The end of February in Tanzania is the beginning of masika, the long rains, marked by dropping temperatures, cloudy skies, and regular downpours. Masika is a blessing to the farmer and a curse to the tourist.
A few days ago, while on a game drive in Lake Manyara National Park, I caught sight of an unusual bird perched on a yellow fever acacia. I managed to get a few photos, and when I looked in up in the trusty Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania, I found that the bird I had seen was called a “white-browed coucal.” I thought little of it, until I mentioned it to my professor on the walk back from a bird count. He said that the locals call it the Rainbird, because legend has it that the bird appears right before it is about to rain.
In my case, the Rainbird proved an accurate sign, as only a few days later, masika began in earnest, with a downpour so loud we couldn’t hear our professor lecturing as we sat in the classroom without power. This gift of the white-browed coucal has been attributed to its preference for high humidity, so it tends to be seen much more often immediately prior to and following rainstorms.
The author Basil Holt wrote that the call of the Rainbird was “like the sound of water bubbling from some cool spring hidden deep in the bush.” Though my ears were not blessed with the sound of the “Rainbird’s liquid note,” it was a beautiful sight to see, and a charming piece of southern African lore I will carry with me throughout my time here in Tanzania.
Until next time,