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AFRICAN SAFARI CAMP UPDATES
February 2005

This Month:
• Monthly update from Linkwasha Camp in Zimbabwe.
Kwando Safaris game reports for February 2005.
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Turtle update from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• Another great Dive Report from Rocktail Bay.
• Unusual water and excitement at Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Mvuu Camp in Malawi .


Zimbabwe Camps
Linkwasha Newsletter - Feb 05                Jump to Linkwasha Camp
White Rhino at Linkwasha Camp, ZimbabweBy all standards it looks like we have had a very bad rainy season. Generally speaking, by this time of the year we have experienced the end of the cyclone, but this year, we have only received 53 mm for the month. To be precise it has only rained twice in February! Temperatures have been fairly usual for this time of the year, with highest recorded being 37 degrees Celsius and lowest 18 degrees C.

The mornings start off with a lot of dew, which is interesting for walkers as they leave trails behind making it easy for them to find their way back. The grass is full of pollen grains and in some other areas has grown tall. It looks alive in the morning and changes as it gets the scorching heat, making it evident that we have received little rainfall. The teak trees are in flower and it is appealing to drive through woodland covered by teak. Acacia trees in and around Ngamo are bursting with pods now, and elephants are frequenting the area for their favourite ‘biscuits’. Beautiful flowers are showing themselves, Bidens Schimperi, yellow cosmos and other seasonals. There is not much water in the pools or in natural waterholes.

We have had very good sightings for the month of February, with February 7 being a highlight as lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino were all spotted within 2 hours between Old Camp and Scott’s Pan. The next day was rewarding as lions were seen chasing rhino in front of camp. Another rare sighting was of a gemsbok; we treat this like gold as they are very scarce in the area. Then there was a leopard with baboon kill in a tree who later got a warthog – looks like he was on a harvesting spree!

Lions have been seen regularly. The ‘Ngamo boys,’ as they are affectionately called, of late seem to be splitting – the bigger ‘boy’ is by himself most of the time. One night they were actually in camp, providing us with some nice music and some shivers going down the spine. Giraffe seem to be enjoying the acacia trees and some teak flowers, as they are found in the forest most of the time.

There is a lot of insect life which has made us appreciate and understand that humans are not the only inhabitants of planet Earth. Even though we may have great powers of life and death over living creatures, our domination should be benign and humane.

Eland are a common sighting at Ngamo plains with large herds often seen. The rhino has been a little unfair as he has shown himself only at night – perhaps he wants to be strictly nocturnal? Twin hippos in the waterhole in front of camp were born - congratulations Mr and Mrs Hippo!

Our percentage sightings are as follows: hippo 90%, bat-eared fox 90%; bush baby 3%; buffalo 81%, cheetah 3%, eland 87%, elephant 81%, lion 52%, rhino 35%, leopard 23%, baboon 90%, giraffe 28%. We have had a fair sighting of the other animals like sable, kudu, reedbuck, jackal and other antelope. Wildebeest, zebra and waterbuck are very common as well as the ‘Hwange goats’ – impalas!

Most seasonal birds are preparing for their migration. Abdim’s and white storks were seen landing and taking off in various areas. Good luck, guys, on your way back to the Northern Hemisphere. Egyptian geese, spoonbills, and crowned cranes are relaxed as usual and having a good time as the food seems to be abundant.

Guest Comments
• Ron and Marjorie Stiwell: USA. Thanks to all for helping make this PERFECT trip of a lifetime. Fantastic Experience.
• Mayer and Ann Seledman: USA : Thank you for a wonderful stay. Enjoyed everything but most of all everybody.
• Bob and Lota Post : USA . Had a fabulous time. Wonderful service.

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Botswana Camps
Kwando Safari Camps Update - Feb 05
Lagoon camp                Jump to Lagoon Camp
* The Lagoon pride of 18 have been seen frequently during the last short while – they managed to catch and kill 3 baboons in one short frenzied spurt of activity.
* Breeding herds of elephant as well as smaller bachelor herds have been seen throughout the concession.
* A herd of 10 eland see as well.
* Hyena seen patrolling around the concession especially at night.
* A brief sighting of a shy cheetah after it had been tracked for some time.
* A pair of Ostrich with their chicks.
* A pair of side-striped jackal with their litter of youngsters.
* Night drives included porcupine and genets.
* General game still excellent – seeing giraffe, zebra, impala, hippo,> tsessebe, wildebeest.
* Summer migrants still in full force – frequent sightings of osprey.

Kwara camp                Jump to Kwara Camp
* A pack of 5 wild dogs caught and killed an impala.
* A pride of 8 (split from the pride of 17) caught and killed a an adult female buffalo, they were joined by 3 adult male lions.
* A different group of 3 male lions also seen last week.
* 2 different leopard sightings in the last few days – one was a female who is lactating - we hope she has a couple of youngsters stashed away somewhere.
* Night drives yielded jackal, hyena, African wild cat, spring hare, scrub-hares and genets.
* A couple of breeding herds of elephant around the concession.
* General game continues to be prolific – big herds of zebra, tsessebe, giraffe, impala, reedbuck, kudu, and groups of up to 20 wildebeest.

Lebala camp                Jump to Lebala Camp
* Good numbers of elephant, breeding herds, bachelor herds, and solitary bulls throughout the concession.
* Couple of herds of buffalo.
* A young male leopard – relaxed.
* A pack of 2 wild dogs seen moving through the concession.
* A pride of 5 lionesses were seen a couple of times – they were later joined hunting by 3 male lions but were not successful.
* An adult male leopard – relaxed.
* Small herds of 50 buffalo was found drinking at one of the pans.
* Large numbers of hyena still seen throughout the concession – mostly seen at night. Also seen at night – African wild cat, porcupine, serval, hippo out of the water and civet.
* Excellent general game including sable, roan, giraffe, impala, kudu, tsessebe, reedbuck.

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Duba Plains Camp monthly update - Feb 05                Jump to Duba Plains Camp
Buffalo herd at Duba Plains camp, BotswanaRainfall at Duba for the last month was a paltry 83mm, well below what we should expect at this time of year. However the water table is particularly high as a result of last year’s flood, which is reflected in the unusually high growth of letaka reed beds at a time where the area is meant to be at its driest. It’s worth remembering that only 20 years ago Duba camp was surrounded by permanent swamp. The floodwater is now only a month away and although the water flow at the Panhandle is relatively low, we expect local flood levels similar to last year.
 
Probably the highlight for many of the staff at Duba is the appearance of eight giraffe that are enjoying the good browsing to the north of camp, a sure sign of the dry conditions this year. Whilst waiting for a delayed plane, I spent a very happy hour at the airstrip watching some young males sparing. Giraffe are nomadic animals, so it’s difficult to predict how long they’ll stay but we’ll keep an interested eye on them.
 
Birding remains superb and a Stanley’s Bustard, extremely rare, has been seen in the grass at Buffalo Point, Baobab Island and Lion Pan. Wattled Cranes are flourishing in the Paradise area and along the Molapo channel and Pink-Backed Pelicans are still fishing the pans in large numbers to the east of the concession.
 
Elephants are still present in significant numbers much to the delight of guests. It’s unlikely that they will now move north to the mopane woodlands unless we have significant rainfall in March/April. One of the advantages of Duba is the prevalence of jasmine creeper that flourishes at ground level across the flood plains. Elephants love this plant and on the floodplains large herds of up to 70 make a majestic sight, almost unrivalled in the Delta.
 
We haven’t seen our cheetah since the beginning of the month, though with a territory that stretches to Vumbura, it’s likely that prey species are more
abundant there at this time of year. One leopard sighting occurred at night at Horseshoe Island. It was shielding itself behind a bush surrounded by inquisitive spotted hyena. The leopard had a fresh wound on its side and even though we looked for evidence of a kill, none could be found. Perhaps the leopard was attempting to drag a kill into a tree when the hyena moved in. Aardwolf dens are abundant at Duba. We reckon we have four active dens in the area and with patience, guides have been rewarded with good sightings.
 
The buffalo herd has spent most of February in Tsaro territory, moving little, probably because the herd has been calving. As a result, the Tsaro Pride instead of pushing the herd in the hope of catching stragglers, have rather waited for a few newly born calves that either fail to get to their feet quickly enough, or get abandoned by their mothers. It’s strange to see a mother abandon its calf but this often happens with an female’s first calf or if the calf is born as the herd is moving and the adult is reluctant to become exposed at the back of the herd. It takes a newly born calf between 15-20 minutes to walk, not much time if the herd moves quickly.

The very high water table from last year’s flood has also influenced the herd’s movements. Normally in the rainy season, the herd will spend a greater proportion of its time in the islands where the rain stimulates good grass growth. This year however, rainfall has been particularly low and the herd have favoured the margins of the old channels that are still lush as last year’s floodwaters only receded slowly. This makes movement patterns more localized and explains why the buffalo have not been seen often in the acacia woodlands to the north of camp despite the reduced threat from the Pantry Pride (see January newsletter).
 
One very interesting observation regarding the buffalo herd is that its sheer size (currently over 1000) favors a higher breeding rate compared to a normal size herd of around 250. As three lion prides prey on this herd, it makes sense for the buffalo to stick together in a large herd where proportionate losses are fewer and the buffalo can defend themselves against lion with greater ease. One remarkable fact is how aggressively the herd now responds to lion attack. Some 70% of the kills that have taken place in the last year have seen the buffalo attempting to chase the lion away rather than simply abandoning the victim and moving on.
 
The Tsaro Pride is doing well and has, we estimate, produced six cubs. It’s difficult to tell how many females have given birth as undoubtedly some have lost their litter. With young cubs the pride has split into small groups and lone females have followed the herd preying on abandoned calves and picking up after-birth. When the pride does join up, the focus is still on calves and over-protective mothers. Therefore the majority of adults killed have been females. Cubs have mostly been seen after a kill has been made when the mother moves the cubs out of hiding to feed. The Tsaro Pride has been remarkably tolerant of the remnants of the Pantry Pride that have been seen regularly in their territory, especially the young adult male. In fact, the Pantry male was seen feeding on a kill made by Tsaro at the beginning of the month. Only when the Duba Boys came to feed did the male move slowly away. It should be remembered that these lions are blood relatives which may explain this unusual behaviour.
 
The Skimmer Pride continues to flourish although they still spend a lot of time in the west of their territory, which our game drive vehicles cannot access. The Duba Boys remain extremely intolerant of the Paradise Male (the remaining father of the Skimmer cubs) and guests have seen some interesting confrontations between the two prides. It is always a great interaction to see but often results in the whole Skimmer pride moving across the channel and therefore inaccessible to our game drives. Only when the buffalo herd spend days at Paradise are the lion drawn back to the eastern side of their territory. Towards the end of the month one of the youngest cubs went missing and its sibling has spinal injuries. In any litter, the youngest will always struggle to survive due to intense competition for food.

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Mombo Camp update - Feb 05                Jump to Mombo Camp
Lion viewing at Mombo is superb!Dumela!  Welcome to the latest update from Mombo Camp in Botswana's Okavango Delta. it is hard to believe that another month has flown by so quickly! Of course there is the old cliché that time flies when you're having fun, which would go a long way to explaining this phenomenon to those who have spent time here this month! But then there are always those special moments to linger over, too...

Summer is not quite behind us, but already we are seeing the first signs of the coming winter, and of the change of the seasons. The sun rises that little bit later in the mornings, and sets just a few minutes earlier. This slight shortening of the tropical day however merely serves to intensify the experience of being at Mombo, and the unique combination of luxury and unspoiled wilderness that exists here.

As we move away from midsummer, we have had a slight drop in temperatures, and a few fleeces have been spied in the mornings. Of course after a few minutes on the game drive, the first rays of the rising sun strike the Land Rovers and guests are soon peeling off those extra layers and enjoying warming up as the earth does.

Cloudy days have again reduced average temperatures, but we have still had some scorching days. However, we did not receive the rain we needed and which was so often promised by the cloud formations. In total we have had only 27mm (just over 1 inch) of rain at Mombo in February, only a third of what we had in January. Temperatures in February were more consistent, with less difference between minimum and maximum temperatures. The lowest minimum daily temperature we recorded was 18°C (64°F) and the highest minimum temperature was 20°C(68°F), with an average daily minimum of 19°C or 66°F. Daily maximum temperatures ranged from 30°C(86°F) to a warm 36°C(96°F). Often on the hottest days we had welcome cool breezes blowing in which took the edge off the heat.

It is hard to choose a favourite moment in the day when each day is so full of wonders and never-to-be-forgotten moments, but we have all really been enjoying the early mornings. Few things can match the exhilaration of being among the first people to see the African bush as it gracefully slips off the cloak of night, and to gaze in rapt admiration at the first pink glow on the horizon, as the sky blushes like a new bride. The cool breeze in your face and those wonderful shimmering moments when the vague form of an animal or a tree is lit up for the first time and reveals itself in the fresh morning light.

On many mornings during February we had spectral wreaths of mist lying across the floodplains, with the tsaro palm islands rising above them like the peaks of some unexplored mountain range. It was one such morning that provided us with one of the most spectacular sightings of the month: the intense drumming of bovine hooves across the plain signaled a buffalo herd in a panic, and they bunched up as they ran, a sure sign that lion had begun that deadly game of cat and mouse - or cat and cow as it should perhaps be called.

As the buffalo quite literally ran for their lives, the phantom shapes of two young male lion drifted through the fog, a perfect example of how lion can make even movements powered by the deadliest of intents seem effortless and graceful. As the mists swirled around the confused buffalo, the distressed bellow of one female announced that the lion tactic of using the mists as a fatal smokescreen to mask their attack had been successful.  At Mombo, lion generally hunt during the hours of darkness, but they are nothing if not opportunistic, and the mist proved too great a chance to pass up for these ever-resourceful felines.

 

The close of each day has also been beautiful, especially with the last clouds of this year's rainy season still lingering over us, providing a perfect screen for the sun to project every color in Nature's infinite paint box onto. And in between these two solar shows, there were of course many hours of quite breathtaking game viewing. Not that sightings were necessarily restricted to daylight - towards the end of the month, Mombo slumbered peacefully in the silver light of a full moon (which has to be seen to be believed) lighting up the floodplains and a rich tableaux of buffalo and zebra, with elephant, porcupine and genet moving through the Camp. Each night the nocturnal animals emerge to reclaim Mombo as their own - as if to remind us that we are merely visitors here, and that we musty tread lightly as we explore the natural riches of the Okavango.

After all the rain we had in January, we had high hopes for more in February, but these went unfulfilled - at least until the end of the month when we again had a few showers, mostly during the hotter part of the afternoon. The sun has taken its toll on the grasses which sprang up in response to last month's rains, but there is still ample food for all the grazing and browsing animals, which in turn ensures a steady supply of food for the predators.

Already the first waters of this year's flood - flowing towards the Delta from the Benguela highlands in Angola - have begun to enter Botswana. Early indications are that this year's flood will be on a par with 2003's inundation, that is, an "average" annual flood - if anything here can ever be described as average! Last year's flood was greater than this, but much of the water was captured by river systems in the western part of the Delta, and this could easily change this year as channels are blocked and opened in the upper reaches of the Okavango, and in the Panhandle. There is still a great deal of water available here in rain-filled pans and we can be assured that as the last of it dries up in March and April, the floodwaters will begin arriving at Mombo to replenish the channels and lagoons.

The arrival of the floodwaters is perhaps the most spectacular of the changes that take place here each year, but everywhere we look, growth and change continue apace, on every scale: from the tiny, fluffy red velvet mites which emerge from the sand after rains, to the growth of the huge (and delicious!) white "maboa" mushrooms which grow from within the termite mounds with enough force to punch holes right through the walls of these citadels - to the evident delight of the baboons that feast on them.

After anxiously following the movements of one of our resident female leopards who was pregnant (known as the Tortilis female after the distinctive "umbrella thorn" trees in her territory) we now believe that she has given birth. We have yet to see the tiny scrap of spotted fur that a leopard cub is during its first few days of life, but it appears from our most recent sightings that she is now lactating, a sure sign that there is a small mouth out there hungry for milk. This female leopard succeeded in raising her previous cub - the female we call Legadima (or Lightning) after losing several previous cubs, so we hope that this success will be the first of many.

Perhaps the most momentous birth of the month however was that of the fourth white rhino calf to be born at Mombo since the start of our rhino re-introduction project began in late 2001. The mother had detached herself from her usual social group and appeared very heavy - good indicators that she was going to hide herself away to give birth. Rhino mothers are incredibly secretive at first, and when we caught up with the mother and baby - happily playing together in a mud wallow - the calf was approximately ten days old. In fact this was the youngest age for a first sighting of any of the calves born here. We now have over thirty white rhino wild in Botswana; there were none before we started this project in conjunction with the Botswana government. And watch this space, as we are expecting more births in the next few months. [Ed: In fact, a fifth calf was spotted a few days after receiving this newsletter!]

Being born is of course only the first of the "trials of life" and each new baby at Mombo finds itself in a world teeming with opportunities, but also stalked by dangers. As I write this, we are anxiously waiting to see what becomes of a litter of lion cubs who we have seen alone several times now, and who are in real need of a good feed. We are very much hoping of course that they have not been abandoned - if they have, their chances of survival are slim. This is one of those difficult occasions when it is impossible not to become emotionally involved in the lives of the animals around us.

The process of renewal and change continues in the Camp, too... February is one of the quieter months in the safari year, and provides an opportunity for us to polish the family silver as it were - that is, to overhaul and maintain every aspect of the Camp so that it is at its most beautiful right throughout the year... All of the guest tents have had work done to their canvas, to ensure that they continue to blend in perfectly with the ancient mangosteen and jackalberry trees on the island, and the woodwork has been given particular attention to heal the ravages of the hot African sun.

New creations are being brought to life in the kitchen too - from our new improved early morning rusks (made following Sharon's mum's recipe - perfect with that first pre-dawn cup of coffee!) to Craig's latest masterpieces... If pea and chickpea risotto or white chocolate parfait with coffee chocolate praline, wild figs and Kahlua sauce don't tempt you, then you really cannot be hungry at all!

All around us, life continues in a profusion that can only really be appreciated by standing on the deck at Mombo, and looking out over the endless floodplains, dotted with zebra, wildebeest, and buffalo, or by sitting quietly in the hide at the hippo pool and soaking up the atmosphere in the company of dozens of species of waterfowl.

But don't take our word for it: as always, we will leave the last word on Mombo this month to the people best qualified to describe it - the guests who have shared this little corner of African paradise with us during February:

• Your celebration of our anniversary leaves us with a permanent memory - we want to come back!
• All the staff at Little Mombo were perfect representatives of your company...
• Thanks for your hospitality and friendship - we loved to be with you. There will be a next time!
• You've a great team with fantastic commitment and attention to detail...
• Mombo was a great learning experience regarding the culture of others...
• It's a fantastic life being at Mombo!
• The food was spectacular and unbelievable!
• Lovely accommodations - it was exciting to have the buffalo and leopard right in our "backyard" as well as hyena and baboon!

James' Mombo update:  After spending 8 nights at Mombo in February, I can say that it is now rivaling Duba Plains for the sheer number of lions in the area - between 80 and 90 lions known to the guides.  Of course, the general game is also superb, but my feeling is that the high numbers of lion around Mombo have kept the Wild Dogs from re-emerging in numbers like we saw in the middle and let 1990's.  As always, Mombo did not disappoint!

 

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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Turtle update- Feb 05                 Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Guests with a nesting Loggerhead turtle at Rocktail Bay Lodge, South AfricaWith fewer sightings of mothers coming up to nest, and an astronomical amount of hatchlings, we can tell that the 2004-2005 Turtle season is drawing to a close. Nevertheless, we still have a small amount of time left, and as you know in Africa, anything is possible.  

As we have said before, hatchling time is the most rewarding time of the season and ‘rewarding’ would be an understatement for the month of February. We have seen, assisted, dug out and protected these tiny souls every single night this month.   

Everyone who has accompanied Gugu and Mbongeni on their nightly “treks” has felt some form of maternal instinct when witnessing these palm-sized reptiles breaking out of their nests. Many visitors have even run the gauntlet with them, keeping a watchful eye as they flap their puny flippers madly to get down to the surf. A tear or two may have even been shed; as they battled the waves to head out east as they obey their instinct.

February brought us the last, to date, sightings of mothers coming up to nest. Oddly enough, two of the mothers seen this month, nested within a night of each other. Pamela Bates, who was staying with us at the time, could not resist and decided to adopt both of them. She named them “Thelma” and “Louise”. Thelma is a Loggerhead turtle, and she chose the night of the 7th February to lay her eggs; this was also the first time that she had been tagged. Louise is a Leatherback turtle, and she laid her eggs on the night of the 8th February. She had previously been tagged, in the season 2002-2003. It just goes to show that you can never tell when these majestic beings are going to expose themselves on land.

This month also delivered our youngest adoptive parent. Her name is Alexandra McCallum, and she is only 8 years old. Alex decided to adopt a Loggerhead turtle that was seen on 30 December 2004. This particular Loggerhead had already been tagged way back in the 1997-1998 season. Alex decided to christen her new turtle “Dory”, after the famous co-star of Finding Nemo. Not only did Alex adopt a turtle, but she got heavily involved with the hatchlings too. Out of the five nights that her and her family stayed with us, they went out on a staggering four drives. She helped Gugu dig in the nests, and made sure that they made their way off into the blue safely.  We want to once again congratulate Alex on becoming our youngest adoptive parent, and also to thank her for getting so involved.

As with last month, we have had some more sightings of predators prowling the beaches for the helpless babies. We have seen quite a number of honey badgers on the beaches. They are unmistakable, with a white sash on their back, and black under parts and legs. They have large, strong claws on their front paws, and normally use these to dig into the ground or into beehives (hence the name). But those claws also make the job of digging for hatchlings that much easier. The badgers’ tracks, not to mention those of mongoose, genet and crabs, are littered around the nests that we have missed. We know it’s heartbreaking, but that is the way of Nature.

We are all starting to feel a bit sad that the season is coming to an end, but on the positive side, we still have 15 days of research time ahead of us, and a whole new season to look forward too, starting in October.

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Rocktail Bay Dive Report - Feb 05                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Whale shark at Rocktail BayPineapple Reef has been alive with fish this month! We have had some very exciting sightings of game fish mixed in with the usual reef inhabitants. It is lovely to find miniature-size Threadfin butterflyfish and Meyer’s butterflyfish to name a couple of types seen. There are plenty of juvenile Emperor angelfish; the unmistakable luminous blue coloring never fails to catch your eye. One particular fish is the sub-adult phase of the Semicircle angelfish with its extraordinary combination of the juvenile luminous blue markings over the adult colors. The unmistakable swimming style and blue coloring of the Redfang triggerfish from the very young to large adults are wonderful to watch in large numbers over the reef.

There have been regular sightings of a shoal of young Sea pike on Gogo’s which have been fairly inquisitive and allow everyone on the dive to take a good look. We have also seen some very handsome sized Barracuda of over 1 metre in length, in small groups as they move in and amongst the nervous reef fish.

A Giant kingfish (Ignoblis) on Pineapple was circling under an overhang, a prized catch for all fishermen and here it was just in front of us. There is no mistaking its strength, its sheer size - an impressive predator on the reefs, it is the king of all kingfishes! Prodigal son or Cobia have been seen on several dives, some singles or in a group of 10 or 15 seen on Aerial and Pineapple Reef. Every diver’s natural reaction is to look up in the hope of the grey shape of a Whale shark (or other) swimming above as these fish usually accompany a large fish or ray cruising by. The Cobia themselves swim in a very similar manner to the shark and as they are naturally inquisitive fish they appear very quickly out of nowhere, circling each other right in front of you in an almost frantic manner and then, no sooner arriving they disappear again.

More snorkeling trips have given us the dolphin experience which Sarah and Pam never tired of as we were dropped in front of them and played with them over and over again! Up to 10 Honeycomb rays were also seen lying on the sand just below, as well as turtles coming up for air.

 

A new neighbor on Pineapple is the Shortnose blacktail reef shark, otherwise named Grey reef shark, a curious shark that is not afraid to approach divers. If we spot the shark (we have seen 2 at one time) at the beginning of the dive then more often than not it will follow us the length of the reef. A most extraordinary feeling was seeing Casper and 3 other Potato bass forming a defense line between the shark and their reef including us, a comforting thought. I honestly felt Casper and the others were protecting us as they faced the visitor a few metres apart from each other, appearing to warn the shark to stay clear of their territory and never turning their backs on it.

A fight between a Natal knifejaw and Potato bass was witnessed which was quite a scene as they bit and twisted around each other! The Knifejaws appear to be in pairs or small groups at the moment so perhaps they are protective of nesting areas. Casper has his usual entourage of juvenile White kingfish around him including one juvenile Golden kingfish with stunning coloring.

A Tawny nurse shark 2½m long sleeping under an overhang, made Herman’s dive. We were able to get so close, as she was resting and we spent many minutes with her. Another Leopard shark was sighted this month, resting on the sand next to the reef. A harmless shark with a tail almost the same length as its body, which gently sways in the surge. Another interesting tail seen this month belongs to the Feathertail stingray. The tail was seen swaying in the surge just behind a coral head and as we swam over it we saw the body of an impressive 1½m-wide Feathertail stingray.

Shoals of Blue chub and Slingers hunting on the reef have been exciting to watch as they all descend onto the reef to feed just in front of us. Huge numbers of Yellowback fusiliers and Rainbow runners create a wall of fish as they swim by, their colors luminous! These fish are also often seen from the surface whilst feeding on plankton. Spadefish are also seen feeding on the surface, their bodies glinting in the sun as their dorsal fins break the water. Darryl witnessed the surface ‘boiling’ as Yellowfin tuna created and then fed off a bait ball only metres from the boat. As quickly as it started it had stopped and the calm water returned as the fish moved on.

Daniel and I spent 15 minutes of our dive just sitting on the sand at the northern end of Pineapple Reef as hundreds of Kingfish circled us. There were Blacktip, Big Eye and Yellowspotted kingfish. As we played with the sand they would swoop down to see what we were doing, completely surrounding us. The adrenaline to see so many fish for so long and so close was utterly memorable. Casper and the 3 other Potato bass were also with us, as well as shoals of Coachmans, Pencilled surgeon and Fusiliers, in fantastic visibility.

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Namibia camps
Skeleton Coast Newsletter - Feb 05                  Jump to Skeleton Coast Camp
Incredible sand dunes - Skeleton Coast camp, NamibiaFloodwaters thundered down Skeleton Coast’s normally dry riverbeds during February, while showers gave rise to delicate green grasslands: “peppermint-flavored Skeleton Coast” as one of our managers described it.

The Hoaraseb River swelled to huge proportions in February, belching silty water into the Atlantic. At the mouth of the river its warm waters mixed with the cold Atlantic Ocean sending steam billowing into the air.

The Khumib River, where camp is situated, surged several times in the past month, giving some visitors the rare privilege of waterfront views. Muddy torrents crashed through for a few hours during each flood, subsiding as quickly as they appeared.

The open plains south of camp - normally peach-coloured gravel - are carpeted in grass, attracting masses of oryx, ostrich and springbok. The latter have calved and tiny baby springbok are now bounding about like pogo sticks. Bouncing babies, quite literally.

February was a dramatic time of change and rains inland resulted in massive herds of springbok and oryx congregating in the plains of the Garden Route area. At one point, a single grassy plain hosted more than 150 springbok and about 100 oryx. Hartmann’s mountain zebra continue to be seen sporadically. Skeleton Coast Camp’s resident brown hyena, Wally, was regularly sighted in the past month, often adjacent to camp. One evening he simply lay on the sand 20 metres from our campfire, his head resting between his paws. Giraffe and elephant sightings have been infrequent due to the flooding rivers.

Safaris to the Hoaraseb River area have focused on its amazing scenery and showing guests the delights of quicksand. Fortunately, no safari guides were lost in the quicksand demonstrations…

Skeleton Coast Camp is famous for its dune driving and February was no exception. Our guides took all guests on roller-coaster rides through the dune fields, zooming up the hard windward slopes before sliding down the slip faces. One intrepid guide, John Mitten, managed to get his vehicle stuck on top of a sand dune - literally hanging over the edge of a slip face - in a scene reminiscent of a Warner Bros cartoon. He was eventually given a nudge by a few friends and cruised down the slip face, red-faced but unstirred.

Cape Frio fur seal colony still houses thousands of baby seals that are growing both in girth and energy. Amassing near the edge of the ocean, the 3-4 month-old seals regularly dive into the waves, although rarely venture past the breakers. Jackals regularly scour the beach around the colony, feasting on stray carcases. The smell of the colony continues to leave a lingering impression on all visitors and most remark that they’re glad we enjoy a beach side lunch upwind of Cape Frio.

Skeleton Coast was treated to superb weather in February and many guests took advantage of this and went swimming. While the water was a little bracing, all participants relished the opportunity. Cape fur seals were sighted surfing nearby guests, some bobbing up and inspecting the newcomers to the coast. Finally, fishing was sporadically excellent with one angler reeling in a 30kg sand shark, which was photographed before being returned to the Atlantic. In late February, guests caught several good-sized kabeljou, which were then baked in camp for dinner.

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Malawi camps
Mvuu newsletter - Feb 05                 Jump to Mvuu Camp
Lovely elephant encounter at Mvuu camp in MalawiThe unpredictable weather continues! February is traditionally the wettest month in Malawi and yet there has been virtually no rain. The bush has been drying out quickly, and there are fears that the park’s capacity to support its large population of grazers, most notably hippo and impala, may be adversely affected as we move into the dry season, so fingers are crossed here that March sends us more rain. The maize crop in the surrounding villages also looks indifferent although not disastrous.  
 
Here is a selection of some of the more unusual sightings during the month. Male hippo are commonly seen fighting, both on land and in the water. Almost invariably the cause is breeding and grazing territory and the fighting gets more intense as pressure for grazing becomes greater in the hot, dry months. It is extremely rare to see females fighting but on 2nd Feb on an open stretch just to the west of the airstrip there was a serious fight between two adult females. Guides Julius and Symon and their guests observed this fight in full daylight for about 15 minutes before backing off and letting nature take its course. Neither cow was seriously injured, which is not always the case when hippo clash.
 
On the same drive they observed Pel’s Fishing Owl - a regular sight around Mvuu, sitting on top of a termite mound eating a genet cat. This is possibly not such a rare occurrence - all large raptors are to a degree opportunists – but it is the first time anyone at Mvuu has ever observed a Pel’s eating anything other than fish.
 
The new impalas, born in November and December are now old enough to be fast and alert. On several occasions we have observed large male baboons chasing these young - on 2 occasions into the Ntangai River south of camp, where the impala then had to swim across the river past the noses of several large crocodiles who were all presumably too surprised to react.
 
A regular and magnificent sight at this time of year is the herds of elephant crossing the main river. Our herds in the park generally range between 15 and 45 and the motivation for these crossings is always a particular source of food. On one occasion while on a boat safari, Henry and his guests observed a large herd with many babies crossing the river at the northern edge of the park - this is where the Shire Rive flows out of Lake Malombe and is at least 700 metres wide and currently in spate. The crossing took over 20 minutes and we were able to observe this spectacle from a distance of no more 30 metres and use the flow of the river to keep drifting down stream with the elephants and keep engine noise to a minimum. By the time the crossing was complete the elephant had drifted downstream over 300 metres yet reached the far shore at a clearly well used crossing point so they must have known exactly where they were going to end up when they entered the river.
 
One of Liwonde’s two herds of buffalo - both part of the relocation exercise a few years back from Kasungu National Park - are now being regularly seen on the huge floodplains north of camp. On 12th February, on an afternoon boat safari Pheroce spotted 7 crocodiles eating a male bushbuck at the top of the Lodge lagoon and it was possible to approach slowly and quietly to within 20 metres without causing any disturbance. Then on February 23rd Richard Chimwala was having tea with his guests prior to an evening drive and they observed a male bushbuck swimming across the Lodge lagoon being pursued by a large crocodile.
 
Birding is never less than phenomenal at Mvuu but the highlight for February was easy to pick. On 7th February on a walk Angel and Mcloud spotted two Angola (African) Pittas in a thicket near to Mvuu. 
 
The rains bring fleeting glimpses of many irregular visitors and the high point in February was a small flock of Greater Flamingos landing at the mouth of Namandange River. Flamingo are often seen passing overhead but seldom seem to stop and allow us a good view, so this was real bonus and all the guests were able to get good views for over an hour before they moved on to the south. All the usual “specials” – Brown-breasted Barbet, White-backed Night Heron, and Osprey have been regularly seen and also 4 African Skimmers at the mouth of Namingalala River.  The park’s White-breasted Cormorants which are extremely numerous and live in several large colonies on the river’s edge are now coming into breeding plumage. Narina Trogons were also regularly seen in the mopane woodland during the month.
 
With regards from Mvuu - come visit us soon!

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