An Appealing Bushwalk

Wildlife Spotlight | 25th September 2020

“An Appealing Bushwalk” – the latest in Ranger Sean Jones’s series of posts sharing his experiences at Shambala Private Game Reserve.

There are different ways to experience the beauty of the bush, mostly one would be interested in going on a safari in an open game drive vehicle to see if you can view all the animals you have long awaited to see, and maybe get an exhilarating experience of animal interaction along the way, whilst enjoying some scenic views. But even though a safari on the cruiser is always quite exciting, it cannot really be compared to a more naturally appealing bushwalk.

This kind of experience can easily change the way you look at, hear and feel the bush. Eliminating the factor of a noisy engine (and an easy escape method) bushwalks are often more enjoyable, and rather exciting. It illuminates the bird calls and natural sounds one often overlooks, the open air feel that is easily clouded by daily activity, and allows one to be exposed to the natural surrounds and scenic views of the African wilderness.

On a bushwalk there are various precautions needed to ensure the safety of the people on the walk, as the safety of the vehicle is taken away, and one is fully exposed to the elements of the bush. These precautions include a briefing that is done by the guide prior to the start of the walk to inform everyone of the rules to be followed and important information to take note of. It is very important to listen intently in this briefing. Also, the trails-guide carries a rifle with him, as a safety precaution for any potential situation that could arise in the bush.

During an early morning bushwalk on Shambala, we had stopped underneath a tree to interpret a particular sign we had found of an animal. It was the nest of a Black-collared Barbet, an interesting bird species, that we had found in the bark of the tree. These birds are quite appealing, having red coloured feathers around their face, with a black ‘collar’ surrounding it. As we were talking about the male black-collared barbet that sings in duet with the female, we heard them calling together in the background. Quite a serene sound, we stood and listened. We then continued our trail and came upon a water source.

It was here that I instructed everyone to stay behind me, and approach the area cautiously and very quietly as we may find animals up ahead that could be drinking water, and it could be anything ranging from an Elephant or a Lion, to an Impala, so we don’t really want to cause any disturbance. As we came over the slope overlooking the dam, we saw a whole herd of blue wildebeest close to the water. It was quite a spectacle, with the view of the dam behind the grazing wildebeest, not noticing our presence as yet. We stood and watched, enjoying the scene. Suddenly the wind changed direction and the wildebeest caught a whiff of our scent. They snorted and stood frozen looking at us, as if pretending to be statues. We gazed at them, and I told the guests that this would be an opportune moment to take photos.

After being spotted by the wildebeest, we then decided to continue on and leave the herbivores in peace. They simply stared at us as we started walking. Then our tracker on the walk with us pointed out a group of zebra coming into the area. It made sense, as the day was heating up and plenty of animals wanted to come and have a morning drink – their morning ‘coffee’ so to speak. The zebras weren’t bothered by us and quickly made their way, in elegant fashion, down to the water. Zebras and Blue Wildebeest often prefer one another’s presence as they are both grazers, one animal eating the top parts of the grass, and the other the bottom parts. So essentially the one does a favour for the other by eating the top part, they expose the bottom half for the next mammal to enjoy. They also then have safety in numbers, with more eyes on the lookout for a lurking predator.

Further along our enjoyable walk, we came to a thicket area of the bush. In these kinds of areas my tracker and I are always on extra alert, as animals tend to blend in very well with the bush and can come out from anywhere. Suddenly there was a startling sound from behind a set of bushes, about 10 metres away from us. Everyone halted in their tracks and I readied the rifle to be able to react to a potential threat behind the bush. My tracker started softly giggling behind me; “Crested Francolin” he announced. This is an almost chicken like bird that had caught fright of us and took off from the bushes almost right next to us. My heart was in my mouth, never had I thought a bird could give me such a fright, and nor did my tracker.

After a soft sigh of relief, we concluded our bushwalk with a refreshing water break, relishing the experience as I called for a vehicle to pick us up and return to the lodge.

Ranger Sean Jones
Shambala Private Game Reserve


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