Birding Without Borders

Day 225: Good Omens

Owls and local beliefs.

August 13, 2015: Nyahururu, Kenya  I never saw Mount Kenyathe mountain stayed shrouded in clouds for the full two days we spent on its flanks. In this vein, Alan told us a funny story about Denali, a big peak in Alaska: He says there is a visitor center at Denali with a large window which perfectly frames the view. Helpful rangers have etched the outline of Mount Denali into the window glass and placed a sticker on the floor which says “stand here” so that you can imagine the view behind the clouds. A good idea!

We descended after breakfast and spent the day working toward Nyahururu, high on the eastern escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. En route, Joe called up locals in two different places: A man named Lazarus who wanted to show us Hinde’s Babblers, and a woman named Eunice who knew where to find a pair of Cape Eagle-Owls.

We met Lazarus first, an IT specialist with an interest in birds who knew a group of endemic Hinde’s Babblers near his house. We picked him up, drove a short distance, and Lazarus led on foot through coffee and corn plantations. “These babblers like lantana,” said Joe, and we spent an hour scrutinizing every lantana vine tangle to no avail; the babblers just weren’t babbling today. We did find a Kenya Rufous Sparrow under a coffee bush, a sweet consolation, and moved on.

Down the road, Eunice was waiting in her respective village and, like Lazarus had earlier, she climbed in the passenger seat for a short ride to her stakeout spot. Cape Eagle-Owls like to nest on rocky cliffs and are difficult to find in these parts (I missed them earlier in South Africa). I asked Eunice, whose husband works with the Kenyan Wildlife Service, how often she takes birders to see these birds. “Oh, very many,” she replied. The eagle-owls, it turned out, were easy to spot with Eunice’s help, and we had fantastic views. 

Before she left, Eunice pulled some T-shirts out of her backpack which featured an eagle-owl drawing and the inscription, “We are not a bad omen.” Locals have long believed that when you hear an owl call, somebody will dieso a lot of these owls get shot. It’s a preposterous belief, of course, though Alan later pointed out that it’s also 100 percent true: “There’s just a small matter of when!” Wearing a shirt which explicitly claims good karma seemed like a good idea, in any case, and I wore mine out.

New birds today: 11

Year list: 3966

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