Saving birds as a professional birding guide never crossed young Crammy’s mind until he was invited to a training course in 2010.
This is Crammy Wanyama’s story.
I did not know that people traveled all over the world until November 2010. I never dreamed I’d become a birding guide.
During my early youth and teenage years I never paid any attention to the presence of birds in my village. Or so I thought.
Even after I finished university and started my own business I paid no attention to the wildlife around me in Uganda. My courses had been in business management. I wanted to make money. I wanted to lift myself out of poverty. I wanted the good life.
Then I was invited to a training course. I had no idea how it would change my life.
The training was arranged by the Uganda Safari Guide’s Association which is an umbrella for trained guides and their clubs in the country. Herbert Byaruhanga and Paul Tamwenya were the facilitators.
In the first week, Herbert and Paul talked about bird watching and guiding which did not seem to be new to more than 3/4 in a class of 60 individuals. But to me it was all new. Our instructors urged us to go out and practice identifying birds every morning and evening. Practice listening for bird sounds. Practice spotting birds in the trees and bushes. Some members were very familiar with this activity. Fortunately, they were more than willing to teach a novice like me. Willing to help me sharpen my eyesight and fine tune my hearing.
However it was hard work. Many birds look alike. Most of them have similar calls. “It takes ten years,” one class mate told me. Ten years! I wanted to know how to do it now! “Bird guides make good money,” I’d been told. And money was what I was after.
I had to make a plan if I was going to do this. I requested the experienced classmates to show me two new birds every evening when we went out for practice.
On Day One; I was attracted to a pair of the elegant-looking and loud Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus.
Day Two; it was a pair of very attractive glossy blue birds with a pale Iris, Rupell’s Starling Lamprotornis purpuropterus.
Day Three; two striking black-backed, red under parts, yellow ventra feathers and pale iris pair of duetting birds. These became my WOW birds, these were the Black-headed Gonolek Laniarius erythrogaster.
Then came the last day I went practicing with my new friends. I though I must do this by myself. I must struggle to identify and them all on my own. I set practicing identifying birds as my top 2011 resolution. But first, I needed to obtain a usable pair of binoculars and a good bird field guide book. This I did.
Today my clients often ask me, “When did you start birding Crammy?”
A year after my training, childhood memories started coming back. It was the day I identified some species of Weavers (an African family of weaving birds) and Fire Finch…
As a child, we fetched water from a stream which was about a kilometre away from my grandmother’s home. On the way, there were rocks to which the birds got attracted. I always wanted to hold birds in my hands then let them fly. I loved watching them.
We kept free-range chicken and when they fell sick my late grandmother made a mixture of hot red pepper, soot and ash which she gave to them. The chicken would choke, stagger, and get alright. I thought the choking bit of it was the human equivalent of being drunk. I though perhaps it would work on birds too. And that they’d then stay around.
African Thrush Turdus pelios and Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus ate our ripe fruit on the farm, I though the small birds at the rocks would love them too. So I stole pepper and ripe bananas from the house, mixed and smashed it for easy consumption. I placed it at the rocks and hoped to return the next day to pick up my drunken birds. I did this several times.
Another incident was when I got bitten on the head by Potter Wasps as I was climbing up a Jack fruit tree to see if my Red-eyed Dove chicks were about to fledge. I remembered how I always kept track of the birds nesting within my surrounding.
I can’t figure out how many Weaver individuals I owned. I claimed almost every one of them in the colonies around our home as mine.
All these happened before I turned eight.
Have I been birding since childhood?
Now I have two passions; one is to share the beautiful birds of my country Uganda with others. And two, to help protect and preserve the birds and their habitat for future generations to enjoy.
Thank you Crammy. And thank you for sharing your story with us.
Please visit his website, Avian Safaris.