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Big bird week on a nature conservation course

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

This blog was written by Bushwise student Jacques du Toit, in October 2022 when the students participated in a Bushwise big birding competition. 

3 min read

This week was “Bird Week”, a refreshing change in scenery from our usual schedule throughout the semesters thus far. 

A flock of yellow-billed storks and other water birds together in an open space. 

On Monday we were briefed on the rules, regulations and schedule of Bird Week. We were split up into two groups, A and B and had an equal chance to find as many different bird species as possible in areas which included the SAWC concession, Manyeleti Reserve and Marieskop State Forest. 

Species had to be confirmed by the trainer onboard, and at least two participants had to have seen or heard the species. Sight of the bird or a clear and concise call of a species constituted a confirmed species. The group who had the most species at the end of Thursday’s activities would be declared winner, and the prize would be the winning group were to be hosted by the losing group at a braai on Saturday night.

A group of students and Bushwise trainer Pioneer stand or crouch in front of a sign welcoming them to Manyeleti Reserve.

Tuesday the competition started with Group A going to Manyeleti Reserve – our campus’ reserve – and Group B trawling SAWC concession for as many bird species as possible. Because it was the first day, it was really easy to discover unlogged species, and the most common species was found and excitedly logged as a find. 

The intensity of the competition began to show at the end of the day when both groups tried to find out how many the other had logged. Battle lines were drawn, allegiances formed and friendships tested.

Wednesday saw the two groups switch areas, Group A around campus and Group B went to Manyaleti. Finding new species to log became more difficult, but with a little more patience and perseverance, the harder to find birds were seen or heard and duly logged. 

A waterfall cascading down rocks in a shady, lush forest.

It was a pleasant change to experience a new reserve, as we all had been conducting our game drives, trails and wildlife tracking around SAWC concession for the past three months and we needed some variety. Competition amongst the groups reached new heights and innovative approaches were used to try to get information from the opposing group.

Thursday was special for all involved. Both groups departed for Marieskop State Forest. This hidden gem had a lasting impact on all students and trainers too. The forest itself was beautiful and an interesting change in biomes. We had become so used to the savannah plains around our campus that when we entered the forest-like biome the first time the excitement and awe in all of our faces was unmistakable.

From a birding point of view, this presented new opportunities to log new species. But the most tremendous moment came after we painstakingly ascended a mountain gravel road and were greeted with breathtaking views from on top of the mountain. 


Students standing atop Mariepskop mountain, looking out on a blue sky day towards a wide landscape of lush forests and hills.

The weather graced us with partial cloud cover below us – which led to astonishing scenic views from the top of the world. For a few precious moments all previous rivalries and competitors took a back seat as we all enjoyed the freshest air.

Friday was the day of results. Group A took the win finding 168 species over Group B’s 157. Combined there were over 190 different species discovered. We then had a mock test for the upcoming bird test the following day.

Saturday started with the much feared test. Unfortunately, the winners didn’t get their prize as the braai was cancelled due to bad weather. 

A Bushwise student and trainer jump for joy atop Mariespskop mountain. The background is a wide view of the Lowveld with blue skies and some clouds below them.

On a personal note, at the start of this week my birding knowledge was less than desirable. But after seeing how excited both students and trainers got during the week with recording their found species and the competition that arose from this, I began to understand the joy of birding. I’ve gained tremendous knowledge on birds, but I still need to improve if I want to catch up to my peers’ levels!

Whether you’re an avid avian enthusiast or a budding birder, a nature conservation course with Bushwise is a great way to further your knowledge! Apply today and join Bushwise.

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