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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

April 2007

(Page 2 of 2)

Page 1 Updates
Wilderness Safaris News - Info and updates from Wilderness Safaris.

• North Island Dive Report from the Seychelles.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Selinda & Zibalianja Camps in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Vumbura Plains in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Plains in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Mvuu in Malawi.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.

Monthly Dive report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.


Tubu Tree Camp update - April 07                Jump to Tubu Tree Camp

It was MARULA time at Tubu during the month of April!

Our lovely Sausage Tree bar counter is situated directly underneath a giant Marula Tree, and the falling fruits have provided many an entertaining moment for guests and staff alike. The fun reached from trying to avoid the falling marulas, to watching elephants at night and baboons during the day as they came in to feed on the fruit from above!

Elephant at Tubu Tree camp

The weather has been absolutely perfect this month, with minimum temperatures around 17 to 20 degrees C, and maximum temperatures averaging 27. On three consecutive mornings only did the minimum drop to 10 and 11 degrees C. An early morning breeze on most days provided the natural "rainy" sound of dry Ilala Palm leaves as they swayed gently high up in the air.

The Delta is very, very full at this stage, with local people trying to remember when last it was this high! Our "submarine" Land Rovers are battling to keep "snorkel" above water, but with excellent guides everybody manages to have a great safari experience. Mokoro, motor boat and walking excursions are proving to be highly successful.

During the month, visitors have indulged in the relaxed, homely and intimate atmosphere of our tented camp - to the extent that one of them drew a labyrinth on our round 'beach' area in front of the camp, and had a wonderful mental and emotional experience with the spirit of the Delta!

Fun at Tubu Tree

Hyaena and elephant have been keeping us busy in camp, and "leopard" was the key word on game drives. A python tried to swallow the Egyptian Goose that he killed, but gave up after more than an hour, to the disappointment of the guests who had waited patiently for the big moment! Two juvenile hyaena became really inquisitive and spent a lot of time very close to the game viewer - much to the delight of the surprised guests!

Two keen birding enthusiasts came back to the main lodge area speechless after "siesta' time. They saw so many different species of birds right in front of their tent, that they eventually gave up trying to identify all of them!

More elephants at Tubu Tree

In general, the game viewing exceeded expectations, with the guides excelling in finding nearly every species of wildlife requested by the guests. We are looking forward to a full and eventful season, and as the landscape changes around us with the rise and fall of the Delta "Tide", we will be part of our guests' experience in their interaction with this superb island in the Okavango Delta!

Looking forward to seeing you here,

Greetings from the Tubu Tree team


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Kwetsani update - April 07                Jump to Kwetsani Camp

With the days getting shorter and the nights longer, sunrise is at 6:45am and sunset at 18:45pm - winter is around the corner here in the Delta. The mornings and evenings are a cool yet pleasant 10°C; the days are still hot, reaching a high of around 30Deg C. The swimming pool is still a popular activity among the guests. No rainfall recorded this month, so it looks like the end of the rain for the next few months. The Okavango water levels on the other hand have exceeded our wildest African dreams this year, with a record flood level for the month of April and still flowing strong.

Flood waters at Kwetsani

The animal life has been extraordinary, with some unbelievable and amazing sightings. Our new pride of lions at Kwetsani did something not many guests will ever see. A DOUBLE kill in the floodplain in front of camp, which was viewed off the sundeck. One female lion caught a baby lechwe while the other captured an adult lechwe. The lions are permanently around the island now with all the water, and Kwetsani Island is the only dry ground at the moment. This made a good sleeping area for the daytime and during dinnertime they roar from the floodplain, a sound that continues through the night.

Lions at Kwetsani

Our resident leopard, not as shy as usual, just strolled across the floodplain one evening in front of the guest vehicles. That night the leopard killed a bushbuck ram between room 1 and 2. The following day he could not eat enough to get it up a tree and the lions came and stole it from him.

With the water up and boating commencing, guests have been able to see hippos mating in the water. Trips to Hunda, our next-door island, have started and guests have enjoyed the experience. Here you get the best of two worlds - a 30-minute boat ride and then transferring over to a 4 x 4 for game drives. Some of the sightings reported on Hunda so far are large dazzles of zebra by the hundreds, including intense fighting between the zebra stallions for females and dominancy, large herds of buffalo and journeys of giraffe have also been seen.

As the water still flows strongly into the floodplains, large numbers of Plovers, Egrets and Hammerkops follow the water's edge catching the small frogs and fish. The migratory birds have now all left except a late arrival from the summer season: a single Woodland Kingfisher is still hanging around. He seems to be managing at the moment, but time will tell when winter arrives. Although all the migratory birds have left, the birders have still enjoyed the resident birds like the Purple Swamp-hen.

Purple Gallinule at Kwetsani

The Long-tailed Shrikes are back in the area and looking beautiful, Crested Barbets are courting around the lodge, where guests get to hear them singing all through the day.

The guests have been out of this world this month and laughter has been the best medicine. Kwetsani has had a large number of French guests and we have enjoyed learning about their part of the world. Many repeat parties came this month to Kwetsani, such as Mike and Hilary Orwin on their third visit, with others on their second visit.

Elephant sunset at Kwetsani

See you at Kwetsani and you will have a life-changing experience.

 

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Jao Camp update - April 07               Jump to Jao Camp

April was a month of change. The floodwaters made a huge push this month and seem to be rising to unprecedented levels. It has also been interesting to watch a small trickle of floodwater break through between the lodge and entrance road and then turn from a stream into a river within days. The previously dry area has now become completely flooded within a very short time.

The autumn is also upon us now with some cooler and windier mornings. The wonderful warm Delta daytime temperatures, however, remain as they will throughout the cool season.

With the rising floods came the opening of channels and the start of boat trips to Hunda Island. This continues to be a popular and much-enjoyed activity for guests with spectacular herds of zebra, elephant and a host of other general game. There is also a strong movement of the large herds of lechwe away from the deeper floodplains; however, the remaining herds, themselves in large numbers, continue to provide an unequalled experience for guests, particularly as the sun sets across the floodplains during sundowners.

The island is wet, wet, wet. It is interesting to hear the comments and theories from the older generation who report that water has flooded in places where it has not flooded before. Are we seeing the effects of gradual tectonic movement along with increased floodwaters? It seems this is highly likely the case. Experiencing this spectacle for the first time is certainly a privilege, indeed a spectacle.

It is also that time of the year where the antelope are beginning to rut; we are starting to hear the snort of impala who will continue with the serious challenge for dominance in the months to come.

The resident leopard, Beauty, who has given birth to her cubs, has been ever present this month; however, the cubs are well hidden and have not yet been seen. They were heard squealing while they suckled from Beauty one evening - we believe there are two young kittens and we live in hope that they will survive the ruthless lions that seek them out to destroy the competition. A reminder of the difficulties that all wild animals, even the predators, face. Guests were treated to some wonderful displays by Beauty who spent almost three hours at the airstrip as planes arrived and departed one day.

Our resident young elephant bull seems to be getting amusement out of his solitary life by surprising staff and creating road blocks whenever he gets the opportunity. It seems he enjoys to hear the yelp of surprised staff as he watches them dash for cover. He has certainly released a healthy dose of adrenalin amongst some of our staff members. This is a sharp reminder of the warning to guests that they should always walk along the raised wooden walkways and enjoy these magnificent animals from the safety above.

It has been wonderful to watch the otters play and forage around the jetty area and has also been fantastic to see the hippos moving across the flooded channel in front of the lodge and down the channel. They, however, have also not passed by without leaving their calling card and have broken and chewed holes in our submerged water pipe a number of times. It is amazing to think that only a few months ago we were watching reedbuck graze in this area which was dry. These are the dynamics of our Delta island paradise.

As the water rises we see enormous movement from our resident lion prides who are now on the move from island to island providing guests with wonderful sightings. The young six-month-old female cub is certainly managing to creep deeply into the hearts of our guests with her wonderfully cheeky behaviour that has her tugging at dad's tail and nipping at mom's ear. Her 12-month-old brother is, however, a little more elusive and cheeky and reminds us just how quickly these kitten-like tendencies disappear as they start to develop more typical behaviour of powerful predators that they are. This youngster will one day grow up with the unusually powerful forequarters that are characteristic of Delta lions that are adapted to hunting in the water of our floodplains.

The birds too have been wonderful, Malachite Kingfishers perch on the bridge within metres of the Land Rovers. A couple of Woodland Kingfishers that have forgotten to migrate are also still about but the characteristic call is no longer heard. Black Crakes and Jacanas also grace us with their presence as do myriads of other water and riverine species including our resident banded mongoose who, after your exciting activities, will join you in a well needed afternoon siesta.

There is certainly no doubt that the busy season is upon us as we share the floodwaters and ever changing scenery with a host of interesting guests that have come from all corners of the earth to visit this special place in Africa, a place that we are lucky enough to call home. We look forward to sharing our paradise with you some day!


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Little Vumbura update - April 07               Jump to Little Vumbura Camp

Little Vumbura is back in action! After three months of hard work, ferrying everything from nails and screws to generators and septic tanks, Little Vumbura re-opened on April 1st. It was no April fool's joke opening on time, but everybody from the building team to the junior staff worked like crazy in the closing hours to have the camp ready for our first guests - the Silva family from Mexico.

Guests at the refurbished Little Vumbura camp

And if that wasn't enough, the animals also decided to join in the celebrations. Lion, sable, leopard, cheetah and buffalo were all seen in the first four days of the month. The four strong Kwedi (meaning 'moon') wild dog pack were seen regularly for the first two weeks of April, but the big surprise was seeing a pack of 12 dogs, never seen in this area before, on the 9th.

The second week of the month was dominated by Patrick, the large male cheetah well known in the area. Selonyana, now a sub-adult leopard, was also seen with great regularity. Unfortunately, our lion prides seemed to disappear during the latter half of the month, possibly due to the floodwaters that have poured into the area at an amazing rate. By the end of the month, the waters were higher than at any stage during the last three years, and there should be plenty more to come. When the lions did show themselves, we were able confirm that one more cub from the Big Red family has fallen to the circle of life. However, the remaining five cubs have grown into powerful youngsters and are nearing their first birthdays.

The highlight of the month though was watching our herds of sable almost on a daily basis. The large male bulls have been hard at work and we are proud to say we have counted seven new calves in one herd.

The elusive Pel's Fishing-Owl was seen on one occasion whilst our guests were out on mokoro.

The newly refurbished Little Vumbura camp

The buffalo herds have returned to the area. With the seasonal pans to the north drying up after the rains have gone, the herds come back to the Delta to make the most of the available food and increased water levels.

It was a very proud day for the management team of Little Vumbura, which has been together for over two years now, to open our "new" camp. We are all thrilled with new layout and amazing rooms, but at the same time, the old charm and family atmosphere have remained. On a sad note, we said goodbye to our guide, Matt Porter, who is moving on to the green pastures of England. We wish him every success in the future, and know he will be back in the bush one day. His place has been taken by Kelly, a product of our guide training department, who will team up with the experienced Chief and Madala Kay.

We look forward to welcoming back many of our old friends as well as new guests in the months ahead.

Bush regards,

Molly, Rohan and Dardley


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Vumbura Plains update - April 07               Jump to Vumbura Camps

Sighting: Sable duel
Location: Vumbura Plains, NG 22, Botswana
Date: April 2007
Observer: Matt Copham

Sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) are one of the most striking antelope species in Africa and are legendary for the aggressive fights between bulls (sometimes to the death), as well as for the instances on record when their long rapier-like horns have been responsible for mortality in predators as large and formidable as lion.

Seeing such an incident is a rare and lucky event, and to watch a duel between two sable bulls is an intense experience. Known to reach a maximum weight of around 250kg, the power and speed generated by two sable bulls engaged in a territorial fight over an oestrus cow is impressive!

The below sequence was photographed at Vumbura Plains during April. The bull on the left was much larger and is known to be the dominant territorial bull in the area around the airstrip extending down to Vumbura Paradise. He is easily identifiable by the very short, stump of a tail. In the week before this sighting he had been seen chasing a cow in an attempt to mate with her and the presence of this cow in the area is presumed to be the reason behind this confrontation when the younger bull wandered into the territory.

Sables fighting at Vumbura Plains

The two hippotragine knights jousted for about an hour in the midday sun and were noticeably exhausted by their struggle. The larger of the two bulls got the better of his opponent and managed to subdue him and win a clear victory. I believe the smaller of the two bulls would have been worse off had the confrontation occurred in the early morning when the cooler temperatures would have meant the large bull could have exerted more energy.

CAPTIONS
This stance of the fight is known as the 'over-the-shoulder-stabbing movement' and can inflict serious damage to both opponents.

Sables fighting at Vumbura Plains

The end of the battle is signalled by the bellowing of the loser and the erect horse-like posture of the bigger bull.

Sables fighting at Vumbura Plains


Sighting: Hippo Clash
Location: Vumbura Plains, NG 22, Botswana
Date: April 2007
Observer: Matt Copham

The Okavango Delta is a stronghold of the southern African hippo population. Densities in key areas of the Delta offering access to good grazing and reproductive opportunities are high and as a consequence competition between breeding age bulls for possession of such territories is aggressive.

Many solitary, non-territorial hippo bulls seek refuge from the competitive permanent waterways of the Okavango Delta and deep seasonal pans within the mopane woodland away from the permanent waterways allow for perfect protection from the sun's rays. In April these seasonal pans (depending of course on the season's rainfall) begin to deplete and at the onset of winter and the consequent lack of rain can dwindle to nothing. At stages like this only a few large pans remain, creating a safe haven for the solitary bulls; this is where the aggression begins.

In the below images the older bull on the left had selected this pan as his home but after having found the perfect refuge he was soon challenged by a newcomer. The younger, smaller bull entered the water already bearing the marks of an earlier conflict on his flanks but seemed prepared to take on his larger rival. It seems to me that the older bull had been chased out of his territory and was looking for a peaceful place to retire. The younger bull in his prime, full of testosterone and confidence, had arrived to fight.

Hippo fight at Vumbura Plains camp     Hippo fight at Vumbura Plains camp

The two went at it hammer and tongs with the younger bull taking a battering and gaining even more lacerations on his flanks from the incisors of the larger bull. Ultimately the younger bull was forced from the pan and was seen on subsequent days seeking out isolated patches of water deep enough to protect him from the sun and allow his wounds to heal before making another attempt at challenging an older bull.

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Jacana Plains update - April 07               Jump to Jacana Camps

April was another exciting and interesting month at Jacana. Not only did the annual floods come in early this year, but they have been the highest in many years. This month, the floods seemed to slow down, and it even seemed to drop slightly. However, in the last two weeks of April the "second" rise in flood came in! Our little island seems to be getting smaller by the day.

Despite the high water levels, game and bird viewing has been very good. There have been a number of good sightings of the ever-elusive sitatunga, by boat and by mokoro. The Pel's Fishing-Owl, a bird highly prized by the keen birders, has also been sighted quite frequently on and around the island.

Male sitatunga at Jacana camp

Sightings of lion and leopard were also exceptional, especially with the arrival of a new pride of lion north of the camp. A cheetah was also spotted on a drive to Hunda Island, a hotspot for elephant and leopard at the moment.

Winter is truly on its way. It reared its icy head close to the end of April for a few days leaving us shivering in the mornings and finding it very difficult to get out from under the covers. Nevertheless the crispness of the mornings gives us such a fresh and beautiful start to an exciting day's activity ahead in the Okavango Delta.

Sunset over Jacana floodwaters

With winter drawing near, this is the sign of the busy season approaching. We look forward to an action packed season ahead.

Greetings from Jacana

Clint, Dom and the Jacana team

Guest Comments:
"Staff were extremely friendly. Excellent location for the camp with stunning views and private tents. Excellent food. Very relaxing to come back to after game drives. Excellent hosts and wonderful wildlife and sights to be seen. Took my breath away. 10 out of 10! Thank you very much!" - SH, United Kingdom

"The wonderful setting - sunrise, sunsets, Friendly welcoming staff of the Jacana team. Accommodation Tent 3 has such amazing view set at the water's edge, the pool and the food. Excursions - game viewing, we were so lucky to see everything! And of course the peaceful mokoros - thank you Socks and everyone." - DW - United Kingdom

"Staff singing to welcome us. Beautiful rooms and lodge. Lovely meals, candles and decorations. Boat rides - cruising through the Delta. Elephants and babies, hippo, cheetah, search for the leopard." - JA, USA

"Seeing all the wildlife was really exciting. The variety of wildlife was interesting and gave me a better idea of what this part of Africa is like. The variety of food and presentation was really superb. Staff were helpful, courteous and pleasant." - AM, USA

"The setting, the staff...all very friendly and helpful. The Mokoro and boat rides, Pel's Fishing-Owl. All meals were excellent. Staff really went out of their way." - K&M-AC, South Africa


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Malawi camps
Mvuu Camp Newsletter - April 07                  Jump to Mvuu Camp & Mvuu Wilderness Lodge

The change of season has yet again brought significant change in scenery, animal behaviour and sightings. Mating season is in full blossom and there are males of all sorts and shapes running around after the more gentle gender. Impalas, waterbuck, warthog, all discussing the topic of "the birds and the bees", and it seems like they're influencing the non-seasonal breeders, like yellow baboons and vervet monkey, into action as well.

It's just the start of the rut now and snorting and grunting, accompanied by a chase after a ewe or ram, is the order of the day. Guests at Mvuu have had lovely experiences watching the mating-rituals of the impalas and the waterbuck fighting their way into dominancy. Even the animals that like keeping themselves scarce have come out to have a peek at the show. Some of these include serval and civet. On one of the game-drives this month some guests had the huge privilege of seeing two serval; it only happens about once a year that someone sees these elusive cats, so hopefully we'll see some more of them during the rest of the dry season...

Mvuu Camp, Malawi

Other night-creatures that are coming out to play are side-striped jackal, white-tailed mongoose, bush-babies and the chameleons are around every night as well. Another mainly nocturnal animal that we're enjoying a lot is the spotted hyaena. There have been lots of sightings; one where six hyaenas were feeding on a big kudu bull, and on one of our night drives a hyaena came to do a close inspection of the vehicle while we were doing stargazing. It doesn't happen too often that you're able to see the immense size of these animal's jaws - it's easy to see how they can eat every single part of a killed animal!

Apart from the hyaenas we don't have any other common predator in Liwonde National Park... until a few months ago. For the past few months we were able to hear lions roar almost every single night. They are far off on the eastern side of the Park - we estimate them about 10km away - and very wary of any public viewing. They haven't been seen once but now that most of the water has gone it's going to be easier for us to get closer to them, or maybe for them to get closer to the camps in order to get water from the river. The last time that lions were recorded was '96/'97, so naturally we are very excited about this!

Apart from a very active night life we also have a very interesting day life?

One of the more common mammal species in the park is the sable. In her book "Malawi: Wildlife, Parks & Reserves", J. Carter states that in 1987 there was an estimation of 1000 sable in Liwonde National Park - at that stage possibly one of the highest densities in Africa. Because of insufficient fencing (and more likely poaching) this amount hasn't increased too much over the last 20 years, but still Liwonde is considered one of the prime breading areas for sable in Africa. Sable have been relocated to other National Parks in Malawi over the past few years and we are remaining with an estimate of about 1000 more. They have been a good attraction over the month; now that the bush is thinning out a bit we're able to see big herds of up to 40 animals.

Mvuu sunset in Malawi

Especially Mvuu Lodge has always been a huge favourite with guests. With its dining area raised 3m above the water level, everyone has a birds eye view over the lagoon and the Shire River. Right here is where we record some of the most amazing sightings in the park. During the past this is the only place where we've recorded Half-collared Kingfisher and Pygmy Kingfisher, elephant come strolling through the lagoon to come and eat from the Fever Trees right in front of the Lodge, if that's not enough the hippos feed off the grass during the day as well - all this to the guests amazement. Our April-sighting was a crocodile catching a vervet monkey right on lunchtime? nothing short of wonderful!

Last but not the least: Another attraction to Liwonde is the prolific bird life. As the Park in Malawi with the highest bird-count it's living up to its name all the way. There's been some Pel's Fishing-owl sightings, one in particular is where a Pel's has been seen flying in clear daylight with a fish in its talons - very special. There's also lots of Nightjars around and the Southern White-faced Scops-owl has been a fairly common sight on night drives. Brown-breasted Barbet has been seen more than once and this is a particular special!

All this and lots more happening at Mvuu Lodge & Camp... come see for yourself.

Compiled by Wikus Swanepoel with additional info received from guides at Mvuu.

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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp Newsletter - April 07                  Jump to Pafuri Camp

As the year progresses, we are privileged to continue to witness the ever-changing moods of Pafuri. The arrival of autumn has painted the landscape with a kaleidoscope of reds, browns and yellows. The White Seringas Kirkia accuminata and Baobabs Adansonia digitata in particular are conspicuous with their deep yellow leaves as they prepare for the coming winter. With winter approaching there is crispness in the morning air and a deep-blue to the midday sky. These clear skies continue on into the night offering us fantastic views of the African skies. During the month, the concession has echoed with the deep grunts of the impala as they attempt to stake their territories in preparation for the mating season.

The seasonal pans on the concession have started to dry up and this has resulted in the animals beginning to congregate along the banks of the Luvuvhu River.

Mammals
Pafuri continues to amaze us with the uniqueness of the sightings that we are fortunate to witness. We had set out on foot one afternoon with the idea of hiking up Hutwini Mountain, a sandstone mountain which stands about 100 metres above the Luvuvhu River floodplain. As we reached the edge of the cliff, we looked down onto the floodplain and were greeted with the spectacle of approximately 250 buffalo sprawled across the open plains, completely oblivious to our presence. Had we reached the edge of Hutwini and not seen a single animal below us, the view itself would have been enough to leave us breathless, but to see the buffalo there was an awe-inspiring experience.

Another fascinating event that we were fortunate to witness during the month also involved a herd of buffalo. As a herd of approximately 50 buffalo was crossing the Luvuvhu River, a crocodile managed to grab hold of one of the calves on the edge of the herd and pull it under the water and drown it.

The lion sightings on the concession continue to improve and as we approach the dry season, the lions are beginning to spend more time along the rivers hunting the prey which congregate alongside the river. We were also fortunate to witness two kills during the month. On one occasion three lionesses brought down an impala ram. The second kill was of a single young baboon, brought down by a heavily lactating lioness that proceeded to carry the kill away, possibly to her awaiting cubs. (A lioness with three young cubs had been seen in the area three days prior to this).

Other interesting sightings during the month include a sighting of a caracal, a Meller's mongoose and a newborn hippo calf at Crooks Corner.

Birds
243 different species of bird were recorded during the month of April. Some of the highlights included White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Dickinson's Kestrel and numerous Grey-headed Parrots. As the water level of the Luvuvhu River began to drop, the number of Pel's Fishing-Owl sightings increased.

We have also had numerous sightings of African Crowned Eagle and on one occasion one was seen hunting a vervet monkey. It was a near miss and the monkey was fortunate to escape. During the month we discovered a Three-banded Courser nest. This is only the second recorded nest site for this bird in South Africa.

The above are just a few of the sightings that indicate how different a place Pafuri is. We are fortunate to be based here and have an opportunity to see these extraordinary sights on a daily basis and we eagerly await the surprises that the winter holds for us.

Climate
Min Ave: 20ºC;
Max Ave: 29ºC
Rainfall: 5mm

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Rocktail Bay Dive Newsletter - April 07                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge

The weather has been good to us this month, back to normal after the extremes of the last two months. There has been a mixture of glorious sunny days; cooler overcast days with rain, which we have been waiting for; and then the early morning nip in the air that signals winter has arrived.

There has been something for everyone this month - from some of the biggest to some of the smallest fish.

The 3rd was an exceptional day. Early morning was overcast with rain and the divers arrived at the dive centre warmly wrapped up in ponchos. A cup of coffee to wake up and warm up, and the decision was made - if it's going to be a wet day we may as well be diving! Even though it was raining, the sea was wonderful and flat and we headed south to Regal Reef. On the way we came across a big group of bottlenose dolphins which were in a playful mood and we had a wonderful time snorkelling with them. During the dive we watched a grey reef shark getting his teeth cleaned. He swam into the cleaning station where the small blue and black cleaner wrasse, were waiting. The shark hovered as the fish swam in and out of his mouth and gills and around his head. Before they could finish he was chased away by a slightly bigger grey reef shark who clearly wanted the cleaning station to himself. Then, after the dive, as we were driving back towards Island Rock, we saw a whaleshark! All enjoyed snorkelling with it before heading back to the beach for some breakfast. As if that was not enough entertainment for one day, the following dive at Pineapple produced a manta ray, which swam gracefully mid water around the divers, ensuring that everyone got a good look!

We have had a lot of grey reef shark sightings this month, mainly at Pineapple Reef, Regal Reef, Brewer's Garden and Aerial. There have also been a lot of rays around this month; sharpnose, honeycomb, round ribbontail and blue spotted.

Other big fish have included a few sightings of guitarfish and the biggest of the kingfish - the Caranx ignoblis. These giant kingfish are wonderful to see and as we descended to begin our dive at Solitude, we were spoilt by having 11 of them swimming in a circle just below us, outside a small cave area. Normally these fish move away when divers approach, but this time they calmly swam around for a while, as if asserting their position above us on the hierarchy of the reef and then one by one swam off into the blue - leaving us to stare in awe.

Another fish that catches one's attention - not because it is big and majestic like these kingfish but because it is small and graceful - is the juvenile batfish. A special sighting! These fish are part of the same family as the spadefish, which we see quite regularly, but we do not see the batfish often. We had a group of 3, then 5 of them at Pineapple Reef for approximately two weeks. They have elongated fins and their body forms a type of crescent shape, when viewed from the side. Their bodies are also flattened, so they almost disappear as they swim away from you. This particular group of fish was curious and would swim right up to the diver's masks before quickly turning away. It was wonderful to watch them swim in unison, as if they were performing a well-rehearsed dance.

Other ocean creatures that are born entertainers are the octopi. We have seen so many of them this month. Some sit proud out of their holes, flashing their colours, brown, white, smooth or rough - they can do it all. Others are shy, with just their eyes peeping out from behind a protective, sucker-laden arm. The best is when you get the chance to watch one decorating its home, pushing the sand out of its hole, picking up shells and making sure they are placed just right at the entrance. It is in fact their shell-adorned entrance that gives them away!

A dive at Brewers Garden produced some of the smallest fish sightings this month. Tiny dominoes and clownfish in anemones, these little babies were about 1cm in length! Whip corals are home to whip coral gobies, which are also about 1cm in length and almost completely transparent. There were lots of small short-spine porcupine fish sleeping under ledges, but the smallest one we saw was only about 8cm in length and 6cm wide! Then on a sand patch we saw a juvenile razor wrasse, floating above the sand like a piece of seaweed, and as we were watching, we noticed something behind it move - a spotted garden eel! There were just two of them on this sand patch but we all spent ages watching them as they disappeared into the sand and then slowly peeked out again, moving up and down as if dancing to a snake charmer's flute.

Aerial is also a great reef for spotting small fish. This month we have seen paperfish, ghost pipefish, blue banded pipefish, tapestry shrimps, cleaner shrimps and humpback shrimps. A fun thing to do is to settle down in one of the caves and put your hand out on the sand - the shrimps get to work and give you a wonderful manicure!

"Absolutely amazing diving! First time in the Indian Ocean and couldn't get any better. Thanks so much." S & A, U.S.A

Yours in diving,

Darryl, Clive, Michelle and Karin
The Rocktail Bay Dive Team

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