We’ve all learned a thing or two about ourselves during lockdown and, for many of us, that even includes learning things we didn’t know about our own backyards. Durban North’s Jason McCall is connecting like-minded people who have discovered a new appreciation for the smaller things.
Halfway through a 5km garden run, Jason stopped in his tracks to watch a flock of weavers stripping leaves for their nests in a palm tree. Realising it had become a habit of his since the onset of the national lockdown, and believing that there must be others who’d also begun to spend more time admiring wildlife in their gardens, he spent the rest of his run planning a Facebook page designed to unite people with a common passion for the outdoors and its incredible creatures.
“I am a nature lover and, in particular, I love birds and bugs and all the little things often forgotten about in our gardens. During the toughest phase of lockdown most of us were forced to stay at home. This was easier for some than for others. For me it meant an opportunity to reconnect with nature and learn something new – and ended up being a way to bring together a community of people who can teach one another about birds, bees and all the odd creatures we tend to overlook every day.”
And so began a journey of appreciation and discovery for Jason, and many, many others as he launched The Garden Game Ranger Challenge Facebook group, inviting anyone who was interested to use it as a platform to share photos they’d taken of weird and wonderful creatures spotted in their own backyards.
“The motivation really was to connect people, nature and social media so we could all see a bit of the magic right under or above our noses. The rules are simple – you can post pictures of birds, bugs, insects, butterflies and any creature that enters your yard. Each photo must be accompanied by the location and, if possible, an identification of the species. The goal is to try and identify 21 or more different species. Every day we highlight a winning photo or species based on overall awesomeness. You don’t need to have great photo skills, just a camera, keen interest a decent pic to identify!”
A staggering 6400 members have joined the Garden Game Ranger Challenge since Jason set up the group at the beginning of lockdown. The group, he says, serves as a reminder that we are all just a part of a bigger system of wildlife. “For me personally, I believed that creating an online group that focused on wildlife that was accessible to all of us in lockdown would provide a welcome escape to the constant negative chatter about the virus. I wanted people to be their own game rangers in their own gardens, and that’s how I came up with the name.”
The group has attracted a fair amount of attention and Jason has fast found himself featured in several newspapers, on TV, on the Expresso Show, the iconic wildlife show 50/50 and the People’s Weather channel!
“It’s really fun to see how something we all took for granted is actually quite riveting. There are old tannies who have learnt to use their phone cameras and post to social media because of the group, and many tech-savvy youngsters with wildlife knowledge have jumped on board to give assistance with the identification of species. It’s created a community around a topic that has nothing to do with Covid-19, and I think that’s important.”
Jason estimates about 80 per cent of the photos posted on the page are from South Africa with around 50 percent of those coming from KZN. Around 72 countries are taking part, and he says some of the spots from people’s backyards have been incredible.
“Lions, wild dogs, parrots, rare insects and birds, lizards and loads of snakes, you name it, someone has seen it in their garden! The group has also helped dissolve some stereotypes about certain creatures like bats, snakes and spiders – through conversation. This in turn leads to greater emphasis on other creatures, and ultimately I hope a better understanding of the reasoning behind conservation of all species, big and small.”
“Locally we get loads of photos and videos from Durban and the Highway area and some really rare spots too. A lady from Waterfall posted a sighting of a caracal sauntering past her garden, and we’ve had three Narina Trojan spottings in the Outer West. Durban North has also had a particularly wonderful amount of chameleon spottings, believe it or not.”
And as for Jason’s top three spots… “Shoowee that’s a tough one! My best has probably been the very rare-to-see Narina Trojan, followed by a Crowned Eagle with prey and then a vine snake.”
When asked whether Jason plans to continue the group once pandemic is over and life has returned to ‘normal’, his answer was a resounding ‘yes!’.
“Even if it’s just me posting because everyone has returned to the concrete jungle, the group will continue post lockdown. I’m really stoked to see that people are talking and taking pics of big things like the crowned eagle to little things like spiders and bees. I promise, you’ll be amazed by the relief nature and wildlife can provide, and there’s always a lesson there somewhere.”
If you’d like to join the group, you can find them on Facebook: The Garden Game Ranger Challenge group