took turns looking for the animal, we did not see him. Looking at my book, I decided it looked much more than a water monitor than a crocodile, it wasn’t so bulky. As we couldn’t find him through the binoculars, Oliver suggested the most natural next step.

“Let’s go find him!”

My pleas for safety were weak because really I wanted to see what it was too and thus, quickly abandoned.

We started walking around the other half of the lake. A little path started in the grass nearby that looked like it would lead to the tree so we took that. Things quickly shifted from walking through open terrain to ducking under branches to stay on the little path. The water began to meet the footway and the infringing roots and leaves began to make me think of my earlier concern for safety. We began to walk quietly and keep a careful watch. I started to wonder what a water monitor ate. Oliver said eggs but then I began to wonder how Oliver would know about a monitor’s diet. Assuming he was making things up, I let him take the lead.

We finally got to the tree I had been watching earlier, I could see the weaver birds’ nests and the water was just a few feet away now. I had visions of a lizard jumping out of the water when from the other side of us we heard some loud rustling. And then screaming. And then giggling and a wobbly “How are youuu?”

Oliver climbed down the little hill and looked under the bushes to find that some of the children who had been helping with the laundry were in our second and third grade classes. And they had snuck up on us. Laughing they ran up by me. I showed them the picture in the book of the monitor and asked if they had ever seen one. They said with indifference that it was just swimming in the water there and pointed a little ways off. This attitude surprised me because every other time I’ve seen a reptile or amphibian in close proximity to a Swazi, the moment ends in either shrieking or an intense look of disgust. These were the same kids who were playing in the water earlier so I had a lot of questions about what they thought of the water monitor but as we were walking back, it became clear those questions were above either their English or my Siswati skills. And anyways, they were being called back to help finish the laundry.

But now that I know the water monitor lives there, you can be sure that we’ll be back with binoculars in hand. By the way, a water monitor eats fish, frogs, crabs, mussels, and sometimes eggs. Also interesting–their incubation period is 12 months, so eggs are laid in termite mounds (where there is a constant temperature) and after hatching, the baby monitor eats the termites.

-Rebecca

Rebecca is Currently Reading: War of the Worlds
Oliver is Currently Obsessed with: Landscaping
We are Currently Watching: Frazier, Season 4, and the Tutors, Season 2

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