The pandemic of 2020-2021 brought renewed attention to amateur birding across the world. I had forgotten, until this call for 75th anniversary memories, that the birding I do here at my house in Alexandria, Virginia was preceded by a birding pamphlet project done around 2008-2009 when I was a Fulbright Scholar at the Swaziland National Museum (now Eswatini).
Because I recently moved, I don’t have easy access to my photo albums, and the truth is, I think I lost the small SIM style card that used to hold digital photos in my camera, so I think I only have a scrapbook from my time there. I was a Fulbright just before the wide embrace of social media, and I think it was a number of years before I had a smartphone. Getting Internet access was a challenge in Eswatini, and I wonder how it is today, more than a decade later. It would have been great though, to have a smartphone then and to take easy pics that I could have shared with family and friends. Maybe some photos are buried in my old emails as attachments. Instead, I just try to remember the things I saw and the people I met in my mind’s eye. There are some things that can’t be erased, such as seeing women washing clothes in a thin river running over flat, red rocks, or the smell of smokiness in the air, since there were always small fires burning around Mbabane, the capital city and where I was fortunate to live during my Fulbright.
The birding project was instigated by a park ranger who I met and was lucky to become friends with, Twana Buthelezi, a proud mother, nature enthusiast, birder and descendent of Zulu people. We spent some time in the bush together and managed to put together this pamphlet even though no one seemed to understand why we wanted to do it. But we knew people love birds…and the pandemic certainly has reminded us of this. When you go to a country like Eswatini, you must look for the details, because the country is not large, and the flora and fauna do not carry a megaphone like the Big Five. Twana was good at looking at the details such as listening to bird songs.
As reported in the media, the pandemic gave nature some time to recover, and amateur birders went wild for a snowy owl in Central Park, and closer to home, the appearance of a male painted bunting in Great Falls National Park along the Potomac made the headlines. This bird should not be this far north in the USA during the winter, so questions about climate change are raised. Birds, like insects and other natural forms of life, will tell us how the world is doing in 2021. One thing is certain in our changing world: birding never goes out of style!
Laura A. Macaluso – Fulbright to Eswatini (Swaziland) 2008