Thursday, August 24, 2006

One Bird I Missed

Thursday, August 24, 2006

It's dawn at The Weaver's Nest in Wakkerstroom, in northeastern South Africa, and Ystvan is telling me in his thickly accented English that there is a nesting pair of secretary birds in the trees on the hill above us. His excited words come out of his mouth and turn to smoke in the cold morning air. This is a bird I have always wanted to see. He and Tommy found these birds yesterday. Giant birds with long legs walking around on the ground looking for snakes.

I scan the trees and the ground around them. My eyes squint and water at the intense dawn sunlight striking my irises. Nothing. Just the antic screams of the hadeda ibises flying in from their nighttime roosts. I snap a photograph of the sun hitting the distant trees along the ridgetop. That's where I should be going--I can just feel it.

Sounds of bodies shuffling, gear clanking, and an engine starting. The dawn is opening up to day and our bus is loading to go. I cannot seek the secretary bird, though I know it is there, just a few miles away up the hill toward the rising sun. We must go elsewhere and I have no choice. Swallowing my frustration, I lurch aboard the combi van. We see many fabulous birds during our daytrip. But my mind is still set on seeing the secretary bird.

Later in the day, as the sun's light fades and the afternoon cools, we make a desperate attempt to find the birds, scanning from the road (once again lacking the time to hike the hills--really the only way to find them). I somehow know we won't find them and yet I know they are there. It's not meant to be now, not on this journey.

And I cannot be disappointed--having seen so many species and life birds and animals on this South Africa trip.

But I will return here again and seek this bird. And I will find it and rejoice in the finding. And in the journey between today-here and someday-there. Every day is a step closer to another wonder.


On August 24, 2006 at 8:43 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

I love this. Shall we hunt them together, and show them to P. and L?

On August 25, 2006 at 9:01 AM Bill of the Birds said...

It's my dream to take the kids to Africa, J, before it's all gone. Yes, we will do it.

Don't think Chet would do too well over there, though, so we could only take 2/3 of our kids.

On August 25, 2006 at 1:48 PM Kristen said...

I just returned from Tanzania on monday. I have to tell you that I kept thinking if only I had a guide like BOTB with me... I was visiting one of my students who is working with Heifer Project. We went on an "eco hike" with a guide that identified raptors as "big birds" and threw rocks to make the birds fly up (I stopped that don't worry). I'm sorry you didn't see the Secretary Bird. It is magnificent (I found them resting in the tops of trees for some reason). Now you have a reason to return to the magnificent continent! I hope you can take your family next time.

On August 25, 2006 at 3:21 PM Rondeau Ric said...

If you want I could stand in for Chet, dad.

On August 25, 2006 at 8:58 PM Anonymous said...

That is one fantastic photo!