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Chasing the Grey

Grey Wagtail | Photographer Brandon Gould

I begrudgingly crawled out of my warm bed; the cold chill of the autumn morning urged me to climb back under the covers. I listened carefully…hoping for some rain…something to give me an excuse to get back into bed. But I opened the door and the morning, although cool, beckoned me to savor what the day had to offer.

Little did I know when I climbed out of bed what excitement the day would bring…

Probably the only reason that I got out of bed at this ungodly hour was because I was down to lead a bird walk for my local club. As much as I enjoy leading these walks and showing people that amazing birds that are in my area, this was definitely a morning where I would have liked to sleep in a bit later.

Just before the 7am, I arrived at the meeting place where the walk would start. Eager birders, novice and experienced, started to arrive and congregate like a flock of birds ready for migration. We started the walk; the morning was a lot warmer already and a pleasant morning of birding lay ahead for the group.

Beep beep. The silence broken by the irritation of a WhatsApp message. But this message would change the mood and get my heart beating a little faster.

A report on the local rare birds WhatsApp group reported that a Grey Wagtail had been reported by Garth Aiston, about 5 minutes from where the walk was taking place.

The Grey Wagtail is a rare paleartic migrant with previous records mostly between November and April. The winter records, the Roberts Bird Guide notes, are probably reverse migration records.

This was a bird that I hadn’t seen before and was definitely worth trying to see.

In the calmest voice possible, I asked the group whether they wanted to go and see the bird or if they wanted to continue the walk. The consensus of the group was that they wanted to continue with the walk. In hindsight, I should have stressed to the group just how special this bird was, but we continued with the walk.

We were about halfway through the walk when nature decided that I deserved to twitch this bird…the heavens opened, and we had to run back to our warm cars as quickly as possible and end the walk.

I got back into my car, my clothes we soaked, and I was cold. Should I head home and have a nice warm shower, or head in the opposite direction and see the Grey Wagtail? Sanity prevailed and I dashed off to try to see the wagtail.

I arrived at the Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary where the bird has been reported, there was still a large group of birders on a bridge looking for the bird. It hadn’t been seen for quite a while, but we kept on looking between different points where it could possibly be seen. We looked…no luck. It rained…we kept looking…no luck. Eventually with my clothes soaked, I decided to head home and have a shower.

Grey Wagtail | Photographer Sithembiso Blessing Majoka

I was on the couch at 3:30pm, watching MotoGP snuggled under a blanket, and Brandon Gould messaged me to say that he had just seen the bird. I finished watching the last few laps of the race and headed to the Bird Sanctuary as quickly as I good.

It is interesting to note that with the extra incentive of this rare bird, getting out of the warm blankets was a lot easier.

On the freeway it seemed as if every slow driver had got a message and was hogging the fast lane. The 10-minute drive to try and see the bird before it flew away seemed like an eternity. Don’t these other drivers realise that this is an emergency!

I arrived at the sanctuary, there was a smaller crowd then in the morning. I headed onto the bridge; it wasn’t there. I headed up the path to try to get a different angle to find the bird, a few meters down the path my phone rang – ‘It’s here by the bridge’. I ran back…yes this slightly overweight guy can run at times…and there it was in all its beauty. Species number 610 for my South African list.

What made this bird even more special was that it was seen in my local area. I am sad that I wasn’t the one that found it, but thanks to the power of social media, I was able to get to see this special species.

Once I had seen the bird, the true beauty of twitching happened. For those that had seen the bird, it was an opportunity to chat and build friendship around a common interest. We waited around to not only ‘tick’ the bird for our own list, but to help others that arrived to see the bird.

A small bird sanctuary just south of Durban attracted hundreds of birders over the course of the weekend and in the week to come. All drawn to see a small grey and yellow bird with a bobbing tail.

The picnic crowds at the sanctuary the next day all enjoyed the park, but they were oblivious to the special celebrity that was hanging around on the rocks. This is powerful picture of the world today…many people live their lives alongside nature, yet at the same time not even aware of the natural world around them. Perhaps the gap that we need to bridge to see the world around us being conserved, it to look for ways to connect man back to nature. Until people are aware of the natural world around them and the beauty that it offers, we will always struggle to get them to take conservation seriously.

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