Sierra Leone Birding - Third Edition

Time for an update on my birding adventures.  I love that I started birding just in time to move to Africa.  That was not on purpose.  But it's really enriched my life here.  I find that every day is like a scavenger hunt and you never know what you're going to see.  It's such a part of my life that even my driver has normalized to it.  I got out of the car the other day to get a closer look at a bird while Navo was dealing with something.  He came back and motioned for us to go.  When I got back in the car he asked, "Looking at the birds?"  Yep.  Always looking.

Today's edition has some special birds from my recent trip to Kono district among others I've seen along the way.

Common Wattle-Eye ( Source )

Common Wattle-Eye (Source)

This one I saw out at the beach when I was there during the elections.  A few friends and I stayed out there while the elections were going on rather than staying closed in our houses.  On election day, nobody is allowed on the streets except voters.  Where we stay, the rooms have balconies looking out over a mountainous skyline.  And there is always the chance you might see some kind of special bird.  That morning two of these little guys were flitting around flirting with one another.  At first I thought they were just black and white.  And then I caught a glimpse of that red wattle-eye.  

It took me a VERY long time to find them in my book.  I even said they must not be in the book.  My birding friend replied, "I used to think that sometimes too.  But then I figured out I just didn't know the right place to look."  Amateur.  Finally I found them and everybody replied with an unimpressed "Oh, that one?" Lol.  I'm always a little disappointed when I find that their names have "common" in it.  But I'm learning that just because they're "common" doesn't mean their not magnificent or charming.  These little guys were very charming.

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

This one is another magnificent "common".  It can be seen around town perched on power lines.  The turquoise is almost translucent and it really is quite a thrill to catch a glimpse of it.  Doesn't matter how many times I see them, I get excited.  One time a few months ago I saw one while Navo and my house keeper, Magdaline, were in my truck.  I gasped and said, "Did you see that bird?!"  The two of them both broke out into laughter.  But they ARE magnificent and it IS exciting.  And you won't tell me different.

Senegal Coucal - AKA The Bird That Almost Got Me Arrested ( Source )

Senegal Coucal - AKA The Bird That Almost Got Me Arrested (Source)

So like I said, I'm always scanning the horizon to see what I can see.  Well, the other day I was in Kono and my driver decided to take us down the road that follows the fence to the diamond mines.  There is a human-made mountain that runs through Koidu Town where the mining takes place.  It's a centerpiece for conversation there.  I was interested in the mines, with fences that seem much more secure and well-kept than every other one I've seen in Sierra Leone.  But I was more interested to see if there were any birds to be encountered.

We were almost to the end of the road and I saw it.  My bird book describes the Senegal Coucal as a bird that "clambers in low vegetation, often in thick cover, runs and hops on ground, or flies clumsily for short distance."  I read that and it confirmed for me that this was the bird because I saw it's clumsy flight.  I even thought, What's going on with that bird?  Is it falling over? 

I quickly told Navo to stop, which startled him.  But he did and I opened my door, stood on the side rail, and started scanning the diamond mine to see if I could see it again.  I finally found it and started memorizing it's features - copper wings with a black tale and white on the breast - when my colleague in the back seat started in with, "Reverend...  Reverend...  Reverend... We need to go.  You need to sit down and we need to go."  At first I wondered why he was rushing me.  But finally I got back in and we started going.  And he said, "That's not allowed in the diamond mines.  They will come and bring you in.  You can't just stop and look in."  

So anyway, this funny vibrant bird almost got me in some real trouble.  Worth it.  

(Also you should google them.  The colors here don't do them justice.  And the one I saw was more white-breasted than tan.)

Common Fiscal ( Source )

Common Fiscal (Source)

We saw this one further down that same road along the diamond mines in Kono.  It was sitting on a power line facing the other direction.  I asked Navo to slow, but heeded the warning not to stop and stare.

The next day, I asked Navo to take the same route to see if there were any more birds to be seen.  We did see a large black bird, but Navo and I have a difference of opinion about what it was after looking it up.  So I'm not sharing that one.  It was otherwise slim pickin's except this guy...sitting in the exact same place as he was the day before, as if he was waiting for us to come and admire him.

Northern Grey-Headed Sparrow ( Source )

Northern Grey-Headed Sparrow (Source)

This guy you see everywhere, but I didn't really stop to notice it until I was in Kono.  I've been promised that in the provinces I'll see more birds.  So I studied this one hard thinking it must be special out here.  Then the day after I came back from Kono I saw a few outside my friend's apartment in Freetown.  This is a pretty straight forward bird.  For my Texan readers, I looks kinda like a house sparrow in coloring and behavior, but it's got a body more like a mockingbird.  It's like if a mockingbird and house sparrow had a baby.  I also love the coloring around the eye.  In some of them it looks like a superhero mask.

Village Weaver ( Source )

Village Weaver (Source)

These birds I first saw while touring Kroo Bay with my missionary (and birder) friend Cami.  She pointed them out.  They build very distinctive nests together in trees and essentially take over the neighborhood, so to speak.  There are several kinds, some with the black head and some that are more pure yellow.  This is what their nests look like.  

Village_Weavers_(Ploceus_cucullatus)_in_nesting_tree_(11464472834).jpg

Soon after I saw them in town, a family of them infiltrated a neighborhood tree.  The tree's foliage is much thicker than this one and there are like 30 nests up there from what I can see.  They're everywhere.

Ok, friends.  That's all for today.  Happy birding!

All the Joy

This morning I received a message from a friend back home that went something like this: “I read your blog post yesterday and I hope that you’re doing ok.” [Concerned face]

Lol.

So something you should know about me: one of my gifts (curses?) is that I can hold sadness and grief alongside joy.  It's true and it's painful, but it's not all-surpassing.  In fact, I’m of the personality type (Enneagram 4) that feels the full range of human emotion sometimes within a fifteen minute period.  That is not to say that when I talk about grieving from what I’ve learned here, it is not authentic.  What I wrote in that blog is true, and I carry it still.  But it is to say that I am not broken by it.

So just to speak into that a bit and communicate the stupid wonderful amount of joy I feel in this place, I wanted to share with you a video of what happened today at the University.  

Today is Wednesday of finals week and our students are stressed.  They’ve been studying hard in preparation for a full five days of testing.  Our chaplain certificate program students are back as well to take their tests.  And you can feel the anxiety in the air around campus…which is to be expected.

It was decided a few weeks ago that we would still have chapel during finals week, which at first I thought might be just more stress on the students.  Who wants to hear a sermon when they’ve got a final in less than an hour?

Instead I walked into chapel today to find the students already singing and dancing.  It was loud and boisterous and the MOST joyful.  And I felt it with them.  There is something in the African spirit that knows how to celebrate in worship.  They kept looking at each other with these grins on their faces, and you couldn't help but smile along with them.  They let out their anxieties today in worship with an energy that was palpable.

After singing, we heard testimonies from the students.  Our student leader said he would allow three testimonies, but they just kept coming. And in the end, six men came forward to tell of God’s faithfulness to them.  Most often his faithfulness was demonstrated in God’s provision to be able to attend school and God’s sustaining grace to transform them in the process.

Friends, this work and this life are nothing but joy.  All. The. Joy.  And I feel it every day.

This video doesn’t quite capture the spirit in the room today, but it gives you and idea.  My heart is so full.

"Jesus never fails you."  (It's actually in Krio: Jesus neba fel yu-o)