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This week saw us focussing on birds – a very important aspect of the guiding world, especially in today’s day where birding has become a very popular pastime. Identifying birds has been done on various levels on each game drive since the start of the course, but seeing as it is quite a lot of work and not the easiest topic out there, this entire week has been focussed on our feathered friends. Monday kicked off with a full day in the classroom, covering just about everything you can imagine about birds and what makes them so amazing and unique! Did you know, the oldest bird fossil dates back to 150 million years ago (fondly known as Archaeopteryx lithographica), which looked more like a reptile with feathers!

With all the theory covered, we also looked at some amazing bird photographs to get a hang of identifying them. This makes it easy to practice, as they can’t fly away of course! With all that now behind us, the rest of the week was set up so that we could practice, practice and practice again, identifying as many birds as possible. Now, for a lot of people this might sound relatively easy, but believe me, its not! They are tiny, move a lot and never seem to sit still for long enough to have a decent look. Truly beautiful, but hard work! Then of course, you need to remember the names, with breasted, crested, chested, browed, capped, crowned, streaked, marked and striped… all making names quite confusing. White-crested Helmet-Shrike or White Crowned Shrike? (Yes, they are two different species!). For those of you who aren’t birders – grab a pair of bino’s and have a proper look at the most common birds, that are always around your home or garden (don’t worry, you don’t need to know their name). You will no doubt be surprised at the details and colours you will see.

Over the last three days and many different habitats and areas covered, our student groups went out, each group hoping to spot either more birds than the other groups, or simply just more amazing birds. A bit of healthy competition to spice up the week! The prize, bragging rights at the dinner table of course! At the end of the week, totals are added up, and bragging rights go to Group A, having positively identified no less than 147 different species! Great work everyone! A few of the nicer looking birds seen this week included the aptly named gorgeous bush-shrike, yellow throated longclaw, black crake, African hawk-eagles, bee eaters and a wide variety of sunbirds..

Forgetting about the birds for one second, just one second, some of groups managed to get some big game sightings this week from a particular male lion. Group A had their afternoon drinks break along the river, interrupted when he decided to walk past on the opposite side of the river. He too must have been interested in knowing what birds we were looking at, as he showed quite a bit of interest in our presence and everyone was quickly moved back onto the vehicle. On one of our other drives, we were enjoying a few vultures perched up a tree, when we found the reason for them being there, as close by, the same male lion (only a few hundred meters from where we saw him previously) managed to hunt a fully grown eland cow, very impressive for a young lone male!

Later that day we went back to see how he was managing his digestion process, but we were met by more than just a lion…no less than 13 hyenas eagerly awaiting him to move on, so that they can feast as well. As we watched them, something interesting and quite unique happened. They were all spread out over a nice open area, when one of them, which we can only imagine must have been the matriarch, called and simultaneously, they all got up and moved off in the blink of an eye. Another group also spotted a very large Nile crocodile eating a smaller one! Truly some interesting animal behaviour to witness!

With the last bit of studying, students are prepared for what is almost the last of the Bushwise tests, and I am sure most of you can start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel! Well done on a very hard working birding week!

Until next time,
Charles and the Bushwise team.

Thanks to Frank van Tiggelen for the photo of an Arrow-marked Babbler.