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Monthly update from Jao Camp in
Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in
Monthly update from Jacana Camp in
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update - November 07 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
As the last pools of water are drying up and the days are becoming swelteringly hot, we go deeper into our dry season. Here in the African heat temperatures reach 45°C where only the fittest survive the predators and the sun burns the earth and everything that lives on it.
One of the most interesting bugs seen this time of the year is the cicada. After up to 14 years hibernating in the ground, the cicadas of 2007 are in full song. Here in Botswana we call them "Christmas beetles" as they are the sign Christmas is around the corner. This is the time of plenty for the migratory birds and smaller creatures such as scurries of squirrels that live on the ground and in the trees to feast on them.
As the baobabs come into bloom, their amazing pods bursting into colour. This natural phenomenon occurs around midnight, as the beautiful bright white flowers open, which take less than 60 seconds and is visible to the naked eye. Very few people are lucky enough to see it. The blossoms attract many creatures, but the one that appears by the millions is the giant hall moth. They play a very important part, as they feed and drink from the flowers and whilst doing this, they are the most common pollinators for the baobab tree. They have over-populated Kwetsani in the evenings lately, a sight to be seen.
With another month passing, the predators around Kwetsani are in full force, with all the food around, just like the smaller creatures and the insects. The zebra have started giving birth; with the late rains, they cannot wait any more and this makes for easy meals. This month we have had some really great sightings of leopards. Night drives have been unbelievable with three different leopard sightings in one evening, and another of jackal pups in their den. Two of our guests were surprised while waiting for their plane to arrive; they witnessed a kill of a baby zebra by a hungry female leopard.
The lions are on the move all the time now, but they are still lazing around Kwetsani most of the time, with many lechwe falling victim to them. The cubs have really grown up, and the little male has almost outgrown his scruffy "hairdo", with the start of his mane sprouting strongly. The little female is also getting big and is starting to get involved in the hunts.
The hyaena are still trying to steal food from every source, including our rubbish bins. The Kwetsani female seems to have picked the wrong source and received a friendly reminder not to steal from lions: the lions injured her neck. She has recovered and is back on the road to recovery.
Not to forget the rest of the amazing game, we have had many wonderful sightings around Kwetsani at the moment, elephant with babies, towers of giraffe, obstinacies of buffalo, implausibility of wildebeest, tsessebe, rare sighting of a sitatunga this month and many other antelope in the area, both big and small. The numbers are many and enjoyed by all the people who came through Kwetsani this month.
As the sun sets on November and we enter the last month of 2007, from all of us here at Kwetsani, we would like to wish everyone a happy and safe festive season.
Until next month
The Kwetsani team
Jao Camp update
- November 07 Jump
to Jao Camp
November has continued to offer wonderful weather, slightly warmer than the October days that did not produce the expected annual highs in temperature. Nature has also been kind with its air-conditioning, and has almost always provided a gentle breeze to cool things down. We have however been teased and have looked expectantly skyward on a number of occasions as clouds developed only to be disappointed that the first explosive African storm had not arrived. Finally, on the 27th of November, after a few very cloudy and overcast days the skies opened and we received a welcome 18mm of rain.
The trees are now filled with fresh green leaves, the grass is lush and we have seen our first young of the season. It is such a wonderful time of the year as we see the tsessebe, zebra, impala and other antelope bringing new life to the delta.
We made our first trip back to Hunda Island on the 24th of November. This very productive and nutrient-rich area of our concession has been inaccessible for the past two months as the channels have been too shallow to boat and the roads too wet to drive. We finally braved the remaining crossings without a hitch and were richly rewarded with a Delta big game viewing par excellence.
After following pug marks in the wet sandy road our sighting of leopard was incredible; we followed the young male, who is in pristine condition, for almost half an hour. He then suddenly headed for the palm thickets, but shortly afterwards we learned of a lion nearby. After a wonderful start with leopard and lion we were soon rewarded with a herd of about 120 buffalo where we stopped to enjoy our morning tea.
We had just set out again after tea when we chalked up yet another highlight of the day. This time it was the sighting of our first impala lamb this year. Our guests were lucky enough to witness the birth of the lamb and watched as it took its first wobbly step after being licked clean by its mother.
Hunda was as usual teaming with elephant, wildebeest, zebra and plenty of other species. It was such a pleasure to see so many newborn zebra foals. Few animals are as strongly synonymous with Africa as zebra.
November is definitely Woodland Kingfisher month. These brightly coloured blue-and-grey kingfishers with their shiny red-and-black beaks have completed their annual migration and now fill the air with their characteristic "trrp-trrrrrrrrrr" call. The warm summer days are an absolute paradise for birdwatchers as the species list swells now that most of the migrants have returned. Perhaps the most amazing sighting this month was a Narina Trogon, which we spotted in the Sycomore Fig in front of the dining room. These very colourful birds are a riverine forest species that are extremely elusive. There was certainly great excitement from those of us that have searched a lifetime to see this colourful bird.
There was even more excitement earlier in the month when we had the first sighting of Beauty, our resident leopard, for a couple of months. We had been beginning to fear the worst and then she was then seen on the Jao Bridge late one evening in the company of a hyaena. Beauty has since been around the camp all month, mostly tempting us with her fresh spoor and droppings each morning but also providing some excellent sightings.
Perhaps the most exciting of these interactions with Beauty was an experience one evening when she literally passed below the walkway as guests were on the way to their rooms after dinner. Guests had excellent sightings and watched Beauty patiently stalking a couple of bushbuck in the thickets right next to Room 4. We left Beauty after about half an hour so that we could get some sleep before the 5h00 wakeup the following morning. In the morning we learned that Beauty's patience was eventually rewarded with a male bushbuck, which she dragged into the palm thickets next to the swimming pool.
Finally on the 19th of November Beauty mated with a more elusive and shy male. We hope she will conceive and give birth to a litter in the next 90 days. We hope too that she is finally successful raising her next litter, after losing her previous cubs earlier this year.
Not to be outdone, our elephants have obviously noticed the interest that is being shown in all of the newborn animals around camp and floodplains; they too decided to display their pride and joy on the airstrip.
And so we end off another wonderful month at Jao as we head rapidly towards the festive season. We take this opportunity of wishing everyone a very peaceful and joyful festive season and certainly look forward to hosting you here at Jao in the not too distant future.
Tubu Tree Camp
update - November 07 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
With the temperatures rising, incredibly impressive rain clouds are building up at the horizon in the late afternoons, making us feel small and vulnerable in the presence of these mighty powers. We occasionally received some rains and heavy winds, but mostly the rains have not yet reached Hunda Island. Yet the lightning in the far-distant skies creates a gloomy, unnatural atmosphere making our guests feel like part of "Lord of the Rings" with the eye of Sauron looking at Tubu Tree Camp.
We have had wonderful mornings with our guests being able to see large herds of zebra lying in the grassy plain just in the front of the Camp, slowly waking up and starting to feed. Occasionally we have breeding herds of elephant roaming through camp, breaking down trees and making the nights for our guests unforgettable. Some of our guests have actually spent their first night with the lights on, as the hyaena calls and the sounds of a leopard passing by their tent were just too overwhelming.
Our guests were able to witness the birth of young impala on numerous occasions, as the first rains in November are the starting signal for the impala to give birth to their young with the fresh green grass providing ideal food for the kiddies. It is ever fascinating to see how they try to get on their feet as quickly as possible, assisted by their caring mothers, and how quickly they learn to move and run like it was the easiest thing on earth. But of course they have to, as the newly born are easy targets for all predators, especially for our leopards. Our guests saw several leopard kills, and on one occasion also a male baboon feeding on a young impala.
Lions moved into our area as well, adding to the daily spectacle around Hunda Island. We have two wonderfully healthy male brothers patrolling the area. They killed a zebra the other day just a few minutes out of camp, actually on one of the small islands visible from our swimming pool area. Our guests also enjoyed the sight of mating lions over the past few days, left surprised by their stamina and hard work, and also puzzled by the fact that mating male lion was quite old - lots of wrinkles and scars in his face they noted - and that his very healthy and stronger looking colleague actually had to watch them and was left with nothing.
We hope that the picture painted here holds good memories for those that have visited before, and to the rest of you out there reading this - hope to see you soon!
Peter & Katrin and the whole Tubu Team
update - November 07 Jump
to Jacana Camp
With the water slowly receding over the past few months, our paradise island has slowly been increasing in size. Floodplains have been transferred into carpets of green, with hundreds of red lechwe making their way in front of the camp to feed on the fresh grass. This is also the first time in nine months that we have been able to drive to the camp, despite the continued existence of a number of water crossings which nearly submerge the entire vehicle. The water has dropped to the point that boating is no longer possible, but the mokoro trips are still possible and will be for the entire year.
The lower water levels have brought different birds to the front of camp. Waders who tend to feed in shallow waters such as the Saddle-billed Storks, Wattled Cranes, Goliath Herons and Slaty Egrets are seen on a regular basis. Other highlights include a number of sightings of the elusive Pel's Fishing-Owl.
The wildlife has been as dynamic as the ever-changing landscape. The lower water levels bring in many species that were not seen when the floods were up. There are regular sightings of plains zebra, giraffe, Cape buffalo, and blue wildebeest. The lions have been seen a number of times over the past month. Although leopard have been elusive, we were rewarded with a great sighting of our resident female leopard on a young zebra kill.
This is also the time of the year that many of the antelope start dropping their young. The tsessebe and impala have started producing their young and we have had the pleasure of seeing all the newly born red lechwe running around their new homes in the shallow waters and floodplains in front of the camp.
The camp has also had the pleasure of hosting some other "youngsters" recently. In the last week of November, Jacana closed it doors to guests for almost four weeks to host the Children in the Wilderness programme (www.childreninthewilderness.com). The programme brings a number of underprivileged children from schools in the villages surrounding the Okavango Delta to stay at the camp for six days at a time. In that time they get to experience the beauty of the area and its wildlife on game drives and mokoro trips. In addition to being entertained with a number of activities such as games, movies and arts and crafts, they are also taught important life lessons such as conservation, HIV/AIDS, tourism, life skills etc. It is a wonderful programme to be involved in and to see the joy on the kids' faces is an incredible feeling.
We hope to see you here on our paradise island to share the wonderful and dynamic ecosystem of the Okavango Delta with us.
Clint, Dom and the Jacana Team
"Fantastic game drives with excellent guides - all well organised. Good eating, excellent service, friendly staff and helpful people and managers."
"A delightful and welcoming atmosphere. Everyone very helpful, the wonderful experience of seeing lions so close to will be a treasured memory. Boat rides, drives all exciting and interesting."
"The game drive, see a big lion sleeping next to our car and watching hippos playing in the water. The mokoro ride was also beautiful experience, unforgettable."
"The game drive, the boat tour, the mokoro, the location and most important, the people guiding us, cooking and the taking care of us. Especially the wonderful reception."
"Beautiful location - good meals - great management personnel. Loved the mokoro ride and seeing the Southern Cross. The tents are beautifully decorated."
Duba Plains Camp
update - November 07 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
The managers at Duba during the month of November were Moalosi, Tebby and Francois accompanied by a very strong team of our guides James, Reuben and Dennis.
November was a great month despite the unpredictability of the weather. The month was mainly dominated by very strong winds and a couple of big storms all of which kept the temperature relatively low. Our maximum temperature recorded was 34°C (98°F), with a minimum of about 15°C (60°F). The afternoons were characterized by accumulations of cumulonimbus clouds that initiated the onset of thunderstorms that occasionally lead to rainfall. We received good rainfall on two occasions, yielding 50mm (2 inches) on one occasion and 20mm (about an inch) on another. Both rainfalls temporarily re-inundated the low-lying floodplains.
General game over the last month has been outstanding. Large herds of elephant have been seen migrating to and from the mopane tree woodlands to the north of us. This movement is typical of this time of year and is based on whether or not rain has fallen and filled the pans in the woodland allowing the elephant to stay there and feast on the new mopane leaves.
November is also typically the time of births and we have been seeing a bunch of babies running around since beginning of the month. Tsessebe are usually the first to drop their calves, and their birth usually indicates the arrival of rain. Large herds of kudu have also been seen browsing on isolated islands, including in camp where they seem to be enjoying the greenery. They generally move into camp in the afternoon when the people movement slows down, and the usually skittish males have been viewed at close range.
Night drives have been very special as usual. The guests have been having great sightings of very relaxed bat-eared foxes while foraging for harvester termites with little pups following them. Normally the pups only come out at night. There have also been great sightings of another termite specialist the aardwolf, with some exceptional observations of them with their pups especially towards the end of the month.
The main highlight of the month has been associated with the receding of the water which has left sandbanks exposed and allowed egg laying for the African Skimmer - a rare and threatened species which has the Okavango Delta as one of its remaining strongholds. Wattled Cranes also find sanctuary in the Delta where they exist in one of Africa's largest populations. We continue to see this species in isolated pairs in our area, including one that is resident on the floodplain in front of camp.
The arrival of the Woodland Kingfisher was immediately noticed because of its unmistakable melodious call and we have been blessed with the return of another intra-Africa migrant, the Yellow-billed Kite, a pair of which has arrived back and begun refurbishing their nest in a jackalberry tree above tent 1. We have also been having regular sightings of an impressive pair of Martial Eagles which we suspect might be breeding in the area.
As usual, the Tsaro Pride has continued to provide the majority of the lion sightings this month. They still consist of nine adult females, a juvenile female cub and the sub-adult male ('Junior'). The poor breeding success rate continues with about 8 cubs killed in the last two to three months. 'Silver Eye', the lioness generally thought to be responsible for much of this mortality, lost her own litter recently. The pride continues to be in three different divisions at the moment, although these distinct groupings do regularly join up to hunt and feed. They have also hunted successfully on their own however, although one of the females is carrying an injury to the back leg that was caused by a buffalo. She ('Junior's' mother) recovered quickly however and two days later was seen actively involved in a successful hunt. 'Junior' has already started to be harassed a bit by his fathers the aging 'Duba Boys'. This typical inter-male aggression has been witnessed a lot at feeding points.
MAJOR HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MONTH
We have long debated the likelihood of the Duba Boys being supplanted as the territorial males of the area, and it now seems as though this inevitability is not far off. Since the beginning of the month the single Skimmer Male, that for the past few months has been making increasing incursions into the area, has actually made his intentions very clear. Over the past two weeks this male has attacked the Duba Boys one after the other, leaving both of them with severe injuries. The first one was attacked around the first week of the month, resulting in bad injuries around the eye that has now been swollen since then. The condition of this male has dropped quite dramatically and for three weeks now could be described as being in bad physiological condition with his whole body showing signs of age and decline: the pelvic bones are more pronounced, most of the body seems more angular and less robust, even the tail is looking emaciated and in general his whole body really appears shrunken. The second male appears to have been attacked just a day or so ago. This male has been looking far better than his coalition partner but on this occasion he had also apparently been involved in a fight and had severe injuries mainly on the leg which appeared to be fractured, he was badly limping as well.
The Skimmer Male - also seen with minor bruises and gashes to the face - has not wasted his time and has been seen on several occasions (always pretty relaxed considering he is in the core of the territory of the Duba Boys) mating with one of the Tsaro Pride lionesses. Apparently he is now mating with a second lioness that had been mating with the Duba Boy a day before the fight. The following morning he was seen with this lioness having obviously fought over the mating rights with the second Duba Boy. In contrast to the relaxed attitude of the Skimmer Male, the two Duba boys have been lying low and have been pretty elusive. We are all looking forward to see the outcome ?
Compiled by - Moalosi @Duba
Plains update - November 07 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
The month of November saw an increase in rainfall experienced in the 90 000-hectare Kwedi Concession that incorporates Vumbura Plains, Little Vumbura and Duba Plains camps. With the rainfall came a wonderful change in the flora and fauna which affected the whole landscape. Most trees and flowers are in bloom and the whole area has that scent of spring in the air. The area is looking at its most picturesque. Rain has occurred mostly in the late afternoons in short showers. The outlying pans are starting to fill up creating some fantastic game viewing spots dotted around the woodlands and floodplains. The mass of the floodwaters from the winter season have almost completely dissipated, with the game now returning to their water supply of seasonal rainfall.
November has also seen the full return of our summer visiting bird species including the colourful Carmine Bee-eaters. Certain fish species are also starting to breed including bream and pike species. Bream nests can be found in shallow inlets and channels and are typically circular bowl-like nests created in the soft sand in which they lay their eggs.
The changing climate and habitat has stimulated multiple antelope births. Newborn impala, wildebeest, tsessebe and zebra are popular sightings, making for extra-special photo opportunities, and on the rare occasion even allowing the spectacular insight into the birthing process. This time of year also poses a lot of opportunities for predators, with species such as black-backed and side-striped jackal, spotted hyaena and leopard taking full advantage of the increase in young prey in the area.
Along with all the new births in the area we have experienced some fantastic highlights this month: among them have been great sightings of our resident Kubu lion pride, six different leopard sighting in various locations (one on a hunt and kill), and two very rare sightings of a serval and the following week a caracal both on the hunt early evening. One of a herd of elephants also gave birth in camp for the second time this year! The last was in July and this little one was born on the 30th November and is doing well.
Other sightings this month include a herd of eighteen sable antelope, large herds of elephants, and two sightings of an African wildcat. We had a fantastic interaction with lions and hyaenas. The lion pride had come across the carcass of a three- to four-year-old elephant calf that possibly died due to illness. They had been feeding for the most part of the day until a few hyaena caught wind of the carcass. Within the hour that followed was the distinctive calling of other clan members until the numbers rose above 30. The intimidating laughs followed along with short attempts on trying to overtake the kill. With the increasing numbers (now 30 spotted hyaena to eight lions, including four sub-adult males) the pressure grew too much and the takeover happened. The noise and commotion was intense, and with the light now switching to spotlights the whole scene was even more dramatic.
The month of November has seen some fantastic and interesting changes in the Kwedi, and what with newborn and bird species arriving, December looks to be an exciting month!
Makalolo Plains update - November 07 Jump
to Makalolo Camps
The month of November was a quieter month in terms of guest arrivals, unlike last month where we were kept busy.
The temperatures have soared this month, with a minimum of 19°C and a maximum at 37°C, making it slightly unbearable when the first rains started where the humidity was uncomfortably high. The rains have not been as good as expected with a measurement of 20mm.
Vegetation, Landscape and Water
The little rain we received has managed to change the landscape slightly; we now have a green and fresh-looking bush. The browns and russets still appear and give the bush a wonderful array of colour, which is enhanced with the evening light. The little water that has collected in the depressions has attracted butterflies and other insects; this has also attracted wildlife to drink from these natural pans thus reducing the amount of animals at the pumped conventional waterholes. The pressure is off the pumped waterholes and we see less and less game congregating around them. Croaking of frogs is heard more often, providing early morning wake up calls and good night lullabies.
Sightings for November included: Dwarf mongoose, leopard, wild dog, large-spotted genet, white rhino, bat-eared fox, vervet monkey, African wildcat, roan, side-striped jackal, small-spotted genet, spotted hyaena, banded mongoose, sable, Cape buffalo, eland, common duiker, scrub hare, lion, springhare, elephant, tree squirrel, black-backed jackal, baboon, giraffe, impala, kudu, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest and zebra.
At the onset of the rains the large elephant herds disappeared, but smaller breeding and bachelor herd are still encountered. The elephant and other animal dung that covered the plains is now being reduced to sand, by termites. The dung beetles are seen busy rolling large balls of dung, burying them for their larvae to feed on. The African bush is now been cleaned up and ready for another season, making room for the new animals, reptiles and invertebrates that will soon be born.
It's that time of the year when most animal drop (give birth to) their young; warthogs were the first to be seen, near Somavundla Pan. The impala and other animals have not yet dropped their young, a sign that the rains have not really started and we might be in for another dry year. Who knows? This is Africa, the continent of extremes; we might receive late rains that produce floods.
Three wild dogs honoured us with their presence in front of camp; the resident impala were not as impressed. Another pack of eight was also seen at the airstrip a couple of days later. A hyaena was seen with two puppies at a den on the Leadwood road. Two adult and two sub-adult rhinos were seen at Little Mbiza feeding, they have been seen on three different occasions.
Birds and Birding
A total of 147 species were recorded this month, including the summer visitors. The Red-headed Weavers have built their nests outside our administration offices, there is a constant chatter as they go about their business of building new nests and feed their young. A pair of Paradise Flycatchers has built their nest outside the kitchen and the male has been observed sitting on the nest.
Yellow-billed Kites have been observed, swooping down and catching frogs from the pan in front of camp.
"Very good wildlife and experienced guides, very nice rooms and setup, very friendly staff and delicious food" - UI & MS - Switzerland & Germany
"The game, the accommodation, excellent staff, Dickson was great" - JO - UK
"Definitely return, Raymond was an excellent guide, very knowledgeable, a pleasure to be with. Hospitality of the lodge is outstanding. Nelly is a perfect hostess" - RU - Switzerland
We wish all our readers a safe festive season.
Until next month,
The Makalolo Team
update - November 07 Jump
to Pafuri Camp
What an interesting month November has been for us here at Pafuri. In the space of a couple of weeks we have seen the concession transformed from being dry, bare and heat wave-stricken to an area that is exploding with new plant growth, flowers and the melodious calls of the returning migratory birds. The majestic baobab trees are now decorated with new leaves and brilliant white flowers. Substantial rains have arrived just in time to provide cover for the impala calving season. We received a whopping amount of rain; 45mm on the 24th and then a further 22mm fell over the next three days. It is now becoming hard to believe that Pafuri is one of the lowest rainfall areas in the Kruger.
November is an interesting month in that it is when the impala begin giving birth to their calves after carrying them for a six-month period. (It is interesting to note that the peak of the impala rut this year was recorded as being around the week of 16 May. This works out to 188 days to 20 November when the first newborn impala was seen.) This now becomes a time of plenty for many predators ranging from larger birds of prey to lions. Baboons have also been seen preying on the impala lambs. November also saw the arrival of a number of newborn bushbuck and nyala.
Most of the pans and springs are now filling up with water and the animals are slowly beginning to disperse from the Luvuvhu River. Large herds of buffalo have been seen grazing along the Limpopo River floodplain. On one occasion a herd of approximately 250 was seen.
Once again the area has produced fantastic sightings of elephants. Many bulls have provided our guests with hours of entertainment in the area around camp. One memorable sighting was of three old bulls feeding across the boardwalk right next to the main deck during afternoon tea.
In the predator department, we have been treated to some amazing sightings. On various occasions we have been graced by the presence of mating lions, oblivious to our presence, as they engaged in their courtship rituals. As far as the elusive spotted cats go, we were extremely fortunate when a male leopard made himself at home on the southern bank of the Luvuvhu River, directly opposite Rooms 2 and 3. He was there for three days, spending the majority of his time resting in the open on the cool sand of the river bank. On one of the drives, we were also fortunate to witness a female leopard and her cub feeding on an impala kill.
The month has seen an increase in the frequency of sightings of white rhino, with there being regular sightings both from the vehicle and on foot.
Other interesting sightings for the month included:
A sighting of a caracal
12 crocodiles feeding on a nyala in front of the lodge
An elephant with a newborn calf
A sighting of an aardvark
Two sightings of honey badger
A sighting of a springhare
Two Crowned Eagles catching a Crested Francolin
A small spotted genet suckling three genet kittens
In terms of birding, Pafuri continues to live up to its name as the birding Mecca of Kruger. Many migratory species have returned already. The far carrying calls of the Woodland Kingfisher are now heard continually throughout the concession and there is nothing that signifies the arrival of summer more than this call.
Sightings of the specials in the area increase with multiple sightings of the elusive Pel's Fishing Owl, Thick-billed Cuckoo and Racket-tailed Roller. After the rains, the emergence of the termite winged alates on their nuptial flight has attracted a staggering number of Lesser Spotted and Steppe Eagles
As you can see, Pafuri stands out as an area with a mind-blowing biodiversity that offers exquisite sightings of both big and small. It will be interesting to see what new changes the bush has for us in the coming summer months.
Average daily minimum temperatures: 22°C
Average daily maximum temperatures: 39°C
Rocktail Bay Dive Newsletter - November 07 Jump
Another month of spectacular diving has gone by with summer persisting in teasing us with its presence. The month has been made up of mostly partly cloudy days interspersed with a few sunny days. We have not experienced the true heat of summer yet but summer rains have definitely made their presence known. Water temperatures averaged 23 to 25°C over the course of the month. Visibility was at an average of 15m+ for most of the month.
Turtle season is in full swing, with regular sightings of Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles during evening turtle drives. The "frisky" male Loggerhead turtle at Pineapple Reef is still around and has continued attempting to sneak up on unsuspecting divers. On one particular dive at Pineapple we watched as this same turtle picked a fight with another male Loggerhead turtle. They chased each other in circles and attempted to bite each other whenever they got the chance, until finally a victor was proclaimed. There have been many other turtle sightings during the month including sleeping Loggerhead females, active Loggerhead males, Hawksbill turtles as well as small Green turtles.
Ray sightings are increasing, as the big 'summer' rays have arrived. These include: Sharpnose Stingrays, Round Ribbon Tail Stingrays, and Honeycomb Stingrays. Honeycomb Stingrays are seen regularly, especially at Pineapple Reef, either swimming to and from the reef or simply lying in the sand. There is a big, pregnant female Round Ribbontail Stingray at Aerial. She is often seen sleeping in her favourite cave and sometimes swimming off the reef across the sand, perhaps looking for a tasty meal.
Regular sightings of Geometric, Black-cheek and Honeycomb Morays have been noted. Black-cheek Morays are as short-tempered as always when they pop out of their holes, teeth bared. A dive at Pineapple produced two Honeycomb Morays swimming around freely. One swam past right underneath the divers and we got the chance to observe how gracefully they move through the water. Other regular sightings have included big shoals of Sea Pike (Pick-handle Barracuda), Pipefish, Juvenile Razor Wrasse, Juvenile Rock-mover Wrasse, Triggerfish, Angelfish, Slinger and much more. We have also seen many Paperfish in a variety of colours; orange, white and even a dark purple one at Aerial. The little Pineapplefish at Aerial is also still around.
Aerial has certainly been an interesting dive site this month and has given us the opportunity to see various different stages in the life cycle of the octopus. Octopus have been out and about on many dives but what made one of the sightings particularly special is that we got to watch a pair mating. We also found a female who had blocked the entrance to her hole and was diligently tending to her eggs. We checked up on her throughout the month, until the sad day that we found her hole open and saw that she was gone. The female octopus will spend more or less one month tending to her eggs, during this time she will not even eat and eventually dies. Depending on the species of Octopus most males die within a couple of months after mating. But it is not all in vain - we noticed that the female octopus' eggs had hatched! The new generation of tiny octopus have begun their battle for survival. Towards the end of the month at Elusive, we saw a beautiful baby octopus barely 5cm in diameter walking across a small patch of reef before disappearing into a tiny hole!
Other fish have also been very busy reproducing. We have found Clownfish eggs next to many of the anemones, appearing and disappearing from view as the protective arms of the anemones waved over them. Around the middle of the month at Elusive we watched as two Damselfish laid and fertilised their bright purple eggs on a tree branch. The two juvenile Batfish at Elusive are also still around. They are particularly playful and inquisitive, swimming into divers' bubbles and following us around. One even swam up behind a diver, rubbed against his fins, circled them for a while and then swam off again.
Another rare sighting this month was of a Flutemouth. We were on a dive at Brewer's when a silvery white, Trumpetfish-like fish swam by quite quickly. The Smooth Flutemouth (Cornetfish) is a long, thin-bodied fish with a tubular snout and a long whip tail. They feed on small invertebrates and are generally seen hovering over reefs or sections of seagrass.
We have seen some great specimens of Grey Reef Sharks and Black-tip Sharks swimming close by, as well as a beautiful Zebra Shark. Zebra Sharks have a tail that is almost the same length as their dark body and they are covered with black spots. These sharks mainly feed on snails and clams and occasionally they will feed on crabs, shrimps and bony fish. They are slow-moving, bottom-dwellers that are generally inactive during the day and can be found lying on the sand resting; which is exactly where we found the one we saw. We hung around and watched him for a while then he woke up, swam up over the reef (with his two remoras still hitching a ride), around and back in between us to his original resting spot.
Dolphin sightings have been exciting this month. We have watched Spinner Dolphins out to sea, as they jump and literally spin in the air before diving back into the water again. Another occasion gave us the chance to watch as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins hunted a ball of Garfish. The fish were jumping out of the water, followed closely by the dolphins. The water was so clear that you could actually see the dolphins turn on their side, while swimming at high speed, as they caught these fish, one after another. Towards the end of the month two Bottlenose Dolphins appeared during a dive at 'Pineapple' barely 10m away from us. They swam by right next to us then up towards the surface before disappearing into the distance.
Father Christmas has spoilt us with a big present this year - a brand new lodge, which we can't wait to unwrap! Rocktail Beach Camp opens on the 15th December. It is situated right next to the dive centre, has 12 tented chalets and an inviting bar and dining area with a wonderful 12m long swimming pool, surrounded by a wooden deck.
Wishing you all a wonderful festive season and a Happy New Year!
Yours in Diving,
The Rocktail Bay Dive Team
Darryl, Clive, Michelle and Karin
Rocktail Bay Turtle report - November 07 Jump
Looking back on the first two months of the 2007/8 nesting season, we've seen a rather slow start with very few turtles coming up to lay eggs in October: only 5 loggerheads and 6 leatherbacks got eggs into nests during the month. November saw a dramatic increase though and the season is now in full swing. Loggerhead nests at this stage far outnumber this time last season with at 215 nests as opposed to 131 nests this time last season.
Gugu, MB, Chris and Francoise have been out on the beach with enthusiastic Rocktail Bay Lodge turtle-seekers every night since the season started on 15th October. The experiences on the beach have been phenomenal already this season, from magic viewings of a leatherback coming up and laying in the brightest of moonlights so that no torches were even needed, to torrential Maputaland thunder and lightning storms putting up brilliant shows, and an unidentified stranded seal frequenting the northern end of Manzengwenya Beach for a week.
This season (probably because the topography of the beach has been so drastically altered since last season by a massive equinox tide and rough seas seen in March 2007) we have seen a rise in false crawls by the turtles, where they come up and do not lay eggs. A large portion of the beach front dune complex has been eroded away, leaving very little suitable nesting sites for the turtles. Many of the turtles have resorted to laying their eggs very low down on the beach where the threat of the eggs being washed away during a big spring tide is much higher. It is going to be very interesting to see how successful these nests are going to be later on around mid-January when the hatchlings start to emerge.
The honey badgers that were patrolling the beach around Manzengwenya last season have been hard at it again this season, eating quite a few of our precious leatherback nests. Amazingly the honey badgers have been targeting the leatherback nests over the loggerhead nests, even though the former are much deeper and seemingly much harder to locate. The pay-off of a nest full of the larger leatherback eggs is obviously worth the effort. Experienced EKZN Wildlife officers say that before last year they had never really seen honey badger predation on the nests and that it is only seen around Manzengwenya. It seems therefore that it is maybe something an isolated few honey badgers have learnt for a source of food.
This season we are measuring the temperature of the beach at various depths at different points along the study area in order to estimate the temperature at which the nests could be incubating. Some I-button data loggers will also actually be put into the nests with the eggs to log the temperature every 24 minutes through the incubation period to complement the temperature profile data logged on the beach.
Many Rocktail Bay Lodge guests have generously adopted turtles this season. To date, 31 loggerheads and 13 leatherbacks have found new homes, and their new parents all look forward to news of repeat sightings. Layla, a loggerhead adopted by Joan and Peter Stubblefield, has already nested twice this season. Two companies have been especially generous - PT Trust celebrated the Rugby World Cup win by adopting four turtles, and Vox Telecom's CEO, Tony van Marken, recently adopted 10 turtles to be shared by his company. However, there are 33 turtles still out there waiting to be adopted? perhaps for a belated Christmas present?
The season is really picking up now, research is going very well and we just need to get 13 more I-buttons into leatherback nests as soon as possible. We are all looking forward to the three months left in the nesting season, including the busy times of hatchling emergences, starting around mid-January.
Thanks so much for the support,
The Rocktail Bay Turtle Research Team
update - November 07 Jump
to Damaraland Camp
Summer has definitely reached Damaraland. With reports of rain all over, we at Camp are still squinting into the blazing sky all day long waiting for our turn? Nothing as of yet. We've had a few "close calls", but it seems the clouds are playing a game and cruelly teasing us with the life rain represents in this country. Clouds build up, with a few lightening displays in the distance, and just as we hope the heavens will open up, it just skittles on past us without a thought. And so, we wait?
The temperatures are rising and seem to peak at about 36°C. Luckily, just as it becomes a little too hot for comfort, the trusty and loyal wind from the coast comes up and the temperatures are lovely, but still, we wait, looking to the skies for any promise of rain.
Vegetation, Landscape and Water
Within a week or two all vegetation has changed drastically. Plants and trees alike are sprouting and what looked grey and drab three weeks ago is suddenly a new and bright green. Crackled and dry pods have shed from the acacias and new, healthy, fat seeds are starting to grow. The only thing which is noticeable by its absence is the lack of new grass as that is dependant on the upcoming rains. So the scenery is one of amazing contrast, with the red mountains coated in the gold of last year's dry grasses and a speckled SHOCK of bright green here and there makes for a photographer's dream. The skies have cleared up from the winter haze and are blue and sparkling. From our vantage points on the Damarana Trail, the Brandberg Mountain can be spotted which is virtually impossible during winter. Stargazing is getting better with constellations we haven't seen most of winter coming back into play and great dinners under the stars are a must after our nippy winter.
As always there must be news of our little elephant, Gabs. At about 6 months now he is really coming into his own. Establishing himself in the group and hesitantly, yet boldly he is straying a bit from Mum. Not too far though. He's starting to make more use of his trunk and in the late afternoons is such a pleasure to observe when having a little snooze under the trees. He's not finding his older siblings too tough anymore and can hold his own for a little while in some rough and tumble before having enough and galloping back to Mum.
He has a while to go yet. Oscar, true to his reputation and the group named after him, is showing off as always to guests visiting them. With his beautifully sweet nature and comical antics he puts everyone at ease. And in GREAT NEWS we have a new addition: A new calf born on the 26th November to Rosie's Group. Lister, a guide from Doro Nawas, our sister camp in a neighbouring concession, was the first guide to see him only hours after birth. We look forward to observing him over the next few months.
Sadly though we have had a loss at Damaraland Camp: The springbok ram who has lived in Camp for the past few years became the unfortunate victim of a cheetah. This is almost ironic in a way as it was shortly after gaining recognition in a recent piece that he met his maker. Still there were mixed feelings about this, as we're excited at having cheetah so close to camp and we're glad our ram went down in a truly honourable manner.
Birds and Birding
Birds are busy at the moment with nesting activities but are not laying eggs as of yet. We have noticed a nest going up next to the kitchen of the commonly found Bokmakierie.
That's all for now folks.
Nadja le Roux and DMC Staff
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