Beth Shirley

BETH SHIRLEY becomes a fully-fledged birder at Tau Game Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve

Wanting to follow the Buddhist way of becoming awake to all of life instead of “attaching” to mind chatter, I decided to identify birds. A ex-boyfriend was a keen twitcher and being keen to maintain our relationship, I refrained from sighing on game drives when we stopped to observe something with a red beak, or an interesting whistle.  Even boring brown birds had their intricate ways, he said. But, it was only when I was hosted by Tau Game Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve that I too became a fully-fledged birder. The people at Tau issued me with a nifty bird “check-list” and never would I have imagined that 300 scientific names would get me so excited.

There was no better time to be mindful than on the early morning game drives with Brad Leighton – general manager at Tau Game Lodge. The expansive Marico bushveld  (made famous by Herman Charles Bosman) offered its visitors purple and grey grasses and thriving desert rose succulents. Instead of trying to spot the big five at the numerous water pans, I closed my eyes and simply listened. At first it seemed as if only one sound emanated from the plains, but the more I tuned in, the more I could hear different bird species singing. Their acute presence reminded me of environmentalist Henry Beston’s insight: “Animals are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”

In our human arrogance it is easy to forget we are but a tentative part in a vast ecosystem. Mindful of the Zen way, I put my bird check list away instead of giving in to the need to furiously tick the boxes on the list – to systematise, categorise and quantify other forms. Enjoying myself in the company of the wild means understanding poet Shunryu Suzuki’s words: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. “

So when cultivating “beginner’s mind”, even the coos of pigeons became intriguing. I wondered if the ‘avitourists’ expected to find the little brown jobs fascinating. For me, simply noticing their existence allowed me to feel a kinship with these birds. Perhaps the conservationists should consider mindfulness training as a means to preserve the birdlife.

Try the meditative approach on your next bird safari. Tau Game Lodge and its array of birdlife in both summer and winter will let you practice being fully awake and alive to the life right in front of you.

  • Beth Shirley is a writer and editor making her way as a corporate copy scribe. She really enjoys travelling around the world comparing coffee. Italy does not come first; a small cafe in Clocolan, Free State serves the best cappucino around. Beth also likes pavements that sell hot apple juice.