The call of the tinkling cisticola carried across to where we were parked watching a herd of zebra. ‘What is that beautiful call?' one of the guests asked.
'It is the tinkling cisticola', I told him 'one of the numerous cisticolas we find here. They are generally non-descript browny little birds'.
There are many small birds that come in shades of brown, many only indentified by their calls or tiny markings on parts of their bodies. For birders the identification of these birds is of immense satisfaction and in general they laugh away the term 'little brown job' which the birding layman has assigned to the group. But there are those who take offence to the term.
I was guiding a morning drive in the Okavango when we heard the call of the cisticola. On the vehicle was a gentleman who had been sold a birding safari, only to find out [that birds were not the sole purpose of his trip to Africa]. He had been rather grumpy during his whole stay, this despite the fact that I had tried to keep him on his own activities during his stay. This particular morning he had wanted to come along on the morning drive with other guests.
'Cisticolas and others are also known as a little brown jobs', I said off-handedly.
'That is an insult to us birders', the birding gentleman retorted.
'Ummm okay ...' I was stunned at his outburst.
'If people do not find it important to identify species then they must not make a mockery of the art'.
"Twitching is an art"
'My apologies I was only explaining something that is of common use'.
'Well keep your asinine comments to yourself'.
Fortunately the drive was nearing its end and I decided it best to start heading back to camp, with the sounds of the other guests castigating Mr Twitcher ringing across the African Plains
So what is a little brown job?
For many travellers on safari to Africa birds are an interest rather than an obsession and the interest is only geared to the big, colourful and dramatic. There are few people outside of the twitchers inner sanctum that will spare a moment for an apparition flitting in the shadows of the undergrowth - let alone trying to indentify it.
A little brown job is generally any small brown bird that takes more than a few seconds to indentify.By Leigh Kemp