The April 10 Week Field Guide Final Wrap from Justin
It is difficult to believe that another Field Guide course has come and gone, just the other day I remember picking up our students at the airport. Everyone’s eyes were wide open with excitement for the following 10 weeks. We arrived at camp and everyone settled in, but it wasn’t long until we were off on our first game drive on Amakhala Game Reserve.
The first week’s focus was getting familiar with the reserve as well as all the standard of procedures. This was the start of our training to show students what would be expected of them by the time assessment drives arrive in week 9. Week 2’s highlight was the sleepout in the bush where we camped in a dry riverbed, still getting to know one another was made easier with having everyone out in bush and removing all technology items. There was night watch duty assigned to teams of two students each who kept us safe during their shifts.
Week 3 was a very intensive academical week with major subjects such as Biomes, Ecology, Taxonomy and Arthropods needing to be covered, however, after a long week of hard work, there was a me time activity that include each student spending 24hrs out in the bush on Ulovane property. There were many practical activities in the following week such as Fish Survey, Wine Pairing and Amakhala Game Reserve Annual Game Count. The game count happens once a year and all reserve staff are involved in counting animals in their allocated zones in order to submit data to our Ecology to determine animal numbers on the property. This is a highly sought-after activity as our students are placed on various game viewers together with reserve field guides as they drive all the roads in their allocated zones trying to count as many individuals of species.
The following week consisted of endless birding outings to get to learn about as many species as the reserve could offer us while also covering all theoretical topics of birds. Birding is not just about “twitching” or getting to see as many species as one can, but to actually understand bird behaviour and each bird’s unique habitats and behaviour. In my personal experience, I can honestly say that birding aids in your overall guiding product or service that you as a guide are able to offer to clients. There are so many topics that a guide can link to botany and mammals, however, the trick is to pick this up and then the manner in which to convey this to our clients. There will be times out there when mammals are a bit scarce as they face more extremes out in the bush and this is where birding could assist you as a guide.
The art of track and sign identification was a very enjoyable activity for the students as it included many hours looking at all signs left behind on the soil opened all our eyes with regards to how many creatures are sneaking around during the nights while we are cosy in a warm bed. Some of the interesting tracks that we came across include Striped Polecat, Brown Hyaena, Caracal, Hippo. Cheetah as well as Lion. It really is an eye opener getting to know track and sign identification as it assists you as a guide in finding your guest’s special interest with regards to a particular animal species, but for a guide this is so much more as we drive these roads constantly and it could mean the difference of elusive species that has just crossed the roads a few minutes before game drive time and then finally locating the animal gives a sense of reward like no other.
Wildflowers have come out in abundance after some blessed rain and have painted the landscape in spectacular colours. The favourite flower of the course being the Candelabra flower with its incredible pink coloured flowers is definitely something to see, however, after flowering time this species disperses its seeds with a rolling and tumbling method.
So this leaves me to my final message and it is one lesson that has stood out throughout the course and that is never be blind to the beauty that is around us. Guiding is not about chasing or finding all the “Big 5”, but about exposing and revealing our clients to the beauty of our reserves and a true guide will be able to incorporate and establish the links with all fauna and flora on the property, therefore, providing a well all-rounded service to guests. Always take the time to appreciate things in life doesn’t matter how big or small as even the dull coloured flower has a purpose and a function with the ecosystem.
- Justin Barlow
Field Guides Week 10
As the last days of our stay at Ulovane approach and the final FGASA exam is around the corner, we realise how fast time flies and how strangers become friends!
At the start, we all had a different perspective of what we thought this course was about. In the beginning, we started off with First Aid training and then moved on to learning about the planet and how all its components work together, like Geology, Astronomy, Weather & Climate. After this, we delved into flora and fauna modules and had some fun activities like fishing practical and searching for amphibians on a rainy night down by a stream. As wet as it was, we did enjoy splashing and sliding in the puddles; some great laughs and good memories were made!
The most interesting theoretical component of this course for me was birds, understanding how they operate and why they do what they do. I have learnt numerous skills and made quite a few new personal discoveries about myself, but one of the most exciting is that I am quite a shy person, but I found I enjoyed hosting and entertaining people a lot more than I thought! My biggest emotional and personal discovery, however, is that here at Ulovane, I found my confidence in myself.
My outstanding moment of this course was when we did Wilderness Level 2 First Aid Training because this is when our group really started to socialise with one another and became open to learning about different things from all around the world.
Ulovane not only taught me about the wonders of this beautiful and sometimes blurred world we seem to know only half of but to have confidence in yourself as well as in your fellow students. It has been a course to be remembered; now we go our separate ways, but never will we forget the tracks we made as strangers and now we leave as friends.
Marine Guides Week 3
How time flies! It is hard to believe that we are already in week three of our marine guide course!
This week started off with a lovely long beach walk from our home we are staying in at Riet River, towards the very small beach town of Kleinemonde, and back again.
During this walk, our instructor Shani gave all of us a chance to guide the walk so that we may begin putting in to practice what we have learned thus far. Part of guiding on this walk included practising our identification skills of the many stranded shells and seaweed we found along the way. Josien, whom you heard from in last week’s blog, decided to introduce us all to meditation yoga, so we had a session on the beach whilst she led us through all the poses and correct techniques, as this was a new experience for most of us! The day ended off with an enjoyable evening at Schalk and Candice’s house where we were invited for a braai to meet Ryan Tippett and his wife. Ryan is a very experienced and skilled guide, trainer and from many moons ago, a student of Schalk and Candice’s.
The following day Ryan took us for a guided beach experience along the coastline of Kenton. Due to it being high tide at the time of our walk, in some places, we had to walk along the top of the dunes. This stretch of shoreline is very beautiful and consists of both sandy shores and many rocky coves. It was especially interesting to learn about terrestrial dune vegetation and the adaptations that these species have attained in order to survive in an extremely harsh environment. The conclusion of our wonderful beach walk was a tasty lunch overlooking the beach!
As the weather sadly dictates so strongly on our marine course, Wednesday and Thursday had us indoors. The wind on Thursday was howling!! They were days full of lectures focused primarily on marine invertebrates. It is a huge section so the time indoors to study and learn is sometimes welcomed as our final exam is around the corner! For our readers not familiar with our technology – the invertebrates are a very broad group of animals without a backbone ranging from anemones to jellyfish, barnacles, sea spiders and octopuses. Speaking of octopuses, do you know they are called the ‘Chameleons’ of the ocean? Within their skin, they have what is called chromatophores which are specialised cells that allow the octopus to change the colour and texture of their skin. They do this incredibly swiftly and so have coined their nickname because they are truly the masters of camouflage!
Also, however, on these days it is good for us to have a break to ourselves after lectures are done, as the course is jam-packed from start to finish. A bonus that the bad weather brought with it this time for us, was a juvenile flamingo who took rest out of the wind at the mouth of the Riet river. This was exciting for us to see!
As the week moved on, thankfully the weather improved, and we could get out before cabin fever set in! We went to Kenton in the morning and went for a nice low tide walk. After the walk, we had our beach observation which was very exciting. Shani will lay out about 50 items for us to identify – anything we have covered in the last 3 weeks, from shells to seaweed, animal tracks and even identifying certain types of minerals or plants from the dunes. In the afternoon we were back at camp and had more time to study as we wrote exams the following day.
The weekend greeted us with a stunning morning and beautiful weather that followed all day. We wrote our exam late afternoon and then got to enjoy the magnificent sunset on the deck. Weekends on the marine course are usually spent studying as the exams written cover a large amount of information, but we had a lovely walk on Sunday morning, with Springtide visiting us for this Father’s Day!
- Stephan and Lloyd
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –