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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - April 09 Jump
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April was a rewarding month for everyone - plenty of holiday-makers and lots of sightings on and under the sea for all of us! Sharks were definitely high up on the list with no fewer than 13 sightings this month - they included whitetip and grey reef, blacktip, leopard and tiger sharks. An American group saw three different sharks in one day - grey reef, whitetip and a tiger shark. On top of all that they saw an 8m whale shark swim past on the sand at the edge of Yellowfin Reef - not bad for one day's diving!
Whale sharks in general were keen to get in on the act and eight of them came to pay us a visit during April; some lucky divers even got to see them whilst on a dive. Gareth Warner was pleased to finally get his chance to snorkel with one of these gentle giants after six years of diving with us at Rocktail! People often assume that whale sharks are only seen during our summer months, but last year there was a whale shark sighting every single month - so you never know what you might see! We noticed one particular whale shark had a large chunk missing from its tail, but it was very relaxed and divers on both our launches that day were able to snorkel with the whale shark, whilst it moved slowly through the water, happy to let us marvel at its size and observe how gracefully it moves through the water. We were in for a double treat as a pod of bottlenose dolphins swam in and seemed to be enjoying the company and laid-back swim with the whale shark as much as we were!
Michelle spotted the first tiger shark of the month whilst diving on Pineapple. A couple of the other divers spotted it too, so there was lots of excitement when everyone got back on the boat. Then at the end of the month, Ondyne and her group of divers dropped right onto a 4m tiger, at Aerial. Unfortunately it didn't hang around for long, swimming off into the blue.
There are so many fish about at the moment - a dive on Yellowfin in the middle of the month almost felt like we were in an aquarium - fish were everywhere. First we saw a hawksbill and then a green turtle, right after that a ribbontail ray swam past and a couple of blue spotted rays were hiding under a ledge just around the corner. There was also a juvenile clown triggerfish, eels aplenty, paperfish and a big school of humphead snapper out to sea with a grey reef shark coming in for a bit of the action at the end of the dive. All the while, all around us were fish facing into the current, awaiting their next meal.
A couple of days later on Pineapple we descended into a sea of electric blue fusiliers, baitfish behind them and then a big school of schooling coachmen swam in. And then Mrs Casper, our resident potato bass, came in low across the sand, as if she were a ghost, with Boris not far behind. At the end of the dive we had a couta join us on our safety stop.
Some of the more rare sightings this month were: a very fat stonefish (believed to be the most venomous fish in the world) found by Clive on Elusive along with a tiny ghost pipefish and Michelle spotted a blue lipped angelfish on Yellowfin and a greyspot guitarfish off Aerial. We are so privileged to have such an abundance of life on our reefs and to be surrounded by such beauty.
The clownfish have also been busy laying their eggs and we have seen a number of these hidden behind the sea anemones, affording them some protection from predators. Clownfish are also referred to as anemone fish, due to their symbiotic relationship with the sea anemone (they use the anemone for shelter and protection and in turn feed and oxygenate the anemone). We have noticed that their eggs change colour during the different stages of development - newly laid eggs are orange in colour but after 3-4 days this fades and you can actually see little clownfish eyes through their shells! Just before they are ready to hatch (6-8 days after fertilisation) the eggs change to a silvery/grey colour. During this time, the male guards the nest furiously and fans the eggs to keep them oxygenated. These fish are unusual in that they are protandrous hermaphrodites - meaning they have the ability to change their sex. If there is a pair of juvenile clownfish of the same species, the larger of the two will become female. Adult clownfish are able to change their sex as the need arises. The smaller one will always be the male. In larger groups of clown fish, there is a size-based hierarchy - the female being the biggest, then the breeding male, with the non-breeders getting progressively smaller.
But it's not all about the fish here at Rocktail and a African Fish-eagle took centre stage towards the end of the month. As Ondyne was driving down the beach towards island rock, there stood the Fish-eagle - right on the shoreline in front of the Land Cruiser. We stopped several metres from him and photos were taken while we quietly observed it, expecting it to fly off at any second. After a few minutes, we slowly moved forward then, when we were only a few metres away, it finally took flight only to land on the nearest dune to continue its watch of the sea. A big THANK-YOU goes to Jess Wall for the images used herewith.
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Ondyne
The Rocktail Dive Team
Pafuri Walking Trail Newsletter: 24-27 April 2009 Jump
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Day 1 (24 April, ~8km)
We arrived at Pafuri Camp around midday having flown up from Lanseria on one of the regular scheduled flights. The Limpopo River was spectacular from the air, as were the myriad pans along the floodplain adjacent to it. As we came in to land we spotted a buffalo herd and, having placed all our kit on the Land Rover, we immediately went to relocate the herd on foot. On the short drive we saw nyala, waterbuck, kudu, bushbuck, impala and chacma baboon just to give us a taste of what the area holds and then we set off on foot.
About 45 minutes, a tree squirrel and an impala herd later we found the tracks of the small herd of about 30 buffalo and followed them through some open mopane woodland to find them sleeping in the shade. We left them slumbering and then headed through some open acacia plains with several herds of zebra and impala, as well as our first warthogs, and came out at the spectacular lily-covered Reedbuck Vlei. As we sat and marvelled at the Spur-winged Goose flock, Black-winged Stilts, African Jacanas and other water birds (try as we might we couldn't locate the African Pygmy-Geese), four elephant bulls came down to drink, providing a great ending to the day.
Day 2 (25 April, ~14km):
Our morning walk took us along the Luvuvhu River for a little way in an unsuccessful search for hippo (they had moved from their usual deep pool) and then along a drainage system below a low ridge of hills. This area is covered in a dense forest of fever trees and the shade made walking very pleasant, as did the zebra, impala, nyala and warthogs encountered here.
Coming to the edge of the forest adjacent to Reedbuck Vlei we came across a small waterbuck herd and then skirted the southern side of this area through to Nwambi Pan where lion and buffalo tracks over the past couple of days indicated the popularity of the area as a drinking point. Having rested in the shade we headed off through acacia woodland only to spot an elephant bull moving towards us. We got the wind direction right and, noting his direct movements, made our way back to Nwambi Pan where we positioned ourselves across the water from him and watched him come to slake his thirst and enjoy a mud bath.
That afternoon, after a restful midday, in camp we walked only about 4km tracking a buffalo herd (finding only one lone bull) before heading back to camp. On our approach we noticed an elephant herd of about 27 animals moving calmly through the riverine forest in which the camp was situated. We sat quietly and watched from a distance as they slowly made their way right through camp. An amazing experience!
Day 3 (26 April, ~18km):
Heading out from our trails camp base early this morning we headed off across the Mangala-Hutwini floodplain in search of rhino tracks. We had hardly gone 300m from camp when we discovered the tracks of a bull, cow and calf and decided to follow them. The windy early morning made tracking difficult initially, but the further we went the clearer the tracks became and it looked like we would soon succeed.
We flushed a Bronze-winged Courser as we moved through some mopane scrub and had a small flock of Grey-headed Parrots fly overhead, but it was the low flying Tawny Eagle with a swollen crop that caught our attention. It had glided over from behind a low ridge and we decided to investigate.
We were rewarded for our curiosity with the fresh remains of a leopard kill and three soaring adult Bateleur eagles. We then headed westward in our quest for rhino. The tracks became more and more indistinct on the hard ground and we found our way blocked by two or three groups of scattered elephant bulls and decided to return to camp for brunch, flushing a Three-banded Courser en route as we inspected an old Red-billed Quelea colony. The 15km had exhausted us and the cool waters of the Luvuvhu River near camp were a real treat for tired and hot feet.
That afternoon we decided to explore further afield with the use of a vehicle and headed north to the Limpopo floodplain where our short walk took us across palm-studded plains (and two elephant bulls and a herd of eland as well as various plains game species) and through the lush riverine onto the banks of the Luvuvhu River looking onto Zimbabwe.
Day 4 (27 April):
On our last morning and because of an early departure back to Johannesburg we took the opportunity to relax in camp and enjoy the dawn chorus with our breakfast before heading back to Pafuri Camp. En route we heard about a lion sighting via the radio and we headed in to enjoy a close-up predator sighting (two lionesses that were panting from the fullness of their bellies; vultures descended nearby to enjoy the remnants of their kill) from the comfort of a vehicle. A great way to end our spectacular Pafuri sojourn.
Photos: Caroline Culbert
Kings Camp update - April 09 Jump
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Autumn has finally arrived in the lowveld as the morning temperatures drop down to between 14 and16 degrees Celsius. The temperature during the day is still warm with a daily temperature high of 26-29 degree Celsius. April is therefore one on the best months of the year to be in the bush.
It is also the start of the annual rutting season for the male impalas. As the males are seasonally territorial they start with an array of territorial displays that go on during the night.
Our resident clan of hyenas have been very vocal during the evenings much to the guests delight. Lion sightings have been good especially when the old Shobele male made a return to our area. Elephant sightings remain patchy, and we have to work hard in order to find these giants in the bush. Finally, Buffalo herds number 300-400 hundred at the moment and are abundant in our area due to the healthy state of the veld after the good summer rains.
Again it was the young Nkatheko leopardess that has made leopard sightings at Kings Camp one of best in the country. She is a jewel and never disappoints us with her relaxed attitude. She produced 20 great sightings during the month.
One morning we spent a good 2 hours looking for her and were just about to give up the hunt when she popped out of the wood work appearing on the dam wall whilst we were having coffee. I quickly urged the guests back into Land Rover and we proceeded to follow her for 45 minutes. During that time she climbed a number of trees and on one occasion sprinted towards a herd of impala to the delight of us all.
Nkatheko`s mother, Rockfig leopardess was seen a few times hunting for her demanding sub-adult daughter. Although I have to say that little Nkateko seems to have already acquired the necessary skills to reside on her own as an independent leopard. Mom still seems to supply her with the bulk of her nutritional needs.
The image below was captured during one of many attempts to get food. The image is Rockfig leopardess in a stalk mode. A stunning display of power and skill as she stalks a herd of impala in an open area in front of the vehicle. However her attempt was short lived as a troop on monkeys blew her cover and warned the impalas of her presence.
The Shobele male
Again it was the notorious Shobele male that took everyone by surprise this month as he suddenly like a ghost made an appearance. The old man is looking a bit frail, and he has lost a lot of body weight during the last few weeks.
Once one of the most powerful coalitions ever to roam Timbavati, this magnificent animal is near the end of his career. His dominance holds the record of more than 8 years with his brothers. His day-to-day movements have become a guessing game as he disappears for days on end with no signs of him at all. A real nomad.
One day he surprised us all when we discovered him feeding on a dead buffalo that he stole from a new coalition of 3 males. The young coalition of 3 males pirated the carcass from the Shobele 5 sub-adults, which the Shobele youngsters found first. Fortunately the Shobele youngsters had had time to feed before they were chased off the carcass by the young 3 male lions. The young team of 3 then fed for a few hours before the Shobele male arrived. This is where it gets interesting. Everyone thought that the young coalition would certainly chase or even kill the Shobele male. Well, let me reassure you that it did not happen. I personally watched the stand off on the first evening.
The 3 young males remained passive and submissive at every single movement the Shobele male made watching him intently. At one stage, one of the 3 young males threatened him with low growl but this attempt was not even noticed by the larger Shobele male. As old as he is, he still is deeply respected by other young male lions. The Shobele male ate for an hour and slept next to the carcass preventing the young males from feeding for a day. This old man is still as intimidating as he was several years ago, a true legend.
Buffalos and more buffalos at Kings Camp during the month of April… No shortage of bovines this month. More than 600 buffalo are roaming the woodland and savanna areas of Kings Camp. They are everywhere! A common strategy is to follow the herds during the late afternoon as they head to the nearest waterhole. It is an impressive sight to watch large herds drink and interact during the late afternoons. The presence of these large herds is bound to interest the lions and provide us with some exciting times to come. I have no doubt that we will see more predators prey interaction.
Take care from Patrick and the rest of the rangers and trackers.
Report By Patrick O’Brien. Head Ranger
Photography by Patrick O’Brien. email@example.com
Makalolo Plains update - April 09 Jump
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Another month, another newsletter! The Sefofane pilots have been spending quite a bit of time in the bush this month so here is their attempt at the Makalolo Plains newsletter. Enjoy.
Vegetation; Landscape and Weather
April. What does this month signify? As a pilot it generally means good weather (no rain!) and the start to another busy season of flying.
One can almost hear the mopane and teak trees crying out for one last drink to keep them going through the dry season. Preparations for the cold, dry months ahead are well underway. Leaves are beginning to change colour, the purple flowers on the teak trees have fallen and pods have developed in their place as the circle of life continues.
The road network, which a few months ago could have been referred to as a "river network" is once again displaying the characteristic Kalahari sand characteristic of Hwange. The ongoing battle between surface water and fast-drying sand now has a clear winner. Surrounding pans and waterholes are also fast succumbing to the thirsty atmosphere and pumping in the next couple of weeks is inevitable.
The maximum temperature recorded at Makalolo in April was 31.8ºC and lowest, a mere 8.4ºC. Winter is definitely arriving early this year! The mean monthly temperature worked out to19.5ºC.
Lions seem to be the flavour of the month! Having spent a few fun-filled days with the Lion Research Team, the most exciting wildlife experience this month was definitely a lion darting and collaring exercise.
The Lion Research Team was after a particular lioness belonging to the Junior Spice Pride which has been evading them on numerous occasions during the last few months. After a scenic drive to Ngweshla one morning this lioness, which we shall call 'Sporty Spice Junior', decided to please the members of the Lion Research Team by strolling down the road straight past the vehicles and providing a perfect darting opportunity.
After a short 20-minute wait Sporty Spice Junior was gone to the world and we could approach the 'queen' of beasts without any worry at all. The sheer size of these animals is just incredible and despite her being a relatively small lioness, we just had to stop and admire the magnificent design of these creatures.
After an injection of the reversal drug, a sleepy lioness eventually lifted her head. Apart from that she didn't move for the next couple of hours. A man-inflicted hangover?! All in all, it was a worthwhile experience and a job well done by the Lion Research Team.
Another elusive member of the cat family which has been visiting Makalolo Plains is a leopard. This particular visitor obviously felt more like a member of the staff and was spotted wandering amongst the staff housing. Evidence of its whereabouts on and around the boardwalks has also been noticed.
Birds and Birding
Birds, birds, birds! A pilot's nightmare! A Black-breasted Snake-Eagle was spotted soaring high above the plains on one particular day this month, a little too close for comfort and almost too late. Bird watching with a difference!
Ground Hornbills have been seen and heard around Makalolo Plains this month. There are just so many sounds and calls to wake up to in the morning but the deep booming duet of a breeding pair is without a doubt one of nature's better alarms.
Arrow-marked Babblers are another species which have taken up residence at Makalolo. They also produce a rather unique call in the early hours of the morning but unfortunately do not win my heart quite like the Ground Hornbills do!
"As usual, thank you Makalolo, for the great accommodation, warm showers (much needed) and all of your help in the field." Andy, Jo and Jane (Lion Research)
Little Makalolo update - April 09 Jump
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Winter is definitely here with a bang or should we say with a chill! Temperatures are dropping rapidly at night and mornings are taking longer to warm up. Nevertheless the warm fires in the mornings and at night keep our guests happy.
Vegetation, Landscape and Water
Despite the change in seasons the Hwange Concession continues to be beautiful. Although it is not quite as lush and the grass is getting brittle and shorter, this is only an added advantage to seeing wildlife and to take game walks.
Each season is very productive and offers an intriguing diversity of animals. There have been quite a number of leopard sightings. The leopard and large herds of elephant all are seen at the various pans quite often as natural waterholes are starting to dry up. The resident hyaena's spoor is seen almost every morning in and around camp.
Some highlights for this month include a cheetah sighting and a couple of leopard sightings spotted by Godfrey on the 17th and the 18th of April.
With the availability of water getting less and less, rhino movements are slightly predictable now as they normally seem to cover large areas. A rhino was spotted in front of camp on the 22nd of April at the Front Pan drinking water to his heart's content after it had carefully surveyed the area to make sure no one was around. A second rhino sighting was on the 24th of April at Twin Palms - he was drinking water at one of the natural pans.
Little Makalolo is home to noisy flocks of Arrow-marked Babblers, which are often seen at the front of camp. However this month their territory was threatened with the Long-tailed Shrike showing a bit of interest at the Bird Pan at the front. A total of 109 bird species were seen this month.
"The staff were superior to any safari experience. They are exceptional. Very knowledgeable and entertaining." Jim & Jen, USA
"Merci beaucoup! Thank you very much it is amazing experience for our entire family." Galibert Family, France.
Mfuwe Lodge update - April 09 Jump
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After the threatened flooding of late March, which mercifully bypassed Mfuwe Lodge, the dry season is now underway with just about perfect game viewing weather.
Daytime temperatures remain pleasantly warm with just a hint of the winter coolness creeping in at night and early mornings. This is probably one of the most "comfortable" times of year, and the most attractive, with crisp, clear air free of dust and the lush vegetation of the green season still with us. Food and water are in plentiful supply and the animals and birds make the most of this abundance. The game is noticeably well fed and healthy and young animals born throughout the rains are very much in evidence.
Whilst one might expect game viewing at this time of year to be less prolific due to the extensive water, dense vegetation, and limited road access, the wildlife sightings have been nothing short of spectacular.
Everyone wants to see predators in action and our guests were not disappointed with lions and leopards being see almost daily and wild dogs making several appearances during the month. The abundance of prey animals in the area has always guaranteed good carnivore populations, especially later in the dry season, but it would be hard to beat some of the sightings from the last month.
Three different lion prides have been regularly seen - one with young cubs. One pride has been identified as having moved down from an area much further north and has been responsible for several zebra kills in recent weeks. Members of our resident Mfuwe Pride have been seen, more than once, actually in the lodge grounds, or very close by, and guests are regularly given an early morning wake up call from the dominant pride male roaring in the cool air.
The number of leopards in the area has always been good, but judging from the amount of mating that has been witnessed recently we could be in for a "baby boom". At least three different mating pairs have been reported recently and guests treated to some unusual "action". The quality of sightings has also been excellent, with plenty of close-ups and long daytime sightings of some very relaxed individuals.
Two different packs of wild dogs have been seen regularly as they move in and out of the Mfuwe area. The increase in dog numbers in recent years is very exciting and our guides are working with researchers from "The African Wild Dog Conservation Trust" to monitor movement and numbers.
Elephant numbers appear to be very healthy with daily sightings of relaxed breeding herds. Many new youngsters add to the appeal at this time of year. The lodge grounds and lagoons are still visited regularly by our regular matriarch "Wonky Tusk" and her family, though the famous "indoor" visits take place later in the year.
Bird watching enthusiasts are more than satisfied at this time of year with many birds still in spectacular breeding plumage, and several rainy-season migrant visitors still in evidence. One recent highlight was an excellent sighting of a Palmnut Vulture, quite a rarity for the area.
Community & Conservation
Ongoing community based projects continue to flourish. Our sponsorship of two local schools and individual orphaned children is highly appreciated and a recent visit from local dignitaries emphasised the importance of our involvement.
In the past few weeks we have played host, several times, to the local "SEKA" theatre group who have performed their highly entertaining play highlighting wildlife conservation issues, whilst raising funds for community projects such as HIV awareness initiatives.
Earlier in the month two of our local Zambian guides returned from a sponsored visit to the UK, having benefited greatly from the experience.
We continue to work closely with Zambian Wildlife Authority officers, the South Luangwa Conservation Society and the African Wild Dog Conservation Trust.
"What an amazing experience! Brilliant service from beginning to end and the best guide we could have hoped for. The lions feeding on the warthog on our last night was one of many highlights we shall remember for ever." - EM & GN (UK)
"I have absolutely fallen in love with Zambia and African culture. As for the safari, it was an awesome end to a life changing experience" - SP (USA)
"I sit here and search for words that adequately describe what I have seen and heard in the last two days? and realize they don't exist!" - CB (USA)
"It was great?never took so many pictures in just two days. The elephants, leopards, lions, hippos, civets, baboons?but also the birds and scenery were amazing!" - CN (Netherlands)
Desert Rhino Camp update - April 09 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
It has been hot the most days with temperatures ranging from 30 to 36º Celsius during the days and at nights cooling down to around 24º Celsius. On the 1st and the 2nd, we had the last drops of rain amounting to 10mm.
Looking back on the past rainy season we had above average rain which has brought wonderful animal and bird life into the area.
On several occasions we spotted cheetah: once very close to Desert Rhino Camp where they made a springbok kill. It's a wonderful experience, sighting different cats in their natural environment. Mike, the maintenance guy, bringing supplies back from Palmwag, saw a leopard up in a tree with a zebra kill - that's a one in a million sighting and a very large prey item for a predator weighing on average 40kg!
The month of April was blessed with several lion sightings. We saw three different sightings of lions - all different and unique. This is unusual for Desert Rhino Camp as lions are generally quite nomadic through our area.
Gotlod, one of the guides, spotted a pride of eight lions on an oryx kill which afforded incredible views to all on the game drive vehicle. The Shackleton's lion pride has one cub at the moment and they had been spotted in the area but have now moved deeper into the mountainous areas. The cub is in very good condition as is its mother so we have high hopes for its survival.
On the rhino side of Desert Rhino Camp, Mathilda and her calf was seen which was amazing. Desire and her calf Deborah, Tensie, Teabag the young bull, Topnotch with her calf were all observed with the dedicated SRT trackers and camp guides. It's fascinating to see these different rhino in their natural environment. After the recent translocation of some of the Palmwag rhinos to neighbouring concessions the remaining animals have been a little edgy but now all is getting back to normal.
Other animals seen in big numbers include zebra, oryx, springbok, steenbok, kudu and giraffe. On one occasion we spotted an African wild cat - an animal mostly seen at night. A small spotted genet also visited the manager's house.
Dr Flip Stander of the Desert Lion Research Project was in the area recently. He was darting an old lioness which he estimated to be 17 years old. She is one of the oldest recorded lionesses - the queen mother of the entire north-western lion population. Dr Stander invited staff from Desert Rhino Camp and Palmwag Lodge to attend the collaring. She had amazing muscle tone and her teeth were still looking good for her age. Her weight was 140kg.
The 'queen mother' was with two of her daughters and their five cubs. The lions are very social animals - the daughters couldn't understand how or what had happened to their mother. One of them came and rubbed against her mother after she was darted and the cubs were very cute - they came over to where she lay unconscious and nipped and licked her as they showed their affection.
We helped Dr Flip with the whole process of gathering information, taking blood samples, checking the teeth condition, and other unusual things. After all was done the queen mother was carried into the shade. Sitting patiently under a big mopane tree waiting for her to wake up made me realise how much effort and time researchers like Dr Flip put into sitting and waiting and doing this alone most of the time. He is doing an amazing job.
Desert Rhino Camp is also about the smaller things - finding a Parabuthus scorpion or seeing a Namaqua chameleon all adds another dimension to your safaris here.
Palmwag Lodge update - April 09 Jump
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The busy season started at Palmwag over the Easter weekend. We served record numbers of meals again and the camp has been full to capacity. The warmer wind conditions off the escarpment prevailed and the beautiful fields of green grass have all turned to more winter colours of yellow and brown. Winter is certainly here and the temperatures are a lot cooler.
We had some amazing leopard sightings during April. During a sleepout, the guide spotted a leopard on the hill above the camp. It was lying on a rock, looking down on us and not fazed in the least. It just continued to lie there, grooming itself before eventually getting up and disappearing as leopards do.
We enjoyed two more sightings of these special cats. In the first there were two safari vehicles parked facing each other, watching the drama unfold. These pictures were kindly sent to us by Mr Hanstad. A couple of kudu were browsing in this area - they walked across the dirt road but their recently born kudu fawn crouched down in the tall grass in front of a euphorbia bush.
Meanwhile, across the road, a male leopard was also hidden in the grass, watching all this. It sat up as soon as the adult kudu were out of sight. The leopard then walked towards the road and proceeded to roll around on its back in full view of all the guests. It then crossed the road between the two vehicles and sat in the grass watching the bush where the kudu fawn was lying, only metres away. The next moment it just walked up to the fawn and grabbed it! The leopard killed the kudu and eventually dragged it behind a euphorbia bush, out of sight.
On another morning game drive, the guides spotted a lioness lying in the grass close to the side of the road. She was staring at something and when they stopped to look, it was a leopard sitting under a tree not too far away from her. The lioness got bored after a while, standing up and walked closer to the road. The leopard also got up, and followed in the lioness's footsteps until it reached the rock where she was originally lying. It kept staring at the lioness and eventually slunk off down the hill.
The most exciting event for Palmwag Lodge staff this month was joining Dr. Flip Stander on his lion collaring expeditions. Apart from fitting "new" lions with satellite tracking collars, we also re-collared the oldest free-ranging wild lion in Africa. She is almost seventeen years old and this is the fourth time she has been collared. We removed the old collar, as it has been around her neck for three years and the batteries had come to the end of their life.
Dr. Stander explained that the desert population of lion grows a lot older than lions in other parts of Africa. There are fewer parasites and less competition for space and food. Dr. Stander has been monitoring the desert lions for fifteen years now and has gained valuable insights as well as ecological information by following their movements and lives on a daily basis.
Birds & Birding
Arid birding continues to be wonderful here in the Palmwag Concession. A couple of Black Storks are still seen and we now regularly see four species of courser - Double-banded, Temminck's, the highly sought-after Burchells' and the uncommon (for us) Bronze-winged.
Doro Nawas Camp update - April 09 Jump
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The maximum temperature for April was 34º Celsius and the minimum between 15 and 18º Celsius during the night. As the winter is approaching, we have open skies with no rain and sunny conditions. Overall, simply picture-perfect weather.
Wildlife and Landscape
In our area we commonly encounter three different groups of desert-adapted elephants, in the Doro !Nawas Conservancy and towards Twyfelfontein: The Oscar Group, Rosy's Group and the Tuskless Group.
Oscar and Rosy's Group were seen reunited after three months in the Aba-Huab River along the Twyfelfontein campsite section of this ephemeral river. The greeting between the two groups was such an amazing experience with them rubbing their trunks against each other and making loud trumpeting sounds. Emotions were running high through all of us as we sat and watched. Usually before the rainy season these elephant groups move up the sides of the mountains and only move back to the Aba-Huab River in the dry season. We are honoured to have them back close to us.
A female cheetah with her cubs was also seen in the Abu-Huab River close to the Twyfelfontein Dam where they were trying to target some dainty steenbok antelope. Unfortunately they weren't successful with their attempted hunt.
The sandstone rocks at the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site are covered with more than just age-old San rock engravings and paintings. Colourful Namib rock agamas are often seen sunning on the rocks together with rock hyrax and many bird species. These agamas are sexually dimorphic - the males with bright red heads and the females with beautiful yellow faces. They are also restricted to Namibia and are active during the day. They can tolerate higher temperatures than most reptiles, but in the afternoon when temperatures reach around 38°C they will settle into the shade and wait for it to cool down.
The famous Welwitschia mirabilis plants which can be seen dotting the plains in front of Doro Nawas Camp are flowering at this time of the year after the rainy season. The female plants have beautiful cones which are opening up into beautiful flowers.
"Amazing lodge design! The Sunset Drive with our guide, Johann, was a rich and unforgettable event! We will come back!" - Budinsky, Switzerland
"Everything was excellent and Johann was a perfect guide, very friendly, kind and always doing the best for us." - Gervais, France
"The nature drive in search of elephant was excellent. Twyfelfontein was also very interesting. Ignasius is an excellent guide and very kind, with an excellent knowledge of the area, the wildlife, and Namibia in general. We feel that he loves his country." - Aouizerat, France
Managers and Guides
Coenie and Danize have been appointed as the new camp managers.
Photos by Isabelle Aouizerat de Vaugelas. Thank you for letting us use them in this month's newsletter.
Serra Cafema Camp update - April 09 Jump
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With the rest of Namibia looking very green and many rivers still flowing, it seemed that the North West was perhaps forgotten as the last of the rain that fell was around November / December. But this is not uncommon for this part of the world, with the average rainfall here being 20mm per annum. Last year we were very lucky with the amount of rain that fell over the Hartmann Valley area, so we were not surprised that we were late in receiving rain this year.
However 35mm of rain fell during a two-week period in April, transforming the surrounding areas into a beautiful soft new green carpet, with the fairy circles becoming particularly noticeable, tall silky grasses fringing the circles. These grasses have just secured their seed and are just waiting for the next rains.
The beautiful Hermania amabilis, endemic only to this area, is seen everywhere as normally their seed lies dormant until the slightest bit of rainfall arrives.
This month also saw a very high temperature on one occasion of up to as much as 42.5 degrees Celsius! It is becoming evident that things are changing though with the nights cooling down to as low as 20 degrees Celsius.
Since 2007, there was only a brief period in which we saw many of the Hartmann Valley antelope as generally they have been low in numbers. Since this last rain however, it is evident that they are returning in their numbers to the nearby surroundings once more. Countless springbok, both adults and very young lambs are seen pronking as guests admired them from the Land Rovers or quad bikes. This is a true testimony to the nutritious new vegetation growth in the area.
In the valley, dwarfed by the huge granite boulders and outcrops, the ostrich and their chicks are seen running at speeds of over 50km/h!
The Kunene sea of sand with its sparsely vegetated dunes also boasted its variety of little creatures such as Dancing White Lady Spiders, "Yellow cab" toktokkie beetles racing about and horned adders.
A little closer to home, just behind the camp, troops of baboon have been seen patrolling the mica schist hills with almost every adult female piggy backing or "belly lifting" her young. It would appear that for the moment they have taken up roosting in a gully just behind the camp, as late night babbling is often heard.
While breeding pairs of Egyptian Geese showed off their offspring for brief periods of time along the banks of the river, another female, a Nile Crocodile, was seen dashing over from one side of the narrow river channel to a nearby island, rather peculiar behaviour, but we believe proof that she is protecting her own little cluster of eggs.
In camp a really rather large puffadder was caught on the way to the staff quarters. It was then photographed and safely relocated to an area further away from camp.
Boating this month has been interesting with the river still relatively high, meaning that navigating further up the river is still possible. We have been doing some fishing and have caught a few big ones, including largemouth yellowfish, papermouth and straightfin barb.
The scorpion that you see in the photograph was found on the road one night and it is called Opistophthalmus wahlbergii. It burrows in consolidated sandy soils; in a soft substrate the burrow may be over a metre long.
Guest-wise we have hosted a few families this month with younger children. One young man in particular stands out. Ignaki from Paris drew us a very beautiful picture of his Serra Cafema experience. (see attached photograph) Thank you Ignaki!
In April we had a wonderful group of guests travelling together as the "Africa 6" and they were such a pleasure to host. They were very busy indeed, filling their three-night stay with sunrise bacon and eggs in the desert, a barbeque dinner out on the dunes, boating, walking, visiting the nearby Himba and of course taking the quads out.
"Sublime and breathtaking, Africa 6 was blown away by the combination of stark brutal beauty and total luxury. It was only made better by the attentive staff, great food and smiles. Thank you!"
Rene returned after his last visit in September 2007, this time for three nights and again it was great to host him. He wrote: "Unbelievable! There are no other words to qualify the stay in Serra Cafema - certainly the best place to stay in Namibia. Special thanks to the team and I will see you next year, only for much longer!"
Another one that really stands out:
"We spent a wonderful time in this beautiful place with an excellent guide. We learnt a lot about the sensible, sensitive ways of dealing with Himbas. We met Oma! We enjoyed the quads and the boat. Thank you for all these wonderful experiences!"
Little Ongava update - April 09 Jump
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We have been blessed with very good weather in April. Mornings have been nice and cool with a little bit of a breeze. Afternoon drives are getting a little bit cooler with the winter creeping up on us. You can smell the winter in the air and what a beautiful aroma, especially after the hot summer that Namibia has had. We were also surprised by about 20mm of rain the last week in April.
Wildlife and Landscape
Ongava Game Reserve has once again proved to be an amazing place for game viewing and that Namibia is not only about our beautiful landscapes, but also about getting very close to wildlife and giving visitors the ultimate African experience.
Our landscape has been changing, from completely green all around to yellow grass cover between the green mopane trees. Around camp we are finding that the purple pod trees are losing their leaves as we head into winter.
With the rainy season now behind us we are getting quite a few wildlife visitors returning to drink at our waterhole. Stompie's Lion Pride has been camping out at the waterhole for three consecutive nights. They simply move into the shade in the early mornings and return at night with full stomachs. Lions roaring close to camp have been the norm lately and quite exciting for us. Now that's what we call a proper African wake up call!
Guests have also had the opportunity of seeing both black and white rhino at the waterhole. This has been a big favourite for guests at night. Black rhino are shy but very temperamental, some nights even chasing the lions away, to have their own exclusive sip of water. We also enjoyed some sightings of cheetah on the reserve.
Birding on the reserve remains special. Apart from our usual specials and Namibian endemics we have enjoyed sightings of the stately Secretarybird, Kori Bustard and various colourful passerines like the Green-winged Pytilia.
The area we traverse in Etosha National Park has been blessed with the return elephants after a period of distinct absence. Big elephant herds have been seen already amongst various other general game species and lions.
'Little Ongava was my home from home; we were part of the family...' Roussel
'Not Little Ongava, but BIG PARADISE!' Repetti
Managers and Guides
Anthony Swartz is the newly appointed manager of the "Big Paradise". He took over from Colby and Laura who were doing a super job at Little Ongava. Thank you guys, hope to see you soon.
Michael from Ongava Lodge has been helping with the guiding while Gabriel was on leave and he has been doing a magnificent job. Guests enjoyed his knowledge and style of guiding.
Ongava Lodge update - April 09 Jump
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It looks like the rainy season is now behind us. The evenings and early morning are getting chilly and our afternoon drives are starting earlier than usual, as sunset is earlier these days. Temperatures have changed from a hot 34º Celsius to 19 - winter is well on its way.
Wildlife and Landscape
As we are now entering the drier winter months, the vegetation and seasonal depressions of water are starting to dry out. As a result the animals are starting to return to the camp waterholes in search of a drink. The added advantage at Ongava Lodge is the hide at the waterhole where photographers and nature lovers can while away the productive mid-day hours, game viewing. The evening activity at the waterhole is also starting to be more productive too.
It has been a while since we saw a journey of giraffe at the waterhole until recently when we saw 20. They came around sunset and, as usual, they took their time, looking around, just to make sure they were safe before they split those long legs of theirs to have a drink. We also had Stompie's Pride (lions) at the waterhole one morning - certainly not something that we see every day. This pride even entered camp and played around with the swimming pool cover, but managed to leave the cushions alone!
Two cheetahs were also seen at our waterhole in the morning and one again in the afternoon on the 15th. They drank fairly quickly before moving on.
The white rhino, Long Horn, was seen often out on drives on Ongava with her two calves. Our guides Kapona and Henock are doing several rhino tracking walks. They have done about 20 walks more than the previous month. The guests enjoyed it, and described it as very exciting.
Out on game drives into Etosha National Park, it looks like the elephants are starting to return to our main game drive areas from the eastern part of the Park, after an absence of about five months. Two bulls were seen by our guides in the Ombika and Okaukuejo areas of Etosha.
Two adult male lions feeding on a zebra were also on drives in Etosha Park and following our report on the aberrant coat patterns in the plains zebra in January 2008 (more details), it looks like this particular individual is still doing fine and has managed to survive any interest posed by hungry lions.
Ongava you are the Best of the Best!
The Ongava guides are very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.
Thank you to the whole team for this wonderful stay, very nice suites and thank you for the Easter surprise.
Ongava Tented Camp update - April 09 Jump
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Autumn is with us and we can feel it in the cool mornings followed by wonderfully mild temperatures throughout the day. The evenings are getting cooler and therefore our camp fire is becoming more popular in the evenings.
Wildlife and Landscape - Ongava Game Reserve
As the dry season sets in the camp waterhole getting rather busy as various animal species come to drink. Even Charlie, the local porcupine, is visiting camp again in the evenings.
Sightings of warthog, black rhino, lion, eland, kudu, black-faced impala, mountain and plains zebra are all the order of the day at the waterhole. Our favourite still is the big black rhino bull that currently graces us every evening with his presence.
Lions also visited us on a few occasions and caused much excitement (and action!) within Ongava Tented Camp. Guests savoured these moments and could not get enough of it. Nature walks in the cool mornings from Ongava Tented Camp are also popular and it is quite something to walk amongst the wildlife, experiencing many things that one cannot do from the confines of a vehicle. Giraffe, lion and white rhino were some of the thrilling sightings enjoyed on these walks.
Etosha National Park updates
Elephant sightings in Etosha are increasing in frequency as the dry season grows in strength and these monoliths and other animals are drawn to the waterholes on the western side of the Park. Sightings of lion kills and numerous other general game species were reported by guides during the month adding another element to game drives. The Etosha landscape is a wonderful complimentary experience to your stay on Ongava - highly recommended!
Damaraland Camp update - April 09 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
With the end of March and much of April being hot, we were all extremely grateful when temperatures finally started dropping and that trusty old westerly breeze started making its presence known in the afternoons. The highest recorded temperature was 39ºC. Much to everyone's surprise a few clouds gathered on the 1st of April and we were blessed with a few drops of rain.
After the large amount of rain Damaraland received during February (by Namibian standards anyway!), the drying bushman grass has now tinted the landscape with a soothing hue of gold, creating a feeling of warmth and distinct beauty when the afternoon breeze makes its way through from the coast and gently whispers its presence. This all sets the perfect scene for a romantic sundowner, and private dinner on the deck of your room.
Wildlife and Landscape
Towards the middle of April the desert-adapted elephants started returning to our area with the first of three herds moving back towards the Huab River from the north-east, and the second herd following a few days later. Apart from these herds, there have been a fair amount of sightings of solitary bulls both in the river beds and up in the mountains north-west of camp. At the start of the rainy season, these magnificent mammals move out of the riverbeds in a northern direction.
Guests Mckeon were extremely fortunate to spot a male cheetah during the start of their morning drive. They were barely five minutes out of camp when they spotted the gracious felid sitting on a hilltop lit by the first rays of sun at the break of dawn.
"Stunning scenery and tranquil environment" - Macleod Family.
"We've experienced paradise!" - Deneve.
"It has been a dream come true: lovely people and surroundings; extraordinary contrasts of the wonderful landscape, unfortunately we have to awake for reality" - Fournier.
"The Damaraland Camp chorus, the quiet surroundings, the view, the friendly staff" - Benecke.
Mumbo Island update - April 09 Jump
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Weather and Lake Conditions
Temperate, with occasional Mwera winds. Lake level very high.
Fauna and Flora
High summer - green and lush.
We are delighted to welcome our new Mumbo Island manager/hostess, Fawzia Munshi. Fawzia is Malawian by birth, but has travelled the world before coming home to spend time in one of her country's most beautiful destinations.
Guests on Mumbo Island can now enjoy our new lounge deck under the baobab tree. We use every closed season during the rainy months to improve our beautiful lodge and are delighted with our new deck. We have also re-thatched all the tent platforms on Mumbo Island so we are looking very brand-spanking gorgeous!
We have also expanded our boat fleet and have at last taken possession of the new big boat, named Feersum Endjinn (by Jurie, who can in fact spell, but in a burst of literary inspiration named the boat after an Iain M. Banks book of the same name).
A film crew from the BBC were the first to enjoy Feersum's comforts as they used it to launch their submersible camera in the first attempt to film the deep-water creatures of Lake Malawi. They are here for two weeks and have already spent many happy hours filming fishing crews on the lake at night and otters and water monitors on Mumbo Island. When they have all the footage they need, Feersum Endjinn will be used to ferry guests to Mumbo in comfort and style.
We are also reaching the final stages of building our catamaran in our beachside workshop. We will then be able to provide sailing trips to Mumbo, overnighting on the catamaran in one of Mumbo's secluded bays.
Governors' Camp update - April 09 Jump
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The rainy season is upon us and April brought warm mornings and humid afternoons with short rainstorms in the late afternoon and evenings. There is nothing quite like sleeping in a tent with the pitter-patter of rain falling on your roof! Morning temperatures of 18°C have given way to warm mid day temperatures of 32°C encouraging new growth and new life in the Mara ecosystem. The Musiara Marsh has filled with water and the surrounding plains are showing good signs of growth. We have had 2 film crews in camp this month recording the action and the drama of the Mara as it unfolds. The nightly rain showers and morning mists have caused wild mushrooms to sprout on elephant dung and given us some beautiful sunrises.
Photos courtesy of Alex Millar and Elaine James
The Marsh is now home to lots of catfish and they in turn have been drawing fish eagles in, who perch in the trees surrounding the Marsh and dive into the waters to catch their prey. The rain has also meant that there is abundant insect life around especially grasshoppers and this is keeping the birds well fed. Common Kestrels fly in large flocks over the plains hunting grasshoppers and mice. European White Storks and Cattle Egrets comb the fringes of the Marsh feeding on grasshoppers and frogs and Ground Hornbills are out on the plains feasting on frogs and grass snakes.
The new growth on the grasslands is drawing the families of elephant out from the forests. Large herds of elephant with up to 30 members of related family units with very young calves are feeding on the tender young shoots on the plains. There are a few males in Musth and two females were seen mated.
The resident giraffe are ever present within the Musiara area. Large numbers of them with many young calves in crèches are between the fringes of the forest and the camps. Within the woodland verges and the marsh there are Defassa Waterbuck with their young calves and breeding herds of Impala. On the edges of the forest, furtive bushbuck move between the shadows and groups of Olive Baboons comb the grasslands around the marsh looking for food.
Photos courtesy of Alex Millar
The resident warthog have also been busy mating. The boars have been sparring for females in oestrus, these males make a noticeable 'cluck' as they approach the oestrus sows.
Small bachelor herds of Grants Gazelle are resident in the grasslands near the forest and Cokes Hartebeest graze on the short grass flats near the marsh where there is an abundance of tender green grass shoots. There are good numbers of topi up on the ridges and high plains, these areas have high vantage points (often old termite mounds) that are used by both males and females. Males use these mounds to display the boundaries of their territory and the females use the mounds to alert others of danger. Territorial males have exclusive rights to the females. Males will mate when they are about fours of age and females will give birth when they are about two years old and the young will stay with their mother until the next calf is born.
The new growth in the grasslands has also been sustaining a large herd of Cape Buffalo with many young calves and a herd of resident eland. The new shoots of grass have also brought in large numbers of zebra and wildebeest with their calves, this is unusual as we normally expect to see the large herds of zebra and wildebeest arriving later on in the year.
During the warm midday hours the resident crocodile like to bask on Mara River banks and on the 28th of April there were a lot of large crocodiles basking in the midday sun. Crocodiles are 'ectothermic' or cold blooded and like many other species of reptiles they have to bask often with their mouths open to regulate their body temperatures.
Photos courtesy of Alex Millar
Family groups of hyena have been denning up on the ridges and there are lots of hyena cubs around at the moment. One den is home to 14 cubs from three different age groups.
On the feline front the Bila Shaka / Marsh Pride have been seen daily in the areas surrounding the marsh. For a few days in the month two of the females and three 4 month old cubs separated themselves from the rest of the pride and took up residence in grasslands near the entrance to Little Governors'. But the pride as a whole has been feeding well especially on zebra. This pride now numbers 14 individuals and towards the end of the month they were all re-united together with the two dominant pride males.
On the morning of the 17th of April a few members of the Paradise/Ridge pride crossed the Mara River at a point in the river where the water levels are lower and there are many rocks. These lion use this section of the River to regularly cross back and forth, particularly when the water levels have dropped.
The coalition of 6 male lions with "Notch" (the uncle to the 5 other young males) are resident on the high plains. They have been feeding off Buffalo and Hippo and together they make a formidable unit.
Photos courtesy of Alex Millar and Elaine James
The presence of a lot of hyena and baboons around the marsh has meant that the leopards have retreated back into the forest this month. However the resident female leopard whose territory covers the marsh and adjacent forest has been making her presence felt and we have had some lovely sightings of her and her son Kijana.
Shakira the female cheetah and her three ten month old female cubs have been faring well. She has been hunting on the short grass plains and river beds and the whole family has been feeding off Thompson and Grants Gazelles.
The three male cheetah brothers have been hunting impala, topi and wildebeest calves on the ridges and high plains and another single female cheetah has been hunting out on the plains.
Back in camp dragonflies flit across the surface of the Little Governors' marsh.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
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