SL Annual Conference as Seen by My iPhone - Part 2

Sierra Leone Birding - Second Edition

Time for more birds!

The Tuesday after Christmas, I spent a few days at the beach with other Americans (and one Brit) working in various organizations here.  And as it turns out, they are all birders!  So I got some very good guidance on local birds.  So most of these we saw out near River No. 2 between reading, eating, swimming, and good conversation.

Photo from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pied_Kingfisher_in_Egypt.jpg

Photo from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pied_Kingfisher_in_Egypt.jpg

Pied Kingfisher

I like Kingfisher because of their beaks.  I just feel like at any minute they might topple over.  That's a big beak, man.  This little guy showed up in the tree just at the edge of the ocean.  We were staying in a little cove that made for quiet and calm waters.  And I saw it's black and white coloring but couldn't identify it.  When it moved I moved.  Even got into the water so that I could get a good look.  That black and white really stood out in the midst of all that beach color.

Photo from: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/68/44/c4/6844c45ccc8d20a0abc5e6bf7aa070c4--green-photos.jpg

Photo from: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/68/44/c4/6844c45ccc8d20a0abc5e6bf7aa070c4--green-photos.jpg

Green-Headed Sunbird

This one I think is my favorite sighting so far.  I road in with a few women who were staying just for the day.  When we got to the beach, we were sitting in the open air restaurant and this little guy flew in and landed on a lightbulb.  I was the only one who saw him.  I got a gooooood look at it.  It was hanging upside down just like the sunbirds did right outside my window at home.  But this guy was a solid three times bigger than those sunbirds at home.  Too big to be a sunbird.  My friend Cami, who arrived later that day, also thought that it was too big to be a sunbird.  I told her I saw a bird with a beak like a sunbird but bigger.  She said, "Was it green?!"  I said yes.  She said it was probably a bee-eater.  Then when I described it to her, with the olive green wings, and shimmer green head and white breast, it sparked a lot of confusion.  Couldn't be a sunbird, but surely wasn't a bee-eater.  But I searched and searched my book and no alternative could be found.  So I started to feel like maybe I just made it up.  Looks like a sunbird, acts like a sunbird, but one heck of a mammoth sunbird if it was true.  

Then right before we left two days later, that mammoth sunbird showed up again.  Right in the same spot hanging sideways and upside down from the lightbulb and ceiling.  Of course, again, I was the only one to see it.  So if you trust me, I saw a gimondo green-headed sunbird on the Sierra Leonean coastland.  And it. was. awesome.

Photo from: https://asknature.org/strategy/head-position-helps-correct-for-light-refraction/#jp-carousel-81334

Photo from: https://asknature.org/strategy/head-position-helps-correct-for-light-refraction/#jp-carousel-81334

Reef Heron (AKA Reef Egret)

I fell in love with egrets at Brushy Creek in Round Rock.  They are so peaceful to watch.  There are a lot of white egrets here as well.  But my favorite is the snowy egret for it's funny little yellow feet that it uses as a lure when hunting.  I don't think they have the snowy egret here.  I watched one back in the spring dance around for a solid few minutes in the water until it's little yellow feet had done the trick and attracted some fish.  It was the funniest display.  And so delightful.

This heron isn't much like that.  It's dark and slow and just watching it slows you down too.  So beautiful.  But the yellow feet made me feel like a little bit of home was here with me.

Whimbrel

These are ocean birds.  They are a lot like the Eurasian Curlew, except the Whimbrel has the black stripes on it's head.  I didn't get a good close look of these but am assured by my new friends that that is what we saw.  

Photo from: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/f8/62/5a/f8625a5326c300e326810150aa7bf8a7.jpg

Photo from: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/f8/62/5a/f8625a5326c300e326810150aa7bf8a7.jpg

Little Bee-Eater

These were another bird that I saw from afar and was assured that's what they were.  It was the one that Cami assumed I'd seen that first day (which turned out to instead be the mammoth sunbird).  They have a distinct wing shape and are very playful, often diving and flitting after one another in the air.  I saw them a little better with binoculars but didn't get a good look at all their colors and shapes.  So I just decided to put it on the list and assume I'd get a better look next time I made it out to Cockle Point again.

But just like that one appeared on my electric line outside my house in Freetown.  I saw it a few days ago and pointed it out to my driver, Navo.  Navo has learned that when I point out a bird he ought to just stay put until I'm ready to go.  I felt like an old pro.  "You see that bird?  That's a Little Bee-Eater." And then as if it knew it had an audience, it changed position on the line so that we could see it's colorful breast.  I was ooh-ing and aah-ing.  Navo seems less amused with birds than he is with my reaction to them.  He's gonna catch the fire.  I know it.

By Chris Eason (originally posted to Flickr as Yellowbilled Kite) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Chris Eason (originally posted to Flickr as Yellowbilled Kite) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Yellow-Billed Kite

So this one is the most prolific that I've seen in Freetown.  They're all over the beach.  They're on my walks in the neighborhood.  They're flying around on every drive I take.  They're everywhere.  I first ID'ed them as a Black Kite, but got a better look the other day at their yellow beak.  So I *think* it's the Yellow-Billed Kite.  Or maybe I've seen them both.  Their tail-feather shape is very distinct and they're very big.  I think they will go down as the bird I most associate with Sierra Leone...Freetown at least.  I like them.  What I like about them is that they're not buzzards.  Most of the common birds of prey I saw most often at home were buzzards.  Thanks for not being a buzzard, Salone Kite.  

Sierra Leone Birding - Edition 1

Location: Freetown

So I've picked up birding over the last eight months or so.  Not obsessively but I find it makes things more interesting and fun.  And it pulls you right to the present which is a discipline that I need.  There is too much beauty and creativity to see to just let it pass you by all the time.  So I thought I'd share the fun.  

Now that I'm settled in I've got the mental space to pay a little more attention.  Or, more accurately, remember what I've seen long enough to go home and look it up.  I'm forcing my driver, Navo, to help me along the way even though he has NO interest in birding.  (Not yet, at least ;-)  So here are some of the birds I've seen and been able to identify.

Photo Credit:  Irish Bird Images

Photo Credit: Irish Bird Images

Brown-Throated Sunbird

This little guy is only a little bit bigger than a humming bird.  I first noticed it because it's call was so loud out my window that it demanded my attention.  I was surprised to find such a tiny bird on the other end of that voice.  I guess they like my house because, as I was finding this photo this morning, the birds showed up again outside my window.  They're always in a pair.  They flit around and use my fence barbed wire as a jungle gym.  One was just handing upside down.  I've also noticed them on my walks in the neighborhood.  I find them so charming.  You can tell a sunbird by it's beak.  And this one seems to be one of the least colorful of the sunbirds.  

Photo Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Red-Billed Firefinch

This little friend was in the yard (gravel/dirt) at the house next door when we turned in.  My driver, Navo, had already helped me confirm the sunbird that morning after looking at me like I was crazy when I brought out my Birds of West Africa guidebook.  I made him stop the truck and we watched it for a little while.  I like to believe he's gonna catch the birding fever.

I had house finches with some red in their feathers that would visit me at the Round Rock house.  Glad to see a counterpart here.  I'm a little partial to these red cuties.  

Photo Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

African Pied Crow

These guys are all over Freetown.  You see them everywhere and they're something like the crows at home.  I like their white vests though.  And apparently they make excellent pets.

That's it for today.  There's a big brown bird around the beach that I have yet to ID.  And I think a hawk or eagle of some kind too.  It's difficult sometimes to figure it out when the guide book is thicker than my Bible.  No HEB here to sell a laminated "Common Birds of Sierra Leone" quick guide at checkout.  (That's how this birding thing started btw.  Impulse buy at the HEB.)  But we'll figure it out slowly.  There's a "breakfast and birding" monthly event at the Chimpanzee Rescue just outside of town.  They promise 30+ species on the morning walk.  And there are hundreds more to see beyond that in the so-called Upper Guinea Forests.  Glad I brought my binoculars. 

Gentlemen and Lady

For as slow as my days seem, I really have experienced a lot this last week.  Mostly that’s because it seems every little thing is an experience different than what I know in the US.  

I finally made it into my apartment, which has been a learning experience on it’s own.  How about I just tell you about that day…

It was Thursday.  I was met at the hotel by one of the conference drivers, Jonathan, who would be driving my truck filled with all my luggage from west Freetown up the hill to the School of Theology and then on to my new place.  The stop at the school was at the request of the Bishop who, in preparation for the coming inauguration of the new school, is putting together what I think must be something like a brochure.  All of the staff at the school were to take photos in professional gear for that.  I was supposed to be at the school by 10 am.  The driver got stuck in traffic on his way to the hotel so that made my arrival closer to 10:30.  I was really worried about being late.  And then I got there and found that the bishop was also not yet there.  Traffic.  The bishop arrived not long after but the conference photographer hadn’t arrived.  We found out we’d be waiting likely another hour for him.

So the bishop thought to use the time by having a meeting for the professors and administrators of the school.  We went into the conference room and sat down to talk about how things were going and what adaptations we were going to need to make going forward.  This being the first semester, there are inevitable things that you run into that need to be taken into account in the future.  The bishop sat down and started the meeting saying, “Ok Gentlemen.” And then he looked at me and said, “…and Lady.”  

I am generally either the only woman on campus or one of two after the Chancellor’s Administrative Assistant.  Being the only woman in the room in a school of only male students doesn’t actually paint an accurate picture of the role of women here.  There are female District Superintendents, female Senior pastors, female Conference Treasurers, the conference staff is at least half women.  But still in that room I was the one singular lady among gentlemen.  Gentlemen and Lady.  He said it probably five times.  I laugh every time I think of it.

After the meeting we all took photos.  Every one of them was in full academic cap and gown with hoods from their various universities and stripes to represent their PhD’s.  All of my academic wear is back in the US, so I photographed with only the clerical collar.  They kept asking me if that is what I was wearing.  I certainly stand out around here.

We made it to the apartment not long after and it was still full of men working to get it cleaned up.  The landlord told me it would be done but it was’t.  I was met by the Assistant to the Bishop, the Conference Secretary, and Olivia, the Conference Children’s Ministry specialist, to get the contract signed.  They all arrived in Olivia’s SUV.  It was not, unfortunately, printed and ready for signature as I expected it would be.  So after inspecting the apartment and the many workers, two of the three returned to the office.  I emailed them the contract that the landlord was supposed to print.  They printed it and sent it back with the driver and Olivia’s car.  

While they promised all would be completed soon, Olivia and I went to the grocery store to find that EVERYTHING is more expensive here.  That’s because essentially, with the exception of rice and produce, everything is imported.  Most grocery stores are owned by Lebanese and everything that gets imported is charged fees at customs.  I wanted to bake Christmas cookies for the carolers that I knew were coming that evening and we actually found everything we needed.  When I went to pay it was something like 675,000 Leones ($88).  Translation: A LOT for not that much stuff.  I fumbled to get all that cash out because leones come in denominations of 10,000 (68 separate bills).  I held everybody and everything up, but for this girl who’s used to swiping my debit card, it’s going to have to be kind of slow.

I came home to try to figure out how to wash dishes when the water isn’t safe to drink.  (The answer is vinegar.)  I have a gas stove (which is awesome) but also the oven is gas too.  How does one light a gas oven?  I did not know before Thursday.  Nobody had a lighter long enough and the landlord didn’t know how to light it either so next thing I knew, the cook from the restaurant around the corner was in my kitchen.

In the midst of all this I started unpacking my things some.  I cried a little at the reality that my sister Sara, who has come in from out of town to help me set up my home more than once before, wasn’t there with me.  I don’t figure unpacking three suitcases warrants a 20 hour plane ride across the world.  Thursday was the first day that the sadness really hit me.  

I did finish the cookies in time for the arrival of Prison Ministry leaders caroling to raise funds for the ministry.  There was some fuss about getting the gate open because I do not yet have 24 hour security and the person supposed to be watching wasn’t to be found.  But I figured it out.  And then they came and sang and danced in my living room.  It was the MOST joyful.  And I love that they blessed my living room with dancing the very day I moved in.  

The cookies, had I made them in the US, would have been shaped like Christmas trees and reindeer.  They would have been in colors of red and green with candy to decorate the tops of them.  But truth is, it was a small miracle just to get them made.  I’m sure they were too sweet for some (we really love our sugar in the US) but others took extra for their families.  Three plates were gone in about 3 minutes.  That made me happy.

And then I went to bed on Mickey Mouse sheets (the ones the landlord had on hand) for my first night in my new home.  

Friday I ran errands with a conference driver.

Saturday I ran errands with a young man who is possibly my future driver.

Sunday I woke up having hit the wall.  I did not think I had it in me to navigate the culture one more day.  Every single little thing in some way feels and looks not like home.  It felt like too much to do it one more day.  But I realized that my two choices were stay holed up in my house by myself or navigate the culture.  Neither option was good for me.  But there was no other choice.  So I got up and went to church, where I saw Rev. Alice (a new friend) and Edith (a member of the Prison Ministry) among many other people. And we chatted and we laughed and we worshiped together.  Four and a half full hours of worship.  But it was a little spark of what my future will be here.  Joyful gatherings with good people who are my friends.

I came hope and crashed, still letting the sadness hit me.  It is strange to be in a place where you have no history with any of the people.  I have literally no history with anyone on this whole continent.  Most of the time, the newness and the joy of doing this really override the fears and sadness that go along with being in my situation.  But still sometimes it gets to you.  

So I’m taking it slow and giving myself a lot of grace.  It takes time to build a life.  Now is the time to set a good foundation and plant some seeds for a later harvest.  These beautiful people have done so much to help me along the way.  Their welcome has been so warm and good.  And I am crazy grateful.