A guide always makes a difference
Paying for a guide to take you on a hiking trail can seem to be nothing more than an added expense, especially if that trail is freely available to the public in any case. If you have never had a guided experience, you are absolutely missing out!
Seeing things you don’t see is what guides are known for. It’s training. Not going on a course or anything like that, but waking your senses up to what’s there, right in front of you. The hard part, and this only comes with experience, is actually interpreting those signs you are seeing, hearing, or smelling.
I go out most days for a walk, even just short ones. Not only does it help me fine tune my senses, but it is an opportunity to focus all my attention on those findings instead of the guests. Don’t get me wrong, I live and breathe for guiding, and absolutely believe in my role as a guide. There isn’t much that can beat a day out in the wild with guests. Being on my own is just…different, and gives me an opportunity to sit and photograph as much as I want, without taking up someone else’s time. And so, without further ado, here are a few signs and treasures I came across walking in Nature’s Valley the other day…
The Porcupines had been very busy that morning and there were many scratching’s from them. They are of course a strictly nocturnal animal – active at night – and you seldom see them in the environment I live and work in at present. They are vegetarians and will eat fruits, seeds, bark, roots, and much more. If you come across their diggings, there are two other animals in the area you could potentially mistake it for; Bushpigs and Honey Badgers. The pigs tend to open up a larger area of land and, using their noses, don’t dig deep. Honey Badgers are generally after insects that they have heard or smelled underground. They dig a small, sharp hole, directly to the source. Porcupines make a similar hole to this, but you almost always find chewed roots or left over bulbs.
Genets are small, nocturnal mammals related to Civets and Mongooses – Viverridae Family. I used to see them quite often on the game reserves in the Limpopo Province, but down along the Garden Route, like most of the mammals here, they are quite shy and rarely seen. They are a very common species though – this being a Large Spotted Genet – and I always keep an eye open for any signs they leave behind, like this small dropping. Their spoor (or footprint) is very small and not easy to find, but droppings tend to stand out a bit. They are mostly insectivorous, but eat a variety of small mammals, lizards, eggs, baby birds, and even some fruits. The dropping is small, as can be seen next to my index finger, and often contain loads of insect shells from all the beetles they have devoured
These are one of those spiders that just scare the hell out of people. The females can get nearly as big as a hand and, with their long, thin legs, they can scuttle along quite fast. It has been my experience over the years that people who are scared of spiders tend to be less nervous with the slower moving arachnids.
You don’t get to see them often in the wild, but you could encounter many of their nests. The female first makes an egg sac (with approximately 20 to 40 eggs inside), about half the size of a thumb. She then gathers leaves from the nearest plant and gathers them around the egg sac, sticking it all together in a blanket-like silk layer, before suspending it with silk lines in the branches; ensuring it has a shock absorber system and protecting the nest during heavy winds.
Snake on a path!
The Common Night Adder is certainly not as dangerous as something like the Puffadder in this area, but it’s bite is not to be taken lightly. It is mildly cytotoxic and will cause pain and swelling. As with all snakes you might encounter, please enjoy them from a distance.
This one was just off the pathway and had it not been for the puffing warning sound that they make, I very possibly wouldn’t have seen it. Looking around and noticing signs, my ears are listening all the time, hearing this guy long before I could have gotten too close for comfort.
In the photo below you can see how it pulls itself into a z-shape. The snake can use its muscles to propel it forward for up to three quarters of its body length in a strike. They might be slow-moving, but they are fast-striking, so keep your distance!
Those holes in the ground
You will find these conical pits all over the country, and they hold one of the smallest predators beneath the surface; the larvae stage of the Antlion. Once flighted, they superficially resemble Dragonflies. As larvae, they dig this pit in a few minutes and lie in wait at the bottom. Once a small insect touches the edge, they feel its movement and flick sand at it, making it slide down to the bottom. They grab the insect with their large jaws and proceed to suck it dry. They can only move backwards and you will often see a trail from one pit moving around the sand and leading to another pit; as they move around to a new area. Below you can see how small they are as I found one and held it in my hand.
Sometimes you can come across what seems to be something like a tail drag, but just doesn’t seem right. In this first photo below I have removed the ‘culprit’ to see the marking better. Know what it is?
Markings like this come from grasses, or perhaps a low hanging branch, that blow in the wind. Often the grass will break off and you are left with just the marking, making it harder to decide what did it. This one still had the guilty party hanging over the trail; one of the Restios found in the Fynbos…
My morning newspaper
Some people get up in the morning and read a newspaper, telling them the news from the past couple of days. I get out and read the signs, telling me who moved around and what they were doing. Called me biased, but I prefer my newspaper. Next time you are out on a walk, pay a bit more attention to the area around you, and perhaps you will notice some of the signs too. I’ll leave you with a few more photos of some of the critters I found…