by Sr. Marian Scena MMM U.S.A. / Tanzania 17.05.2023
“What colour is its eyebrow, Marian?”, asked one of my MMM Sisters – with a bit of humour and just the slightest touch of sarcasm! Little did she realise how important that eyebrow might be in identifying the bird I was trying to observe. The misunderstandings that one suffers in the call of duty as a Birder!
From the time I was a child we always had a bird feeder outside our kitchen window and my mother used to point out various birds that visited it. I was always interested in birds but didn’t get seriously involved until I came to Tanzania where the beauty and variety of birds is amazing. Once I acquired my first set of binoculars or “bins” I was hooked forever! Then, in 1991, I met a Welsh couple who were working in Singida and they introduced me to Liz and Neil Baker, an English couple living in Tanzania, who were compiling a Bird Atlas of Tanzania. I met them and was introduced to the system of observing and reporting on all the birds I see every month. means noting down where I see them, how many, what species, and whether they are breeding or not. Like me, many other ’Birders’ from all over the country report monthly, so that the entries are accumulated for the ever growing data base of the still-to-come Bird Atlas.
Birding is great fun – without any other motive except wonder and appreciation of God’s feathered friends. But the fact that I am contributing to a yet-to-be-published Bird Atlas gives me added incentives. I have found birding a wonderful complement to my doctoring ministry which is often so absorbing and time consuming. Even if I don’t have a few minutes to sit down with my “bins”, I can see various birds just as I am walking home from the hospital at the end of a busy day. I think being a doctor and having developed my powers of observation to a fairly high degree has helped me in observing the various aspects of a bird that are essential to its accurate identification.
I find birding a great feeder of my prayer. In fact, it is like prayer; I spend time in waiting, not knowing if and what I will experience of God, but grateful for whatever visits God might grant me. When I am birding, I am quiet and waiting, not sure what I will see. Sometimes, like dryness in prayer, I see nothing. But many times, I get wonderful surprises and see a new bird for the first time or some new bird behaviour. And I always find myself praising God for the beauty of creation around me and in God’s feathered creatures. Prayer and birding just go together. Wherever I go I am alert and looking for birds. This makes the time on long safaris on bad roads go more quickly and enjoyably. There is a lot I miss as I rarely ask the driver to stop so I can have a look with my “bins”. But I still manage to identify approximately 25% of the birds that I pass while driving. Once a month, on my day off, I try to walk to nearby Mianji Dam. It takes 5-7 hours to do a thorough walk at a contemplative pace. On such a day, I usually see over 50 species of birds around the Dam and 10-15 more species on the way there. So far, I have seen 498 different species in Tanzania. Of these, 122 have been in or over Makiungu Hospital.
I am amazed at the wonderful variety of birds even in our own compound. I haven’t yet had time to total my entire Life List of species I’ve observed in other countries where I’ve been. Anyone who can see or hear can be a birder. The very energetic, adventurous person will see more, but it doesn’t have to be energetic. Even if you happen to be confined to a wheelchair you can enjoy the sight and sounds of birds. It can be an occasional hobby or can become a daily one. I hope that I have whetted your appetite to discover the beauty of God’s feathered friends.
Editor’s Note: First published in MMM Yearbook 2000.