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Not just about Birds – City Nature Challenge - Justin Ponder

Birds, as well as every living creature fascinate me. This is about a day spent on a mountain pass, gaining data for a researchers social media platform, and having a heap load of fun!

Those who have birded for long enough will know that there are so much more then just birds. Often while out birding, one will spot a couple of antelope, see a snake slither across the road, or even start to wonder what tree a bird is sitting in.

iNaturalist is a social media platform that uses our photos of any living organism to contribute to science. By uploading a photo with a date and location, researchers can measure the density, or plot the range of several species. Once a year, iNaturalist hosts a worldwide event, called the City Nature Challenge, to encourage people to broaden their views for a few days and look at nature other then what their main interests are. This challenge is a competition between different areas around the world, to see who can record the most species of organisms in four days. Occasionally, this will open doors for a person, and they find themselves enjoying the rest of nature more then before. This year, I found myself in that very position.

Pink Sewejaartjie flower
Pink Sewejaartjie

I was preparing for the nature challenge a few days before it started; choosing a spot to go and trying to increase my knowledge of wildlife other than birds. Up until this stage, I had only been a birder, albeit sometimes taking a photo of the odd butterfly or scorpion. As I dove deeper into the world of life, I was starting to get fascinated by the other animals out there, particularly reptiles, butterflies, spiders, and scorpions. I found myself getting more excited about the upcoming days. The nature challenge drew closer, and I was ready to start observing.

Swartberg Mountains

The spot I had chosen to observe was the Swartberg Pass, a stunning mountain range filled with heaps of interesting wildlife. I get dropped of at the top of the pass half an hour before sunrise, planning to spend the next twelve hours exploring the mountains alone. I begin searching, taking a photo of every plant I see, flipping every rock I walk over, and scanning every bush I see for birds. The first few animals start to trickle onto the list; Cape Legless Skink, Scorpion Spider, Orange Breasted Sunbird, and Red Velvet Mite.

Cape Legless Skink
Cape Legless Skink

I head down the mountain toward a protea patch and have stunning views of some endemic birds such as Protea Canary, Cape Sugarbird, and Cape Siskin. And on seemingly every bush, sat an Orange Breasted Sunbird. The day was going fast, as was memory space on my camera.

Cape Sugarbird
Cape Sugarbird

The heat of the day comes up as I find a field of knee-high fynbos. I know exactly what I am searching for here, but interesting animals seem to be hiding under every rock. I find Ocellated Gecko, Hewitt’s Leaf Toed Gecko, and Common Lesser Thicktail Scorpion, all of which are non-bird lifers. But as I am walking through the fynbos, the bird I want flushes from barely two meters in front of me. I watch as this critically endangered, and extremally rare bird fly off, leaving me dumbfounded. Fynbos Buttonquail, in the bag!

Ocellated Gecko
Ocellated Gecko

The sun heads down toward the bottom of the mountains, and despite my protesting legs, I continue to walk in search of animals. I photograph two lifer butterflies, Orange Banded Protea and Plutus Opal, and I find that I still have energy to look for more.

Orange Banded Protea butterfly
Orange Banded Protea

But the day draws to an end, as the sun dips over the horizon. The air starts to get cold, and the light starts to fade. The day had been amazing, with many amazing endemic birds, plants, insects, and reptiles.

Even after the challenge, I still find myself keen to look for more than just birds.


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