Verloren Valei guides go on birding training

The Friends help two of our guides improve their skills.

Bongani and Thulani show off their new bird books and binoculars
Bongani and Thulani show off their new bird books and binoculars

Guides make a critical contribution to anyone’s enjoyment of a visit to a nature reserve. This is particularly true of a closed reserve like Verloren Valei, where visitors must be accompanied by a guide. The Friends of Verloren Valei has identified the upskilling of the in-house guides as a key priority when it comes to improving access to the Reserve.

We were very grateful to receive an invitation from the Escarpment Bird Club to send people on a course they had created especially for potential bird guides from local communities in Dullstroom, Chrissiesmeer and Mashishing (Lydenburg).

This great endeavour aims not only to add value to the experiences of people visiting nature reserves, game lodges and so on, but also to provide the guides with a new skill. Some who have done such courses have actually gone on to start their own businesses.

The four-day, residential course took place at Verlorenkloof and was presented by Joe Grosel of Temble Ecological Services on behalf of the Escarpment Bird Club. Heidi and Eric Johnson of Verlorenkloof most kindly donated the accommodation for all the delegates.

Friends of Verloren Valei donated R5 000 in attendance fees for our two guides, plus the money for a pair of binoculars and a bird book. The other binoculars and bird book were generously donated by the Bird Club.

Our two attendees were Thulani Maxwell Mhlangu and Bongani Bembe.

Thulani is 28 years old and has been an environmental monitor at Verloren Valei for three years. He’s a local guy, and hails from Draaikraal, near Tonteldoos. He has begun learning about orchids from Gerrit and Frans, and welcomed the opportunity to learn more about birding. He says the course was hugely enjoyable and he’s now in a position to identify new birds as he goes about his duties.

“I was particularly glad to learn some of the language that birders use,” he says.

Thulani’s current favourite birds are the Fork-Tailed Drongo, Bee-Eaters of all kinds and the Diederik Cuckoo.

Bongani is 26 and has been at Verloren Valei since 2014. He is Dullstroom born and bred, and had developed an interest in conservation before coming to the Reserve, having completed an NQF 5-level course in Natural Resource Management at the Wildlife College in Hoedspruit. He has been guiding at Verloren Valei for a while and was delighted to increase his skills by going on the birding course. He says it has given him a good grounding in bird identification.

His favourite birds are the Bokmakierie (bush shrike) and the Secretary Bird.

So next time you visit Verloren Valei, and if you have an interest in birds, ask if Thulani or Bongani could guide you.

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