Summertime and the living is…not always easy

When I think about summer the text line “Summertime and the living is easy” from Ella Fitzgeralds immediately pops up in my head. We all know the feeling a beautiful summer can give us. Long sunny days, a relaxing vacation, good vibes, food, and music. You might get it already, a summer in the African bush looks a little bit different. Nevertheless, it is very special but also challenging in many ways.

While you currently might sit somewhere indoors in European winter longing for more sun, we here at EcoTraining spend all day outside, sometimes wishing for a little refreshment, a little breeze of cooler air,… If you are thinking of doing a Field Guide Course of course the best time to do it is always right now but have you ever considered the season for your course? This blog will give you an idea about what you can expect from summer in the bush and whether it is something for you or not.

Wet, wetter,…..Africa?

Especially as Europeans, we often picture an African summer as the perfect sundowner scene but we forget that the South African Lowveld has its rainy season in summer.

Photograph © Christoff Els

In order to offer enough food and water to the plants and animals throughout the year, the bush is dependant on good summer rains. Most of the rain falls in January and February and can even lead to local flooding. You better pack your gumboots!

Best things to do in camp on a rainy day: Study with your mates, watch a movie or play some games and look forward to the next day and how the rain changes nature.

Photograph © Christoff Els

Speaking of weather…

Let’s tick this unpleasant point from our list. Yes, South African summers are hot and humid. 40 degrees C° plus can easily happen. There will be days where your brain literally doesn’t know how to function because of the heat. You’ll find yourself walking from A to B and by the time you arrive at B, you forgot what you actually wanted. But don’t worry, after every heatwave comes a cold front again giving you time to breathe and relax again.

Best way to keep yourself cool: Short and cool showers, a wet towel, T-shirt or Kikoi around your body or head, a battery-operated or solar fan, and a lot of water to keep you hydrated.

An abundance of everything

Summer in the bush means lush, green vegetation and an abundance of food for the animals. As soon as the first big rains arrive, the bush literally starts to change. The grass shoots high off the ground, trees start flowering and waterholes slowly fill up. I don’t know if that’s scientifically correct to say but to me, the animals look a lot happier during that time of the year as they don’t have to stress too much about food and water. The abundance of food and water resources is also the main reason why a lot of mammal species will have their babies in summer.

Photograph © Sandesh Saddul

Come November and you will experience the change from seeing pregnant antelopes to a whole kindergarten in the herd. With the grass being high and the bush so thick it makes it a lot harder to spot animals compared to winter when most of the trees and bushes don’t have leaves. Yes, sometimes it can be a bit frustrating. On the other hand, it is even more rewarding to spot something in the dense bush and a little challenge keeps your brain fresh.

Best way to deal with the thick bush frustration: Always keep your eyes and ears peeled, listen to other animals’ alarm calling, and watch out for tracks. Focus on the smaller things in the bush. Sometimes they will lead you to unexpected sightings.

Summertime and learning is easy

Imagine you get a list of trees you have to study and the most obvious ID feature is the leaves. But none of the trees actually have left. Welcome to winter! It’s the same with many other things you have to learn. In summer, flowers are blooming and you see them every day, whereas in winter you have to learn most of them from a picture. During the summer rains, frogs and insects magically appear making them so much easier to study. It’s what we see that arouses our interest. Despite all the wonderful mammal species, there will be plenty of topics to talk about on your game drive, be it flowering and fruiting trees, insects, or birds. A lot of birds in the Lowveld are migrants, meaning they spend the summer in Southern Africa to breed and raise their chicks for example and fly further north during South African winter.

Photograph © Marie Schmidt

Photograph © Marie Schmidt

Therefore, doing a Field Guide Course in winter means you will not see many of the birds you will be studying. You won’t believe how much easier it is to learn bird and frog calls if you hear them daily in camp or on your drives.

Best ways to learn in summer: Find a place in the shade and simply watch and listen to nature. Remember the tips on how to keep yourself cool. With trees, I found it very helpful to make my own drawings of the leaves, leaf structures, and flowers.

Fruits and Freakouts

Now that I’ve mentioned insects, I decided to give them their own topic because we can not talk about them…but to make it a bit easier to digest, let’s combine this section with mentioning the delicious fruits the bush offers during summer. From Marula fruits to Sour Plums, you can regularly stop on your game drive and try the different fruits and berries that elephants or monkeys love. Not to forget the fresh and juicy Mangos and Paw-Paws we get for breakfast and lunch every day. Isn’t that something to look forward to? Back to the Freakouts…As soon as the first rains reach the camps, it feels like everything starts to get feet and legs and creeps up on you. Insects, Arachnids, and snakes pop out of nowhere and make a life for some of us a little harder. Walking into a spider web with only half-opened eyes before even reaching the bathroom in the morning is definitely nothing I enjoy. But the good thing is, you get used to it and it becomes less and less scary.

Best ways to reduce your freakouts: Find the right tent mate who can remove all the creepy crawlies from your tent, learn about snakes and spiders because what you understand is less frightening.

Photograph © Marie Schmidt

The best time to become a Field Guide is NOW

Summer, Winter, Winter, Summer. Whenever you decide to do your course, you’ll learn to live with nature and plan your day and activities according to the weather. It’s something that can have a very calming effect on you because you take it day by day and every day as it comes. Personally to me, every season in the bush has its own magic. I love the clear and cool days in winter as much as seeing the bush in full bloom and sleeping in my tent while a summer storm is raging outside. If we wouldn’t have these hot and humid summer days, we wouldn’t wish for the sometimes freezing cold winter days and the other way round. The seasons being so different and the constant change is what keeps living with nature so refreshing.

Why I wanted to be a Professional Field Guide | Interview with Erik Beusse

Erik Beusse did Professional Field Guide Course where he started his journey by connecting with the wilderness around him. Erik tells us about his passion for the African bush and why he wanted to be a guide and what it means to be a Back-up in one of the EcoTraining Camps.

About the Author: 

Marie Schmidt is a past EcoTraining student, Back-up at Makuleke, and currently an EcoTraining Media Intern.