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    For most aspiring guides training and refining their guiding skills, one subject out there strikes fear into their hearts at the mere thought of it. That module is of course, birds! Unlike mammals, they are small, unlike trees, they move and worst of all, they all look and sound the same, well not quite, but ask the right person (or should we perhaps say the wrong person), and this is what they will tell you. During the first few days this week, we covered the theory behind birds, and also did a few picture and call identifications in class, to get a hang of putting birds into the right families and groups etc.

    The following two days would be a bit tougher though, as we headed off onto the reserve to put our newly learnt bird knowledge to use, the aim being to try correctly identify as many species as possible in a day! This might sound easy to some of you out there, but taking into consideration that most birds out here are no bigger than your hand, and sitting concealed in dense trees, it is not an easy task!

    We quickly learn that birds can be identified by call, and quite often this is the only way of determining what exactly that bird might be. Our students did really well, we averaged just under 100 species each day, each group’s totals close to the other! In total over the last few days, we managed to identify a full 141 species! Not bad at all for a bunch of new birders! Amazing to think that just a few days ago, someone managed to ID a Albany Guineafowl!(I wonder who that could be?).

    To those of you a bit more familiar with birds (who would also be familiar with the title from the movie “The Big Year”), we had some amazing species to add to our list, like double banded sandgrouse, yellow-bellied eremomela, bronze mannakin and violet eared waxbill! All relatively uncommon around the reserve.

    Everything was looked at, listened to, photographed and looked at again, books were opened, closed and opened again, “I think I have it! No, it’s definitely not what I thought it was…… where did it go? Its ok, I think it’s gone, no there it is!”.

    Although the main aim was birds this week, we were lucky enough to spot a few of those bigger mammals as well, including Cheetahs drinking water right next to our vehicle, a hippo showing off her new baby, a big elephant bull and lots of healthy looking general game!

    Our students can give themselves a pat on the back for all their effort this week, I think we have created a few new bird enthusiasts around campus.

    Next week we will focus on Advanced Rifle Handling preparations and conservation, history of SA and culture. A sleep out is on the cards, and guest speaker, Ecologist Audrey Delsink Kettles will be making an appearance to talk about the successful elephant contraception program she developed on the reserve. Exciting stuff!

    Until Next Time,

    Charles and The Bushwise Team