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update - March 08 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
The annual flood that comes from rainfall in the Angolan highlands four to six months ago has finally reached us at Kwetsani. The water is moving in by the minute, and the daily temperatures have dropped in the early mornings and the evenings. As with everything that happens with season changes, the sun and moon have moved position as well.
This is the time of the year that everything has an adequate amount of food to eat: from the African Fish-Eagles, who scoop up fish as the water arrives, to the Marabou Storks that walk around choosing what they would like to eat, to the lions feeding on the abundance of lechwe moving in with the rising waterlevels.
Everyone has enjoyed the feeding frenzy, as the water slowly covers our plains and marshy areas. The landscape slowly transforms from dry grassland into the biggest inland delta in the world. We have had some great sightings of fish-eagles, up to twenty at a time, fighting over a fish even though there are plenty pickings for all of them. There are also Marabou Storks enjoying the barbel in the shallow waters. Most of the migratory bird species have left after visiting during the hotter summer months. The Woodland Kingfishers are one of the last to leave southern Africa is they migrate further north, and will probably be gone by the end of the month.
Guests have certainly enjoyed the views during their visits to the camp pool. Hundreds of red lechwe roam our floodplains in front of Kwetsani, and it is a spectacular sight to see.
With the waters rising each day, the lions are now permanently based at Kwetsani again. We have had wonderful sightings of them playing, stalking and sleeping (which lions do best). The male cub has grown considerably, now sporting a small mane, and is becoming quite inquisitive!
We have had wonderful sightings of a beautiful male giraffe walking in front of camp in the early mornings. He will probably stay on our island until the water level drops again later this year, but will have to contend with the lions. Kwetsani has also had a lone buffalo bull grazing by the swimming pool area on a regular basis. Elephant visit our camp nearly every day and guests certainly love every minute of being in Africa!
On a sad note, we unfortunately have to say goodbye to Kwetsani Camp. We are not moving far, as we will now be based at Jao Camp. We would like to thank all our wonderful guests we have had the pleasure of meeting and hosting here over the years. We will always remember and keep you in our hearts. We would love to see everyone come back and visit us again soon.
-Shane, Kim & the Kwetsani Team-
Jacana Camp update
- March 08 Jump
to Jacana Camp
The annual flood has officially arrived at Jacana, with water levels rising well over a foot in the past month. The water, which comes from the rainfall over the Angolan highlands, takes a few months to get here and slowly floods the Okavango Delta.
March is also the time for fruiting marula trees that attracts a large number of birds and animals: chacma baboon, vervet monkey and banded mongoose have been a common sight around these trees on the island and the fruit is also a favourite for elephant. After being a rare sight on the island for the past few months, the elephant are seen almost daily now. 'Jack', a very large bull elephant who is a regular visitor to the island, was seen for the first time in almost four months, also attracted by the sweet fruit.
Other game viewing highlights included regular sightings of the resident pride of lion and 'Beauty', our resident female leopard. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the month was the discovery of Beauty's new litter of four cubs which were born sometime during the month. She has kept them very well hidden, in very thick vegetation, to protect them from predators such as lion and spotted hyaena. Due to the sensitivity of the sighting, and not wanting to disturb her, the area has been blocked off to vehicle movement for a few weeks, but we wait patiently until they are old enough for their mother to start bringing them out.
Birding, as usual, has not been disappointing. Pel's Fishing-Owl and Western Banded Snake-Eagle have been common sightings. There have also been regular sightings of the beautiful African Pygmy-Goose, Lesser Jacana, Saddle-billed Stork and Malachite Kingfisher.
As summer passes and autumn arrives it has been wonderful to see the smaller creatures of the Okavango Delta. There have been many different butterflies and insects attracted to the flowers on the island. The reed frogs are also very numerous, being easily seen on a mokoro excursion. These tiny frogs (2 - 3cm) adding their beautiful choruses to the wonderful atmosphere of the nights.
Autumn is here as we start feeling the drop in temperature at night and in the early morning. The rainy season has drawn to a close but made sure it squeezed out all the last bit of moisture from the clouds with one last two-day downpour that occurred this month. We have a feeling that we are in for a nippy winter. So bring your woollies with you and hope to see you soon here in our magical watery wonderland.
Clint, Dom & the Jacana Team!
Tubu Tree Camp
update - March 08 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
Good news as the floods has now reached Hunda Island with the water table rising daily. The roads are also filling with the rising floods. The animals are slowly moving up to dryer ground and we are expecting more water-dependant animals and birds in the area - the red lechwe and the African Fish-Eagle have started to be more common in certain areas.
The weather has also started to change and the morning drives are getting a little chilly and guests wearing a light sweater for the first hour. Despite a cold rainy day however some guests braved it out and did a bushman walk with Kane and Callista who wore the bushman traditional wear even in the freezing weather.
The best thing about the weather was that at camp as we had early morning breakfast, we watched as the Burchell's zebra, impala and blue wildebeest awoke in the light drizzle. We also had a clan of spotted hyaena run towards camp at dawn which was great for our guests' first hyaena sighting. Southern Ground Hornbills have been a wonderful sight; these rare birds have been a highlight for all the bird enthusiasts in camp.
Our camp has a new resident too - a young male elephant - since the beginning of the month. He is quite a sight as he knows just when to come over to the main area and gobble up some marula tree fruit that keeps dropping from the trees. He has joined us for many meals and has even assisted with a couple of 'meet and greets' for our arriving guests. The elephant deserves a uniform and name badge as he has become one of the employees here at Tubu. The chacma baboons come and feast on the fruit for hours too but clearly don't like sharing it with the elephant because they have been observed throwing some fruit at him. The guests have enjoyed sharing the tasty fruit that fascinates the baboons and elephant so much. This tree and fruit has made our Tubu bar a name for itself and we now serve a lot of Amarula liqueur (which is distilled from the fruit pulp of this tree) as an after-dinner aperitif.
Observing leopards has been a splendid experience, especially the sighting of a big male feeding on a blue wildebeest that it had caught. He was unfortunately not the only one to enjoy his catch as spotted hyaena robbed him of his bounty. It's a hard way for leopards to learn how to share with sheer force in numbers, but rather than risk injury abandoned his catch to these fearsome creatures. The hyaena have also not been going hungry for long as they have capitalised on the zebra foals which are easy prey for them.
-The Tubu Team-
Green Desert Expedition update - March 08 Jump
to Green Desert Expedition
Our group was made up of six guests who had travelled with Camilla and me in 2006, as well as two new guests that we hadn't met before. Our trip got away perfectly and on the way to our campsite in Deception Valley we saw herds of springbok and oryx, both species abundant on the floor of the dry river valley.
Our next day we added black-backed jackals, ground squirrels, bat-eared fox, blue wildebeest and red hartebeest to the mammal list, as well as many bird species. Predators proved unusually elusive. We enjoyed watching a spectacular sunset from the cracked and dry surface of Deception Pan itself.
Next morning we followed lion tracks but to no avail, and then found a female cheetah, lying up next to an acacia tree. Everybody was very excited at this, our first large predator sighting. We had a picnic lunch under a stand of acacias on the way back to camp. Late that afternoon, a lioness showed up not twenty minutes drive from camp. We left her watching a herd of oryx as the sun set.
It was still dark when we awoke on our last morning, and immediately heard the sound of a roaring lion, and not too far from camp either. We instantly put our preparations for breakfast and departure into a higher gear, and actually managed to leave camp, with bags packed, as the sun rose. Not a kilometre from camp we rounded a bend in the tall grass and saw first one lioness, then a huge male lion, then two sub-adult lions, moving about in the road. As we approached we realised they were feeding on what appeared to be the last remains of a kudu carcass. We had great views of all four of the cats all on our own for almost an hour before we left for the airfield run. We dealt with a flat tyre on the way but still made it in time for our flight to Linyanti and the remainder of this tailor-made itinerary.
Grant Atkinson & Camilla Shaw
update - March 08 Jump
to Pafuri Camp
Over the month of March, the winds of change began to blow over Pafuri. The bush began its transformation from a lush green oasis to a parched Mecca that is dominated by the fantastic silhouettes of the bare giants of Pafuri, the majestic baobab trees.
The onset of autumn has set in and the bush has taken on a transformation that spells a time of need for many, but it is also a time of plenty for some. The warthogs are the first to show signs of the onset of the dry conditions, while the birds of prey are beginning to nest in the promise of a good availability of food in the dry winter months. A clear drop in the temperatures was noticed, although the mercury still topped a temperature of 43 ?C on one or two occasions. The average minimum temperature was 20 ?C dropping below 15 ?C on only one occasion.
With the shortening of daylight hours, the impala rams' brains instruct the body to produce an excess of testosterone in order to begin the rutting season. The full-grown males now become ferociously territorial and begin to form temporary territories. They spend most of their time herding females into their territories and chasing subordinate males out of their territory. It is also a major stepping stone for the young male impalas of the last lambing season. The impala fawns' horn buds begin to show at the age of 4.5 months, which just happens to be right in the middle of the rut. This results in them being chased away from their mothers by the dominant rams. The fawns need to be fully weaned by the age of four months in preparation for this. The dominant rams put all their energy into the rut and spend little time eating or looking out for predators. They soon loose physical condition and become easy prey for predators. The mating amongst impala peaks with the full moon cycles of the months March - May.
One thing that is becoming clear is the constant increase in cat sightings in Pafuri. There were a combined total of 28 sightings of lion and leopard for the month, 19 of those being of lion. Local lion dynamics are still being dominated by the young coalition, but a curveball has been thrown into the mix, adding an extra dimension to our pride dynamics in the area. A new female has come across the Luvuvhu Bridge from Kruger and has caused much excitement for the emerging young dominant male of Pafuri. A lioness with four cubs has been making a regular appearance around the Mangala area, which ironically means 'The place of the lion'. The highlight of leopard sightings took place during one of the evening drives. Returning to the camp from Crooks' Corner through the Fever Tree Forest, two young leopards were seen sitting in a branch of a gigantic nyala berry tree. The two siblings entertained the guests for over 45 minutes by grooming one another and playing with one another.
The concession continues to be blessed by the presence of large herds of Cape buffalo which are appeasing their appetites with the drying grasses of the concession. With many of the temporary waterholes and perennial rivers drying up, the elephant are doing what they have been doing for centuries: making an annual migration into Pafuri. With the abundance of food and water along the Luvuvhu River many elephant take refuge along the river during times of need. The number of elephant sightings is showing a steady increase and will do so for at least the next four to six months.
The Pafuri white rhino are now moving into their winter grazing areas. They were sighted from the road on one occasion and remained very relaxed in the presence of the vehicle for a period of 40 minutes while the guests enjoyed sundowner drinks.
Apart from the above mentioned sightings, the most exciting moment for us here in Pafuri took place on Easter Sunday. We had a sighting of 18 WILD DOGS on the Luvuvhu Bridge. The pack is suspected to den in an area close to Punda Maria, 50km to the south and traverses the whole area between Punda and Pafuri. It was clear from the dogs' frantic activity that they were on a hunt. All of the guides and their guests had a superb view of the dogs before they disappeared along the western bank of the river on the Kruger side. Two of the dogs were collared, so they are being monitored by researchers.
Here are some of the other interesting sightings for the month:
- African wild cat
- Two honey badgers
- A Southern African python eating a Red-billed Hornbill
- A forest cobra
- A warthog eating an armoured-ground cricket
- Three bushpigs
Birds and birding
There were also some pretty amazing bird sightings over the month. Many of the migrant birds have left our concession to undertake their gargantuan migration flights, some reaching as long as 20 000km - as is the case with the White Stork.
A research programme run by the guides has been put underway on the Yellow-billed, as well as the Red-billed Oxpecker populations in the area. Research programmes like this will add to our understanding of the bird species in our area. There is also a research programme on the elusive Pel's Fishing-Owl that has been carried out over the last nine months and has uncovered some interesting facts about these fantastic birds. In terms of the Pel's we had eight different sightings of both male and female birds this month.
Some of the interesting species seen this month were: Thick-billed Cuckoo, Cuckoo Hawk, Dickinson's Kestrel, many River Warblers and Southern Ground Hornbills. As we know, Cuckoos are obligate brood Parasites, some of them are host specific, like the Thick-billed Cuckoo, and others are not, like the Diderick Cuckoo which is known to parasitise up to 24 different species. We got to observe this parasitism at its best with Great Spotted Cuckoos begging for food from Meves's Starlings. We also found a Diderick Cuckoo begging for food from a Long-billed Crombec, which has not been recorded before this.
Things just keep on getting better and better in the Makuleke Concession with the amount of amazing sightings increasing on a monthly basis.
Rocktail Bay update - March 08 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
The month of March at Rocktail Bay has seen the start of a change of seasons. Sadly the end of the turtle season has come, but it has been a fantastic past few months with loads of great drives and useful data being collected. Turtles have still been sighted often out at sea and occasionally on the beach, but not in anything like the numbers of the summer peak. A boatful of divers beaching after a fantastic dive were treated late this month to a whole nest of tiny hatchlings making the arduous journey over the beach, into the waves and out to sea. What a way to end a dive trip!
The month has been fairly wet at times but otherwise the days have been sunny and always warm. The rainy days have not stopped anyone having fun though, with down-and-dirty quad biking rides from Gugulesizwe into the community for 'extreme' village tours. A group of exceptionally dedicated guests (and a staff member occasionally falling into the temptation of helping) finished off a lovely 1500-piece puzzle. The final piece was laid into place (once it was finally found between sofa cushions) just after midnight on the guests' last night of stay.
The days just after any wet weather have made the guided forest walks an unforgettable experience with the bird life stepping up in activity and volume: species like Red-Capped Robin Chat, Green-backed Eromomela, Golden-rumped Tinkerbarbet, Square-tailed Drongo and Sombre Bulbul being most obvious but rarer species like Green Malkoha and Woodward's Batis being spotted from time to time. The butterflies have come out in their hundreds as well. On a few forest walks the butterflies were flittering about in such numbers that it looked like leaves falling off trees on a windy autumn day. The butterflies around the camp have been abundant with constant sightings of spectaculars like the gold-banded forester, mocker swallowtail and mamba swordtail, not to mention the ubiquitous green-banded and citrus swallowtails.
Most days have been fantastic beach days with loads of trips to the scenic Black Rock, the Hippo Pools and Lala Nek. Awesome snorkelling excursions with great underwater sightings of colourful fish, rays and octopus and scrumptious lunches set up on the beach at Lala Nek have been a big hit this month. Horse riding around the Hippo Pools and on the beach has also been very popular with riders of all ages and levels of experience having fun even if it was just a trip for the little ones to touch the horses and play around the newly-built stables at Gugulesizwe.
The evening entertainment crown goes to the Rocktail Bay staff choir and dancers with a number of energetic performances of traditional songs and dance. Coming in as close runners-up were the antics of two resident thick-tailed bushbabies being seen almost every night.
The Rocktail Bay beach had an unusual visitor this month too. See if you can guess what it was? I'll give you a few clues: It came out of the ocean. They can get rather large. It is a reptile? They lay eggs in soft sand. They spend a lot of time in the water. They have a prehistoric look to them. If you are guessing a turtle then... you're wrong! It was a Nile crocodile. This lost soul was tracked down by Baggy who is a youth from the Mqobela community who conducts a beach clean-up every weekend. He finally found it resting in the shade just off the beach in the dune forest. Now that's a dedicated beach clean-up!
Hoping to see you soon,
Tal, Genene and the Rocktail Team
Mvuu Camp and Mvuu Lodge
update - March 08 Jump
to Mvuu Lodge
Now that we're approaching the very end of our rainy season we are beginning to see some distinct differences and changes in behaviour of the birds and mammals in and around Liwonde National Park.
During the rainy season all the mammals naturally had the younger generation arriving - and the hyaena were not excluded. A little earlier this year one of the game drives produced a lovely sighting of a group of ten spotted hyaena. Mvuu Lodge guests were so lucky as to see five adults playing with five cubs, none of them taking any notice of the spotlight or vehicle. The guests had a great 20 minutes of viewing. This was one of very, very few sightings of this calibre in Liwonde.
With all the youngsters getting bigger now it's also the time for all the males to proclaim territories and chase away the immature ones. The impala are very active in this activity, particularly since there are a huge number of them around. With some other mammals the males are also moving into the breeding herds; kudu, waterbuck and sable to mention a few.
Some guests from Mvuu Camp had a great and privileged sighting about two months ago: They went on game drive with Jimmy, one of the Mvuu guides, when they saw a male, female and a young black rhino standing at the fence of the Rhino Sanctuary. This was the only sighting that guests of Mvuu have ever had of more than two black rhino together, truly a great experience!
The Rhino Sanctuary - or better known as the Endangered Species of Malawi (ESOM) project - was started in 1992 by 12 Malawi-based individuals. The original idea came with only the black rhino in mind, latter though other endangered species of Malawi came to mind as well and that's what the current sanctuary is about: ESOM is totally involved and committed to saving the endangered species within Malawi. The others include eland, roan, Lichtenstein's hartebeest, zebra and sable.
There were also sightings of other strange and wonderful creatures. Smaller mammals like side-striped jackal, white-tailed mongoose and porcupines are showing themselves from time to time. Even some rarer species like serval, civet and Meller's mongoose are seen sometimes. One other very rare mammal that was identified for the first time was the ichneumon (Egyptian) mongoose, just outside the National Park. Seems like the mammals are really performing thus far!
Apart from those mentioned above, there has also been a lot of excellent birding going on. We had a few birding trips going through and we had rare Mvuu sightings of Pel's Fishing-Owl, Brown-breasted Barbets, Racket-tailed Rollers, White-backed Vulture, Spotted-throated Woodpecker, Miombo Rock Thrush and Tree Pipit (the last two very rare).
Apart from all this the other very exciting thing at Mvuu is the building of three new units at the Lodge. Scheduled to be finished end of May it is going on very well.
That's all from Mvuu for now.
Wikus Swanepoel, additional info by Richard and Jimmy from Mvuu Camp and Lodge
Governors' Camp update - March 08 Jump
to Governors' Camp
During most of March the weather in the Masai Mara remained hot and humid with cool mornings. Towards the end of the month the rains began to arrive. The rains are always much anticipated and bring a sense of renewal and vigor to the area. In response grasses on the plains and in the marsh have grown attracting families of elephant back across the Mara River and into the Musiara Marshlands.
The changing of the seasons has brought some of the largest Bull elephants into “Musth” and some of the older Bull elephants will remain in this state for the next 2- 3 months mating when they get the chance. Indeed we have seen some elephants already getting and taking that chance!
The branches of the magnificent Warburgia Ugandensis trees in the forest are heavy with fruit, much to the delight of feasting baboons, elephant families and Sykes monkeys. We often hear and see troops of Sykes Monkeys foraging in the forest canopy and along the river banks. One Sykes monkey had a close shave with a crocodile this month when he came down to the riverbank to drink, suddenly leaping back from the water’s edge to avoid a fatal snap from a lurking crocodile.
Rain showers have been filling up the marsh land and sending water gushing down small streams to new pools. Catfish have been caught up in these strong currents and swept into new lakes and pools where resident fish eagles have been enjoying feeding on the new arrivals. A large catfish was spotted swimming against the current back up a small stream. The catfish crossed the road keeping in a stream of running water, all the time getting closer to the quieter waters of the swamp. Two more catfish then followed wriggling from side to side and using their fins to propel them forward against the current. The first fish finally reached the swamp and with a flurry of energy wriggled in the swamp and disappeared, glad to have made it back to the calm deeper waters. This unusual migration was a delight to see.
On the verges of the Marsh a resident family of Defassa Waterbuck and their calves are thriving and there is also a satellite group of young males never far away. The luscious grasses of the marsh continue to attract good size breeding herds of impala and large troops of Olive Baboons. We have seen good numbers of Masai Giraffe throughout the Musiara Grasslands and within the woodlands around the camps and large solitary males wandering alone. The short grass plains continue to support herds of Topi and their 4 – 5 month old calves, Cokes Heartebeest, Thomson and Grants Gazelles.
Monogamous pairs of black backed jackals are out on the plains, and many female spotted hyenas have been seen with their cubs in dens. We tend to see more hyenas in the Koiyaki conservation area where there are less lion and therefore less competition. We continue to have sightings of Aardwolf, which are a treat as these nocturnal specialized Hyenids are truly shy creatures. We have also seen Serval Cats hunting in the long grasses.
The Bila Shaka and Marsh pride of Lions of three males, one of which is the dark maned lion “Pavarotti”, four breeding females and five two month old cubs and three young females, continues to thrive. The two mothers and their five young cubs are more mobile now, coming out of the croton thickets and frequently exploring the areas around our airstrip. They have been hunting well this month and on the 20th of March two of the pride were seen mating, so watch this space, the Bila Shaka pride may have new cubs in four months time if all has been successful.
The cheetah are also doing well, Honey’s three two year old male cubs continue to be seen up on the ridges, down on the plains and skirting the marsh. The female with two cubs about a year old continue to be seen on the grasslands and another pregnant female has been seen close to our area feeding frequently on Thomson Gazelle fawns and warthog piglets.
The leopards of our part of the Mara have also been doing well this month; Pole Pole and her son Kijana continue to be seen in the woodland near our camps, sometimes together and sometimes apart; Kijana still preferring his mother’s territory over establishing his own independence. Clients of Governors’ had a wonderful sighting this month when Kijana came out to the edge of the swamp and caught a cat-fish, He dragged it out of the water and sat on a dry patch of ground nearby looking very proud of himself and his achievement. With Kijana’s attention elsewhere momentarily the cat-fish made a break for freedom and wriggled back to the swamp whereupon Kijana bounded after it but to no avail. The cat-fish had a lucky escape and Kijana learnt a valuable lesson.
Finally on the feathered front, we were delighted and a little surprised to see a group of Lesser Flamingoes in the swamp on the last day of the month. This is not the first time we have seen flamingos here, indeed our drivers named this area “Lake Nakuru”, the last time a flock of migrating lesser flamingoes decided to stop over here.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
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