Meeting Mrs. Nightjar

by Clement Martin | May 1, 2023 | 0 comments

Africa’s sun poured all its fury on my head, bleaching my hair whiter still. My three Ugandan friends, my two younger brothers, and I were walking home from church on a trail that wound through scenic gardens of maize, bananas, and cassava.

As we passed between two large rocks, somebody asked, “What’s on that rock?”

I glanced at it. One spot was a little darker. Probably some moldy cassava, I thought. This seemed logical—the massive boulders in this village make great drying floors for crops. Someone else suggested a caterpillar, but we all agreed it was way too big.

I went on my way, my thoughts quickly shifting to home, shade, a game with my friends, and maybe a climb to the top of “The Rocks”—a majestic mountain of rocks that towered over our house.

What a wonderful way to spend Sunday afternoon with your friends—higher than all the country around, up where the wind constantly blows and lizards scurry. There are brown ones and green ones and those orange-headed black ones that bob up and down like they’re doing push-ups. Oh, and vervet monkeys live up there, and snakes too, like cobras and mambas.

What had Isaac just said? That lump on the rock was a bird? Well, then I needed to check it out. That a bird? Sure enough. How could I have missed it, walking only three feet/one meter from it?

“Is it dead?” somebody asked.

Peter picked up a stick. He carefully inched it toward the bird. Just one more foot…now three inches…now one inch…the bird flew. And there sat a cute little bird as camouflaged as its mother!

The rest of the way home we puzzled over the wisdom and the foolishness of such a bird—the wisdom of hiding so well and the foolishness of sitting there when you could be caught so easily.

“I’m going to catch that bird!” Joel said as he prepared to leave my house later that afternoon.

“But,” I protested, “if you catch it, the poor baby will die!”

“I’ll keep the baby too so we can eat them both.”

“Sure.” I didn’t blame him for wanting to add some meat to his family’s diet.

He didn’t catch it. I was secretly glad.

I couldn’t find time to go back and look for that bird, but the children kept track of it on their way to and from school. They showed it to their friends, and first thing they knew, it was gone. I felt a little sad. I had to find it again, so while walking to church for Wednesday evening prayer meeting, I snuck through the gardens to the backside of the rock.

There it was. Great!

But what kind of bird was it? I paged through the thin East African bird book I had borrowed. There it was! The Common Nightjar fit the bill perfectly. My brother Conrad claimed the more complete bird book at school showed four different nightjars, all very similar, but our five months in Uganda were ending—I didn’t have time to properly identify it. Oh, how glad I was to have seen this marvelous bit of God’s creation!

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