I loved my one armed golf but unfortunately my left arm didn’t!  

I have lost all the cartilage in my left shoulder of the only arm that works. I was told by the specialist to give up golf immediately. I was totally devastated. I skyped my friend, B, in England. I was so utterly distraught that I could barely speak. B eventually managed to make herself heard through my sobs.

“So, no more golf. That is awful, Gaynor, but I think now is the perfect time for us to start a new hobby – bird watching.”

“Bird watching?” I was startled out of my sobbing.

“Remember those wonderful two days of lectures presented by Peter Ginn on bird identification we attended about a year ago?”

I recalled the three hours each day that were made simply magical by Peter. We were shown so many slides of differing birds, I found it impossible to remember all their names. The first rule we were taught was: Size matters!!!

“Doesn’t it always,” chortled a man beside me. A look from me and the chortles came to an abrupt halt!

I had enjoyed those lectures and I really liked Peter. He has far seeing eyes. They miss nothing. Maybe, just maybe, I could give bird watching a squint! Would it give me the excitement that hitting a golf ball had brought? I laughed at myself. I had known nothing about hitting a golf ball. I knew very little about birds. 

That in itself was exciting.

On B’s second week back in South Africa, she announced: “You and I have a date with a friend of ours. We are expected at his house for tea. Come on, into the car!” 

“A man! This sounds exciting,” I exclaimed.

“His wife is also a friend,” B retorted laughing.

We arrived at their house and the door was opened by my ‘far seeing’ friend, Peter Ginn.

“Peter!” I exclaimed, “B didn’t tell me who we were coming to have tea with.”

“Come in, come in,” laughed his wife, Irene. “I will get the tea ready while Peter shows you what he has prepared for you both.”

I gave B a quizzical look, as we followed Peter through to the dining room. There on the table were an assortment of binoculars.

“Barbara!” I exclaimed.

“I need a new pair of binoculars and so do you,” B replied, “I looked at the pair your Mum was going to lend you. They are too weak for the kind of bird watching we will be doing. I am treating us both to a new pair specially selected by Peter.

There was no arguing with B!

We left there that day carrying the most beautiful binoculars that I had ever looked through. The next day, our bird watching began.

We went to a lovely little valley in B’s estate. Trees, shrubs, a stream complete with a reed bed and a bridge surrounded us. As B was parking the car, I let out a shout: “Look at that owl sitting on that lamppost!” B promptly stalled the car. When we had stopped the car properly, we both got out slowly. We didn’t wish to frighten the owl away. He majestically surveyed these two gobsmacked creatures staring up at him through their brand new binoculars. My first time bird watching and I was treated to this splendid creature. At a later date, we discovered Mum and her two babies. What antics they got up to!

It was amazing watching the Red Bishop that day. The reed bed was filled with the male birds busily plucking reeds to weave beautiful houses for their mates. I love the males. They are a bright red in colour and seem to have a black heart painted across their breasts. That to me is the height of romanticism! At the start of the breeding season, the male builds a nest to attract the female. The female examines the nest and, if satisfied, will allow mating. If she is not pleased with the nest, she tells him in no uncertain terms and casts her eyes elsewhere. The male instead of feeling dejected and going off in a funk, immediately builds another nest for her. I like the females point of view. “I’m sorry, my house must be perfect otherwise it’s a no go!!!”

Once she is eventually satisfied, the mating can begin. 

“But carefully, do you hear? I don’t want the mating to mess up my lounge!”

 All of a sudden, B said: “Gaye, what’s making that sound?”

She swung around and said: “There, it’s that bird that is singing.”

There was a thrush sized bird on the roof of the house behind us with such unusual markings. It had a bright orange throat, crested with a circle of black feathers, a striking yellow body and it looked as if an Indian had daubed it’s face with yellow and orange war paint. Quickly I looked at my Sasol eBirds App on my phone and said: “Here it is, B, it’s a Cape Longclaw.”

Taking the App from me, B pressed the sound button at the bottom of the App and instantly the same song was played out to the Cape Longclaw. It was hilarious. It stopped singing, moved closer and then began singing once more. We played the App again and again and the Cape Longclaw and our App conversed together!

Recently, I joined an outing with The Lakes Bird Club to Knysna. What a wonderful morning! About ten years ago, I had been given two beautifully carved wooden Knysna Loeries by Mums and Dad. They sit in splendour on the pelmet of my lounge. On our way to Knysna I said to B: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I saw a Knysna Loerie? A real life Knysna Loerie!”

“They are no longer called Loeries. Their name has been changed. They are now known as Turacos.”

“For goodness sakes, why? It’s like changing the name Dachshund to…um…’Splentervit’!”

“I have no idea why the name has changed. Just remember that you are hoping to see a Turaco.”

That morning, I was elevated into the air with the golden tints of the Jackal Buzzard. The sun caught the black and white underwing of the Western Osprey. My eyes fell upon a Klaas’s Cuckoo and my breath stopped in stunned admiration of the emerald and dazzling white plumage. And much to my delight, I saw a Knysna Loerie.

“Come here quickly, B! There’s a Terracotta!” I shouted in exhilaration.

“Turaco!” a mass of voices laughingly corrected me.

Watching the Pied Kingfisher standing nonchalantly on a fallen branch in the river, I found I was dabbling my feet in the new and intoxicating waters of bird watching.

I asked B whether my 40% eyesight could explain my slowness in spotting birds. Other people always saw the birds long before I manage to spot them in the foliage. 

“I think it’s the fact that you’re new to bird watching. And then, Gaynor, having 60% more eyesight to spot the birds explains why I see them faster than you. But don’t panic, you’ll get better, I promise.”

Bird watching offers me as much excitement as hitting a golf ball did, only in a different way. I see a group of bird watchers excitedly pointing at a group of red flowering plants, and my heart lifts. Excitedly I join them and they tell me they are watching an Amethyst Sunbirds. I spot it and my heart joins the birds chatter with exhilaration.

I echo Maria’s words from Sound of Music: “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” 

What a window He has opened for me. I wish to fly through it and frolic in the air with the Klaas’s Cuckoo, the Pied Kingfisher, the Western Osprey, the Turaco and my gorgeous Red Bishops.

And I can spend the night cuddled up to my magnificent, splendid owl!

Tags :birds