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Safaris Updates - March 2008
The flowing Savuti Channel
Location: NG15, Linyanti Concession, northern Botswana
Date: March 2008
Observers: Thuto Moutloatse
On a recent privately guided safari through our camps in the Okavango and Linyanti the highlight of the trip was probably Savuti Camp. This is a spectacular site on the bank of the famous extinct waterway that for the last 26 years has been a grass-covered ribbon that runs through the flanking mopane woodland and which usually produces excellent viewing of plains game such as zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and impala, as well as predators such as lion, cheetah, wild dog and even leopard. Just recently however significant rainfall in the region as well as upstream in the catchment of the Kwando River has meant that the Channel is flowing again - not for its whole length but certainly further than I have ever seen it and by all accounts further than since the very early 1980s.
The water is now more than 12km downstream from its source in the Zibadianja Lagoon and it has brought the area alive with birds, resembling something of its initial glory days as can be seen from these two aerial photographs by Colin Bell. It is not much further before the water reaches Savuti Camp itself - something that many of us long to see.
On our recent trip we had some good water bird sightings in the channel around Dish Pan: herons, egrets, storks, not to mention Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans and of course the ubiquitous Carmine Bee-eaters that left us with our mouths open as they flew past picking up all the insects that where disturbed in the grass by the vehicle.
The second morning game drive was to prove very productive as well as we picked up the Savuti Lion Pride just east of the camp. They had killed a blue wildebeest which they were feeding on. This was also a very good bird sighting as there were over sixty vultures in the trees around the kill patiently waiting there turn. We then left that sighting and headed up the Channel to Rock Pan where we picked up a young female leopard that was pulling out a catfish from the newly arrived water in the Channel. Not what we would have expected to see in the normally dry Savuti Channel we have come to know.
Windfall for Woodland Kingfisher
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: March 2008
Observers: Walter Jubber
After a relaxing high tea we headed out for our afternoon drive. We didn't get too far - barely 300m from camp - before we were amazed by an interesting sighting. Who can ignore the sapphire blue flash of the Woodland Kingfisher. We watched as the Kingfisher first fanned his wings and then scanned the burnt surroundings, scorched after a controlled patch burn around Pafuri Camp. The fire was put in place to prevent any runaway fires after good rainfall received in December 2007 but has had the added benefit (for the Kingfisher and his ilk) and providing favourable foraging conditions for some species.
The bird swept down from its perch into the grass, eventually emerging again and flying back to an exposed perch with the hard-won prize in its bill. Given the current abundance of this species at the moment I expected it to be another armoured ground cricket, but on closer inspection was surprised to discover that the prey was in fact much larger. Through my binoculars I identified it as a gerbil species and tentatively guessed it as a hairy-footed gerbil.
Woodland Kingfishers, like many other southern African Kingfishers, feed predominantly on arthropods (insects, spiders, scorpions, millipedes, etc) and other prey that they are able to overpower such as lizards. Surprising given the name, but only a third of this grouping are actually dependent on water and feed on fish. This begs an interesting question as to whether Kingfishers evolved from fish eating ancestors at all.
I've seen Woodland Kingfishers catch and eat lizards, thread snakes, insects, frogs and other arthropods, but there are only few records of this species catching and eating rodents: Certainly one of those sightings which take you by surprise. We watched as the bird tenderised his prey against the branch, tried unsuccessfully several times to swallow it and then flew off, disappearing to a less disturbed spot to attempt his meal away from the prying eyes of a gobsmacked guide and his guests.
Green Season in Liwonde National Park
Location: Mvuu Wilderness Lodge, Liwonde National Park, Malawi
Date: March 2008
Observers: Wikus Swanepoel
At Mvuu Wilderness Lodge, the green season really does live up to its name: the foliage is lush, a riot of leaves, grasses and towering trees and overall a mass confusion of bird sounds. While elephant and buffalo are a little difficult to see at this time of year (they have moved off to higher ground away from the river), antelope such as impala, bushbuck, waterbuck and kudu were still to be seen in their numbers. Warthog were everywhere as well, clearly enjoying the wet and muddy conditions! The Shire River is wide, brown and swollen and dotted with hundreds of hippo ears and crocodile spines.
With the wonderful rains that the Park has received over the past two months, it is the birds that truly come to the fore; Liwonde continues to be one of the top birding spots on south-central Africa. There are enough birds to be seen just by sitting on one's tent deck in the hammock: Böhm's Bee-eaters are resident in the camp and a pair of Malachite Kingfishers entertained guests in Tents 1 and 2 daily. In front of the lounge area, Brown-throated Weavers noisily made and remade their nests and a pair of African Fish-Eagles called from the palm trees just across the water.
Along the Shire River we enjoyed great sightings of a number of waterbird and reed-associated species including Allen's Gallinule, Spur-winged Lapwing, Pink-backed Pelican, Osprey with Red-necked Falcon and Palmnut Vulture often spotted in one of the many palm trees fringing this languid river. The reeds are often filled with Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.
Away from the river the highlights were many too, but the prize has to go to a special sighting of Brown-breasted Barbets. Liwonde National Park is the only place in Malawi where there is a chance of seeing this bird, and it is quite uncommon in the rest of its fairly localised range too.
Other good records over this period has included Red-throated Twinspot, Livingstone's Flycatcher, Western Banded Snake-Eagle, Carmine Bee-eater, African Emerald Cuckoo, Meve's Starling, Dickinson's Kestrel, Grey-headed Parrots, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Eastern Nicator, Purple-crested Turaco and of course, the much sought-after Pel's Fishing-Owl.
Black Mamba snatches Tree Squirrel after dark
Location: Mvuu Wilderness Lodge, Liwonde National Park, Malawi
Date: March 2008
Observers: Wikus Swanepoel
Every game drive I do is special and unique - one is almost guaranteed in seeing something never seen before. This particular event can be classified, in my books, as one of the best sightings for the year thus far.
On a night drive with two guests recently in Liwonde National Park, we came across this spectacular sighting: a mamba catching and feeding on a tree squirrel.
As we drove past a mopane tree I spotted a strange commotion going on in it. Seeing it was a black mamba I stopped but kept a respectful distance.
The snake was about 2.5 metres above the ground and had just taken a tree squirrel out of a hole another two metres further up the tree. We watched, enthralled, as it proceeded to feed on the squirrel. Unfortunately the pictures of this sighting do not give an overall indication as to the fearsome reptile's size - this specimen was around three metres long! We watched for about 10 minutes as the snake killed and then swallowed the squirrel: Truly a once off and spectacular sighting.
We kept our distance for good reason. Black mambas have a notorious reputation, and are one of the most venomous snakes in Africa, very confident in defence if cornered. It has been recorded as being able to rear fully the front third of its body. This snake's name refers to the dark interior of its mouth, as the snake's body colouration is slate grey and not black. Black mambas are very efficient predators with a venom that is both neurotoxic and cardiotoxic - extremely venomous to people too. They feed mainly on birds and small mammals like this tree squirrel.
Snakes are wonderful creatures that deserve our respect. If disturbed, they will mostly retreat unless cornered. After this mamba had finished, it just slid off into the darkness...
Marauding Matabele Ants
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: 20 January 2008
Observers: Walter Jubber
Out on drives in the Pafuri area guides often stop for parades of small black insects crossing the road. Known locally as Matabele Ants (Dorylus sp.), they are rather aptly named after an African tribe that swept through southern Africa in the early 1800s destroying everything in their path. In other parts of the continent they are known as African driver ants.
Living in colonies of sometimes more than 20 million members, they are most often seen on the march when food supplies dwindle. In such cases all the members of the colony move as one, with the larger soldier ants on the edge of the column providing protection for the smaller worker ants within the column. The soldiers have quite formidable pincers that are easily able to puncture flesh, but these large ants (10-20mm in size) have another defensive weapon (not often employed) and that is a painful sting to deter any intruder or predator.
Smaller columns may move in search of prey, once an appropriate windfall being located a pheromone being released to attract the rest of the column. In such cases the pincers are put to good effect in the efficient dismemberment of a grasshopper, moth or sometimes even considerably larger prey. They are specialists in feeding on termites, attacking a termite colony, neutralising the soldiers and then killing and pirating the eggs and nymphs within the colony which are taken back to be fed to the queen, males, larvae and other ant colony members.
There is a high density of these ants in the far North of the Kruger National Park, and they play a major role in controlling termite numbers within this region.
Thus as a guest to the Makuleke/ Pafuri concession in the Kruger National Park, you won't only be graced with herds of buffalo and elephant crossing in front of the game viewing vehicle, but also possibly a marching column of Matabele Ants on their foraging missions.
All Storked Out at Pafuri
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: summer 2008
Observers: Brett Greenaway
Abundant summer rains and perfect climatic conditions at Pafuri this summer caused local population explosions of armoured ground crickets and African bullfrogs, which became a feast for myriad species: for birds from White Storks to European Rollers, Christmas had arrived. Driving became almost impossible as these critters started invading every corner of Crooks and squadrons of crickets in particular cover the roads.
Those that did not make it on the roads became part of the food chain in that wonderful thing called the circle of life. These little critters actually eat each other and if Mr. Spielberg ever wanted to get some creative ideas for his next film, there is no better place to look than the lowveld and the creepy crawlies that live here. The last supper was about to begin but instead of red wine and bread, armoured ground crickets and African bullfrogs were on the menu. Literally a few thousand birds have descended on this corner of paradise to take advantage of the food source.
On one particular afternoon White Storks, Marabou Storks, White-Backed Vultures, European and Lilac-Breasted Rollers all joined the buffet. Even the Woodland Kingfisher joined in the smorgasbord. The events that followed looked like a battlefield; army after army of White Storks surged forward in a sort of fire-and-movement fashion looking for their next meal of cricket crème brulee. The Lilac-Breasted Rollers waiting in their midst readily snatched up what escaped the storks' beaks. Dead leadwoods and baobabs became a whitewash of paint: uric acid bleaching the trees from top to bottom. With the sun setting and the storks finding a 'bed' for the night, the cameras sounded like automatic gunfire, so excited were my guests and I.
Unfortunately large numbers of these storks are killed in South Africa every year, due to collisions with power lines, fences, road kills and pesticides used by farmers. It is estimated that there is a worldwide population of 500 000 White Storks. Injured or juvenile individuals are thought to stay in southern Africa and overwinter in Zimbabwe and the Drakensberg mountain range. Hopefully these birds recover for the following year of activities.
White Storks are mainly Palaearctic breeding migrants, with a round trip of some 22 000 kilometres. All this protein they gather from feeding on the armoured ground crickets plays a very important role in building up their body fat for their long flight out of Africa. North Africa, Western Europe, Scandinavia and China are their preferred breeding grounds.
With the summer almost over and the abundant food supply running low, it was only a matter of time before the storks departed on their northward journey. Before they left, they provided us with some wonderful photographic opportunities as well as some interesting insight to their behaviour. From Pafuri we wish them well and may they have a safe and happy journey. Just maybe they will bring back a few surprises; can't wait for their return.
/ North Island
North Island update
- March 08 Jump
The sea and weather conditions for March have been rather temperamental and almost as erratic as February and have left us almost as perplexed. The beginning of the month started off very promising with perfect conditions for diving and boating; however this was shortlived and the sea soon became quite choppy, with some large swells, dispelling our hopes of otherwise normally tranquil seas.
A positive aspect of the large swells was fantastic body-boarding and surfing conditions especially at Petit Anse. Darnsley and Yannique, the two more avid body-boarders from the Activities team made the most of the swell surfing late into the evening over these days.
March has undoubtedly been the most fantastic month on record with regard to dolphin sightings. On one such encounter we were lucky enough to snorkel with the dolphins while they swam around us providing fantastic viewing for quite some time. The best interaction however was when a pod of about 20 dolphins arrived at Petit Anse in the morning and continued to swim from Petit Anse to the East Beach and back again until the late evening. Many of the guests saw the dolphins from the beach and we also were able to convince most of the guests that were on the boats with us to jump into the water and swim with them.
Apart from the dolphins, another particularly interesting occurrence was the discovery of a juvenile Frogfish, which are quite rare around North Island waters. Another great sighting this month was the attack of the Blue Fin Kingfish on a school of juvenile Lunar Fusiliers on Sprat City.
Our deep sea fishing trips and fly-fishing efforts produced less catches this month - fortunately there is always a Bonito to be caught here and there as well as the occasional Dorado, Job Fish, Trevally and Barracuda. However as we know fly-fishing is not always about the catch but also the art of fly-fishing, which guests thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless, even offering the skipper of the boat a chance to try his casting technique.
As if to calm our troubles over the reduced fish catch, on some days the sea has been beautiful, with not even a whisper on the ocean. From around the 25th of March to the end of the month the sea has again been fantastic which has been greatly welcomed after the extreme sea conditions experienced earlier in the month.
With the relatively calm conditions that we have experienced off the East Beach, we have also started to see more and more of the Spotted Eagle Rays which have accumulated around our inner boat mooring on a regular basis. We have also often spotted the juveniles jumping clear of the water in front of the restaurant which has provided great excitement for the guests relaxing there.
On another occasion off Honeymoon Beach a school of eight adult Spotted Eagle Rays were seen performing loops and swoops in the shallows. One of our dive instructors were lucky enough to have their camera on hand and managed to capture the performance on video. Although we often see the juvenile Spotted Eagle Rays, it is quite uncommon to see the adults and especially in such a large group.
This month has also been exceptionally good with regard to the number of White Tip Reef Sharks that we have seen. Up to 14 juveniles have been spotted on a single dive at Sprat City as well as at Coral Gardens. These small harmless sharks are completely docile and completely ignore our presence underwater. They are nocturnal and spend most of their day sleeping in caves or on the sand near the edge of the reef. On several dives we have also been able to see the Blue streak Cleaner Wrasse actually cleaning the gills of the White Tips while they continue swimming, these 'cleaner stations' are never obvious and it is fantastic to see these little guys at work.
This month we have also seen an increase in the number of Nurse Sharks that have been spotted. The Nurse Sharks while much larger than the White Tip Reef Sharks (up to 3 metres in length) are also completely harmless and take even less notice of divers. We have seen several large adults in and around Petit Anse as well as north of Sprat City and then occasionally on Sprat City itself. Often all you see of the sharks is their tail sticking out from under a ledge or cave.
Another interesting observation has been the abundance of schooling White Spotted Rabbitfish which started to congregate in and around Sprat City as well as smaller schools on Coral Gardens. The sightings of this particular species of Rabbitfish are especially important due to the fact that there is currently research in place that tracks the breeding cycle of these fish and if our reefs can be shown to be a breeding ground for this species of Rabbitfish, it will greatly assist in the declaration of selected North Island reefs as Marine Protected Areas.
Camp update - March 08 Jump
Excitement this month has been watching the Savute Channel water come closer and closer to our camp - an event that has not happened in years. The river has now reached an area known as Dish Pan clearing, which is approximately five kilometres from camp. As the water progresses, it brings with it many of the water birds that have not been here since it dried up over twenty years ago. Birds such as Pink-backed Pelicans, White-faced Ducks, Collared Pratincoles, Yellow-billed Storks are common at the moment with even Slaty Egret and Wattled Crane being regular sightings.
Leopard have also been seen taking advantage of the rich river: a large territorial male enjoyed a change of diet by eating a huge cat fish (Photographed by Thuto Moutloatse).
Driving along the channel you feel like entering paradise (although water or no water, we always feel like we are in paradise). There is enough food and water for all, making all the animals appear relaxed and content, not too worried where and when they will find food. Our young Munchwe female leopard thought that a porcupine would be a nice meal. But after her first experience with the lethal quills and a subsequent short stand-off they decided to just play with each other. Some lucky guests enjoyed these interactions for more than an hour.
Earlier in the month we thought the stream of water was slowing down, but we were advised of further large rainfalls in the catchment area of the Kwando River which has arrived towards month end pushing the water ever closer to camp.
Wild dogs have been in camp this month, a couple were even seen around the camp staff village. Another amusing incident was when one of the camp staff was heard blasting the emergency siren from one of the rooms. The reason: sighting a leopard relaxing outside the room she was busy cleaning. The leopard disappeared before the manager arrived to attend to this "emergency".
Our local camp sentinels - the tree squirrels, chacma baboons and vervet monkeys - often sound the alarm when sighting predators, to our benefit. The squirrel alarm calls drew our attention to a huge boomslang (tree snake) next to the walkway, a magnificent sight for the brave hearts! These animals have also warned us of leopards moving through camp in the early morning.
In camp, we have also had great sightings of the baby francolins and hornbills being attended to and protected by their mothers.
There has been further interaction between the Selinda and Savuti brother lions. It does appear, but needs to be confirmed, that the Selinda brothers, mostly through the leadership of Silver Eye, have taken over the Savuti pride. This has been developing for a while and in April we should be able to conclude if this has actually taken place.
The grass in the channel is dying down very quickly and visibility is getting better by the day. Water is still available in the woodland pan which has meant that the local elephant population is still scarce around camp and within the general game drive area. But there have certainly been enough other things to keep us busy this month...
DumaTau Camp update - March 08 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
Since DumaTau closed temporarily this month for some refurbishment and enhancements, the managers and guides also used the time for some teambuilding, and although not knowing what to expect, it turned out to be loads of fun. Sleeping out at Dish Pan, having lectures under the African sky and preparing our breakfasts over an open fire - it was a great time of simply focusing on the wilderness and how we can improve service delivery to visiting guests. We even did something that no one has experienced in about 26 years - swimming in the normally dry Savute Channel - and certainly not a normal guest activity, mind you! We also observed a kill as 13 wild dogs hunted down a sub-adult impala; a life-changing experience. Everyone came back exhausted but with big smiles and happy to return to hot showers and a comfortable bed.
Once everyone settled back into camp, work began. We all started sanding down furniture, varnishing and oiling wooden decking and boardwalks. Furniture and cushions were mixed and matched, and a new extension to the dining deck area was started - we are certainly looking forward to seeing the final result.
The weather has started to change slightly, with mornings and evenings beginning to feel a tad cooler. Average temperatures were 9°C as a minimum and 31°C as a maximum. We were surprised on the afternoon of the 16th with a hailstorm that came from nowhere and lasted for about ten minutes. Bizarre!
On the wildlife side of things we were quite lucky this month with a lot of wild dog and cheetah sightings. The two male cheetah coalition continues to thrive with the high water levels of the Savute Channel meaning that they have stayed in the concession for longer periods than normal.
Elephant numbers are multiplying slowly but surely as things dry out further south of us. Big herds are seen crossing the Linyanti River and Ronald had a great sighting where they were bathing in the channel. The Selinda Boys and Savuti Lion Pride were seen quite a bit around camp this month. Silver Eye and his brother gave us an early morning wake-up call, roaring for hours just outside camp.
As far as leopards are concerned, the DumaTau male was seen mating with a young female leopard for about three days close to the big jackalberry tree not too far from camp, while tracks of a young leopard were seen quite frequently walking passed the office and main area of camp.
Some guest highlights this month:
- "The staff went above and beyond to make our stay really enjoyable. Everyone was so friendly. The food was delicious and loved the informal atmosphere."
- "Seeing the cheetahs was great (saw the same ones nine years ago - then there were three). Theba is great, happy to see he is still here."
- "Great food & charming staff."
We are really looking forward to reopen Duma Tau early April after our camp makeover. All the staff has been working really hard and can't wait for our guests to arrive!
Selinda Camp update - March 08 Jump
to Selinda Camp
March has been a great time to walk through The Selinda Reserve. We have had good cover to keep us hidden in the African paradise and yet plenty of openings to view the wildlife up close. The birdlife has been prolific and all the migrants are enjoying the new water. Viewing and photographing wildlife in contrast to the emerald colours of the summer months have been an absolute highlight. Sitting patiently at inland waterholes has proven very productive having spent quality time with a lot of herbivores, especially warthog, without them sensing our presence.
We have an exciting and possibly dramatic dynamic occurring with the Selinda pride of lions at the moment. Three lionesses and the seven cubs are in danger, following the arrival of two new males that, we believe, have come from the Savuti area. The males kept a very low profile for the first few days, however, now they've fully settled in and are advertising (roaring) their presence every evening and throughout the night. In the meantime, the local males are away somewhere leading us to believe they are also in charge of another pride, which explains their constant disappearances for weeks on end.
On their return, they will be in for a surprise as they will hear the echoes of the two new males' roars in their territory. If they are not back soon, they might never see their cubs alive again. The lionesses have tried their best to stay away from the males who are constantly on their trail. We were fortunate enough to observe the most unusual behaviour as the Selinda pride walked for miles in single file, keeping a good eye behind them. We followed them through the night as they did whatever they could to lose the males, crossing channels, walking in confusing circles and following the paths of stampeding wildebeest and zebra. Listening to something in the grass during the long march, one of the females dropped back to investigate. When she tried to rejoin the pride she was treated with the most hostility that we have seen for a very long time. The two lead females almost attacked her and at the last moment realised, she was one of them and then turned the attack into hugs of affection. The cubs had taken for cover and when the coast was considered clear, they also showed some affection to the returning lioness.
Like all mothers, they know what danger awaits their cubs when these two overzealous young males catch up with them. The first thing they will do is kill as many of the cubs as possible to get the lionesses into oestrus and then mate to get their own genes going. This has been in the past known to cause break ups in prides as some lionesses will take off for new territories to save their cubs and possibly as a way of showing lack of confidence in the new males. With a pride of only three adult lionesses and seven cubs all well under a year of age, the consequences of a break up similar to this example would be unbearable both for the pride and for us at the Selinda.
However nature and natural selection have to play their part in this maze of life and this is beyond our control. The next few weeks will be interesting as the waters are receding and the concentrations of elephants and antelope are returning to their seasonal land. It is an exciting time and we are looking forward to it.
-Humphrey and the Trails Team-
Camps Update - March 08
Lagoon camp Jump
• Only three Lion of the four have been spotted recently towards the Mokhutsum (Jackal Berry tree) road. The lagoon four have been fairly quiet the past month but interesting to know that they are coming back together.
• Leopard eating a Leopard? That’s a leopard Tortoise. The early morning game drive was suddenly surprised to find a young male Leopard eating a Leopard tortoise, an interesting habit how young Leopard survive by scavenging for the fist few years of their life in the wild on their own, but almost impossible for the young Leopard to break through the hard shell, what a site with some amusement!
• The three brother Cheetah have been at worked once again with a classic chase but no luck this time. After their after noon siesta the tables were turned when the three Cheetah lost their own game after been chased by a troop of Baboons. A rare account but the male Baboon has larger canines than a Lion.
• When the hunt is on, the Dogs seem to get it all right and chase a herd of Impala directly into a herd of Elephant, imagine the chaos. Charles the guide had a difficult time following the hunt, as the Elephant were not cooperating to let the guide through to follow the hunt. The following morning the pack of twelve were spotted again but to find they had already made their kill and were starting their fight with a Hyena that had been following them, the strength in numbers managed to keep the Hyena away.
• The number of Elephant are on the increase again the herds are mounting up to the forties to the seventies, The most fun has been around the rain pans in the Mopane scrubland as the wallow and play in the mud pools. A surprising amount of the bulls have been repotedly been in musth.
• Only a few tracks of Buffalo have been reported the past few weeks, The rain pans seem to be holding the water for longer than expected.
• The Lagoon region has been keeping status as a great general game area with our herd of 50 plus Eland seen weekly up on the Mosheshe road.
• A great sight of predators were spotted on one afternoon game drive after finding a Elephant carcass, numbers of White Backed, Hooded and lapped face Vultures were seen on the decaying carcass. The Bateleur Eagles were the fist ones on the dead elephant for they enjoy eating the eyes of the animal.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• A single cub was spotted with three females from the pride of six, Lions have still been the hot spot in the Kwara concession. The single eyed female has only been spotted once this month strolling across the flood plain towards the Xugana area. The deadly seven of males have been at it again with their kills in the concession devouring all in sight, several kills have been made by them and scavenging of a Cheetah kill. Honey moon pan has has been a favourite spot for two female Lioness the past few weeks, one guide has reported seeing Lion every day.
• The rise of water has had affect on game as three Cheetah were spotted chasing after some Red Lechwe across the flood plains of Kwara. No luck for them this time as the Lechwe were well adapted to run in the water not the Cheetah. An excellent sighting Ezekiel witnessed.
• Our Resident female Leopard has been playing with guides as she is often seen but often elusive, She took one of the game drives right to her kill in a tree, think she is showing us how proud she is and “look what I have done.”
• “Journeys of Giraffe” Large herds have been sighted in the area with Lechwe, Tsesebe and Zebra in their thirties plus in the flood plains and up towards the Tsum Tsum area.
• A Serval was spotted on a night drive by Justice the guide on a night drive, a true sight of him pouncing through the air in the long grass after small rodents. After leap after leap the guests witness a small and amusing hunt with the small cat. It too a good half an hour till the cat directly pounced on one of the mice and supper was on a plate of grass in the Okavango delta.
Lebala camp Jump
• The Lebala Lions have been busy this month feeding the young cubs on a Giraffe kill out on the boundary road, another female and male were located to the north of the camp on a young Elephant kill where there were for three days feeding. Possible the one Lagoon male has drifted towards the Lebala region as a single male has been spotted half way to the Lagoon airstrip.
• Two Leopard have been creating havoc recently close to the camp by having a territorial dispute so not many of people in camp had a good nights rest. The two females have been reported to the south of camp in the same vicinity but not together. Very successful month for Leopard the guides have been reporting.
• The Dogs and Hyena twelve aside have been seen the past month making numerous kills separately but seem to have the loosing edge as the Dogs were being chased buy a hippo was a sight to see! The alpha female was reported to be old as she is starting to loose condition.
• Very large flocks of Pelicans have been sighted with the rise of the Kwando River and the Skimmers have been having a feast on the new fish fry that have been washed down with the flooding of the Kwando.
• Aardvark tracks have been reported on numerous game drives, but still the most elusive night creature. Did you know that the female aardvark has a white tail so the young can follow at night?
Chitabe Camp update - March 08 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
With the rainy season drawing to a close, Chitabe's water levels have started to drop, and the spectacular summer storms affecting other parts of the Delta haven't really affected us here. Still, the usual panic has abated somewhat, although we might have to buy a boat if the flood is as big as everyone says it will be in April this year.
The elephants have started coming back, attracted by the few marula trees which are now ripe and the added bonus of groundwater in the area from the good rainy season. The palm nuts which draw the elephant to Chitabe won't be ready until around September.
Wild dogs were seen twice this month, by guide Ebs. He had to unfortunately report the bad news that the two surviving pups from last year were not in evidence, so we have to assume that they died - probably killed by lions. Dog sightings have dropped in frequency in this concession, which might be explained by the bigger lion presence and the fact that in the last few years Chitabe has been wetter than it used to be. The good news is that the wild dogs are still active elsewhere in the Delta - I was even lucky enough to see them hunting in Xigera recently.
The Chitabe cats are still thrilling guests and staff alike, and Grant Atkinson's safari witnessed a particularly interesting display of predator behaviour: They found a lone female leopard with her impala kill up in a tree, only to have it usurped by another female leopard and cub, and then the whole thing was stolen again by a bigger male leopard that ran off with it! Cheetahs were also seen this month.
Our new guide, Otes, out with Jo spotted a (possibly) pregnant female impala with one horn which got everyone excited as females of this species don't normally have horns and it's the wrong time of year for her to be expecting. You can decide for yourself as this is one unicorn that has been captured on camera.
This month Dawson also witnessed a hippo fight just outside Room 1, only two days after a leopard decided to sleep under the walkway near the kgotla, which put a stop to any movement of people for a few hours.
The water continues to attract beautiful and unusual birds like the Black Coucal, and the early evening light provides good photo opportunities with occluded sunsets and pastel-coloured skies.
We still share the camp with a big troop of chacma baboons: we even witnessed interesting behaviour outside Room 2 when one of the dominant males killed a baby in a deliberate act of aggression and tried to kill another but the mother was too quick.
Thanks very much to Grant Atkinson (lion cub), Penny Hayes (elephant and leopard) and Ron Adams (unicorn impala) for their wonderful photos.
Good luck to Ryan and Celine - wherever you are in Namibia. We all miss you!
Camp update - March 08 Jump
to Little Makalolo
The month of March was the busiest ever in terms of construction work: everyone in camp was running up and down in the rebuilding of the all new Little Makololo.
The month of March has been so good in terms of weather, with milder temperatures in the afternoon and evening - a sure sign of winter creeping in. We recorded our highest temperature on the 17th at 37 Degrees Celsius and the lowest on the 20th as 19 Degrees Celsius.
Vegetation & Water
The vegetation is still green and looking very good as we come to the end of March and venturing into the winter dry season. In March we recorded a total of 10mm of rain. After the 20th it seemed the end of the rainy season and welcome to the dry season which started early as we entered the 1st of April. A large number of animals are already trooping to the waterholes for water.
Large numbers of elephant, Cape buffalo and Burchell's zebra, just to mention a few, came to visit our camp waterhole soon after some of the more natural waterholes went dry. We had large elephant herds (between 300 to 400 animals) which visited us between 26 to 31 March as well as buffalo herds (between 250 to 300 animals) that also visited us on different days. No lion kills were witnessed in March, although on the 30th of March two lions where sighted within our camp and on various other occasions we heard them calling in the distance. Leopard spoor (tracks) was seen in the morning on March 30th.
Chacma baboon, southern giraffe, greater kudu and grey duiker were some of the other animals witnessed at Little Makalolo Camp.
Birds & Birding
Birding in Hwange is always good. The sheer diversity is mind-boggling; colourful families like starlings, hornbills, bee-eaters, kingfishers, rollers and many raptor species all await avid birders visiting us. Some Red-billed Hornbills were seen on several days and Southern Ground Hornbills were regulars at our camp waterhole.
We all cannot wait for the grand opening of new Little Makololo Camp; Hope to see you soon!
-Charles, Cosam and 'New' Little Makololo Team-
Makalolo Plains Camp update - March 08 Jump
to Makalolo Plains
This month we had 52.1mm of rain - what a surprise! We had thought last month that the rain had ceased. The days are getting shorter with sunrise at 06h15 and sunset at 18h12 and the night temperatures are dropping with the lowest recorded for March at 10C. Guests are encouraged to wear warm clothing for early morning and evening game drives. Maximum temperature was 32C and minimum 18C.
Vegetation and Water
The grass is slowly turning from green to yellow as the vegetation starts drying out. In the Zambezi teak woodlands, the grass is also beginning to wither and produce seeds (this will stick onto the animals to aid in the dispersion). The trees still have their beautiful green foliage providing shade during the midday heat.
The natural pools are drying up leaving a sticky mud, which elephant, buffalo, warthog and white rhino all love to wallow in. In the process, these animals are deepening these wallows, which will hold more water, when the next rains come. A few waterholes are beginning to dry up and pumping has started at those most affected.
This month the game viewing was spectacular, with good-sized herds of Burchell's zebra, elephant, buffalo and giraffe. The elephant seem to be coming to drink during the late afternoon to early evening, with larger herds congregating at night. A rare sighting of gemsbok (oryx) was recorded at Ngweshla and Little Somavundla. A vine snake was observed killing a chameleon outside our office. Two hours later it began swallowing it, much to the surprise of the staff, who thought the chameleon was too big to be swallowed whole.
Chacma baboon, southern giraffe, hippo, impala, black-backed jackal, springhare, steenbok, common waterbuck, blue wildebeest, African elephant and Burcell's zebra , Cape buffalo, grey duiker and tree squirrel were all seen this month in Hwange.
Other fairly common sightings included vervet monkey, eland, banded mongoose, scrub hare, lion, spotted hyaena and majestic sable antelope. Special sightings for the month that are a little more unusual for the guides included lesser bushbaby, leopard, dwarf mongoose, slender mongoose, red hartebeest, African wildcat, gemsbok, common reedbuck, roan antelope, wild dogs and white rhino. This was complemented by some first-class nocturnal mammals like honey badger, small and large spotted genets, white-tailed mongoose, porcupine, striped polecat, bat-eared fox and side-striped jackal.
This month also had some exciting moments! Guests were fortunate to witness four lionesses kill a buffalo in front of camp and one of the lionesses brought her three cubs in to feed. The moans of the dying buffalo attracted a clan of spotted hyaena. The sound of the lionesses growling and hyaenas whooping and giggling kept everyone from having dinner and crowded onto the deck to watch this wildlife spectacle. A hippo then came onto the scene and started feeding on the stomach contents, while the lionesses and hyaena were busy having a standoff. A herd of buffalo which had just lost one member to the lionesses charged the scene, chasing the hippo, lionesses and hyenas from the carcass! Two young bull elephants arrived and also had their chance to trumpet and adding to the commotion, they then merely proceeded to the swimming pool to have a drink of fresh water amidst all this chaos.
When the buffalo moved away from the carcass, the lions came back into feed, with their cubs in tow. No sooner had they started eating, when the hyaena started their whooping and giggling and a fight between these two apex predators erupted again. The hyaena overwhelmed the lionesses. One lioness was chased with four hyaena in tow - she ran towards the camp dining area, with the intention of jumping onto the deck, but the railings prevented her doing so. She then ran towards the steps, but the shouts of the guide and guests dissuaded her from climbing and she ran past the steps and instead leapt onto the swimming pool deck and rested on one of the pool loungers and watched the hyaena below. Mixed feelings of fear and excitement were felt amongst those present; guides had their rifles at the ready, not knowing what may happen with a lioness on the deck! Meanwhile her cubs were calling for her, but being helpless, she could not go back for them. The hyaena started making more noise, indicating they had won the fight and had a buffalo and three lion cubs to feed on. The lioness eventually left the deck and joined the other three lionesses, who were watching the hyaena feed on their cubs and buffalo.
At sunrise, a few hyaena were still on the carcass with the lions observing from afar. The jackals had their share once the hyaenas decided to leave. The lionesses returned late in the afternoon before sunset, hoping to find their cubs: they sniffed around and called for them, then sat around till dark, departing into the night with heavy hearts.
Birds and Birding
This month we recorded 94 species of birds, unlike last month where 201 species were recorded. The summer migrants are starting to leave, and most palearctic wading birds are also beginning their return journey. The resident Red-billed Francolins were seen with a second brood of chicks; this might be due to the good rains and abundance of food. Numerous sightings of the Spotted Eagle-Owls were recorded this month. The Egyptian Geese and Red-billed Teals seem to have had a successful breeding season with numerous young with them. A Pearl-spotted Owlet was seen late afternoon, eating a praying mantis, undeterred by the movements of people on the camp deck.
Guides: Dickson Dube, Hupu Dube, Raymond Ndlovu, Lawrence Yohane, Godfrey Kunze
Hostess: Nelly Chinyere
Management: Amon Johnson
Until next month,
-The Makalolo Team-
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