The Heart-Attack bird.

Just a good story about the time a bird almost gave me cardiac arrest.

Fresh out of university and ready to take on the world, I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to take on a dream job for my first working opportunity. 

Working in the bush was exactly what I wanted to do and I got to join an incredible conservation team and the best part about it, is that I had a few of my very good friends in the team with me. I’m sure you can already begin to think of all of the mischief we got up to while working on the 21,000 hectares of the beautiful Marataba Contractual National Park. 

Nevertheless, we were very fortunate to have stayed on the reserve during COVID and because of all of the travelling restrictions for tourists, the lodges on the reserve were closed. There were very few staff and we had to keep a few general operations going but besides that, what else do you do when you have an entire reserve to yourself and a few of your friends? As you can imagine, we explored every corner of Marataba. 

One of our favourite things to do was to go on bush walks. Being on foot with wild animals is something that is hard to describe to an eager safari go’er if they haven’t done it themselves. When you are on a safari vehicle, we tend to have a false sense of security compared to when you are on foot, you need to be so aware of your environment because the last thing you want to do is find yourself in the middle of a pride of lions (been there done that, and that’s a story for another day!) Every sound, every smell, signs to look out for, change in wind direction, and even that funny gut feeling you get in your stomach - these are just a few things that you have to be conscious of while going on a bush walk. 

Now, on one particular morning we decided that we were going to do a walk to try and track down the dominant male lions we had on the reserve - two beautiful boys that we had walked before so we had an idea of what we were in for. Before leaving our camp, we heard them early in the morning roaring towards the east of the reserve so we had a direction to work with, and off we went. The first hour of the walk was incredible! We had come across a herd of elephants and decided to sit and enjoy the calm environment they created as you heard them moving through the bushes, pulling up tuffs of grass as they went along, and with the sun rising, it was really turning out to be a perfect day for walking. 

We eventually moved on from the elephants and continued our mission to try and pick up on the lions. We got to the area where we thought we had heard them and decided that we would walk in a loop to try and pick up on their tracks on some of the roads that were in the area. True as bob, we found the sign that any guide gets excited about when out on a walk. Beautiful, big, relatively fresh tracks in the road heading in a direction. So we caught our breath and we took off after them, using the open road to try and make up some time and catch up to them. Tracking is an absolute art, and trust me, we were no experts. I would have loved to have learned from trackers in the industry who have been doing it for years - can you imagine all of the stories those guys could tell?? Anyway, from what we could pick up, it was amazing to “read the story” in the sand as it unfolded. We could clearly see where the lions were stopping to scent mark on the side of the road, we could see where they would stop and lie down, we could see where one of the males had moved ahead of the other and the lion at the back picked up his pace to a light jog to catch up with his partner and the two interacted with each other. It all unfolded right in front of us, but we were still on a mission and eventually their tracks moved off into the bush, and into some really thick bush as well. 

We had made up some good time on the lions and before we knew it, we were onto some very fresh tracks. We estimated that they were about 20 minutes ahead of or so, which could change very quickly if they were to find some shade as the heat of the day began to take over. All of a sudden, we had to slow down and become aware of all of those things that I mentioned to you previously. It was dead quiet. There was not a breath of wind. The 3 of us all had our heads up looking all around, only looking down to make sure we wouldn’t step on branches or piles of leaves. Every now and then, we would stop and listen. We knew we were close. Your heart starts to race at this point because you are vulnerable. One step after the other when ALL OF A SUDDEN………………….. 

One of these beautiful Swainsons Spurfowl, well, not quite in this particular moment, jumped out from a bush not even 2 metres away from us and absolutely shattered the silence of the bush with its call. My goodness - the 3 of us all leaped at least a metre into the air and we definitely all skipped a few heartbeats. Immediately after we realised what it was, we all burst into “whisper laughter” and before we could even think about continuing with our walk, we had to catch our breath again while our legs were all shaking like jelly. Honestly, we even had to double check our pants because that was genuinely a heart attack kind of moment and that bird nearly did it for all of us. I am sure you can now understand why this Spurfowl has the nickname of being the “Heart attack bird” because I can guarantee you that I am not the only guide who has a story like this!

Once we settled down we eventually got going again and we did end up finding the lions, resting under some shade and we got to watch them from a comfortable distance. This truly was a walk that I will never forget and a memory that is great to look back and have a laugh about. That split second when it happened however wasn’t the greatest!

All in all, I really love moments like this and it is always special to be immersed in nature and I am certainly thankful for all of the opportunities I have had. I hope that all of you enjoyed that story and I would encourage you to keep an eye out for some of the other ‘just good stories’ the other guides are going to be sharing on our blog page in the months to come. 

Thanks for reading!

Until next time,

Michael

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