I have said this before. I have always loved birds. But these were mostly limited to the ones found in the aviaries I had access to. Watching and identifying wild birds i.e. birding only came to me when I was 14 years old. Before that, I could not tell a sparrow from a weaver – they were all the same to me and in Namibia it’s not difficult to get confused with the vast amount of little brown jobs that we have. So how did it happen?
In May 1997 my grandmother passed away, an event that changed my life on so many different levels. It soon became apparent that my grandfather did not quite cope with the sudden loss of his wife of more than fifty years. The only person that really could come and help for an extended period of time was my grandfather’s sister, aunt Ada. She was uniquely different from my grandfather. Even in the sad and depressing circumstances he found himself burrowed in, she managed to bring plenty of laughter and joy into our family. And yes, she introduced birding to me.
And so on one very windy August day, I tagged along with my grandfather and aunt Ada to Waterberg Plateau Park to just get my grandfather out of the house and of course, to do some birding. I borrowed my dad’s binoculars, but could not focus them for all my teenage wisdom. My bird book was an old version from the 1980’s which was from a set of four – the other three books had until then fascinated me much more (insects, snakes and mammals). Admittedly, aunt Ada’s birding knowledge was fairly limited to the birds found in and around her hometown, Prieska, and her eye sight was no longer fantastic. But she lit in me a wick that quickly turned into a fire to identify everything that chirped and fluffed its wings.
In years to come, I discovered I had two uncles who also were avid bird watchers and fueled the interest even more. In 2003 I bought my first pocket bird book by Ian Sinclair. I was hooked. Today when I have enough money to buy a new camera lens, my first thoughts are for the birds that I would like to photograph. Of course, I still have to buy that one lens that will bring me ever closer to these feathered creatures I so much love to watch. When my husband bought me a pair of new binoculars a few years ago, he knew that the specs had to be for bird watching and nothing else. I have a whole selection of bird books on my shelf, but my trusty Roberts Bird Guide goes everywhere with me.
In 2008 I made a friend that knew a whole lot more about birds than I know. She is my source of information – especially on little brown jobs. The last time we went up to Epupa, I dragged her along – she had to help identify the amazing variety of birds up there. But what makes her skill so much more special, is that she, after years of experience, can identify birds by their singing. A skill I have yet to learn.
Aunt Ada, thank you for introducing birding to my teenage years. To my uncles, Marius & Koos, I wish I knew as much about bird behaviours as you do. Ally, one day I hope you’ll be able to call me for help! To every birder out there, never give up! That LBJ will become a known bird… One day!