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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Trainer

Bushwise big birding week

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

This blog is by Darryn Murray, Bushwise Trainer, who among his many qualifications holds SKS (specialised knowledge and skills) in birding. 

3 min read

Over the past week, the Bushwise trainers and students have been embroiled in an epic birding challenge. 

A Bushwise student jumping for joy, arms and legs outstretched, atop Mariepskop mountain with an incredible and vast view in the background.

Eight students and a trainer were paired up to see how many birds they could correctly identify –  either by sight or sound – over the course of a week at several different locations. 

The prize for the winning team at the end of the week was an aptly named “winners vs waiters” dinner – where  come Saturday afternoon, the winners would be hosted by the losing team and trainer for a full evening’s braai and fireside experience.

The birding competition heats up

A group of Bushwise students and trainers, all wearing warm clothes as it can be quite chilly on top of Mariepskop mountain, are busy looking for bird species.

The competition started out friendly, but the teams soon became super competitive and the competition heated up.

The first afternoon took place at the Southern African Wildlife College campus for a speed birding round – each team was allowed three hours to identify as many birds as possible. Ashwell Glasson, registrar from SAWC, joined in the competition for the afternoon, sharing his wealth of birding knowledge and experience with the students. 

On day 2 and 3, the groups explored the Manyeleti Game Reserve for a full day. This allowed the groups to venture into a new area, see different vegetation and species as well as allow them 10 solid hours to bird.

Bird counts on the rise

A Bushwise student stands on a rock outcrop, scanning the scenery for birds. This photo was taken on a clear day atop the Mariepskop mountain.

By the end of day 3, one would swear the students were protecting state secrets with their team’s scores. Misinformation began to spread, students tried to get hold of the other team’s lists, and there were many sceptical questions about each and every bird the other team claimed to have seen. 

The trainers spurred on the groups, constantly reminding the students (and each other) about the prize at the end of the week.

Day 4 was the highlight for students and trainers alike. At first light, everyone loaded onto their respective vehicles and headed for Mariepskop State Forest. The trainers were possibly the most excited of the lot as it was a chance to bird in a brand new area that nobody in the group had previously been to.

Birding on top of the mountain

A view out from Mariepskop mountain, with the impressive mountain range cascading down the left side of the frame, a Bushwise student sitting relaxed and soaking the view in, and a wide and vast view of the landscape below.

The views from the top of the Drakensberg mountains were amazing and the group as a whole took an hour out of their birding challenge just to take it all in, walk around, take pictures and drink coffee with a view.

Lunch was eaten at the Klaserie Waterfall, before returning to the campus and getting a final tally of birds for the week.

The scores were extremely close. Group 1 scored 159 species, but the winning score was 167 by group 2!

Incredible bird counts from all participants

A Bushwise student looking quite excited with himself, likely because their group won the Bushwise big birding week competition. The photo was taken atop Mariepskop mountain, near Hoedspruit.

The amazing part of the whole experience was that between the two groups a total of 196 bird species were seen over the week. The students learned the value of patience with long periods of staring at vegetation and describing what they had seen as well as how to keep the group tally a secret.

Everyone learned from the birding week –the trainers were even able to add a few birds to their life list. So all in all a great week was had by all.

Do you have a special passion for birds? Or would you like to learn more about our feathered friends? Join a Bushwise course and see how amazing the world of birds truly is! Apply today.

Words by Darryn Murray, photos by Jacques du Toit




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