This course we had had 4 students, 3 from RSA and 1 from Lesotho. The course seemed to go well but sadly the one student didn’t make the grade on the theory aspect of the course despite having tried to improve his marks towards the end by taking an oral exam instead.
I have to admit that trying to get this group of students motivated in birdwatching was a real challenge and it took most of the course before the message started to sink in that birds are such an integral aspect of a guides repertoire. By the end of the course the students started to show some more enthusiasm. Over the past few years I have adopted a technique of trying to introduce them to identifying birds using the slide projector, which normally yields very good results as the birds seldom seem to fly away!!. However trying to take the next step up and watching the birds in the veld takes a great deal more effort. During our final week in the Kruger the interest seemed to hit a peak, but this may have been due to the fact that we saw many different raptors. Birds of Prey, being larger and supposedly easier to recognise as far as a family is concerned, often generate an interest- it’s a pity though that this interest doesn’t always transform into the smaller finches and other more difficult birds.
The game viewing throughout the course was generally very good. As Leon put it one day, we didn’t seem to go on a single walk where we didn’t see the wildebeest. We were treated to a lioness at her kill about 200m from the centre. She had taken down a 2-3 day old giraffe during the night. We went in the following evening to see if she would come back to her kill. Sitting in the dark, we were treated to sounds of jackal in the area, and views of the unfortunate mother walking round and round the area, probably trying to understand what had happened. On hearing a strange snuffling sound on the kill I turned the spotlight back on to discover that a honey badger had turned up. Sadly he soon moved off and we only got a short glimpse of him. A couple of minutes later we heard a similar sound, and so thinking he had come back, I turned the spotlight back on. The badger wasn’t there but hiding behind the tree and trying to make herself invisible was the lioness. That was about as good as we were going to see of this lioness and so we left her to the giraffe and we went off to have our own dinner.
We had numerous elephant sightings, including a few on foot, as well as buffalo, giraffe, zebra and other more common species. The effects of the elephants on the environment is really showing now with many mature trees being flattened, including even Leadwood trees. On one occasion we had up to 11 bull elephants drinking from the waterhole. We also had one walk where we were unlucky not to find the lions as their tracks were only a couple of hours old and after we followed them, it was discovered that they had in fact crossed into the next door reserve.
A very relaxed viewing of a herd of elephants
1st aid training with a spineboard
The trip to the reptile park was also appreciated. Instead of the usual snouted cobra that we were able to take photos of with the students in the background, we made use of a Rhinkals. The snouted cobra really wasn’t in the mood for behaving and so the guide said we could use the rhinkals instead. However as these are spitting cobras, it meant then that everyone had to wear their protective eyegear, which was quite amusing.
Our trip into the Kruger was again a great success. For the second time we saw Roan antelope, as well as Tssessebe. We had a great sighting of a pride of lions with some young cubs. Finding them was a stroke of luck as I had stopped to show the students the difference between two different palm trees and looking across the Shingwedzi river to the far bank, I noticed the pride of lions lazing about in the early morning sun. We eventually found our leopard as we left the camp on the final morning. She was lying in a dip about 30m from the gate to the camp. It is possible that it may even have been one of the 2 that we saw on the previous visit as it was only a few hundred metres away from that location. We also had a greater flamingo in the river for the three days which was unusual.
All in all the course was a great success.