There may be places in the US or Europe where such sights as those described below can be witnessed. This particular event took place on the north coast of Natal on a balmy summer’s evening. It was breath-taking in both its simplicity – a flock of birds coming back to roost for the night – and in its complexity as they wove through the air in perfect harmony with one another and with their environment. It was a wonderful occurrence which gave me much joy. May you have a glimpse of the glory that we witnessed that evening.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26
We were the first there. We did not know it at the time. We thought we might be the only ones who would be in attendance. But we did choose a spot at the front of the top terrace, just in case anyone else arrived and decided to sit in front of us.
We opened our chairs and placed them strategically; we shared our picnic – a casual ‘in-between’ meal of fruit juice and Christmas cake. We chatted to one another, content to catch up with family news.
And we waited.
Slowly others came. There was plenty of space and children ran on the grassy lawns. Chairs, rugs, umbrellas – all were spread out and clusters of people formed. More picnics were shared and everyone enjoyed the sense of anticipation.
The sun was behind the thick clouds but we knew it was sinking at the end of the day, although there was no visible sign of it. Looking westward, it was a relief not to have to stare into its bright light.
And we waited.
Until it was time.
And we saw the first swallow, alone, returning to its overnight roosting site. And then there were two; and five; and a hundred. Suddenly we could see a swirling cloud over the little town that nestled in the hills across the valley as we watched through our binoculars. A cloud that was made up of thousands of birds, flying and swirling and approaching the reed beds below us. Then there was another, and another.
And gradually, the sky became a heaving, churning, intricate pattern of swiftly moving birds. We were told there were about 1.5 million of them returning every night to roost in the reed beds. They do not breed here. They had flown thousands of kilometres to spend the European winter in warmer climes; and here they were in this place on this evening.
Chattering, swooping, rising; they changed direction together in eddying masses as if they were one body. We could see large clusters skimming over the reeds as they sought refuge for the night. Lightning flashed in the north west and rain began to fall in big heavy drops. The light was fading, and the birds dropped down amongst the feathery heads of the reeds. Although we could not see individuals disappearing we could tell from the incessant chattering from the reeds that each one had found its leaf on which to spend the night.
Over-awed by the exquisite show of co-ordination, community and creation we began to pack up our chairs. We had witnessed a miracle; a miracle that occurred every evening in this place during our warm summer months.
It was evidence of God’s presence and of the diversity of creation to me, and we went on our way to our own homes, rejoicing, just as the birds had done.