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BY: Benno Klinck, Bushwise student 2020

Who could have guessed that this year would go the way it did? The start is what you would expect from any course, as eight new students from all over the world got to know each other. I did not expect that at the end of it all we could grow as close as we did. 

Like all of us at Toro, my passion for the bush started when I was very young. I can still remember going to The Kruger National Park as a kid, wandering around trying to find out what is this bird? Or what is this animal? To be fair not much has changed since, as I am still that person, constantly curious about the things going on around me, this has helped me a lot in learning new things while being out here in the bush.

I think the one thing the Coronavirus pandemic taught me was patience, in more ways than I could imagine. Everyone started to stress as our country went into lockdown, we didn’t know if we could go on with our course as we should, or if we would be safe during this time. At first, I thought it was a bad thing and that the whole year was ruined but sitting here in the last week of our course it seems like everything worked out the way it should. We stayed safe and our training is at its end without any problems.

The one thing that kept me busy while I was in lockdown was birding. Before coming to Bushwise I was definitely not a birder, and this became clear at the start when I struggled to identify birds. Now at the end of these six months and 245 bird species later I am a much more confident and more experienced birder and to me, this is a massive achievement. I think we were lucky with where we got stuck during this lockdown, one of the safest places you could imagine, right in the middle of a 25000ha game reserve, filled with lots of birds, mammals and reptiles. Learning about and identifying all of these was what kept me busy all this time, not only busy but entertained as well! Through trying to photograph as many as possible new and rare bird species I have had experiences that I will never forget.

One of my most memorable sightings was the Pearl-spotted Owlet. This tiny owl came as a huge surprise when I saw him. I was about to turn the shower on when I heard his call, “tseeu-tseeu-tseeeu-tseeeu” coming closer. He landed in the big Jackalberry right above me. Still calling, he was completely unaware of me standing right beneath him. As quietly and fast as I could, I ran inside to get my camera for a photo. As soon as he heard the shutter, he looked straight at me. Seeing a naked guy with a camera must have spooked him because soon after he flew away and was not to be seen again (This is definitely one of the many perks of having an outside shower in the bush!).

The other sighting that will also always stay in my memory is of a more rare and elusive bird. Since the start of the course, one of my favourite things to do is identifying birds by their calls, and this is what helped me find this bird. The sharp “kaaark” at the river’s edge had me baffled on what it could possibly be. At first, I thought it might even be a mammal of some sort, one of the other students said it sounded like something growling or a Bushbuck alarm calling. Being as curious as I always am, I grabbed a spotlight and went down towards the river. The spotlight was not fully charged but the characteristic white back, rufous neck and large eyes gave away the bird species. White-backed Night Heron. The next few nights a second bird also came to visit the pool in front of the lodge.

These are just two of my more memorable experiences here in the Makalali. The past six months were filled with special moments and so many unforgettable memories that none of us here at Toro would ever forget. Despite being one of the most difficult years of our lives the memories we made here are the kind that can be told around campfires or amaze grandchildren with in years to come.