So we enter the final stretch, and the last full semester as the next is only one week long for most of us. And if the sightings continue for the whole month like they’ve been for the first week then we are in for a good one. This week included a talk on the hospitality side of guiding, a trip to Kruger, a tour of Makalali safari lodge, several game drives, and a lot of staring at trees for the tree ID test at the end of the week. And god, if I thought bird ID was bad, tree ID is ten times worse. Though at least the trees don’t tend to fly away while you’re looking at them.
Before all that though my week started with some very good news as I got an e-mail to say I was chosen for one of the two placements at GVI Karongwe, which I had been really hoping for and stressing out a little over during my off week. So that is a massive relief. I really enjoyed meeting the GVI staff and liked the base a lot (can’t wait to actually be living on a reserve again, with no fences and elephants in the garden!) and the fact that it’s just down the road means I will still be in the vicinity of half my fellow students, and be able to come back and harass the Bushwise staff occasionally, which is nice. I get on very well with the guy who got the other place and am really happy to be going somewhere with a fellow student, because I think it’ll make the whole experience more fun.
I start on June 1st, which is the same day most other people are starting their placements. Just over 5 weeks away. Seems unreal!
More good news came with the results of the bird ID test we did at the end of last semester, which I didn’t think I’d done that well on but actually ended up getting 84%. Which means I get a snazzy birding certificate to prove I know my birds, or at least that I’m capable of making a lucky guess.
The not-so-good news this week was that plague hit the camp. Several people were struck down with vomiting and diarrhea, and at the same time others got flu. At one point over a quarter of students were bedridden and my group had one game drive with only four people instead of our usual seven. Somehow, despite my room-mate oozing pestilence for two days, I’ve managed to avoid both illnesses, and it looks like people are mostly better now so we won’t have to burn down the campus with cleansing fire.
Tuesday, while hanging out laundry for my dying roommate, I saw a snake jump from a tree to catch a frog. This is a pretty common occurrence, spotted bush snakes seem to really like all the frogs that live around campus and their number-one hunting technique involves flying out of trees and scaring the hell out of anyone standing below. The fascinating bit this time was watching the snake race across the ground, holding the frog by its head, and begin to climb back up into a tree. I can’t really believe how they do it without any limbs but it basically slithered backwards up a vertical surface as quickly as if it was going along the floor, only pausing when the frog managed to grab onto the tree with its back foot.
Wednesday my group headed off to Kruger for a day trip. It was probably the best day I’ve had in Kruger so far sightings-wise. We ticked off all of the big 5 (four of them before 9am), I got four new birds, saw fish eagles mating, and we were able to watch a lot of really interesting behaviour. A highlight was about 40 vultures on a fresh kill, with more constantly landing and taking off, fighting amongst themselves, and then a black-backed jackal who barged his way into the middle of the scrum and started chasing vultures and helping himself to the meat. Also a herd of 150-200 buffalo. There is a big problem with bovine TB in South Africa so a lot of places don’t have buffalo, or keep them quarantined. Makalali itself has a small number of disease-free buffalo, kept isolated in a separate area from the rest of the reserve so we never really see them. Going to Kruger and getting to see the big herds moving across the landscape is always a nice experience.
Thursday we had two drives on Makalali, looking mainly at trees and grasses to prepare for Saturday’s test. Though despite the focus on plants we still managed to see the two biggest elephant bulls on the reserve, the youngest giraffe I’ve ever seen, and a lot of bird life. As well as having the most intimidating encounter I’ve had yet, when around sunset we came across a spider-hunting wasp, dragging a freshly caught tarantula across the road. In my excitement I got a bit too close and the wasp dropped its spider and turned to stare me down, making a very loud and angry noise. Cobus cheerfully told us how these things are really aggressive, and if you annoy them they will chase after you to sting you, and their sting is extremely painful (he speaks from experience). We all jumped back on the landie and sat motionless as the thing took off, and we could hear it circling the car in the dark. It was definitely scarier than lions.
Yesterday evening before bed I had another new animal sighting, as my roomie nearly stepped on a snake walking to the bathroom. And what a weird snake. At first I thought it was a slow worm, but later ID’d it as a Schlegel’s beaked blind snake, a kind of burrowing snake with an incredible blue colouring. This one was about 15cm long but they can apparently grow to a metre, though large specimens are almost never seen above ground.
Then today while cleaning the pool I found three frogs in the filter, fortunately still alive, though very unhappy so they were all puffed up like balloons. I’m not really sure how this is supposed to be a defense mechanism but apparently it is. Two were mottled shovel-noses, which I’ve never seen before, and one was a Bushveld rain frog, which I have only seen once. Rain frogs are a favourite of mine because they have a hilarious face, they look really disapproving and grumpy all the time.
So that was a few more weird, rarely sighted animals – which are the best kind to see. Can’t really complain about how this semester has started; hopefully it’ll keep on like this.