Field Guide Training Blog by Candice Browne.
When most people think of their study, they think of a drab room with a desk and most often – boring office tasks to get through. I was recently very privileged to be studying towards my Nature Guide Level 1 qualification through Limpopo Field Guiding Academy based at Tau Camp, Mongena Concession, in the Dinokeng North Game Reserve.
This qualification is endorsed by FGASA, The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa, and is now known as the Apprentice Field Guide level – this is the entry level qualification for Nature Guides in SA and carries with it the CATHSSETA NQF2 National Qualification.
Dinokeng means “Place where rivers meet”. The magic of Tau Camp is its scenery, set on the banks of the Boekenhout River. This camp is on the Mongena Concession, the premier safari concession area of the Dinokeng North section of this 23 000 Hectare Big 5 Game Reserve. Vastly different from the Grassland Biome section of Dinokeng South, which allows self-drive and other recreational activities, Mongena Concession and the entire Northern Section of Dinokeng is strictly safari – no self drive permitted and proper safari guide qualifications and procedures in place.
Furthermore, Tau Camp and the entire LFGA / Mongena concession area falls into the Savanna Biome section of Dinokeng North and parts of this reserve push into Limpopo Province, facilitating the ideal training area in terms of landscape and diversity.
I was studying for one of my class tests, and had placed my desk facing the river, underneath the shade of a River Bushwillow Tree (Combretum erythrophyllum). Included in the Nature Guide training lectures and practicals covered that week was Birds, and Animal Behaviour. One cannot ask for a better office/study than a bush office; but I did not foresee the treat the bush had in store for me. Whilst studying, we heard the chirps of Cape Clawless Otters, and looked up to see them playfully enjoying the cool of the river on a hot summer’s day.
They settled in an area up river. The next thing, we noticed a Nile Crocodile drifting past us towards the otters. They were not too happy with its presence, and swam back downstream past us. My colleagues will tell you I am a bit of a “bird nerd” and one of my favourite birds is the African Darter. True to form, whilst studying my section on birds, the river delivered once again. We heard movement in the river and peered up from our FGASA Training books to see an African Darter swimming downstream past us, and wow, did it give us an excellent show on behaviour. Darters are sometimes known as “Snakebird” because of the serpentine way in which they extend their neck and stab a fish. I have never seen one catch a fish before, and here it happened right before my eyes, while sitting at my “desk”. It then took flight to a nearby dead tree overhanging the river, and enjoyed its meal. Later, it splayed its wings open, in typical sunbathing behaviour to dry its wings off.
Just as I had put my head back down to continue studying, there came a rustling from the reeds on the opposite side of the bank near where the Darter was sunning itself. The bird did not like the disturbance and took off in the direction of Mongena Dam. We were now intrigued as to what was causing such a noisy commotion in the reeds. Very soon after, a Buffalo popped its head up and we were further spoiled by observing an entire buffalo breeding herd move past our camp. Not much studying from the books happened in this half an hour, but wow, did the bush give us a lesson in animal behaviour I will never forget!
Tau Camp and Limpopo Field Guiding Academy sure delivered the goods!
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