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update - September 08 Jump
to Pafuri Camp
Spring is a season of new beginnings, evident from the budding knobthorns and other acacias, which are the first to respond to the new season. September has brought with it the scorching heat and the temperatures rose to around 40°C on many days. In this heat the elephant herds and bulls indulged in mud baths on the edge of the Luvuvhu River, submerging themselves in the deeper pools where they displaced the hippo and spent the rest of the day escaping the heat. Even crocodiles appear to have found daytime basking difficult in the heat of the sun. Fortunately our guests found shelter under the shade of the magnificent nyala and jackal berry trees along the riparian forest of the Luvuvhu where Pafuri camp is located.
It is really unbelievable to see the different coloured flowers on the trees. Some stunning trees that are flowering at the moment include the attractive appleleaf tree with its subtle mauve flowers, the mystic sausage tree with its deep crimson blooms, and the eerie fever trees with their yellow button flowers. Though the rains have not shown up, these trees are sending their roots to get the moisture necessary to show that we are in spring.
The perennial Luvuvhu is the source of life for the Pafuri triangle; hence we have large herds of elephant migrating to this area in the dry season. Since the rain is still on its way, the game is still concentrating along the Luvuvhu River. Nyala, impala, kudu, eland, bushbuck, common duiker, steenbok, and waterbuck are the order of the day as we relish the last days of dryness. Many of these are seen daily from the comfort of the camp as they seek out the moisture of the river below.
Even leopard have been sighted from camp, either in the riverbed or on the opposite bank. Photographs from one of our guests - Mohamed Gabr - are featured here. On one occasion a leopard was seen making its way along the river right in front of the main area where everyone who was at early tea managed to see. Around the beginning of the month we enjoyed leopards around every corner. On one game drive no fewer than five different leopards were seen! Lion sightings were also good for the month in the sense that this species was seen at least every second day, with sometimes as many as three sightings on a game drive.
Elephants are still enjoying their stay in the area and are seen on most game drives and also during the day from camp. The buffalo herds are wandering more widely in search of the remaining grasses, but are regularly seen returning to the waters of the Luvuvhu River to slake their thirst. Even a honey badger made an appearance in September.
Birding is a pleasure as always at Pafuri. With lots of migrants expected to make an appearance, we have witnessed the arrival of intra-Africa migrants such as the Broad-billed Roller in the fever tree forest, Wahlberg's Eagle along the Limpopo River and Yellow-billed Kites to name a few. Let's not forget the appearance and familiar calls of the Klaas's Cuckoo and Diederick's Cuckoo.
Unusual sightings include amongst others three Scops Owlets in the mopane forest and a sighting of a Painted Snipe along the Luvuvhu River. The most sought-after Pel's Fishing-Owl was sighted several times as they made a reappearance after their preoccupation with incubation. They were sighted fishing several times along the Luvuvhu, fishing. The Racket-tailed Rollers were also seen and the Three-banded Courser has also been seen several times in the Salvodora australis habitat. Some other nice birds included: Black-throated Wattle-Eye, Mottled Spinetail, Temminck's Courser, African Cuckoo Hawk, Black crowned Night Herons at Crook's corner, and Bohm's Spinetail.
Other interesting sightings this month included:
Baboon feeding on White-crowned Lapwing's eggs
Baboon preying on a nyala lamb
Crowned Eagle preying on a vervet monkey
Giant Eagle-Owl preying on a tree squirrel
Black-backed jackal trying to catch a Three-banded Plover
A beautiful and colourful beginning to the warm season to come?
Rocktail Bay Lodge
update - September 08 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
This month has shown the start of the warmer, wetter summer season. On the marine side, turbulent seas and winds have made snorkelling and ocean safaris a little difficult at times but very productive when the conditions have been right. Strangely, pieces of a dead whale have been washing up along our coastline.
The fishing in Rocktail Bay started improving as the water warmed, causing the mighty 'G.T' (Giant Trevally) to begin coming back onto the bite.
The sighting of the month however was when guests Rob and Renè were leaving the bird hide in camp and came across a Gaboon adder laying on the path. This very shy and well-camouflaged snake only stuck around for a few photos before slithering of into the safety of a large pile of dead vegetation.
Red-backed Mannikin (left) – Terrestrial Brownbul (right)
So far the only sign of any migratory birds having returned is the Klaas's Cuckoo.
The highlight of the month for many has been the in-camp bird hide. Numerous daily sightings of male, female and juvenile Green Twinspots have been recorded with other interesting birds such as Black-throated Wattle-eye, Livingstone's Turaco, Red-backed Mannikin, Terrestrial Brownbul and Red-capped Robin-chat. The frequency and activity of birds visiting the hide has been staggering with little time passing without action.
Malachite Sunbird (left) – Red-capped Robin-chat (middle) – Green Twinspot (right)
Children in the Wilderness
As the month draws to an end, Rocktail bay Lodge is gearing up for a very exciting event: 24 children from the two communities surrounding Rocktail Bay are going to be our special guests in the lodge for four days as part of the first Children in the Wilderness programme for Rocktail Bay. Everybody is very excited about this and we will be sure to report more in the October newsletter.
Rocktail Bay Lodge
Dive Report - September 08 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Jack Frost is still in control of the water temperatures which are hovering around 22°C. Even this though is like bath water to all the Cape Town and Miracle Waters divers that have dived here this month: they are used to 12° Celsius! September has seen a continuation of August's conditions, with winds taking turns to blow from the north and then the south. There have been great calm days out at sea and very rough days, with big swells forcing us to cancel two days of diving this month.
Besides all of this we still had some wonderful dives as well as some more incredible humpback whale sightings. On the 13th Vicky and Gary were the only divers on the boat; it was to be their first dive in the ocean. Their dives went well and they were thrilled at all the life they saw, even two turtles on the second dive. Then, as the boat was travelling back towards Island Rock, Darryl spotted bottlenose dolphins. They were busy hunting garfish, so were very active, swimming upside down, chasing their prey. Some of the garfish jumped clear out of the water to escape and one hit the side of the boat! It was all very exciting. But that's not all. They got the chance to snorkel with three humpback whales; a mother, small baby and adolescent! The mother and baby even came back to have a second look at the snorkelers.
"Thanks for an awesome experience. We couldn't have asked for better for our first sea dives. Humpback whales - WOW! Really awesome memories to treasure, thanks a mill!" - Vicky and Gary
Just a couple of days later Paul and Sharon were the only guests on the boat with Zoe and Darryl, heading out for what we call an "Ocean Experience" - a game drive at sea! They also had the chance of a lifetime - an opportunity to snorkel with three humpback whales, also a baby, mother and adolescent - perhaps the same whales? All these whales are heading home back to the Antarctic, where the promise of lots of food awaits, especially for the mothers who do not feed for the duration of this migration, which lasts approximately six months!
As our whale season ends, so the beginning of the turtle season draws near. Next month is the "official" start to turtle nesting season, where we see female loggerhead and leatherback turtles climb the beaches at night to lay their eggs. The first signs are the very curious male turtles, and we have had a couple of incidents with these males during the month! Stewie, who comes to visit and dive with us every year had a really up close and personal look at a male loggerhead as it swam slowly straight towards him! Then Tony watched as a male tried to get a bite at my dive cylinder. Emma and I were kneeling on a sand patch looking at a firefish hanging under a ledge, when I felt a bump on my cylinder, thinking that it might be another diver whose fin had bumped me by mistake, I ignored it. Then it felt like someone was tapping on my cylinder and I turned thinking that Tony must be trying to get my attention. What I saw was a huge turtle face staring at me, before it turned to swim away! We all watched it swim off before Tony signalled to me that it was the turtle that had been bumping my cylinder with its mouth - we all had a good laugh before moving on. Next time something bumps me I will turn around straight away!
Clive was very lucky to actually see two loggerhead turtles mating on the surface of the water, on the 26th of September. This is something rarely seen, except on television documentaries, and this was the first time any of us has actually witnessed it! The male has special hooks on his front flippers which he uses to hook under the female's shell, so that he can hold on as they mate.
Some other male creatures that have made an impression this month have been a couple of ragged tooth sharks. The first was seen at Gogo's on the 20th and the second at Aerial on the 30th. Stewie and I were the only ones diving at Aerial that day and as we crossed over the sand to the inshore section of the reef and turned to head south, we saw the shark, hanging there looking at us. He watched us for a few seconds before slowly swimming away, we followed and he slowly circled back towards Stewie, till they were face to face. Then he moved across to me and swam back across the other side of the reef and was gone. It is wonderful to see the males as they are the first sign that the females should be arriving soon. The ragged tooth sharks live in the colder waters off the Eastern Cape and then move northwards to the Durban area to mate. The males then move a bit further north before heading back to the colder waters at home while the females spend the summer with us. The raggie season at Aliwal Shoal has been a bumper one this year with up to 80 sharks sighted at Cathedral. Let's hope that we get a spin off from this and have a good season here, when the females arrive. The females enjoy our warmer waters for approximately three months, so we should start to see them arriving soon. Will keep you posted.
Congratulations go to the following bubble blowers:
Guy and Tracey: For completing the pool section of their PADI Discover Scuba Diving Course
Richard: For completing his Discover Scuba Diving Course
Emma: For completing her Discover Scuba Diving Course
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle
The Rocktail Dive Team
Camp update - September 08 Jump
This month at Shumba has seen the temperatures soar with the Busanga Plains letting us know that summer is here. With temperatures reaching 40°C the Plains are most certainly very dry with the remaining water dwindling rapidly, but attracting large herds of game while it still exists.
This month has seen us have some excellent cat sightings. The Busanga Pride is still recovering from the loss of one of their older, more experienced lionesses. The pride has fragmented slightly: the 2 big males and 3 females have branched off leaving 1 injured female, the young male and female cub separate from the pride. The young male is looking quite skinny and seemed for most of the month to be surviving off the odd Terrapin here and there that he stumbled upon. The lone injured female seems to have taken up residence at Shumba, hunting Lechwe around the camp. The young male and female lions of the Busanga pride have not been seen in some time. The good news is that the main part of the pride killed an adult Zebra in the south of the plains. Since then they have recovered their condition somewhat. They also managed to kill a Puku right on front of camp one night while the guests were eating dinner!
As for other cats we have been lucky enough to see Cheetah on occasion and Serval as well.
Elephants have been sighted a few times exiting from Kapinga island and heading across the plains to the tree line area. This is a magical sight as they carefully choose their spot and then make across the plain in groups of 30 or 40.
The Buffalo are back! Grazing daily in the area around Shumba, the big herd has given us some great sightings including one morning when a Lioness and her two sub adult cubs had tried to hunt some of the calves within the herd. Needless to say all it took was a few agitated Buffalo mothers to drive them off for good.
Birds & Birding
The birding around Shumba has been fantastic. Even within the huge Sycamore Figs around camp we have had sightings of Violet-backed Starling, Yellow Warbler, African Green Pigeons, Amethyst Sunbird and more. Some birding highlights in camp have been a pair of Yellow-billed Kites who are nesting above room 4 and a Grey-hooded Kingfisher which paid us a visit one afternoon. Raptors have been great with sightings of Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Martial Eagle, Shikra, Red-necked Falcon and Lappet-faced Vulture.
Until next time
The Shumba Team
Lunga River Lodge update - September 08 Jump
to Lunga River Lodge
New life at Lunga! During September many new lives started in the Lunga area - specially amongst 'our' birds which were busy making nests. The delicately woven nest of a Black-throated Wattle-Eye pair was discovered in a tree next to the bar meaning that the resident tree hyrax had to compete for the attention of the guests. This wasn't the only nest in the camp: Red-headed and Spectacled Weavers, Tropical Boubou, various Sunbirds, Paradise Flycatcher and the Thick-knee were found breeding here. Such was the birding abundance this month that some guests even mentioned that it wasn't necessary to leave camp! If you are looking for birds there is as much to see in camp as on the river or the game drives. Even the boma functions during daytime as a hide: A perfect spot to look for birds or wildlife in the dambo.
It's getting warmer every day. September and October are the hottest months in Zambia and are great for game viewing as a result of the dry conditions. Temperatures this month rose to 36°C on occasion and even the evenings are getting warmer.
The animals are feeling the heat as well and elephant, puku, impala and bushbuck visit the dambo waterhole behind the rooms every day. The Lunga River is also very inviting of course and the elephants love to take a long bath in the clear water to cool off. They swim and play in the river close to the lodge and guests get often the opportunity to take beautiful pictures of them. With the temperatures rising, more and more game is coming to the river and closer to Lunga River Lodge. This month has been the most interesting game viewing month of this season so far.
Buffalo, wildebeest, Lichtenstein's hartebeest, roan, sable, zebra, warthog, elephant, lion, cheetah and a side-striped jackal with cubs were all a regular part of September's sightings in the Lunga area. We also had a few very good sightings of leopard! As far as the four jackal pups are concerned, they were discovered on top of a termite mound one afternoon and have subsequently often been seen playing in the morning sun or having a siesta in the afternoon. They are adorable to see!
Lion sightings were good including one of a big male relaxing on the riverbank when one of the boat trips passed by. On another occasions three lions killed a young hippo close to camp. The two young sub-adult males and one adult lioness spent almost a week close to the lodge and guests enjoyed this good sighting. The lions enjoyed their feast and were watching their meal closely so that hyaenas and vultures did not get their chance.
On several occasions the guests were lucky to spend some time with a serval that was wandering around not far from camp and on one afternoon our guides spotted 4 cheetah - the first cheetah sighting of the season! They were hunting at the time and a few days later we found the remains of a dead warthog on the road indicating that they had been successful.
We were also very happy with a herd of sable antelope that arrived close to Lunga. We have seen the beautiful antelopes several times this month and for many guests it was the first time to see these gracious animals.
- "Great place and great people! Thanks for your passionate attitude and smart hospitality!" - Russia
- "We would like to once again thank you so much for a lovely few days at Lunga. As always, the accommodation, service, food, staff, activities, etc were excellent and much enjoyed. A special thanks for making my birthday so memorable and for the lovely birthday cake and dance performance by the staff members. It was very much appreciated." - RSA
- "Many thanks to Ingrid, Rob, Jacqui and the rest of the Lunga River team for the fantastic time we have spent here. The river trips, walks and game drives have all been very good and we have learned a great deal from Golden about the fauna & flora. A great team, attentive but not intensive. Best wishes to all for the future." - UK
We'll leave you with the following well-known phrase which is often mentioned by our guests during our bush brunches:
"Leave nothing behind in the bush but your footprints. Take nothing from the bush but good memories."
Kapinga Camp update - September 08 Jump
The wild wonders of the Busanga plains have continued to delight our visitors from all over the world during September.
We experienced very high temperatures toward the end of the month and guests have certainly enjoyed the constantly cool temperature of the pool during siesta time. We've also been hoping that the elephants now resident on Kapinga Island would visit the pool for a drink, but alas they still manage to find some drinking water from the now rapidly shrinking pools on the edges of the island. We've been keeping an eye on the skies, wondering if we could be expecting any relief from the dry heat soon but only on two occasions during the last days of September did we see a few wispy clouds. By this time last season we'd already had our first rain shower. We are patiently waiting ? and even betting amongst ourselves on dates for the first thunder shower of the season!
The miracles of nature waking up to summer have continued to surprise us: the Appleleaf Trees have burst into subtle lilac flower while the Sausage Trees have been dripping with their large claret-coloured flowers. Flying over the Plains in the helicopter one now notices the delicate transformation from the characteristic tawny palette of the grassy plains to the hues of fresh spring greens.
September has been a great month for game viewing here on the Busanga Plains with good sightings of all the characteristic species.
Idos and our guests saw the Papyrus Lion Pride quite regularly during September. They have now made the area between Mukambi and the Papyrus their home turf and have been successful hunters, preying mostly on lechwe. They seem to have relaxed a fair bit and are now no longer skittish of our game drive vehicles.
The condition of the young male of the Busanga Pride is still a concern to us. He has since left the Papyrus Pride and moved back to join the Busanga Pride, however he is still just lurking on the outskirts of their company. The Busanga Pride has not been very successful with hunting this month. The young male did however manage to kill a monitor lizard earlier in the month and has been stealing some scraps from the lionesses, but Idos is still worried that he might not survive for too much longer. He is now even struggling to walk. This is a complete turn around from last season when the Busanga Pride was the dominant pride in the area, and consisted of healthy and strong lions. We suspect that the death of the leader lioness in August (she died after sustaining injuries inflicted by a buffalo) is the main reason for the decline of this pride. The two dominant males of the area - the Busanga Boys - were seen mating with the Busanga lionesses and have been spending most of their time this month in their usual territory between Shumba and Busanga Bush camp.
Once during the month, Idos and our guests spotted the pack of five wild dogs at the southern end of the Plains near the tree line. Since we only saw this pack once in August we were all very excited to see them again. When Idos returned that same afternoon to look for the wild dogs again they had moved, but while searching the area he and the guests instead stumbled upon a beautiful lady leopard, just relaxing on a termite mound in the shade. They spent some time with her and then to their surprise found the wild dog pack a mere 100m away!
At the beginning of September, Idos and our guests found the female cheetah with her four sub-adult cubs in the area near Busanga Bush Camp. They watched with delight as the mother cheetah allowed her youngsters to practice their hunting skills. They have obviously been trained very well by their mother as they successfully brought down a puku.
We've also been able to show our guests the shyest antelope of all on two different occasions this month. Our thrilled guests saw the mother Sitatunga with her calf again this month and on the second occasion a couple of male Sitatunga were spotted at the papyrus.
The buffalo herd has settled close to the last remaining water in the channel south of Shumba, enjoying the fresh new shoots of grass that have sprouted after a recent fire moved though the area and the herd of elephant that appear to be resident on Kapinga Island were seen every day this month, splashing and drinking from the muddy pool near the edge of the Island. We have also seen them quite regularly moving in single file across the Plains during sunset time, only to watch them return to the security of the island whilst having our breakfast early the next morning. They seem to have grown in numbers from about 30 to almost 50 as another family group joined the Island herd.
Some of our other interesting sightings this month included water mongoose, porcupine, Lichtenstein's hartebeest and large herds of zebra and wildebeest with young. The marabou storks and hamerkops continue to sweep the last little pools of water for tasty morsels and our guests even saw a martial eagle attempting to hunt guinea fowl that managed to survive with a very lucky escape onto a grass-covered termite mound.
We look forward to October and all the delightful surprises on offer in the Busanga Plains ? the imminent arrival of the first summer rains - and the first rainbow of the season!
Until next time
Busanga Bush Camp update - September 08 Jump
to Busanga Bush Camp
Another month has passed here at Busanga Bush Camp and with us all having placed our bets as to when the rains will come: it's just a waiting game now! Things have also been hotting up in terms of the wildlife in the area, with some really fantastic sightings and experiences for our guests this month.
The beginning of September saw the pretty swift transformation of our weather here with temperatures really beginning to soar. Although there is still a little chill in the mornings, now waking up for the stunning sunrise is less effort than it was a few months ago. Once up, the sun quickly heats up the plains and by midday every inhabitant, both human and animal, are resting! Towards the very end of the month there were a few signs that the rains are on their way...
The Busanga Pride had a good start to September. They were sighted hunting on a number of occasions and also indulging in some efforts in procreation when one of the pride males and a female were seen mating south of Shumba Camp. They were also watched one afternoon, after having had a restful day of sleep, swimming across the channel by Hippo Pools! A really lovely sight and a first for most people who saw it.
Possibly one of the highlights for us here at Busanga this month was our early morning wakeup call from the pride one day around the middle of the month. We were all awoken by the frantic barking of a bushbuck in camp, shortly after which the pride came charging through the camp heading north, one of the males stopping by the management house to let out a booming roar. When the coast was clear and we emerged shortly after, we found the tracks all over the camp; they had obviously had a good look around!
As the month has gone on however, things have not been too bright for our Busanga Pride. The young, sub-adult male, was ousted from the pride and had to fend for himself, with rather limited success. On the occasions that he was seen, he was looking painfully thin and trying to get by on small morsels such as monitor lizards. However, later in the month he was seen back with the pride and they appeared to have accepted him again - apparent good news. Sadly though, the end of the month arrived with us not having seen him for a few days, so we are all keeping our fingers crossed. Also, one of the pride lionesses was seen with a nasty puncture wound on one of her hind legs. Initially this looked quite badly infected and she was having problems keeping up with the rest of the pride so, again, our hopes were not high. However, she was seen a few days later and the wound appeared to have been cleaned by a fellow member of the pride and she was looking well.
In contrast September has been a good month for the rival Papyrus Pride which occupies the area to the north, with them appearing to go from strength to strength. Although young, they are all looking vigorous and in great condition. We have had some enjoyable sightings of this pride, seeing them playing and hunting not far from camp.
In contrast to previous years on the Busanga Plains, elephants have become a frequent sight for us this month. We have seen them in different groups but sometimes they have been sighted with at least 50 individuals travelling together. With the water supplies continuing to dry up, we have been observing them almost every day coming across towards Kapinga Island from the treeline to drink water and having a cooling mud bath! Although they are relaxing a little, they still remain nervous, especially mothers with young calves.
In the first half of the month we also had very good cheetah sightings including the cheetah female with four sub-adult cubs that had killed a puku between our camp and Kapinga Harbour. We also saw the female cheetah with three sub-adult cubs on a few occasions both feeding and hunting. Towards the middle of the month we were finding them further south and (after battling off the tsetse flies along the tree line adjacent to the Plains) we had some more nice sightings of them relaxing under the cool shade of a tree. In the same area we have seen a lone male a couple of times, not thought to be one of the once famous 'cheetah brothers' from 2006 and 2007 as he is rather nervous of vehicles. We have also been seeing another lone male, again not thought to be one of the brothers as he is older than they would be expected to be now. Cheetah sightings slowed a little in the last part of the month.
We have had a few very special sightings this month, the most notable of which was a pack of five wild dogs. They were spotted near the tree line road and followed for a short way into the miombo forest where they finally came to rest under a tree to escape the heat of the day. Wild dogs are always a treat for any visitor or resident of the African bush. A honey badger was also sighted not too far from camp on one drive, and although they are not as uncommon as the wild dogs, it was still a first for that guide and the guests. Also, on the way back from an afternoon drive along the treeline, an African wildcat was sighted at dusk, again this was the first time our guide had seen one in this area.
As always our bird sightings have been fantastic, both on drives and around the camp. A notable example was that of an African Fish-eagle sighted on the ground, fishing in a small channel. Around camp there has also been plenty of activity with a few species making their nests here, including the Scarlet-chested Sunbird. We have also had a resident Tropical Boubou defending his territory against his own reflection in one of the guest rooms and a vulture frequently keeping an eye on us from a big fig tree in the front of camp. One of the Stonechats often seen around camp has had chicks and is seen almost every morning by our camp fire teaching the young how to collect their own food. There are also Blue Waxbills and Spectacled Weavers often seen foraging around the main area and back of house.
River Club update - September 08 Jump
to The River Club
Summer has arrived and all the trees are in full bloom here at the River Club. There are splashes of bright colours all over the garden and around the chalets. It's still dry and the temperatures are rising slowly but surely.
In the grounds, the wildlife is very active and birds such as White-fronted Bee-eaters, Trumpeter Hornbills and Bearded Scrub-robins are flying from tree to tree.
As it is the end of the dry season, the Zambezi River has fallen to lower levels, leaving rocks in the middle of the river exposed. The Rock Pratincoles are nesting on these and flit up and down the river all day long - a nice sight for birders! (The rocks can be seen just below some of the chalet in the photo top left.)
Our sundowner cruises are an excellent way to end of the day, as all guests will tell you. The cruises have had sightings of elephants, bushbuck, impala, Nile monitors and a variety of waterbirds. A very lucky sighting was that of an African Finfoot just near the Club!
At Simonga Village, our projects are still going strong. The Health Clinic is now nearly completed and should be operational at the end of the year, according to the Ministry of Health. Donations via guests of The River Club funded the building of the clinic, while the Ministry is in charge of building and maintaining it.
The villagers continue to enjoy the clean water that is pumped up to the borehole and is available from a number of taps that are dotted throughout the village. The privilege of clean running water on a daily basis is not to be taken lightly: it costs about $8.000 a year to supply fuel for the generator to pump 50 000 litres of water a day!
The school is still the focus point of the village with the 391 school children enjoying the visits from guests of The River Club. So far this year, $11 640 has been spent on the school, which includes the payment of the examination fees for Grades 8 and 9, stationery, books, school activities and sport events. An exciting new project is the vegetable garden - also funded by donations - which is diligently watered every day by different students.
Ruckomechi Camp update - September 08 Jump
to Ruckomechi Camp
September has kept us all in high spirits as we continue to provide a unique and memorable stay to all who pass through. Julian, Sibs, Kevin and Tendayi excel on the guiding front and there never seems to be a dull moment out here - we often await the vehicles eager to know what exciting adventures presented themselves on activities.
Mana Canoe Trails has joined us in camp to help out around and about as September was a little quieter on the canoeing front. The training programme is now full steam ahead as we welcome Jessica Bray and Lauren Wilson who are the newest recruits to the Ruckomechi team.
As the sun rises, so do we, as it is the early mornings that provide a crisp freshness that unfortunately does not last long. September has brought with it high temperatures of between 36 - 42 degrees. Some days we are lucky enough to be reminded that the winds of August have not quite forgotten us keeping temperatures bearable but these die down leaving the late afternoons and evenings rather 'balmy.'
The Zambian bushfires continue to burn, fuelled by the dryness of our surrounding areas thus causing a thick haze over the mountains and often it is impossible to make out the outline of the towering Zambian Escarpment. As the end of the month approached the fires died down, leaving the earth bare but ready to be rejuvenated by the approaching rains.
VEGETATION, LANDSCAPE AND THE RIVER
September is the month that most trees flower in order to be pollinated for the production of new fruits. Such trees include the woolly caper bush whose perfume becomes extremely distinctive towards the end of its flowering period. The shaving brush combretum was another flowering tree - so called as it resembles a shaving brush. The sausage tree has to be mentioned as it is not only host to feeding baboons but also fruit bats who are the sole pollinators of these trees. The valley has become a dust bowl at the moment as it keeps getting dryer each month. Fortunately for visitors this enables one to see great distances over the barren land.
The level of the river has risen and it is evident especially in front of the camp as we are able to watch the little islands get smaller or bigger depending on the water quantity. Thanks to this rising water some of the old bream fishing spots are back as the fish enjoy swimming between the grasses along the shoreline. Tiger fishing is still keeping all in awe as the magnificent fish put up a great fight on their approach to the eager waiting fisherman at the end of the rod!
The probability sightings for this month were as follows:
100%: baboon, elephant, impala, vervet monkey, warthog and waterbuck
80-90%: Cape buffalo, zebra, kudu
60-70%: tree squirrel, lion
50-60% scrub hare, spotted hyaena
40-50%: large spotted genet, bushbuck, eland
30-40%: African civet, white-tailed mongoose
20-30%: leopard, dwarf mongoose banded mongoose
<20%: slender mongoose, porcupine, wild dog, Selous' mongoose, nyala, African wild cat, aardvark, lesser bush baby, honey badger and large grey mongoose.
There was great excitement this month as one of the drives was able to get a quick glimpse of an aardvark before it made a hasty retreat to a nearby burrow. This is an extremely rare animal as it is strictly nocturnal. It is our first sighting for this season and we only saw it on two occasions last year!
The crocodiles have been keeping us extremely intrigued over the last month as we have witnessed a couple of encounters along the banks of the river. On one occasion a herd of waterbuck were seen galloping from an island back to mainland where they were ambushed by a crocodile. This ambitious crocodile was not at all accurate in his approach but he was persistent! He attempted to perfect his hunting skills but with no luck.
The second occasion with the crocodiles was a lot more dramatic. Our resident pride of lions had preyed on a young zebra on the floodplain close to the river's edge and proceeded to enjoy their evening meal which was soon to be rudely interrupted. Some rather adventurous crocodiles decided they would also like zebra for dinner. The crocodiles (about ten in total) ventured out of the water toward the feeding lions and tried to steal their meal. Obviously not happy, the lions retaliated, sending scurrying crocodiles back to the river. Whilst this was happening a hyaena came along to see if he could get a quick meal. Again this left the lions defending their meal. The hyaena did not get off to lightly and walked away with a limp - feeling rather sorry for himself.
Nyala have been seen on two occasions this month and this is most definitely not a common occurrence within the Ruckomechi Concession. These antelope prefer the thick bush that is more common further down the Zambezi River and it was suggested that the population could be increasing causing them to move further upstream and adapt to different environments.
Throughout this month we have continued to keep a watchful eye on our resident lionesses and their interaction with the two new male lions. It seemed that they were not overly interested in these young men but have slowly accepted them in as they are now all seen together more often than not. There has also been a new sighting of two lionesses and three cubs. One of the cubs was estimated at 2-3 months old while the other two were about 3-4 months old. The visiting pride were seen at the southern end of the Ruckomechi airstrip suggesting that because we had never seen them before they could have come from Mana Pools.
A very relaxed pack of wild dogs was seen resting under the shade of Nyala Berry Grove or better known as the Ruckomechi Cathedral. The pack consisted of 11 adults and 11 puppies. This was an absolutely fantastic sighting as we were able to sit and watch their interaction for about 30 minutes before we left them peacefully having a little rest and relaxation.
This month there is a total of 176 different species.
A rare summer visitor was seen this month - the Rufus-Bellied Heron was seen in a small channel off the main river. Some migratory birds that have already been seen within the concession are the European Rollers, Yellow-billed Kite and the Osprey. On the floodplains of the river you can now see mating pairs of Blacksmith, White-crowned and Crowned plovers as they prepare to nest.
Parachute Pan (the natural pan behind the camp) has turned into a muddy puddle over the last few months and it is host to an abundance of catfish. Large flocks of Marabou, Open-billed, and Yellow-billed Storks have been seen doing a little of their own fishing, feasting on these catfish as the pan shrinks back.
Mana Canoe & Walking Trail Safari report - September 08 Jump
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Bryan and Mathew continue to give it their utmost as they paddle away the days on the magnificent river. A huge thank you goes to Ashley as she took over a few of the Canoe trips while I was away.
Winter this year was without a doubt short-lived as temperatures increased over the month! The early mornings start off crisp and cool, heating up as midday approaches then a welcome breeze sweeps across the valley in the evenings. Lunchtime is an absolute treat not only because it gives the chance for a little siesta under the trees but there is the opportunity to cool off on one of the massive sandbars that present themselves due to the drop in water levels. The Zambian escarpment has been a blaze of dancing flames over the last month as fires burn throughout the day and late into the night causing an intense haze over the mountain range. Some days have been hard to distinguish where the river meets the land on the Zambian side and the mountains are invisible to those who don't know they are there.
VEGETATION, LANSCAPE AND THE ZAMBEZI RIVER
The winds of August have not been completely forgotten as they continue to sweep through carrying the fine sprinkles of red dust coating everything in its path, including our tents in most cases. It is unbelievable at how the landscape changes on a daily basis, as it gets drier and warmer, the grass and scrubs covering the ground get less and less opening up vast areas. At this time of the year the Zambezi fig trees create an amazing contrast to the rest of the dull bush as they are gaining their brilliant green leaves. It is rather refreshing to come upon these spectacular trees as the shade they provide is a blessing in the heat of the day. The rain trees are in full flower and provide a blanket of purple as their flowers drop to the ground.
It may be a cliché but we do have to say that the wildlife sightings are fantastic at the moment and there is never a moment that you will not see something whether it be large or small. The plains game such as impala, kudu, eland and zebra seem to have doubled in numbers lately as they are everywhere along the shores of the river - in some cases you don't not know where to look as you don't want to miss a thing!
One of the highlights for this month was coming across a pair of large grey mongoose in the Wilderness Area on the way back to Ruckomechi. These long-haired creatures are an uncommon occurrence so to see two together was definitely a bonus.
The lions have definitely made their presence felt throughout the Canoe Trails as we hear them more often than not at each of our campsites. The walks have been rather successful as they have stumbled across them twice this month; the first time was a lioness often seen around Mana Pools campsite areas and the second was a pride near the last campsite. It was evident that the pride moved through the back of the camp as their calls echoed though the camp causing tents to shake (well, not literally but that is what it felt like to those fast asleep in bed).
Our second campsite, Chessa, is rather well known for its nocturnal visitors such as spotted hyaena and they have become increasingly adventurous as they creep towards the kitchen whilst the staff are still packing everything away for the night. On two trips we have had an unwelcome visit from the honey badger. These are rather cheeky and destructive animals and one of the staff members had to chase it away on both occasions before it did any serious damage around the kitchen.
The wild dogs have really been a treat over the last couple of months as we have been lucky enough to see them yet again on a walk near the Sapi River. They were seen resting in the shade of some towering trees.
The most exciting bird sighting this month must be seeing the African Skimmers with their chicks. The particular pair that has been watched closely had a nest with eggs in August and it was great to see the little hatchlings on the sandbar. The guides have been looking closely at nesting birds over the last two months and in September they came across another two nests - the Tawny Eagle in a mopane tree not far from the Ruckomechi airstrip and a Red-necked Falcon nesting in an ilala palm.
We have had some rather humorous conversations at the dinner table while camping at Ilala due to male and female Wood Owl. It all came about on a Saturday evening as they started calling early, continuing for a rather long time resulting in Matthew giving us an insight as to what they were saying. It went something along the lines of:
Male Owl: "Honey, I'm going to the pub tonight, so don't wait up!"
Female: "Oh no, you're not!"
And it continued along those lines... Needless to say the pair of Wood Owls kept us entertained on every trip as it is a continual joke.
Every day is a different day bringing with it new challenges and we continue onwards to the month of October waiting with baited breath for a few drops of the much-needed rain to replenish the dehydrated lands of the Zambezi Valley.
-Charmaine and the Mana Canoe Trails Team-
Doro Nawas Camp update - September 08 Jump
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Exciting news is that we had two newborn baby elephants in our area recently - one was born on the 26th of August and the other on the 13th of September.
Unfortunately the second baby died after a day and we never found the place where her mother left her, but the calf's remnants was probably quickly finished off by the nocturnal predators in our area. The first born is thankfully doing fine and is well protected by her mother and the herd. The everyday sighting of these special desert-adapted elephants and, especially the baby at the moment makes for unforgettable guest experiences.
Although these elephants are probably the biggest drawcard here at Doro Nawas Camp, the area has many other attractions. The beautiful ochre-coloured rocky landscape of this southern Damaraland area seems to span an eternity as one gazes out from camp and this is beautifully framed by the flat-topped Etendeka Mountains in the distance. Sunsets are amazing at the moment whether out on a nature drive at some remote spot, drink in hand, or as seen from the rooftop of camp itself. The Namibian night sky has to be one of the most spectacular on the planet and our star-studded Milky Way is a sight to behold.
Trips to Twyfelfontein which houses one of the largest collections of San rock engravings and paintings etched on a red sandstone canvas has to be another of the areas highlights. Nearby, other geological features like Burnt Mountain and the Petrified Forest add further interest to the area.
Birding in our area, although not rich in numbers, is certainly rich in endemics. From the croaking calls of Rüppells Korhaan that are heard at first light to the constant chatter of Lark-like Buntings that always seem to be around. The ephemeral Huab and Aba-Huab river systems are lifelines in the area and attract a range of bird species that move along these mostly dry watercourses: Bare-cheeked Babbler, Carp's Tit and Damara Hornbill to mention a few.
Other wildlife such as gemsbok (oryx), springbok, meerkats and bat-eared foxes are also often seen with predators like cheetah occasional visitors.
Damaraland is one of those must-see destinations in Namibia, and probably the world, so we look forward to hosting you here soon.
-The Doro Nawas Team-
Skeleton Coast Camp update - September 08 Jump
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We have had some incredible safaris with very interesting guests all over the world. Our guides further enhanced the safaris to this unique area - experiencing the Skeleton Coast is unforgettable.
With the very good rainy season we had this year, springbok were lambing for a second time this season. It is quite beautiful to see all the baby antelope at the moment.
Guide Gert has seen a honey badger in the middle of nowhere on the way to the canyon. The guides have come across so many brown hyaenas on the beach during the last few weeks, which make for very interesting sightings for our guests. There is a two-week-old baby elephant in the Horausib River, and at the moment the elephant herd has moved upstream to protect their baby elephant.
There was a dead Heaviside's dolphin on the beach close to the seal colony. Guests came across this dolphin a few safaris ago where the jackals were busy scavenging on it. Gert and Kallie saw a southern right whale about 400m out to sea in about the same area where the dolphin washed out.
With the high tide we had a couple of weeks ago a lot of 'new' things washed out on the beach, especially whalebones, new pieces of drift wood and many other fascinating items. Gert confirmed that the high tide mark was about 150m inland. One can see the changes along the coastline.
The guides have been very lucky seeing the unique desert-adapted lions more frequently. Researcher, Dr. Flip Stander started with a new project where he is working with the Purros Conservancy. Flip is busy teaching two men from the conservancy how to approach the lions in the Horausib River in order to help the community with protecting their livestock and also to make sure that self-drive guests and our own guides approach these lions in the correct way. This project has been very successful up until now.
The two female lions walked away from their cubs a few weeks ago, because there was no food in the River. The cubs nearly did not make it and struggled to survive. Luckily the females came back and caught a gemsbok (oryx). The pride is now together and is busy moving up and down the Horausib River trying to get food.
In the Khumib River we are seeing lots of giraffe, springbok, gemsbok, Ostrich and from time to time brown hyaena.
The Himba Village at Purros is still a highlight for many of our guests. We also take the guests to the Purros School if our guests want to meet the children. We want to thank our guests for their contributions towards the school and the Himba Village.
On the strange side was having a Grey Heron hanging around camp now for the last two months.
Weather and Environment
We had incredible cold temperatures over the last few months. Most of the mornings and evenings were foggy and some mornings we even had mist rain in the camp. There is nothing as comfortable as a hot water bottle in the guests' beds and a hot cup of coffee/tea in the morning at wake-up.
Serra Cafema Camp update - September 08 Jump
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To begin on a sad note, Hartmann's Valley lost one of its most beloved residents during the night of 21 September, when a brown hyaena was run down by a car. Tragically, the hyaena was fatally wounded.
Good news however, is that Serra Cafema's guides have had three sightings of another brown hyaena, quite close to camp, since the incident.
Snake in the Cookie Jar
Instead of cookies, one of our cookie jars was used to temporarily house a massive puff adder for 24 hours!
The illegal alien was captured shortly after he had swum from the Angolan side of the Kunene River to our Namibian shores. Guests and staff watched the snake smoothly cross the river and eventually find a safe harbour at the shoreline where our boats are anchored, just below the main area deck.
Franco was asked to catch the snake, in order to relocate it to a more appropriate place, where it would not be a direct threat to guests and staff. The cookie jar it seemed was the most appropriate thing he could find for this!
The snake was released the next day, unharmed, back into the wild. Two guests, who acted as part of the team that accompanied the snake to the spot where it was released, were very impressed that they could be part of the release effort. Definitely a very different experience and not exactly expected for Serra Cafema guests!
Another interesting visitor was a black thick-tailed scorpion (Parabuthus transvalicus), one of the most venomous scorpions in Namibia, was found close to the camp on one of the walking paths.
Medusa is Launched
Louis Nortjie, Serra Cafema's concession manager, made his way to Serra Cafema at the beginning of September by road, so that he could deliver the much-anticipated new boat to the camp. Dragging the boat made the drive slow and tedious, but Louis did make it here after about three days of driving!
The boat was launched at a spot close to Schoemann's Camp, and in spite of the low levels of water in the river, the boat was brought safely to its new home at camp.
At the beginning of September, Louis, Volker and Klaus, descended on Serra Cafema. Their mission: to install the waterwheel at the rapids that lie adjacent to Room 8.
And what a spectacular mission it was. More than 10 men were rounded up on the day. The tricky part was to get the waterwheel close enough to the rapids in order to slide it, using logs and a lot of manpower, into the water. The Palmwag truck came in handy, as it lifted the waterwheel and its undercarriage towards the river. The men pushed and strained and the winch lifted, and finally the waterwheel was close enough for it to be pushed, with difficulty, into the river.
Although it took an entire afternoon to get the waterwheel into the river, it was not possible to complete the mission, as the current of water is not strong enough yet to shift the waterwheel into the correct position. Serra Cafema Camp and the waterwheel are now awaiting the next big rains to send water this way, which will enable the waterwheel to get into position and begin its work.
This is what Bronkie (Assistant Manager of Serra Cafema) had to say about the purpose of the waterwheel: "Our waterwheel generates three phases of 1000 volts which through various steps of conversion and transformation ends up as 60 volts used to charge our batteries. This is your basic system for trickle charge of batteries, which means (to the less technical inclined) that it charges batteries very slowly."
This initiative is a joint initiative with E-Power and Wilderness Safaris in their ongoing efforts to minimise their human footprint and to search for sustainable solutions.
Governors' Camp update - September 08 Jump
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September brought hot days (midday temperatures averaged 28 C) with cool mornings averaging around 17ºC. On the afternoon of the 22nd of September a heavy rainstorm with strong winds swept dramatically across the plains bringing many trees including lots of Warburgia (African greenheart) crashing down. The rest of the month brought a few rain showers and the grasslands are now drying with much of the savannah grasses eaten and trodden down by the huge herds of the wildebeest migration that have come through our area.
The wildebeest continued to cross the Mara River throughout September, with a huge crossing of around 100,000 individuals recorded at the start of the month. On the 28th there was a dramatic crossing when a large herd crossed back to the conservancy and ten animals were taken by crocodile. By the end of September many wildebeest had crossed over to the west, and good numbers could be seen on the Posse and Burangat Plains. Many Zebra can still be seen in the Musiara Marsh and Bila Shaka.
The resident families of Elephant are thriving and adding to their numbers as some family units have very young calves ranging in age from a few days old to a few weeks old. The families are often feeding within the Musiara marsh and Riverine woodlands of the Mara. Large Topi herds are gathered, grazing on the ridges and plains. Many of the Topi cows are heavily in calf and should be calving sometime within the next month. Small herds of Eland have also been reported out on the plains and the large resident breeding herd of Cape buffalo can be seen in the Bila Shaka and Rhino Ridge areas. Good numbers of Maasai Giraffe are resident within the Riverine woodlands of the Mara River often moving out to the acacia woodlands to supplement their diets.
Early in the month, the Warburgia trees were laden with fruit much to the delight of the resident troops of Olive Baboons who spent a lot of time feasting in the branches. In the early mornings and late evenings shy Bushbuck have been gathering in small groups with their calves in the clearings of the Riverine Forests.
Many Thompson and Grants Gazelles are grazing on the short grass plains. The Thompson Gazelle mothers have to be extra vigilant at this time of year as their many young fawns are easy prey for hungry Black-backed Jackals. Female Thomson Gazelles have a relatively short gestation of five and a half months, so in good times they can have two fawns in a little over a year.The short grass plains are also home to many warthogs, who are seen on their knees grazing with young piglets of 9-10 months old. The boars are mostly solitary but they will associate with females when in oestrus. Many of the sows are pregnant and should have their young in around a month’s time when the short rains arrive. The Wart Hogs are a delicacy for the lion, who frequently dig them out of their bolt holes.
The shorter grass has meant that Serval Cats have been seen more often, much to the delight of our guests. On two occasions in the early morning in September there were sightings of the African Wildcat in the longer grass areas around the marsh. The African Wildcat hunts grass rats, mice, insects and hares, so the fringes of the Marsh are a perfect hunting ground. The early mornings have also brought sightings of Aardwolves for some of our delighted guests. Aardwolves are like miniature striped hyenas, and have a specialised insectivorous diet which comprises mainly harvester termites. They can consume up to 200,000 insects a night. Being a specialised feeder their pre-molars and molars are just mere pegs yet they have a full set of incisors and canines which they use as weapons of defence. The Aardvark, or Ant Bear, seen above, also feeds on ants, but bears some resemblance to a pig, with a long tapering muzzle and pale, yellowish-grey sparsely haired body. It is almost exclusively nocturnal, and Darren Wood was lucky to spot the one he photographed above.
The Bila Shaka/Marsh pride of three males, three sub adult females, four breeding females and their nine cubs of varying ages have had a month of mixed fortunes. Early in September the young threemonth- old cub was tragically killed by a nervous buffalo. They have been hunting Ostrich, Zebra and Wildebeest, and on the 27th they killed a young one-month-old elephant at Bila Shaka provoking mixed reactions from clients and guides alike.
The Ridge/Paradise Pride, which is a large pride with eighteen members, has been making the most of the migration moving through their territory. The pride has often been seen feeding down at the wildebeest favoured crossing sites..
In July an extraordinary event took place: one of or resident cheetah, Shakira, gave birth to six cubs. With such a high infant mortality rate among cheetah, Shakira’s cub litter is really significant. We recognised the vulnerability of this little family and set about immediately to assist the Masai Mara Reserve Rangers to protect them. The Reserve rangers do not have enough vehicles at their disposal to monitor animals such as this cheetah, so we provided them with a vehicle and our former head guide who knows the Mara intimately and has a deep understanding of the ecosystem and its fragility. They established an exclusivity zone to protect the cheetahs and monitored their movements without interfering in their lives at all. This was done to ensure that we helped to give them the best possible chance of survival. Females normally give birth in cover and do not bring their young out until they are around a month old. Shakira proved herself to be a very active mother, hunting Thompson and Grants Gazelle successfully every second day. On the 16th of September tragedy struck and one of the cubs was killed by a buffalo. A second cub was missing after the incident with the buffalo but we are happy to report that the following day the little lost cub was reunited with Shakira, unharmed. She has been moving her cubs regularly finding perfect cover for them in thickets and gullies. On the 29th of September the family had a terrible fright when they were chased by a male lion and two female lionesses. In the ensuing panic the cubs were scattered but thankfully all were reunited later and none had come to any harm. We will keep you updated with Shakira and her family’s progress.
These wonderful photos are courtesy of Angela Scott of BBC Big Cat Live and Darren Wood, Thank you both.
The other cheetahs of the Musiara area of the Mara are also thriving. The nomadic males have been feeding well, their coalition of 2 and 3 giving them a tremendous strength in numbers
The leopards of our area are doing well. Kijana, the young male, has been moving about his territory around the marsh. The young female is often seen in the gullies on the edge of the plains areas, and earlier on in the month she had the remains of a Greater Bush Baby in an acacia tree. A shy male and female have been seen close to the crossing points, and a male and female estimated at eight months old have been seen often on the south side of the Talek River. The male is quite a lot bigger than the female and we think they are Bella’s offspring. Recent sightings of Bella, the magnificent female leopard whose family we have had the priviledge of following over the years, indicate that she is now beginning to show her age. We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
Governors’ Camp Kenya is delighted to welcome back for the tenth year the BBC Big Cat Diary Film Crew for one of the BBC Natural History Unit’s most ambitious live projects to date. The filming of Big Cat Diary will be broadcast live for viewing on BBC One, bbc.co.uk and CBeebies from Sunday 5th October to Sunday 12th October.
The Big Cat team has extensive experience from their many years of filming in this special corner of the Masai Mara Game Reserve. They will be monitoring the lion, leopard and cheetah families which are resident around the Camp and further afield, and sharing their fascinating lives and daily dramas with their viewers.
Neil Nightingale, Head of the BBC Natural History Unit, says: “Big Cat Live is the BBC’s most ambitious ever live international wildlife event. Audiences will be transported into the heart of wild Africa to experience the action in one of the world’s most dramatic wildlife locations, as it happens”.
To keep up to date with all the action log on now to http://www.bbc.co.uk/bigcat/, where you can receive field reports from the team, a daily news bulletin and watch live 24 hour webcams straight from the heart of the Masai Mara.
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