Introducing The Kids to ‘Birding’

One of the first recognizable sounds to wing its way from my son’s chattery mouth of delightful sounds was the call of a hadeda ibis. Nappy-clad, he would grip the edge of his cot, tense his little body and let fly with a ‘Ha-ha-hahaaa’ (read as though about to sneeze, maintaining a nasal tone throughout).


He was at that age when I felt, as with many new parents, like recording every utterance. There’s a happy magic in not just the innocent sound itself, but in the little mind’s grappling intent to form the words made by adults and older siblings.

But age plays its games with our minds, and when I ask him today if he remembers that he did a pitch-perfect imitation of the famously irritating sunrise call, he shrugs it aside; almost seven, he’s a bit self-conscious in that age-appropriate fashion, and longer gives that call the ‘stick’ he did in his toddler years.


If you listen to the attached podcast recorded at an urban wetland (paragraph 7), you will notice this call, and that he doesn’t oblige when I ask him to repeat the sound for us. That’s ok, he was 1) shy and 2) busy, playing in the undergrowth while I conducted our interview. And a possible 3) could’ve been that I’d asked him to be quiet while we recorded. So he was actually being obliging in conducting a quiet battle amongst leaf and twig.

On the subject of battles, by this point you would’ve forgotten that I’m a single father. My beautiful, bubbly and mischievous three year-old was meanwhile making shapes in the dirt with a new friend, a little further down the path. That’s part of being a single parent; if the split is acrimonious, as in a parent possibly keeping a child from the other, you are especially conscious of sharing your limited time, sometimes only a morning, in an equitable fashion with them both. The professionals remind you at this point that it’s important to focus on quality time, not quantity, that they will remember such occasions, hopefully more than the weekly procession of new toys some parents prefer to dish out.

Most important was that both children were happy, involved, ‘in the moment’.

We were recording at a place here in Cape Town called Intaka island. About as un-tropical as it gets, it’s an environmental off-set for a development company in the middle of a new shopping and retail precinct called Century City.

Intaka is a treat from far left field. A large wetland, with heronries, bird hides and wooden walkways, tripod-bound photographers looking for kingfishers, quiet and water-birds enjoy this place as much as the school-groups.


It is as much an environmental education centre as a retreat for the urban weary and nature enthusiast. We took the learning angle one step further and joined a local environmental group, ringing birds as part of a bird count.

White-eyes and Cape weavers were the most common little creatures caught in the net on that particular morning. My little lad was an enthusiastic helper; untangling his feathered friends, putting them into little cloth bags and carrying them to be weighed and measured at the bird-hide that had been turned into a makeshift lab. He even got to release one, while his sister enjoyed the spring flowers.


Responsibility, interest, education outdoors, interest and most of all, fun. All the boxes ticked, a great morning. Maybe soon, when she sleeps over, I have a feeling my little girl will want to release a bird too.



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