Exploring Bird Language – Stories from the Field
by Geoffrey McMullan
Someone Is Coming
The San Bushmen call the Woodpecker (my favorite bird), Zana. They told me that when Zana calls it is telling them that someone will soon visit and indeed each time this happened they would call out “Sau” (the name they gave me, it means tree) and point in the direction of the resident Bearded Woodpecker, which was calling. Every time, soon afterwards, someone did visit us.
The Woodpecker Led the Way
Sometime after my trip to Namibia, I was running a tracking course for a friend in the north of England. On the second day I was explaining to the group about concentric rings and bird language, and how important these are to our tracking skills. I was sharing the story about Zana being the first bird to let the San Bushmen know if anyone was coming.
Literally, after telling this story I heard a Great-spotted Woodpecker give off its alarm call, Kik, kik, kik, kik, kik, in quick succession. As I looked up and called to the group to pay attention, the Great-spotted flew right past us. In hot pursuit came Blackbirds, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and other birds which burst through the woods in hot pursuit of the woodpecker, as it lead them away from the threat.
We then scanned the woodlands in the direction the birds had flown from and sure enough there was a whole bunch of people walking along the broad walk in the woods. They were completely unaware of our presence, let alone the birds alarming. I was saying to the group just prior to this incident that sometime during the course I would throw a concentric ring while they were in their Sit-spots so that they could observe how the birds respond to my presence. Well, after that there was no need to throw that concentric ring, nature as always had done the job for me.
The Dance of the Roller
As I walked with the San Bushman, a Roller flew overhead. The bushman I was with pointed to it, whistled to the roller to get its attention. He then moved his body with his arms out stretched in a way that appeared to be mimicking the roll of a Roller in flight, then, right on cue the Roller rolled.
It seemed to me they were both connected to each other and were enjoying each other’s company through dance. In fact I know this was the case because I felt it. In my view we are all capable of this connection. It’s just that with the distractions of our modern lives, most of us have switched off to it.
The book includes 22 impactful and exciting games for children & adults. Through play, these games effectively open a connection for people of all ages with the lives of the birds and the larger world of nature.
“Geoffrey has a way of working – calmly, slowly, with humor – that really draws you in. His ability to connect with the natural world, and to share that connection to others, is really profound. Games that seem simple and even child-like when described, took on a huge significance in my mind. We were all deeply affected by the experience… Amazing.” -David Bond, Director – Green Lions
About the Author
Founder of Pathfinder-UK, Geoffrey McMullan is a counselor with an MSc in Addiction Psychology. Geoffrey is a Survival, Bushcraft & Tracking Instructor, and also the author of the Discover Nature Awareness book series.