“There are two aspects on a personal level when it comes to change. It is either embraced or it is the one thing many of us fears the most.” Change really is as good as a holiday, but even more so when this ‘holiday’ is in the bush!
According to the World Rivers Day Association this day “is a celebration of the world’s waterways. It highlights the many values of our rivers, strives to increase public awareness, and encourages the improved stewardship of all rivers around the world. Rivers in virtually every country face an array of threats, and only through our active involvement can we ensure their health in the years ahead.’’
The white-backed night heron is an elusive and rather poorly known species of crepuscular piscivore. A relative of the much more common black-crowned night heron, this secretive and shy inhabitant of slow-flowing rivers and dams are generally regarded as rare throughout a rather wide distribution. They can be seen from the east cape of South Africa along the Indian coastal belt through to the Lowveld and into parts of Southern and central Africa.
But they can only be spotted in their suitable habitat which makes finding them for your life list that much trickier.
The species stronghold is undoubtedly the Okavango Delta where local mokoro based excursions from many lodges in the area offer a good chance of connecting with this sought after skulker. Birds are most often seen when flushed from bank waterside vegetation where they roost in the deepest shade during the daylight hours. They are generally active from early evening into the night before flying back to their roost sites as dawn approaches.
Their hunting methods
White-backed Night Herons (Gorsachius leuconotus) as with most herons are opportunistic feeders with fish, arthropods, frogs and freshwater crabs comprising most of its diet. Some of their prey will simply be seized because it is available. A strong spear-shaped bill is used to spear passing prey at such speeds that the prey passing won’t know what hit them.
Underwater prey is waited for patiently, usually from vegetation overhanging the surface of the water or from a waded position just out from the bank. These birds can sit motionless for long periods of time until the opportunity arises. Like all herons, they possess specialised neck vertebrae. The neck is able to kink in an S-shape, due to the modified shape of the cervical vertebrae. This acts as a coil spring which gives their hefty bill incredible speed when the head is shot forward towards unsuspecting prey.
Another incredible feature of this hunting method is that these birds automatically take into account the refraction that takes place when looking into the water. The head of a heron corrects for light refraction at the water’s surface by adjusting the position and keeping a constant relationship between real and apparent prey depth.
Where do they occur in South Africa?
In South Africa, there are very few reliable places to find this endearing species with several sites along the garden route and Eastern Cape, Lake Phobane in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Lake Albasini in Limpopo offering some of the better chances. Something that is quite exciting is that this special species has been recorded quite regularly at EcoTraining Karongwe Camp. Most records are from the weir along the Karongwe River within the reserve, but birds have been seen at nearby Spectre and GVI Dams as well as from within camp itself.
This is wonderful news for birders who have been eluded by this beautiful bird as here at Karongwe there is the potential, for those who are fortunate, to access one of Africa’s most desired birds while taking in the beauty of the African wilderness and the stunning Lowveld.
If you are a keen birder or want to learn more about birds, why don’t you try your hand at our EcoTraining Bird Challenge?
EcoTraining’s Worldwide Community brings both personal and global benefits
By Zach Savage
There are so many reasons to choose EcoTraining as a place of learning, whether you want to have a career as a safari guide or take a wildlife course and become a custodian of nature. One of these is being exposed to the most beautiful wilderness areas in the different camps. But another – perhaps unexpected – reason that EcoTraining camps are such a great place to learn is that you will meet people from all over the world and from all reaches of life. Actually, for me, this is one of the best parts about spending time in an EcoTraining camp. Far from only being confined to a particular geographical area, your world is expanded so much, and you learn more about life and people than most ever will.
The first night at camp
On your first night in camp, there’s a fireside gathering where everyone says where they are from in the world: Germany, South Africa, Netherlands, Mexico, USA, Britain, Switzerland, Zambia, Australia, Bulgaria, Italy, Denmark – the list goes on. It’s an opportunity to hear about each individual, learn what their outlook on life is, how they were raised, what they believe in and many other insights into a life completely different from your own. There are many lessons to be learned from this: you can draw differences between their life and yours, but it is the similarities between you and someone from halfway across the planet that really connects you to a feeling of unity that we all experience when we are in the bush.
You will find that you build relationships in the bush much quicker than you would under normal circumstances. In camp you are interacting with a small group of people, day in and day out, for weeks – or even for months -at a time. You can become very close to people very quickly. And, for the most part, the intimate nature of camp life is only beneficial as you are spending time with like-minded people who are there because they love nature and want to learn more. You get to know people so well that often bonds and friendships are formed that can last long after the course has finished.
The ethos of EcoTraining is to create Guides and Guardians – people who care about nature and its conservation and then to have these people guide and teach others to also respect nature and protect it in every way possible. When someone leaves EcoTraining, 99% of the time they are leaving as a guardian, spreading that awareness and passion for nature all over the world, and so helping create a worldwide community of Guides and Guardians.
In this way, doing an EcoTraining course is not just about gaining a qualification or having a holiday during which you significantly add to your knowledge. It is about creating much greater respect for nature on a global level so that we can preserve it for generations to come – and play a role in one of the most important issues of our time.
Life lessons from leaving my comfort zone and jumping into the bush
By Julia Korn
“I could do this for a year,” I told my parents when they took me on safari in 2017. The next thing I knew, our guide was telling us about the course he had done to get his FGASA qualification with EcoTraining. I looked at my parents and the only thing they said was that they were jealous of me as they immediately knew that I would definitely want to do the course.
While scrolling through the EcoTraining website and Instagram, I got more excited with every photo. I just could not believe that I would be able to live in the bush for a year and meet people from all over the world, while learning everything about my direct surroundings. At this point I just wanted to finish my high school and start the year-long course as soon as possible.
Don’t get me wrong: it was not an easy decision. I would be away from my home in the Netherlands, and all my family and friends, for a full year. Also, not being familiar with sleeping in an unfenced tent, far away from civilisation, having no cell service, and encountering bugs, spiders, snakes and other creatures scared me a lot. I knew it would be a totally different life to the one that I’ve had for the past 18 years. This actually ended up being the main reason for my decision to sign up for EcoTraining’s year course. And I could not be happier that I did. All the worries that I had ended up being unfounded – or at least turned into a lesson.
“One of my favourite moments”
In no time I got used to, and appreciated, the basic way of living. One of my favourite moments must have been when an elephant got into camp and broke our water source which made all the water stream out of the borehole. We all knew what it meant: no water for a couple of days. But instead of getting annoyed and thinking of the inconvenience, we embraced the experience and jumped under the stream instead.
“Four months into the course”
My plan had always been to study after high school but something inside me just wanted to do something totally different for a while. I wanted to get out and learn about nature, ecosystems and the beautiful wildlife that I had fallen in love with while going on safaris. I had a strong feeling that I had to learn how life used to be, and what big influence people have had on nature, before I went off to study anything else. Little did I know how important it actually is to have an understanding of the formation of the earth and nature, and how everything around us has been influenced by that – and how important it is for all of us to do the best we can, to preserve as much as we are able to. I also never expected to learn so much about the importance of hospitality in the guiding industry. Although I am not planning to pursue a career in guiding, I’ve learned so many life skills – for example, how to be professional, make a good first impression, deal with guests and work with other people. I love how this is a big aspect of EcoTraining, since I now have these skills which I can use for anything I decide to do with my life. Another aspect of the EcoTraining course that I appreciate is how to deal with changes. Currently I am four months into my year-long course and I have already stayed at four different camps. Not only did each one have a totally different environment and animals, but also different instructors who all have their own way of guiding and have taught me different things.
The way of studying is different to anything I had previously experienced. Firstly, while there are lectures, homework and exams, it doesn’t stop there. During game drives you can actually see what you’ve been studying. For example, you might have been revising the nutrient cycle in preparation for a test. Then, a few days later, you come across three cheetahs killing and eating an impala and, afterwards, see all kinds of decomposers – like beetles – doing their job of decomposing the carcass. You then start to really see and appreciate what you have learned. Secondly, you are surrounded by people who are all very passionate about wildlife and conservation – not only the instructors, but the rest of the students too. This is very motivating and makes everything we do much more interesting – especially for people like me whose first language isn’t English. All the students have always helped me wherever they could. As a group having these similar interest results in us bonding very quickly. I still can’t believe the amazing group of friends that I’ve made at Ecotraining. At one point we had 10 different nationalities which made for a great diversity of friendships and I have even taken on some Italian lessons with a friend.
“Placement at a Safari Lodge”
In February I will begin my placement at a Safari Lodge and I can’t wait to put to use all the knowledge my EcoTraining course has given me. Later, I would love to combine my passion for filmmaking and my knowledge of the bush to make documentaries. I can truly say that this year has already helped me figure out what I want to accomplish in my life. By challenging myself and jumping out of my comfort zone and into the bush I have learned a lot – not only about the role of every little aspect of nature but also about myself and what I want from life.
In 2009, the United Nations declared that July 18th, Mabida’s birthday would be celebrated internationally as Mandela Day. In tribute to the 67 years that he fought for equality and social justice, communities, businesses and individuals were tasked with ‘giving back’ for 67 minutes.
The last Advanced Birding course was filled with exciting wildlife encounters and learning opportunities on the beautiful Mashatu Game Reserve. See what the students experienced in this photo blog.