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Tuning in to the natural world

The natural world is all around us – and we play an important role in protecting it. Bushwise student Joshua Stacey shares his experience immersing himself in nature.

Camp manager blogs are written by our current students who each get a chance to lead and manage a group (of their fellow students) for a period of one week.

No matter which direction you look in the bush, if you look hard enough for long enough, there is always something to be seen. It could be the head of a giraffe poking up above the tree line in the distance or a nesting bird, camouflaged in the fork of a branch just a few feet from the vehicle. 

A spider's web in the foreground with a vehicle of Bushwise students behind. The natural world is mesmerising!

Photo by Joshua Stacey

The difficulty comes when you can’t look everywhere all of the time, as something interesting is bound to be missed. I learnt this very quickly on our first game drives and accepted it, but as we have all progressed and trained our eyes, less and less seems to slip through the net. 

This semester we spent a week with Colin Patrick, a local tracking legend, learning how to recognise tracks, describe their characteristics and shapes, how wide or rounded they were and a plethora of other signs in the bush – with the hope of getting a track and sign qualification after completing the end-of-week assessment. In other words, we spent a week staring at the ground. 

Hyena tracks smeared in mud. Tracking is about investigating the natural world for animal signs.

Photo by Joshua Stacey

It was great to get out a bit more on foot, walk along the water’s edge at pans and dams, exploring dried up riverbeds we hadn’t yet seen, learning from such a pro. Finding tracks of aardvark and African wild cat – which are rare species we knew were probably here, but now had proof of – was a thrill. The week itself was a journey of rapid improvement and growing confidence, like many other weeks at my time at Bushwise. I was getting truly immersed in the natural world. 

It occurred to me that during that week, my eyes were always pointed down, craning my neck closer and closer to the ground, trying to catch the outline of something that I had been told was “there”. Everybody else was doing the same – I would stand up straight to ease the pain in my neck and see the others also had their eyes glued to the floor. I am sure somebody was keeping watch, but it felt like anything could approach us undetected as we were so engrossed in the tracks in the sand. 

Bushwise students learning track and sign skills in the African bush.

Photo by Joshua Stacey

Aside from what could have been approaching, what were we missing in the sky above? It is one thing trying to identify a species of bird sitting still on a perch, but a different thing altogether trying to identify a silhouette in the sky from below. When I first arrived in South Africa in January, I didn’t think it was possible for me to be looking at a bird in flight, judging its flight pattern, the shape of its tail, the angle of its head and then accurately narrowing down the options to what it could be.

Like track and sign, being able to identify a bird in flight from below comes from doing it over and over – and goes from being a frustrating game to a fun one. This applies to whichever direction you look. When you try to tune into the bush, and what is going on around you all the time, you observe things you would not have seen before. The more time you spend looking, the more pieces of the puzzle fall into place. 

Above all, being on the Bushwise field guiding course has been a journey of personal development, in terms of knowledge and confidence in that knowledge. 

Two zebra interacting is part of the natural world in South Africa.

Photo by Joshua Stacey

I have always had a keen interest in the natural world which has been fed by watching nature documentaries. But when you watch a documentary on TV or visit a place for a short time, you don’t get a sense of the bigger picture – the whole ecosystem and each small component.

Like most people, I used to enjoy sitting in the comfort of my home and soaking up the action of a lion hunt, or a flamboyant courting bird.  Now with all the knowledge I’ve gained, I consider the special moments that somebody felt while tuning into their surroundings in the months and years they had to wait to film those moments.  

By the way, I achieved a track and sign level 2 qualification, another proud moment from my time at Bushwise that I once thought was beyond me.

Have you ever immersed yourself in the natural world? Apply today and soon you too could be living wild.




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