Ken’s diary – Africa awaits

Tomorrow morning myself and a group of Osprey Project staff and volunteers will be boarding our flight to The Gambia. We’re travelling inland where internet access is difficult, but will report on our progress as soon as we can.  Next week, we’ll be joined by a second group that  includes volunteer and diarist, Ken Davies. And, as his first diary entry of 2014 shows, Ken’s getting excited about the trip…

2014 Diary : Entry No. 1

Wednesday January 1st 2014 :

I carried out one of my annual rituals this morning. I ceremoniously put my 2013 diary up on the shelf with all the others, and opened the first page of my new 2014 one. As always I took the chance to flick through one or two of the earlier volumes, and one of them fell open on my Manton Bay entry for Sunday September 4th, 2011.   It is so fitting for the way I feel this morning that I’m quoting it again on the first page of my new diary :

‘…………you are call’d by an irresistible call to depart………’

‘Walt Whitman’s line seems so right for today, for all the birds appear to have received the call – clouds of House Martins and Swallows skittering around, Common Terns calling, circling high in the air, nervous flocks of waders turning, twisting, glinting in the light, primrose Yellow Wagtails dancing in the air, floppy Lapwings being buffeted by the breeze. All of them are tense, uneasy, wary, on edge. The three Ospreys still in the Bay stand like statues : 5R on his post, the female on the perch above the nest, the one remaining juvenile hunched on the rim. They’ve heard the call too, but they remain impassive, napping, preparing mentally and physically…….

There is an evocative single German word which perfectly defines Whitman’s ‘irresistible call to depart.’ It is Zugunruhe, literally ‘journey unrest’, but better described by David Gessner in Soaring with Fidel as ‘ the restlessness birds feel before they migrate……the general unease, the bristling, of a creature about to embark on a journey.’ Wildebeest in the Serengeti, Caribou in Northern Canada, even the great whales in the oceans and clouds of Monarch butterflies in the United States…..Zugunruhe touches them all. We humans feel it too. Today it is almost palpable : every migratory creature in the Bay before us is sensing the approaching great journey ahead……’

‘We humans feel it too….’  I wrote that two and a half years ago, but have to admit that I had never experienced it personally…..until now!  You see, I am about to embark on a journey too, a very special journey to see Ospreys in Africa, in their winter homes, in their Gambian retreats. My own Zugunruhe can be traced right back to the late summer, when I watched Ospreys leaving from Site B and from Manton Bay. The usual sadness that comes with these last observations was this time accompanied by another emotion – strange, unfathomable at first, but now clearer in my mind. It was the feeling of anticipation, the early excitement, the confirmation that I was going too, that I will see them again soon, that I won’t be far behind.

My restlessness has regularly ratcheted up ever since. As I waited in the doctor’s surgery for my injections against goodness knows how many unspeakable diseases, as I arranged insurance, airport hotels, lifts and hundreds of other details, my Zugunruhe has increased. Above all, when I was at the meeting last month to meet fellow travellers, when Tim went through our itinerary and John showed some of his photographs from previous trips, it seemed to me that I was entering another level of high emotional involvement. It was really happening. I was going.  And very soon.

The news that 5F(12) is at a place where we might be able to see her is a wonderful bonus. Her mother 30(05) is further north in Senegal and she too might be observed by some members of the team later. 30(05) is a Site B bird that I have seen many times, and her daughter 5F is of course grand-daughter to 03(97). It would indeed be special to see her. And yet another piece of good news – Roy Dennis, who was on ‘Countryfile’ two days ago talking about the re-introduction of lynx, is coming with us! Roy has been involved with Ospreys since the pioneering days with George Waterston at Loch Garten, and we are so fortunate to have him in our party.

And now I am  ready. My transformation is complete. Zugunruhe has taken over. I need to go now before I drive everyone at home mad with my constant African psychobabble. My plumage is in first class order, I am well fed and fit thanks to good Christmas food and drink, and I have worked hard on my ‘Birds of Senegal and the Gambia’ book. Soon I’ll start on the anti-malaria pills……

I’ll be in touch….from Kartong, Tanji, Marakissa, Bijoli…….even writing the names is thrilling! Happy New Year to all Osprey friends!