Monday, April 4, 2011
The Sounds Outside My Window
A great deal of bird watching gets done via ear and through my bedroom window. After three months, I finally feel like I have some kind of grasp on the more common birds of the area. Just the other day I satisfied a hunch I had about a particular call I'd been hearing since the day of my arrival…the gremlin like chatter of the Green Wood-hoopoe. The maniacal laughter of this bird is, I now realize, unmistakable.
As I stood ironing my clothes, I heard the gremlin laughter coming from the tree just outside my window. This tree is a bird magnet. At night I often hear the loud and rhythmic hooting of the African Wood-owl from this tree and during the day I often see Black-collared Barbets and Fork-tailed Drongos, which perch on the lower dead branches. I rushed outside with my binoculars and in no time found the long-tailed hoopoes, glittery green and blue with a neon orange beak. Wood-hoopoes forage for insects underneath tree bark, using their long probing beaks, which this flock of three or so birds was now doing.
On a different morning, as I lay in bed, I heard what sounded like a distant crying baby. My first impulse was to blame the monkeys, for they make a range of sounds and their mischievousness makes them easy to blame for anything from loud noise to missing clothing. (When in doubt, blame the monkeys!) As I pulled aside my curtain I saw perched on a far tree three large, black Trumpeter Hornbills.
I ran outside with my binoculars and watched as the small flock flew in to some nearby trees. You can imagine how strange I must look to the maid who is usually sweeping the dorm area in the mornings. Always running around excitedly with bincoulars....
Quick Story: Every night at 20:30 the girls in the junior dorms (grade 8-10) have quiet time, when they are suppose to study or reflect in a journal. Quiet time is actually a time of intense chaos. One night the clock struck 20:30 and I walked outside to inform the girls it was now quiet time (because of course they are in the front area screaming and chasing each other and being loud). Just remember, it’s like having 18 little sisters.
As I walked outside I saw a large pale owl fly overhead and in my excitement I pointed and called out “Owl! Look!” (as if other people might actually be interested, usually they aren’t). All the girls started screaming and several of them ran inside the dorm. One girl comes up to me authoritatively and says “where is the owl?”, as if it is a problem to be solved.
One of the girls later explained to me that there is a fear of owls as an omen of death. Some believe that if you see an owl hooting on a branch, that is a sure sign someone will die that night. I guess the girls don’t hear the owls hooting outside their window every night. Does that mean someone is going to die every night? Well, people do die every night all around the world! That explains so much, it must be the owls…. ;)