South African rangers are known for their extensive knowledge of the local bush and wildlife, as well as their ability to track game. Some rangers however, have unique skills, which set them apart from the rest. One such ranger at Tanda Tula Safari Camp (www.tandatula.com), Scotch Ndlovu, has such a skill, much to the enjoyment of guests. During a bird sighting, he can often be heard calling out numbers to guests, such as ‘Page 100, number 2!’.
At first, guests seem confused, but soon realise that Scotch is referring to the Birds of South Africa book (edition 3). Scotch identifies the bird species and tells guests the exact page that the bird can be found, as well as informs them of the number within the page.
The accuracy with which he identifies the wide variety of birds is nothing short of remarkable. This is no mean feat, as there are over 950 bird species within the book, within 488 pages! ‘’Guests often think I am joking at first, then they check the book and find out I am right. They are surprised and impressed and will often try to catch me out. Often, the guests interact and start learning about the different birds as well as the page number where the bird can be found,’’ says Scotch.
Scotch is one of Tanda Tula’s most experienced rangers and has been with the safari camp since 1996, where he began working on maintenance and field work. With his passion, determination, willingness to learn and larger than life personality, he has gone on to achieve great success, and was recently invited to take part in a senior tracking assessment where he achieved full marks in the trailing segment, elevating him to senior trailing specialist status – a fantastic achievement. Tanda Tula Safari Camp now has two senior trailing specialists which is very rare.
Scotch first began tracking full time in 2002, which was when he started taking serious note of which birds the rangers were pointing out to guests. ‘’I began making use of the book in the field and over a couple of years I had memorized a few hundred species. I make use of the book as much as possible and continue learning every day. I tell guests that they have to take the time to study the bird and any details. Breaking the birds into families helps as the families are usually grouped within a couple pages of each other,” he adds.
Scotch’s favourite bird is the Pearl-spotted Owlet (page 242), while his most unique sighting was a Martial eagle (page 100 no.2) catching and killing a Helmeted Guineafowl (Page 142 No.2).
A skill such as this is not without its challenges, as new editions will continue to be published. Scotch is now learning the new edition and he believes it will take him six months to a year to memorise the new positions.
One of the subtle effects of Scotch’s unique skill is that it draws guests of Tanda Tula Safari Camp into discussions and further interest in the birdlife in the area. This is particularly valuable, as many guests come to realise, through this interaction with Scotch and his bird book, that there is so much more to see in the bush than just the large mammals and the ‘Big 5’.
The bird life at Tanda Tula Safari Camp is exceptional throughout the year, but the summer months are a real highlight as all the migratory species return.
Visit www.tandatula.com for more information, and to learn more about the wildlife in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Also, become a fan of Tanda Tula Safari Camp on Facebook and keep up to date on news about Scotch as well as the other rangers.
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