The Chapter of a Lifetime
Where to even begin… Early 2019 I was afforded the greatest opportunity of being selected as one of 50 individuals to take part in the WWF-SA Environmental Leaders Internship Program. I still remember waking up to the email from Mark offering me a position at Nature’s Valley Trust, I jumped out of bed with such excitement. This would be the very first step of one incredible journey! Although living in South Africa all my life, I had never been to Nature’s Valley before, so this was all very new and exciting. I clearly remember the road trip down, seeing a bit of the beautiful South African coast, arriving in Nature’s Valley driving down that gorgeous Grootriver Pass and smelling the forest and nature surrounds. I have made that trip many times since and it gets even more beautiful every time! I was greeted by my lovely friend Kellyn and Chewy the dog who showed me around the house before settling in. To give you an idea, those lone cabin in the woods photos everyone posts on social media saying “give me this any day” or “Anyone want to build a cabin and leave society behind?” well that was the intern house in a nutshell, a cabin house surrounded by forest and the mountain behind was literally the place I always wanted to live. Provided as time went on you realize cabin life is not for the faint-hearted, winter is very chilly but thanks to an awesome fireplace and lots of blankets that was no issue. The wildlife really take their chances (note: do not turn your back with an open door or someone’s avos will get snatched by baboons – sorry Eli). From baboons, vervet monkeys, various spiders, scorpions, frogs, bush buck, birds, and even a boomslang here and there you always have your wits about you.
Anyway, I started at Nature’s Valley Trust on April 1st 2019, I was a bundle of nerves and weirdly excited for what was to come. It is so bittersweet that the team I met that first day have become such good friends who I now can’t see my day without. Mark took me aside for a chat which gave me an idea of what was to come and what all I’d be working on. Mark has been an incredible mentor during my time at NVT and has really opened my eyes to new things and pushed me into new directions. At first a new job and new fields can seem intimidating, but I jumped right in. If I remember correctly mosquito fish was one of my first activities that week, and boy oh boy was that an eye opener. You realize your biggest fear getting stuck thigh high in mud. But so entertaining and really interesting work! Every time I have taken other interns out with me on the estuary has been a laugh, from fish making a quick escape, slipping and sliding trying to scoop, to either being stuck in mud or Faye’s swimming to the other side of the sample site. I really appreciate everyone’s effort that went into those sampling trips, I know getting muddy is not everyone’s idea of fun, but I think it made for some good stories.
My absolute favorite thing to do is bird ringing! I have handled birds briefly in the past with my uncle, however, this was next level. I have never found something so interesting and changed my whole view of things around me. I started by observing Mark, Brittany, and Kellyn taking birds out the nets, the delicate process behind it to ensure the bird is safe and then the ringing and measurements. In my mind I was like, yes, I want to do that! After two or three ringing sessions I started removing birds from the nets, what a rush, these tiny little creatures in your hands is really something special. I was definitely nervous the first couple of times, I mean you are trying not to crush these tiny birds that some can weigh the same as a teaspoon of sugar! I still have my moments when a bird is really tangled, and if I need help shout for my incredibly talented friend Brittany who then removes the bird in a second like magic. I just laugh. Then I got to start putting rings on birds! Me! This was the most incredible thing! I am pretty sure I was shaking with my first bird a female Southern double-collared sunbird. They have the tiniest little legs and I got to ring it, and since then many more. I have also been able to tag along on Raptor and Gull ringing trips, both intense activities but so exciting and fun. So many people have asked what my favorite bird is and they are honestly all remarkable in their own unique ways making it impossible to really choose, but I do love the Orange-breasted sunbird from our Fynbos ringing’s and the Brown-hooded kingfisher. I think the kingfisher birds are exquisite and their feet are so soft if you ever get the chance to feel them. I am just incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to get involved with bird ringing and hope to continue it in some way in the future.
There is so much more on the research side that was done that I could go on and on about, but I won’t, or we will be here all day. An awesome aspect of my internship is that I was part of the research projects but also the Environmental Education with the weird and wonderful Kirwan. We joke a lot, but he has really helped mold me into a new person with an even greater passion for environmental education and helping to inspire the younger generation. He makes it look easy but there is so much that goes on behind the scenes. I got to teach the Adopt-A-Beach programme which was really rewarding getting to teach learners from three different schools about our wonderful and important coastal and marine environment. The holiday programme in December was so amazing, the effort that goes into putting a programme like that together and executing it so incredibly well was so cool and I am so glad I got to experience that and join in on all the fun! The education side also involves the other birding master’s program, clean-ups, environmental calendar days, outings, eco-school groups, camps and more. There is never a dull moment in our schedule and always something to get involved in which has been amazing. I also appreciate the trust Kirwan had in me to go forward with different things and know I would get the job done. Thank you for always making my days a bit brighter in and out the office, because with you we are always guaranteed a laugh!
I could honestly go on and on about every little adventure I had during my time in Nature’s Valley and at Nature’s Valley Trust. Not forgetting the Marine team and getting to tag along on various activities with them such as land-based and boat-based tracking. My own personal adventures around the Valley on hikes and more will never be forgotten. There have been some amazing, hilarious and even sad moments along the way. I have never felt more at home than here in the Valley, surrounded by all these incredible individuals! I hope to take all I have learnt from this experience and put it to good use out there in the world, to try make a little difference. This might be the end of an amazing chapter, but it is only the beginning of the story and I am not ready to put the book down just yet.
Here is a short photo video of Lauren's stay with NVT! We miss you Lauren...