I was following the guide with a bit of guilt, knowing I was playing hookie at church to be there. There being Bosque el Olivar, or Olive Tree Park in San Isidro, Lima. I was mad at God that day, kicking the anthill like ground for the lack of color in this city. Sometimes I wonder if God made Peru with all of his broken brown crayons leaving the colorful ones to aliens to make cool stuff like Machu Pichu.

Sometimes I hate it here.

But then I look up.

Or look at birds, which is why I skipped church that day.

For some divine reason, I had the chance to meet a professional bird watcher.

Let’s backtrack here. Recently I got sucked into bird watching. Peru is a top tourist destination for Twitchers, or bird enthusiasts, who fly around the world to glimpse a rare bird. While I don’t have a binoculars or huge camera with giraffe long lens dangling around my neck (yet), I see it coming. Bird watching is good exercise for the eyes, ears, and uh, butt. You got to hustle a lot around scrubs.

So how did I get sucked down this rabbit hole of ornithology and the sin of church skipping?

While searching for Wordle hints or something silly, my fingers stumbled upon a Lima bird watching website. A few clicks later, my phone chirped. It was a professional bird watcher, her name Nicole.

“Meet me at 10:30 Sunday morning,” her message read.  

I was so excited, but I’d have to ditch church to meet Nicole. Then I rationalized, since God made the birds, maybe He wouldn’t mind.

So, I arrived at Bosque du Oliva, meeting Nicole near the agreed spot, the lagoon, each olive tree being gnarly braids of other trees. I spotted a lip-sticked lady who looked more like a real estate agent than a bird watcher, as she was holding a colored tour group sign instead of a field guide. This must be her, I thought, even though she wasn’t pointing at birds, but at the trees, all decedents of three olive trees originally shipped to Peru from Sevilla, Spain in 1560. I was following this flock around anyway, when I felt my butt vibrate.

“Where are you? I’m waiting by the lagoon.”

So, I was with the wrong group.

Nicole looked like a bird expert in her sandy color jacket, but if she were a local Peruvian bird, Nicole would be a saffron finch. Colorful, petite, and energetic. As Nicole pointed to trees and shrubs, she shared how Peru is one of the top birdwatching areas in the world, with over eighteen hundred species populating the trees and shrubs. That’s more friends than I have on Facebook, Linked-in and the remains of Twitter combined.  And the birds here?  They are not like Michigan woodpeckers, robins, cardinals, or the notorious Red-winged blackbird that attacks joggers in Grand Rapids. They look like colorful escapees from a pet shop.

There’s the saffron finch, a fluorescent yellow in color. Finger-sized Amazilia hummingbirds buzzing around the flowers. Vultures and cu-cu lis—a small dove that makes a cu-cu-li call. A Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, which is a lot smaller than its name, sporting a mullet like haircut. Then the croaking ground dove, which sounds like a frog. Parrots, parrotlets and parakeets, just like the one my grandma bought me as a kid and bit me.

And then, a peculiar bird. Not in the sky but nestled in the grass. I almost stepped on it, the fuzz-like feathers puffy, the bird tired.

Nicole tiptoed toward the bird, “It’s lost.”

Gently, she picked it up, cupping the plump body in her hands. He looked unhappy. Funny how even a bird can look unhappy.

“It’s a lost sea bird, a Ringed Storm Petrel.”

Nicole pointed at the beak, something resembling a weird ebony carving, like a hot dog bun with a too short hotdog. “This is a built-in water purifier to clean out the salt.” Then her shoulder slumped. “He’s going to die.”

I felt bad. That violated that verse I learned as a kid about God taking care of the sparrows. He even gave them GPS. If I had gone to church that day, I wouldn’t have seen the bird’s sad face and droopy eyes.

Then as if out of a comic sketch, a security officer shows up.

She scribbled down important information as Nicole found a safe location to put the bird.

“He’ll be comfortable there,” she said, gently placing him between a thick shrub and house.

Nicole went home, and the bird went to heaven or to the big Chick-Fil-a in the sky.

I wandered home, too, thinking about birds, and the sad-faced petrel. Then I downloaded the Merlin bird app. Then I got a pocket-sized notebook to write scribblings about birds. Then I googled if there are patron saints of birds. Yes, there are. St. Gall from Ireland, St. Millburga, founder of the Wenlock Monastery in the UK, and St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Bird watchers.

Then I wondered if any of them played hookie. After all, skipping church now and then can be a great way to get your spiritual GPS on track.

Look at the birds in the sky! They don’t plant or harvest. They don’t even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren’t you worth much more than birds? Matthew 6:26

If you’re interested in birding download Merlin’s bird app. It makes it easy to recognize a bird by its call, color or location. Merlin Bird ID – Free, instant bird identification help and guide for thousands of birds – Identify the birds you see (allaboutbirds.org)

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