Wednesday 19 September 2012


While we were living in Brazil we worked with the children of a poor community that lived near the forest. The project was called Brincando com Aves (fun with birds). The idea was to change their attitude to the wonderful things they had around them, to appreciate and want to protect, rather than abuse and plunder the forests and wildlife that they took for granted. We were very successful in gaining their respect and trust, and in the end the number of children who attended our sessions grew to seventeen.

Elis with some of the children
The children had a nick-name for me (Rick), 'Maçarico'. This is the Portuguese word for wader, or more specifically sandpiper. Now I would love to tell you that this derived from my obsession with waders, but sadly it was not.

We used to meet the group on a Saturday morning, and one such morning we were walking along a muddy track where there were a few puddles from the previous night's rain, when the kids suddenly got very excited. Looking over I saw that they were watching a Pectoral Sandpiper that had dropped in right in front of them.
Some of the group watching the Pectoral Sandpiper © Elis Simpson
This caused them so much excitement because they hadn't seen anything like it before, this was obviously not something they had come across in the forest where they spent much of their time, it was, it transpired later, the first documented record for Ubatuba.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Ubatuba.
It was a perfect chance for me to talk to them about migration, about why this bird was here, where it had come from and where it was, in all probability, going. The kids were dumbstruck by the magnitude of the feat this tiny bird had carried out.

It is this wonderment that I hope to re-install in the minds of those of us who are already aware and accustomed to the concept of migration, I want us all to think of it not as a species making these journeys, but of millions of tiny, fragile lives, battling against much adversity and for us to think again in awe about the incredible phenomenon that is migration and how we can make the journey easier instead of harder and harder for these battling birds.

So, why the nick-name? Well on seeing the bird it struck one of the group how pot-bellied it was, and another said,
      "Just like Rick!" at which point the group descended into laughter (what was I saying about respect?) and henceforth I was known as Maçarico. It may not have been for the best of reasons, but I was mightily proud of my new name!

'Pot-bellied Maçarico' © Elis Simpson

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