Urban Birding

A few years ago, at our previous post, I had this discussion with a visiting children’s author about our lifestyle of moving around every few years. This author is a trained zoologist and fierce environmentalist. She said her only real concern was that children raised in this lifestyle will probably never have a native knowledge and love of their natural surroundings. They will never be in one place long enough to learn the local species or get lost in the same forest summer after summer. And I said to her, in some silly high minded expat way, “Sure, but I hope they’ll have a greater sense of their place in the world as a whole. Their sphere of stewardship won’t just be their backyard but the whole world. You know, in a general sense.”

And in her great wisdom she said “Ah, but the power of nature lies in its particularities.”

This phrase inspires me/haunts me often. 

Of course the power is in its particularity! A “general” sense of things is fine, great even. But nothing can replace having a specific experience with a specific landscape. I grew up in the foothills of the rocky mountains and their snowy peaks are part of my very self. I wasn’t an avid hiker and didn’t wade through mountain streams each spring, but their outline shades and protects every memory of my childhood. Wee Felix won’t have one set of mountains or one coastline running through the decades of his life like a thread. Rereading this exchange from my journal reminded me how important exploring the natural world is. For this baby guy, but also for me.  

“Just teach them the birds every time you move. At least the birds.”  She assured me this would be an adequate start. 

So, in that spirit, Felix and I have been urban birding around Cairo. On our first day out we spotted a Eurasian Hoopoe at the botanical gardens. And one afternoon I discovered Max and Felix, halfway out the church door (in a possible escape attempt) staring up at the trees. A small green parakeet had made perch high in the branches. There are terns everywhere as well as the ubiquitous Palm Dove, or, it's better name, the Laughing Dove. Herons dot the marshy receding edges of the Nile, which variety I'm not sure yet. And last week, out of the corner of my eye I swear I saw the impressively dotted wingspan of a black and white Pied Kingfisher just before it flew under the bridge to Tahrir square.