Birds of feather dance together

One of Andrew and my interests aside from Scottish Country Dancing is birding. For a few years now we have wanted to participate in BirdLife South Africa's Birding Big Day and also raise money for conserving birds and their habitats. So far, conflicting priorities and time pressures have prevented this. Then we had the idea of combining these two passion and, on Monday 29 November, we offered a class with a birding theme. Dancers from across the peninsula ‘flocked together’ and let our ‘feet take flight to give conservation wings’!

 When I was preparing for the event I wasn’t sure I’d find sufficient dances with ornithological connections. With a little research I easily managed to find suitable dances and eventually compiled a checklist of Bird dances with 144 different dances. This means that birding dancers (or is that dancing birders?) will be able to keep a life list ticking off those they’ve danced.

The dances on the programme were recapped and walked and where new to all taught, so there was no need for anyone to feel ‘aukward’. The programme included jigs such as 'The Wild Geese', 'The Flight of the Falcon' and reels such as ‘Catch the Wind’ and ‘Piper and the Penguin’ and a graceful John Drewry strathspey, ‘The Blue Footed Boobies.

We tried something different with a Terry Glasspool dance for four dancers called ‘Four Ducks in a Row'. We made a valiant attempt, with dancers were given cards indicating whether they were a one, a two, a three or a four but I’m afraid we didn’t get too far in dancing this dance right through.

The story behind sourcing the music for this dance is worth telling as it illustrates the generosity and helpfulness of Scottish Country Dancers across the globe. Following a lead from the archive of the Strathspey listserv where music was offered for Four Ducks in a Row I made contact with Mike Briggs in Oregon, explaining the purpose behind my request. Not only did Mike respond promptly with a recording and the score of the tune but he followed it up the next day with a message saying that he’d listened to his old recording which he sent me and decided it was noisy and boring, as the same tune was played four times.  He had therefore made us another recording and written two more tunes for the dance both in honour of Kaapstad (Cape Town). We were delighted by this gesture and appreciated receiving our specially commissioned tunes called ‘Tot Siens’ (which means Goodbye in Afrikaans) and ‘Baie Dankie’ (Thank-you).

This was not the only kind offer of support I received. I didn’t have the full, original instructions or crib for a couple of dances that looked promising and appropriate namely ‘Albatrosses and Shearwaters’ and  ‘The Elegant Tern’, so I boldly made contact with the dance deviser Martha Morrison Veranth, in Salt Lake City, Utah.   Her response was equally prompt and Martha not only offered to send the instructions for the two dances I’d requested but also told me about her book, ‘Feathered Friends’ which had recently been published.  It’s a whole book of bird-related dances, mostly Scottish Country Dances but also a couple of English Country Dances. Besides the two dances I requested, other dancers include ‘Birding on the Beach’, ‘A Charm of Goldfinches’, ‘The Dipper’, ‘Ducks in a Row’, ‘The Owl and the Chickadees’ and ‘The Rock Wren’. Martha agreed to send me instructions for ‘The Dipper’ and ‘Birding on the beach’ and I have subsequently added her book to my collection of dancing resources..

Coincidentally I already had the suggested music for ‘Birding on the beach’ namely the tune ‘The Ornithologist’ on Gordon Patullo’s Ceilidh Dance party and what was required was for Andrew to ‘automagically’ amend the number of bars. We really enjoyed this accessible dance with the following symbolism: Bars 1-8 represents the binoculars; 9-16 Sanderlings (Calidris alba); 17-24 Turnstones (Araenaria melanocephala); 25-32 Watch out for the wave, surf’s up!

Field notes with instructions for the dances were compiled and we took a foraging break at the Nest-café for tea, coffee and biscuits. (Apologies were made at the start of the evening for the bad birding puns.)

Team Hedgehodges participated in Birding Big Day in the Garden Birds category on Saturday 27th November and managed to tally 28 species that we saw either in or from our garden in the few hours we were home (between 5am to 7:30am.) Apart from the Spotted Eagle Owls, the only other of our regular avian visitors that we dipped on that day was the Hadeda Ibis. It was unusual not to hear their loud, unmistakable call Har-har-ha-de-da.  In retrospect, it would have been great if we had been able to do Birding big day in the first week of January, as we would then have been able to include Peregrine Falcon on our garden bird list, as a family of two adult birds and their chicks moved into our neighbourhood around that time.

 The next Birding Big Day will be in late November 2011 and we hope you’ll join us again for this ‘flight by night’ activity.

Heather Hodgson