By One Planet SA
“Birding should not be reserved for the aged professional with lots of money to burn, cruising the world in search of the rare Californian condor” commented Shaun Glynn from KZN Birdlife when he first approached our environmental education NGO; One Planet SA to assist with creating a birding opportunity for learners from less-resourced schools. For many years, Birdlife KZN branch has comprised of a brood of passionate, eccentric, witty and wise old ducks, but all of them understand that to survive and grow as a strong community the gentle art of birding in nature needs to be instilled in the younger generations.
With this in mind, Birdlife, One Planet SA, Sappi and the Karkloof Conservancy partnered together to invite 149 children from 3 Karkloof primary schools for a special excursion to the conservancy’s world class bird hides. With ancient mist-belt forest enfolding the hillsides, presiding over stretches of pristine grasslands and healthy wetlands, the Karkloof is a bird-lovers paradise and boasts over 280 species including all three crane species.
Each partner had a different contribution to make. Whilst Sappi contributed to the travel and food budget, One Planet SA did the preliminary work conducting basic bird identification lessons to the learners in order to provide them with context prior to their outing. The Karkloof conservancy kindly waivered their entry fee and organized the logistics, while Birdlife provided the invaluable contingent of knowledgeable volunteers who guided the groups with the intention of connecting each child to the joys of birding and the beauty of nature.
Being early spring the wetlands were a hotspot of frenetic birding activity and the birding contagion certainly held it’s grip on the excited groups of children that passed through the bird hides. Emerging from a long cold Midlands winter, the widow birds in brilliant breeding plumage with comically long tails vied for the attention of a mate using their elaborate dances, all the while chattering flocks of weavers worked furiously to fashion their nests. After learning 15 of the more common birds seen in the Karkloof, the retention of the learners for detail impressed the volunteers. The drama of watching, for the first time, a Pied kingfisher snatch a fish was priceless.
On reflection of this successful day, the teachers at these school were extremely grateful for our efforts. “Children at our school often view birds as hapless prey they can hunt, shoot and often eat” says Asanda Ngobo (Grade 6 teacher at Hawkstone Primary School). Through patience and observing the birds in their natural environment, many have come to respect creatures smaller than themselves for their own value, as sentinel beings with their own personalities and role to play in a healthy eco-system. Birding is not just a hobby but a gateway in which we can all come to have a profound love and understanding of the intricacies of nature. A healthy form of escapism that takes you to places you have never been, provides a point of connection with people you may not ordinarily speak to, and fosters a curiosity and lifelong learning in our children outside the digital space.
For those interested in birding or hiking as a family or a group of friends, Spekboom Tours, run by One Planet SA Julia Invernizzi can help organise a memorable experience in the Karkloof.
One Planet SA works to support local schools with action packed Sustainable Schools Programme. www.oneplanet.org.za
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