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The Vleiloerie Calls

Coen van Wyk

Posted on October 10, 2019 04:14

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Living in a city tends to disconnect you from nature. But sometimes I get a gentle reminder, if I remember to listen. Spring is here, in the southern hemisphere, and the cycle of nature can carry us to unaccustomed places.

The normal sounds of the city came through my window as I worked: a heavy truck, braking down the nearby avenue; the quacking of the University sports grounds public address system; someone leaning on a hooter at the major crossroads; a military jet practicing approaches to the nearby airbase.

Trying to hammer a turgid piece of academic writing into some sort of logical sense that also conforms to reasonable English takes a lot of concentration, but something tugged at my attention. Something pleasant, distant, subliminal; a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room.

Frequent visitor to suburban gardens, the woodland kingfisher. Photo Africageographic.com


I pushed back my chair and went to the window. A warm, dry wind shook the dusty leaves and hopeful jacaranda blossoms. The birds were at their usual early spring songs. A woodland kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis) trilled its endless joy at being alive, and I smiled, remembering my father joking that he must breathe through his ears, because trilling like that leaves no time for drawing breath.

Unwanted immigrant, the Indian Mynah is a pest. Photo Marie Diquelou


Some rock pigeons cooed; an Indian Mynah (Acridotheres tristis) screeched, reminding me that sometimes foreign immigrants can be pests. But something else… And then I heard it – the distinctive Ululululu call.  A sound that evoked the childhood memory of the smell of the first rain on parched ground. A Vleiloerie, calling to announce that rain is coming. Someone thought the sound was like water running out of a bottle.

Vleiloerie or Burchell's Coucal. Photo Warwicktarboton.com


The bird we call Vleiloerie (Centropus burchelli) is an impostor and not a true lori or turaco. It skulks in bushes and reed beds, hunts insects and baby birds, and does not even fly well. But I have never known its announcement of rain to fail.

The wind is in the west, but farmers live on hope. Photo Hester de Smidt


My lawn is grey on the red African earth. A long, dry summer had been followed by a long, dry winter. The farmers are desperate to plough and plant. Towns are desperate for washing and drinking water. The sky is the spotless blue of a high-pressure system. The spring rains are already overdue. Once, during a similar dry spring, when farmers sought, day after day, for a sign of a cloud, a prayer meeting was called, but a cynic remarked: ‘You can pray if you want, but the wind is in the west.’ And the wind blows firmly from the west, carrying with it the smell of red dust from the distant Kalahari desert.

Our national weather service requires a subscription if you want anything more than the most banal news, but Wunderground and the Norwegian weather services forecast a change in wind, and rain is possible in a week’s time.

The Vleiloerie calls: rain is coming. 

Coen van Wyk

Posted on October 10, 2019 04:14

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Source: KMOV

On the first day of autumn, Mother Nature brought rain and dust to the Valley.

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