That's Birding

“There's a bird,” I had said en route to Mweya Lodge. I was trying to be helpful.

On safari if someone spots a Pin-tailed Whydah or a Red Bishop Bird and I don’t, I won’t reach for the Prozac. Not so, my companions. As bird-watchers they obey inviolable rules. By far and away the most important one is: Everybody has to see whatever everybody else has seen before the land cruiser moves an inch.

“It's a pygmy kingfisher,” said Ben, our guide, driver and consummate bird-watcher.

“Where?” said several voices behind me.

Ben has been a Ugandan guide for over a quarter of a century. He is wise, extremely knowledgeable when it comes to birds, animals and people and their watchers. He is, above all, a very patient man.

“That bush,” Ben pointed.

I always sat in the front seat next to Ben. There I could snooze without bothering anyone. Since the bird-watchers were all behind me, I had no idea who said what in the ensuing dialogue. Nevertheless, the dialogue is accurate. My companions have assured me so.

“What bush?” said one of the voices.

“At two o'oclock.”

“I see it.”

“The bird?”

“No. The bush.”

“Do you see the bush?”

“Which bush? There are more than one.”

“Yes, I know. The one with the two dead branches.”

“I see two bushes with two dead branches.”

“The one on the right.”

“Yes, I see it.”

“I don't.”

“It's there.”


“Please take down your binoculars,” said Ben pointing.

“Oh, you mean this one right here in front of us.”

“Yes,” said Ben. “Go to the second dead branch.”

“From the top or the bottom?”


“Now move along the branch to the end.”


“Now, look back...”

“Oh, wait! I see it now.”

“Well, I don't.”

“Me neither.”

“Neither can I.”

“It's beautiful. What is it?”

“A pygmy kingfisher,” said Ben.

“I don't know why I can't see the bird.”

Ben got out of the land cruiser.

“You see this bush?”

“Which one?”

“Please. Take down your binoculars. Follow my hand.”

“Oh, that bush. I thought you meant the one back there.”

“Now go to the second branch.”


“Please. Take down your binoculars. Now move to the very end.”


“Now look back.”

“Oh, yes. I see it now.”

“So do I.”

“Me, too.”

Ben got back in the land cruiser, put it in gear, and moved on up the road toward Mweya Lodge.

Then he turned to me and said, “That's birding.”

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