They’re back – from the tundra and the taiga and unknown places between ya!
Pity the survival chances of the first wave of long-distance bird migrants heading ‘home’. I’m thinking of the migrant shanks and sandpipers. Especially those of the genus Tringa, who are winging-it south, night and day, through July and August, in this, our era. In the late Anthropocene, as we burn-out the incarcerated vapours of fossilised sunshine from pre-mammalian times. Burning-up the carboniferous, disrupting the circulation of the atmosphere and fomenting terrible social chaos for our own species, across a great arc of instability, the “bang-bang” on their route, these waders, a huge swathe of anthropogenic crises, between the Palearctic northlands and Equatorial Africa.
Almost everyday I consider these migrant birds flying over the great mid-latitude deserts, and other arid lands many of our own making. Monotheistic lands where squads of not-so-casual hobby hunters have yet to become the armed factions in yet another raging “civil war” over the ownership of that black gold beneath the soil.
Moreover imagine their journeys only forty thousand years ago and less, consider for example the Younger Dryas, only twelve thousand years ago, when tundra and taiga temporarily swept ‘down’ from the northlands. In those paleolithic (ice age) and mesolithic days (younger dryas) their journeys to and from the tropic realm would have been far shorter.
And when we humans reach that carbon tipping point, as soon we might, who knows? All bets will then be off. Boreal slush-down, flooding, quickly followed by a circumpolar ice-up? A rerun of the Younger Dryas? For them and and for us! Same as it’s ever been : Migrate and Survive!
Just two weeks ago I was guiding UK school groups around Mikumi National Park in Central Tanzania. One afternoon I saw a short thread, on the iPhone, at VisMig (firstname.lastname@example.org) mentioning the on-going migration of Common Sandpipers through, and their departure from, the British Isles. That same afternoon, had you been a bellicose Martial Eagle droning around in the blue, blue, Morogoro sky, you might have seen us, bumping about like a scarab, in a grey-blue long wheelbase Land Rover, on the dusty track to Mikumi Hippo pools.
Soon after arriving at the pools, above the snorting, grunting and aqueous farting of those chubby four-footed leviathans, I heard a long-time familiar tremulous teetering, the flight calls of a Common Sandpiper. Sure enough, within seconds, one flew into view, low over the pool, on stiff staccato wing beats. It alighted near us, and almost immediately commenced feeding, pecking delicately in the fragrant ooze of the muddy shoreline. Watching it in the wallows I was both delighted and relieved.
Only three days later, again in the late afternoon, there were three ‘Common Sands’ feeding along the margin of the Hippo pool. From out of the blue a Wood Sandpiper darted in, landing next to a very static Yellow-billed Stork at a tiny fresh pool, on the other side of the road, alighting, as if purposely, to join a mighty Lion lapping there. And the next day – whilst answering questions on the private life of the, by-now somewhat sportif, Common Hippopotamuses, frolicking in malodorous vapours of their own making, in an otherwise delicious African sunrise – I was delighted to hear, to spin my brain and savour, the arrival of five natty Greenshanks wiffling-down from the north. “All the way from Russia” I confidently announced to those at the even-toed ungulate audience who cared to give a damn.
Today, August 15, by a brand new “mini-wetland” at Sable Square, Arusha’s first out-of-town, out-of-doors, mini-mall – all silver and grey, set among rolling well-watered lawns, and in a Dutch-colonial style – I was again raised, to a cost-free, brand-less joy, by the flight calls of a Green Sandpiper, my first of the return, towering away into the hazy blue sky of our austral Spring. Surely it was flushed by those five kids standing there, children who might have been a-newting, at the wee pool. But then again, in this the ubiquitous screening of our late oil age, somehow I doubt it!
Anyway I just wanted you to know. They’re back ‘safe’ with us. Some of them. Thank Trek (Trektellen)! Thank Tringa!
Now, I can relax … well, a little. And listen-out for more, whilst watching Slender-tailed Nightjars in the gloaming garden of this waning moon of August. Let’s hark the birds, in the highland Arusha night! For far above the roar of a thousand pariah dogs, and the rumbling of Scanias on the resources-and-friendship highway, there’ll be more migrants dropping back home. Dropping, just as I have, with evident relief into the dark bosom of Mother Africa.