06h00 on a somewhat chilly morning and the campsite was already bustling. Engines were being started, the fire was already crackling and the urn in the dining room was urning (apologies, I could not resist the pun) it’s keep. Unlike the students, trainers and me, the sun was prepared to show itself but was not ready to welcome the day yet…
There is nothing better than a fire burning brightly in the early light to get the adrenaline going for what lies ahead on the morning drive.
I did mention earlier that it was cold, and the winter kit that the students are wearing goes to prove that point. Pines(the trainer) was making them aware of a specific bird call and was asking the group to identify it as part of the morning activity. No time to waste on this particular course and if students were not out and about listening and watching, they were in the lecture room trying to ID both bird species as well as calls. Not as easy as it sounds!
“I spy with my little eye”. Binoculars are a prerequisite for this course. Unlike me being glued to the viewfinder of my camera, the binos help with ID of birds that might be just too far to positively recognize with the naked eye.
One of my favourite Kingfisher species. The Brown-hooded Kingfisher. Unlike its name tends to suggest, it eats mainly insects and small reptiles, rather than feeding on fish.
Have YOU ever seen a WHITE Guinea Fowl before? This was a first for me, and I believe for some of the students as well. This particular individual is leucistic rather than albino.
For those who are interested, the difference is that leucism doesn’t completely eliminate pigment. Because they don’t fully lack melanin, leucistic birds have normal-coloured eyes rather than the pink or red eyes of albinos.
I am so glad that I was in this particular reserve(Dinokeng) in winter when the lack of foliage makes it easier to spot birds trying to hide in the branches. This Southern pied Babbler was trying to make himself invisible, unsuccessfully I might add.
A first for me. An African Snipe, one of several that were scattered around this water hole.
Although the Yellow-billed Hornbill is easily identifiable and fun to observe, they can become a nuisance in and around campsites where they will brazenly steal the food from plates and buffet tables.
Two of the required 3 “B’s”…books, binos and birds…
Who knew that they could actually fly? They tend to run for long distances before taking to the air. But in this case, this Guinea Fowl had to get out of an old farm dam, and this was the only option.
One of the students shared a story about cooking this particular game bird. It is very tough and needs to be cooked long and slow. What she was told, you place two bricks inside the bird and then cook it for two days. Once done, you take out the bricks and throw the bird away…apparently, the bricks taste better than the meat!
Trying to get a decent image of a Crimson-breasted Shrike is almost impossible as they very seldom stand still long enough to get a perfect shot.
And talking of perfect shots, this Verreaux’s Eagle-owl that was sitting on eggs in a Hamerkop nest was just as impossible to photograph. It took several trips to the nest to get a usable image. But, I was not there to waste the students time, so I had to be grateful that the bird eventually turned and I was able to get this.
A tree filled with red-billed Quelleas. After domestic chickens, this is the most numerous bird species in the world. They are counted in the billions!
Barely visible, but just enough to be identified and added to my list… a Yellow-fronted Canary.
Back in the lecture room before AND after dinner the students get ready to put their knowledge to the test.
Watching Pines at work, it is clear that he has a passion for teaching bush-craft, survival skills and practical guiding skills. Many a student has benefited from the practical skills that they learn through time in the bush with Pioneer.
Pines is able to share his knowledge, especially birds, in a humorous manner. But don’t let that fool you! As the students were to discover, it is not easy to hide from his questions and the answers have to be technically correct. (If you are in any doubt, as I was on several occasions, just say that it is a Fork-tailed Drongo mimicking calls)
Pioneer is a FGASA Professional Trails Guide, Professional Field Guide, ETDP Assessor of Guides and CyberTracker Track and Sign Specialist and he recently added SKS Birding to his already impressive list of qualifications.
The lights in the lecture room burned late into the night as the students took their studies very seriously. For me, it was time to head back to my tent and catch up on photo editing for this posting.
Being out in the bush is my ‘happy place’. Being in the bush with a group of students is an even happier place for me…especially when I return home with new knowledge and experiences that will become memories in time to come. Thanks to all the LFGA staff, trainers and students for making me feel welcome.
To find out more about the courses on offer, click on the logo below.
I interviewed Mark Stavrakis and Pioneer Moyo back in July 2020. To watch the interview, click on this link: https://youtu.be/ob8J2dMZjMk
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