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None this month.
Birding in the Linyanti
Location: DumaTau Camp, Linyanti Concession, Botswana
Date: 02-05 December 2009
Observer and Photographer: Martin Benadie
Botswana's Linyanti Region has to be one of the top birding spots in southern Africa - the tapestry of varied habitats and ecotones ensures for a diverse avifauna. While birding along the now-flowing Savute Channel (in itself a good excuse to visit the area as this watercourse last flowed in 1983!) we came across a perched adult Brown Snake-Eagle. Not dramatic or unusual in itself, but the scene that enfolded shortly thereafter certainly was! The snake-eagle was simply minding its own business and enjoying the warmth of the sun's early morning rays. Suddenly an entourage of irate, much smaller, Retz's Helmet-Shrikes arrived on the scene, intent on signalling the 'threat' and rebuffing the eagle.
While I had seen mobbing behaviour before, mainly where an inimitable Fork-tailed Drongo was involved, helmet-shrike mobbing was a first for me. The gregarious birds would make well-coordinated strikes on the raptor, actively alarm calling and bill snapping, with various members of the group joining in the assault. They hovered around the raptor making strikes at the eagle's head region. The raptor just took the blows, the only defence being to close its eyes on occasion and turn its head to soften the strikes. This went on for several minutes until the helmet-shrikes seemed to lose interest and disappear into the dense riverine woodland.
Birds do on occasion mob their predators, even when not directly threatened by them, and this helmet-shrike species is known to mob predators like snakes, owls, raptors, monkeys and small carnivores. This anti-predator behaviour serves to alert other prey species of the potential threat and is often communal with more and more bird species joining in the mobbing. As well as sometimes driving the predator away from the area (in which a prey species may be breeding or have vulnerable young), mobbing simply serves to announce the presence of a predator and rob it of the element of surprise and may even increase the risk to the predator itself by attracting a larger raptor.
Other phenomenal bird sightings enjoyed while based at DumaTau Camp included: Red-necked Falcon, Dickinson's Kestrel, several Yellow Wagtail, Collared Palm-Thrush (there are only a handful of records for the concession), and Arnott's Chat. We saw good numbers of Okavango specials along the Linyanti Marsh such as Chirping and Luapula Cisticolas, Slaty Egret, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Long-toed Lapwing and African Pygmy-Geese. In the camp at night the calls of African Wood-Owl and African Barred Owlet were heard while during the day it was a constant hive of activity with species like Black Cuckoo, Bennett's Woodpecker, Hartlaub's Babbler, African Mourning Dove, Broad-billed Roller and Heuglin's Robin.
Due to recent rains the seasonal pools in the mopane woodland were starting to fill with water attracting species like the uncommon Greater Painted-Snipe, Wattled Crane, migratory waders and various duck species including Comb Duck and Red-billed Teal. Away from the Marsh and Channel, where habitats are best described as Kalahari apple leaf woodland on deep, sandy soils a different bird community awaits the birder. Here we found loads of Fawn-coloured Larks, Coqui Francolin, Red-crested Korhaan, Southern White-crowned Shrike and Neddicky. A recent lion kill was being finished off by a hungry clan of spotted hyaenas with both White-backed and Hooded Vultures fighting for remains.
Unusual creatures at Ongava
Location: Ongava Lodge, Ongava Game Reserve, Etosha
Date: December 2009
Observer: Russel Friedman
Photographers: Russel Friedman and Martin Benadie
While on a recent trip to Ongava Game Reserve we stayed at Ongava Lodge which has excellent views down onto the camp waterhole. We were thrilled to have excellent sightings of a pride of lion as well as black and white rhino coming down to drink. We spent some time here getting great eye-level photos and enjoying the adrenalin of proximity to such mega-fauna. It was the little, often ignored, creatures that really thrilled us though and Ongava is a great place for these species.
Ubiquitous in camp are the rock hyraxes and dassie rats which provide great photographic opportunities and also some intimate wildlife encounters. The dassie rat is generally endemic to Namibia and is a large rodent whose distribution extends marginally into Angola to the north and South Africa in the south. It is able to thrive in very arid environments and, like the rock hyrax whose Afrikaans name (dassie) it borrows, it is found in association with rock habitats where monogamous pairs defend a home range.
Perhaps even more exciting for southern African mammal fanatics is the occurrence of the striped tree squirrel in camp. This species ranges mainly in more dense woodlands in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo and extends only marginally into far northern Namibia where it is best seen at Ongava.
Of course, while at Ongava we ventured into neighbouring Etosha National Park where we came across two different agama species that have tentatively been identified by reptile expert Johan Marais as the Etosha Agama (Agama etoshae) and Anchieta's Agama (Agama anchietae). Seeing the wide-ranging large Flap-necked Chameleon is also always a thrill. This enigmatic reptile is greatly feared by many African tribes and is the subject of much folklore. As a result they are often persecuted while in fact they are totally harmless.
18 cheetah sightings in 4 days!
Location: Kalahari Plains Camp, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Date: 13-16 December 2009
Observers: Diana du Cros & Kalahari Plains Camp guides
Photographers: Diana du Cros
Having carefully planned my African safari around the best areas for cheetah and leopard viewing, never - not even in my wildest dreams - could I have imagined I would have enjoyed no fewer than 18 cheetah sightings. These all took place in Botswana's enormous Central Kalahari Game Reserve while staying at Wilderness Safaris' new permanent camp: Kalahari Plains.
During our time here we explored the area around camp, a massive flat grassy pan, and also the renowned Deception Valley, destination of a number of day trips. During the summer months in the Kalahari, the chief prey species of the cheetah, the springbok, concentrates in large herds along the valley and pan floors feeding on new grass shoots and this is when cheetah viewing is at its best.
We quickly became familiar with several cheetah families - mothers with their dependent cubs - and encountered these on a regular basis. One sighting in particular was noteworthy however.
Driving around the 700-hectare pan located in front of camp, we came across a gathering of no less than five cheetah. This was something different to what we had encountered thus far. Something was up! Initially all five animals appeared adult and a great deal of aggressive interaction appeared to be happening.
Cheetah are asocial animals with females being solitary unless accompanied by cubs, and males seen singly unless members of a coalition. Such coalitions are usually two or three animals in number. Exceptions to these 'rules' occur when females are in oestrus and may attract males from more than one territory. At these times the female is usually alone, having reared her previous cubs to independence. It does occasionally occur that family groups of cheetah with the mother already in oestrus (or perhaps not) are encountered by a territorial male coalition.
After studying the photographs and discussing our observations, this is what my guide Tony and I believed happened. A mother, accompanied by two of her near adult offspring (identified by the ruff of mane or mantle on their necks), attracted the attention of two adult territorial males who proceeded to stamp their dominance on the family while investigating the sexual status of the mother.
As we watched, the mother mostly stayed in a sitting position while minor aggressive interaction occurred between the other animals, the younger males bearing the brunt of the encounter with much pouncing, attacking, hissing and snarling with raised hackles.
This interaction continued throughout the morning without abating until eventually the female appeared to tire of the fun and games and moved to the shade, leaving us to continue our Kalahari meanders with other amazing creatures like aardwolf, honey badgers and the charming bat-eared foxes.
Big Game for Christmas at Pafuri
Location: Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park
Date: 25 December 2009
Observer: Enos Mngomezulu & Meyer Family
Photographer: Nic Meyer
On Christmas Day this year, I took the Meyer family on an afternoon game drive. Within our first kilometre we were enjoying a sighting of an adult male lion close to the banks of the Luvuvhu River. He had just caught a young baboon - in fact, one of the guides had found him by responding to the frenzy of loud baboon and nyala barks, as these animals reacted in alarm to the sudden killing of one of their own.
We enjoyed this sighting for a while and then left when the large male headed into the shade with his prize, expecting to see him reunite with his pride after dark. As we moved along the northern banks of the Luvuvhu we saw a large crocodile high up on the banks of the river where she was incubating her eggs. We also came close to a couple of elephant bulls and then two consecutive breeding herds, all of which had been attracted to the waters of the river because of the heat of this day. This is pretty standard at Pafuri where elephant viewing during the dryer months of the year is very good. The vegetation in this area ranged from thick bush close to the river banks to idyllic park like lands with short green grass stretching below green barked fever trees, leadwoods and creeper draped jacklaberries. We were very surprised as we watched the second breeding herd however to notice no fewer than six white rhino grazing nearby. The rhino were in two groups of three and we gazed our fill before moving off for well-earned sundowners on what had been a hot but thrilling afternoon.
Nature wasn't done with us yet though. About two hundred metres from the rhino and elephant sighting, we spotted a female leopard about 20 metres from the road. While we viewed the leopard, an elephant bull in musth started approaching the vehicle. At the same time the leopard started moving along the road, and I reversed along the road keeping an eye on both animals. Over the next 15 minutes the elephant moved in between us and the leopard, sometimes obscuring our view, as he contemplated our vehicle. Eventually as we reversed to follow the leopard which was moving away from us, the elephant bull decided to pass and left us with our leopard. The leopard crossed the road behind us and started stalking some impala, at some stage being lost to our view in the undergrowth, allowing us to leave the sighting and move off to a safe spot to stretch our legs with a cold drink.
After sundowners we headed back to camp, it was now getting quite dark when we suddenly spotted one buffalo bull very close to the track we were moving along. To top it off we also saw a Pel's Fishing owl on a log profiled against the dark waters of the river. Only when we got back to camp and recalled all the sightings for the afternoon that had also included nyala, kudu, impala, vervet monkey, bushbuck, waterbuck and warthog did one of the youngsters in our group remark how fantastic it was to have seen so much on Christmas Day.
That was our Christmas present!
Fitting end to the decade at Tubu Tree Camp
Location: Tubu Tree Camp, Jao Concession, Okavango Delta
Date: December 09
Observers: Cathy and Martin Kays
Photographers: Cathy, Tiffany and Martin Kays
December 2009 was a fitting end to another decade with some fantastic game viewing at Tubu Tree Camp. General game has been burgeoning with the birth of many new young and the annual rains have added vibrancy to the landscape. Predators on the Jao Concession have also been far more visible too. Game drives have been very productive with excellent leopard sightings in particular. Our three male lion and cheetah have also been sighted frequently. Elephant have been plentiful in the area too.
Whilst on an afternoon drive on the 14th of December, we started where we had left off after the morning drive with the first sighting being of two resident leopard sub-adult cubs. They had made a kill in the early hours of that morning, and our first afternoon turn was to visit the scene again.
No sooner were we comfortable watching these two young leopards, when we were called to a cheetah sighting by one of the other guides - a mother with two sub-adults cubs. Not wanting to miss out on the more elusive cheetah sighting, we headed in the direction of the cheetah but admittedly the progress was hampered by other amazing sightings along the way like a small family group of elephants in a drying mud pool.
These elephant, with their youngsters frolicking in the water, could have provided us with long entertainment, but reluctantly we tore ourselves away to go and find the cheetah. These cats only visit the Jao Concession infrequently throughout the year staying for longer periods in the summer months so every opportunity is special. The cheetah were eventually found stalking a troop of baboons before wisely giving up when they were noticed and the large male sentries set off their loud alarm barks, alerting the troop to the possible danger.
After we had had our fair share of the cheetah we felt that we deserved a bit of champagne and a good sunset spot to celebrate! The Tubu Hide provided the perfect spot. Just after the sun had set, a lioness appeared from a small palm island and slowly strolled across the plain towards the hide. What a perfect way to end the afternoon!
Three months of exciting natural history records at North Island
Location: North Island, Seychelles
Date: 1 October - 31 December 2009
Observer: Greg Wepener, Elliott Mokhobo, Sheena Talma and Linda Vanherck
Photographers: Linda Wambach, Mike Myers
Over the last three months rainfall has been unusually late and discontinuous; October received 143mm and November only 117mm.The highest amount of rainfall was recorded in December (208mm), mostly due to the stormy weather conditions that the region experienced over an isolated five day period. These three months have received 300mm less rain than last year.
Hawksbill Turtles have continued emerging on our beaches for their annual nesting. From 1 October to 31 December, a total of 63 tracks were recorded, including 13 occasions where the female was spotted and egg laying could be confirmed. 6 Green Turtle tracks were also seen over the 3 months, but no nests were confirmed. Green as well as Hawksbill Turtle nests have successfully hatched, with delighted guests as onlookers with the island's Environment Team watchful as ever to ensure strict implementation of our "watch but do not touch" approach.
On the bird front, North Island has once again been visited by many of its regular migratory birds. Common Whimbrel and Ruddy Turnstone were once again a regular sight on the beaches as well as the grassy areas of the plateau. Numbers of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (still 3 to 4 spotted until December), however, remained far less spectacular than last year. Amur Falcons were also seen in November and early December on their cross-ocean migration from Asia to Africa. Unfortunately, they were only seen once or twice at a distance and the environment team was unable to work out sex or age. Other delightful "returnees" in limited numbers were Common Cuckoo that stayed right through to the New Year, giving us an initial headache over the exact species identification due to their very shy behaviour. We therefore had to eventually revert to enlarging photos and relying on Adrian Skerrett and Gerard Rocamora's kind expert assistance for confirmation of species. Other migrants spotted were small mixed foraging flocks of Lesser Sand Plover and Sanderling on the beach, a few Common Sandpiper and Red-throated Pipit, and a few Common Terns. Rarer vagrants were a Grey Wagtail and an exhausted Common Pratincole (species identifications confirmed by the Seychelles Birds Records Committee. The Common Pratincole has only been recorded 11 times in the Seychelles, with our observation being the earliest arrival date). Fortunately there have been no recordings of any of the migratory birds that have died due to exhaustion or starvation (unlike last year, when a large number of Amur Falcons did not make it for their onward trip).
As for the resident birds, breeding was seen in our Seychelles Blue Pigeons (two nests spotted but too high to closely monitor) and Green-backed Herons (as usual nests occurred in the guava trees bordering the marsh), whilst two previous nest sites were re-used by White-tailed Tropicbirds. Most important, however, is the continued breeding success of the Seychelles White-eyes introduced in July 2007. We are planning a census of our growing population in February 2010.
After the release of our first batch of baby Aldabra Giant Tortoises found on the plateau in 2005 and 2006 and subsequently kept in a pen, we were delighted to find two new tiny tortoises again, this time on the western side of the island, where seven tortoises (originating from Anonyme Island) had been released in March 2007.
Together with the bright and abundant Phelsuma geckos and also the Seychelles Skinks, two more Brahminy Blind Snakes were spotted - no worries about these lovely, tiny creatures scaring guests on walks; they are so small!
Green turtle hatchling hastily retreating to the sea after successfully hatching on the guest beach.
White-tailed Tropicbird on nest
Exciting record of Common Pratincole for North Island
Release of baby tortoises with North Island visitors
Baby Aldabra Giant Tortoise found at West Beach
Electric-green Phelsuma geckos are common on the Island
Lions of the Savute Channel
Location: Savuti Camp, Linyanti Concession, Botswana
Date: 20 December 2009
Observers: James Weis, Nicky Glover and Sefo Oganeditse
Photographer: James Weis
On a recent visit to Savuti Camp in northern Botswana, we were fortunate to spend an afternoon with a pride of lions that resides along the now-flowing Savute Channel. This sighting demonstrates the dynamic nature of this region and specifically, some of the effects that the "new" water has on the animals living here.
The Savute Channel, which connects the Linyanti River on Botswana's northern border with the Savute Marsh in the Chobe National Park some 60 kilometers away, only began filling with water again in 2008. Before that time, it last flowed from 1967 to 1981 and so until recently, the resident animals here only experienced this Channel as dry grassland. However, this cycle of wet and dry is a phenomenon that has occurred on and off here over the centuries.
We encountered the lions, alternately known as the Selinda Pride or the DumaTau Pride and consisting of five adult lionesses and three young cubs, all of which belonged to one of the females, in the late afternoon - just when the light was turning to the gold hues that sets the tone for some amazing wildlife images.
The pride had just begun to move again after waiting out the 90? F heat of the day and we followed them, enjoying the playful antics of the little cubs, which were clearly anxious to start moving again after a long uneventful day.
The lionesses appeared hungry and we were hoping for an opportunity to observe them hunting. We kept a respectful distance as we followed, in case they encountered impala or warthog, both of which species we had passed on our way to the lions a short time earlier. However, the lions never encountered anything to hunt, so we spent our time watching and photographing the cubs as the females walked through the bush and along the sand road leading to the Savute Channel a short distance away.
As the lions reached the main transit road, they turned toward the Savute Channel, which now covers this track in the sand for some 70 meters or so, with a small island in the middle. The water in the Channel is now deep enough in many spots to sustain pods of hippo and we have seen numerous crocodile, some of them quite large all along the length of the Channel.
On previous visits since the arrival of the "new" water, we have seen lion, cheetah, wild dog, hyaena, zebra, impala, giraffe, ostrich, kudu and various other animals crossing the water of the Channel and it is not an uncommon occurrence. However, with the arrival of hippo and especially crocodile further and further down the Channel, it has now become far riskier for the animals that dare to swim across and I suspect that some are having near escapes or are even losing their lives doing so.
The lions stood on the bank of the Channel and drank from the fresh, clean water and the four lionesses without cubs gazed intently at the opposite bank. These four seemed very keen to cross to the other side of the Channel and we worried that the female with cubs would try to follow with her little babies. The crossing in this location is not deep enough to force adult lions to swim a long distance, but for the small cubs, this would be an extremely strenuous swim and full of potential danger.
As we watched, the four other lionesses all waded into the Channel and the female with cubs followed a short way into the water as well, her cubs battling through the reeds and fighting to keep their heads above water as they tried valiantly to keep alongside of their mom. Suddenly, one of the cubs slipped completely under the water and his mother had to quickly reach in to fish him out with her jaws. The poor little guy looked like a wet rag as he dangled limply in his mother's mouth.
It was now becoming a bit stressful to watch the unfolding drama and we all hoped that the mother would not force her cubs to follow the other lions, which had now begun crossing the Channel in earnest. We spent some tense moments watching her as she called forlornly to her pride sisters and we could see that she was torn between her desire to stay with her pride and her instincts to protect her cubs from danger.
As the four lionesses reached the far bank and shook off the water, the female with cubs continued to watch and call to them, but they strode off into the trees and out of sight. Long moments passed as we nervously watched her now in silence as the light faded and her cubs shivered in the shallow water.
Finally she made her decision: she turned around and led her cubs back to the dry and sandy road beside our vehicle. We were all very relieved and happy to see that she had made what we felt was the "right" decision and we left them playing with their mother happily as dusk turned to darkness.
The flowing Savute Channel has obviously changed the lives of all the animals that live in this area. This pride of lions has its territory on both sides of what was once open grassland, but is now split by a flowing river. The act of simply traversing across their territory now poses new and potentially life-altering dangers.
Leopard lair intimacy at Zarafa
Location: Zarafa Camp, Selinda Concession, Botswana
Date: 20 December 2009
Observers: James Weis, Nicky Glover and Foster Gabatsholwe
Photographer: James Weis
During our December visit to Zarafa Camp in northern Botswana's Selinda Concession, Nicky and I enjoyed superb game viewing, both on game drives and from the boat. This area is so productive during Botswana's summer months, with the lush green landscapes, the abundant baby animals and the dramatic skies that it makes one pause often at the grandeur of it all.
Our best sighting however was that of two three-week-old leopard cubs, hidden by their mother in a den under a fallen tree. It is not often that one has a chance to see leopard cubs in the wild and this was our first chance to see kittens this young.
As we approached the den site, we were very quiet and saw the two young cubs in the shadows at the back of the den. However, we could not see the female leopard anywhere and so we decided to leave the area, as we did not wish to attract any attention to the unprotected cubs. But just as we were turning the vehicle around to leave, Foster noticed some movement in the bush to the side of our vehicle?
Moments later, a gorgeous female leopard emerged from the fever-berry bushes and silently moved toward the den. It was the mother of the cubs, returning from an absence that may have been a day or more. Female leopards spend only about half their time with cubs at this age, as they must hunt to provide the cubs with milk and so we were doubly lucky to now have the female return while we were present.
This female leopard is well known to the guides here and she is quite used to being around game drive vehicles and is very relaxed. Foster calmly assured us that we were not causing her any stress by being at the den. This was quite clear as she passed within two metres of our vehicle en route to her cubs, whilst barely casting us a glance.
What followed was a pleasure to watch, as the purring cubs were greeted with nuzzling and licking from their mom. She lay down almost immediately so that the cubs could suckle.
After feeding for perhaps five minutes, the little cubs were full and ready for more affection and they proceeded to clamber all over mom's head and shoulders. With fat tummies, they soon tired and fell asleep under their mother's chin and all three were soon dozing peacefully. This is how we left them; what a privilege to have witnessed this.
Life for a baby leopard is extremely tenuous at this age, as they are completely reliant on their mother for sustenance and protection. The cubs will only venture from hiding at about six weeks and then only to make short excursions with their mother, as they are still extremely vulnerable. At this time they also start to eat meat. Weaning occurs at around three months, but they will stay with their mother for over a year before they are ready to fend for themselves.
Leopards will often move their cubs to a new hiding place, especially at this early stage, and in fact were seen a week later at a new den site - a burrow dug into the side of a termite mound. If all goes well, then perhaps future visitors to Zarafa Camp will have a chance to see these leopards as they grow.
None this month.
North Island Update - December 09 Jump
to North Island
"The allure of the turquoise-blue colour of the water has been almost as inspiringly intoxicating as the gently mesmerising swish of the ocean onto the fine, soft, speckled white sands - a scene of true natural perfection where even the randomly scattered, sand polished cowrie shells seem to have been carefully positioned by the skills of an artist..." The conditions at the beginning of the month inspired sentences such as these - but it was short-lived. The sea soon became extremely rough and even warranted the return of the transfer boat to Mahe on one of the days due to the large swells and strong north-westerly winds. Such is the nature of the moods of the island - as unpredictable and as varied as the flight path of a schizophrenic bumble bee.
A spin-off from the adverse conditions was that after the winds had settled (to some extent), there remained a perfectly formed swell on the main beach which quickly became popular with both budding body boarders and seasoned surfers. The waters at Petit Anse have calmed this month, providing a small left- and right-hand break on either side of the channel, offering up further body boarding opportunities.
As is expected at this time of year, we have been unable to catch even a glimpse of the towering peaks of Silhouette Island for some time now. The dramatic topography of this island results in the formation of large cumulus clouds that exist throughout the summer months - adding to the already mysterious nature of the island.
The sand in front of the restaurant and dive centre has returned rather quickly forming a prominent lip some 25 metres off the main beach, and the sand at Villa 11 is now rapidly disappearing. Unfortunately, particularly rough sea conditions around the 20th removed most of the sand from the northern side of Honeymoon Beach, leaving the steps completely exposed - a wide stretch of rounded boulders now constituting the first section of the beach. The level of the sand at the back of the beach dropped by over a metre, but the sands that are slowly migrating south should cover these rocks within a few weeks.
The summer rains have finally arrived - very late. We are almost 600mm behind what we had received by this time last year. Most of the rains fell overnight, leaving the days clear. However, as I write this, a heavy downpour arrived just in time to soak the carefully arranged beach towels on the sun loungers in front of the piazza - a gentle reminder that we don't make the rules here, but are privileged enough to be able to play a few rounds from time to time.
The inquisitive pair of large round ribbon-tail rays that were spotted off the main beach last month (and mentioned in our newsletter), have remained here throughout December. They have occasionally been spotted close to the shore but have predominantly remained in slightly deeper water around the outer moorings - if they are still around next month we will have to give them names.
Again, the exuberant leaping of the spotted eagle rays has been witnessed repeatedly throughout the month - the reason for these random bursts of flight are as yet unknown, but we like to think they are merely careless leaps of reckless abandon, without any biological imperative at all.
Large, almost military precision-like formations of densely packed hardy-head silversides have been present throughout the month, on both the main beach in front of the restaurant and at Petit Anse. The ingenious schooling characteristics of these sprats perfectly resemble the tidal gatherings of the sargassum seaweed, making them almost impossible to identify without wading into the water to take a closer look. The only disclosure of their camouflage is a perfectly executed parting of the school as a predator swims through.
There have been numerous sightings of hawksbill turtles on most of our dives - especially on Coral Gardens and Twin Anchors, which have managed to produce the most number of sightings.
The turtles have also been frequently spotted around Aquarium, which is one of the reasons why Aquarium has continued to be a favourite snorkelling spot this past month. It also offered up several sightings of the grey reef sharks, as well as large schools of lunar fusiliers and yellow snappers, which swirl aimlessly over the boulders like autumn leaves caught in a lazy afternoon breeze. The activity on this small reef has been phenomenal and has been particularly popular during the strong north-westerly winds as it is in the lee of the island and is mostly protected.
Another fantastic snorkelling location this month has been on the northern reaches of Silhouette Island, close to Anse Mordon. Here, although the water conditions were sometimes extremely rough, the visibility has been crystal clear and the marine life prolific. Of particular interest, as in other places around this area of the island, is the rate at which the coral here has regrown after the coral bleaching episode of 1998 - we will continue to monitor these areas with great interest.
Kings Pool Camp update - December 09 Jump
to Kings Pool Camp
The rainy season is in full swing and we have experienced a lot of thunderstorms and rain this month. Spectacular lighting displays over the Linyanti Marsh could be seen from the dinner table. The bush around camp is a lush green paradise at the moment - the colours are almost unreal, and the clouds provide an incredible canvas for the sunsets, which are painted with pinks and purples.
We have had some great game sightings in December, despite it being the rainy season. Vast herds of elephant are still emerging from the woodlands to frolic on the floodplain. General game species have been abundant and most herbivores are giving birth to young. Daily we see giraffe, kudu, warthog, impala, hippo and waterbuck on game drive.
Predator sightings have also been very good, and we've had numerous encounters with wild dog this month. It has been very exciting to watch them take down baby impala near the camp on a few occasions. Leopard have also been spotted in the mopane woodland. Their territories have altered from the dry season, expanding into the mopane woodland as water and food is more readily available there. Lion have been scarce around Kings Pool, but are seen frequently along the Savute Channel.
The birding has been out of this world this month! December is definitely peak season. Waterbirds are around every corner along the river, and raptors are permanently on the hunt with the abundance of food available.
Children in the Wilderness
We were fortunate to be able to host Children in the Wilderness this month. We closed Kings Pool for two weeks and brought 64 children in two groups into camp for a week of fun and education. Our first group of kids were from the Maun area and the second from the Okavango Community Trust. We had an unbelievable time with them and as always it was a little heartbreaking to say goodbye.
Management: Nick Leuenberger and Kerry Croll
Guides: Moses Teko, Kahn Gouwe and Diye Goetsemang
We had an great Christmas and a fabulous New Year's Eve and we hope you all have a great 2010.
DumaTau Camp update - December 09 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
As the rainy season continues, the foliage has started growing tenfold. It's hard to believe this lush green area was dry and dusty only two months ago. The combination of the lushness and the rain that has fallen in the past month makes the air hot and humid. The cloudy skies render the sunsets even more breathtaking than usual, which is a blessing for photographers (both those with experience and those still getting the hang of things).
December has been a month of plenty - full of babies great and small: from a week-old elephant calf, to tiny, spindly impala whose first steps have to be fast in order not to be at the back of the race against predation that its life becomes. Lion, leopard and wild dog have been sighted often in spite of the thicker and greener surroundings. The Mantshwe Boys (cheetah brothers) spent much of the month on the open ground of the DumaTau airstrip, making the guest welcomes and farewells rather exciting on the days they chose to show to appear!
Wildebeest, zebra and elephant are normally mostly absent during the summer months as they migrate towards the rain-filled pans, but this year they have stayed around for a bit longer.
One lioness from the DumaTau Pride has split from the other four females and has decided that our camp is a cool place to hang out. We believe she has two youngsters with her. Despite her hiding them in the maze of Linyanti thickets, a lucky few have had sneak peeks of the cubs. Hopefully as they grow older we will see more of them.
One evening a stunning male leopard decided to grace us with his presence and wandered past the kitchen, down the path and through the car park, ever so casually, while guests were having dinner. He allowed us only a brief sighting before he disappeared, equally as casually.
All in all, it has been an exhilarating month game-wise.
We have had an abundance of birds this month, with the summer visitors and migrants arriving again in this paradise of plenty. The Woodland Kingfisher's call, although a little too early and rather bright, make the mornings more worthwhile.
Amongst the special sightings were a Slaty Egret and Painted Snipe. Residents of Room 6 have a neighbour - a wide-eyed juvenile Wood Owl! (All pictured.)
"On our last night you provided private dining facilities for us - your thoughtfulness and consideration will be remembered always. The DumaTau team are to be congratulated."
"Everything was wonderful; exceptional and friendly staff; great vehicles; guides and wonderful evening drinks on the trail."
"The highlight was leopard and lion kills. But every drive was excellent and thrilling. Lazi is a wonderful guide - knowledgeable, personable and skilled. A very happy stay and special Christmas day. A warm and friendly atmosphere produced by all the staff."
"Everything was a highlight. Many thanks to the DumaTau crew for the special bush sundowner surprise to celebrate our 31st anniversary - most memorable."
Management: Cliff from Chitabe and Terri from Savuti started at DumaTau this month, joining Karen, Lizzy and Tuelo, who is coming to the end of his management training.
Guides: Ollie will be moving to Vumbura Plains and Lazarus, from Little Vumbura, will be filling his shoes. Moses, no longer a training guide, is now proudly a fully-fledged member of the DumaTau guiding team. The other guides in camp over December were Name, Lazi, Mocks and Bobby.
Thanks to Martin Benadie for all images.
Savuti Camp update - December 09 Jump
to Savuti Camp
Zarafa Camp update - December 09 Jump
to Zarafa Camp
While December started wet and soggy, with 50mm rain in the first week, the rest of the month was very dry and temperatures regularly rose above 40°C (104°F). A couple of cloudy days gave us hope that rain was imminent, but none fell until the end of the month.
With the dry weather, elephant sightings have been tremendous with large herds moving back out of the mopane woodlands and congregating along the banks of the lagoon.
The most exciting event of the month was the birth of two leopard cubs. Our resident female leopard, Amber, whom we had not seen in a long while and we suspected was pregnant, gave birth to two cubs at the beginning of the month. They were first seen on the 13th after we followed her from island to island for about three hours. She led us to her two cubs, which she had hidden among the roots of a fallen acacia. Their eyes were still closed while they pawed at her and suckled. About ten days later, as soon as the little cubs' eyes were open, she moved from that site and has found a new safe home for them. We've not seen her or the cubs since they moved.
The wild dog continue to make surprise appearances when we least expect it. One day, after congregating in the lounge for tea to avoid a huge dust storm and some rain, we had decided that a drive would be a bad option and that we should rather stay in camp and remain dry. Just as everyone was heading back to their rooms, the dogs ran past and up the driveway. As there were no vehicles around, we headed off on foot to follow them. We followed for about 200m before we lost sight of them in the thick bush. We found them the following morning, lazing under some feverberries along the treeline, resting after a busy night of hunting.
The antelope babies that were born over a month ago are growing up rapidly and finding their feet in their herds. There are still lots of young impala, wildebeest and tsessebe and even the warthog are surviving very well.
The HMS Zibadianja, our new pontoon boat, is beginning to take shape and has been on a couple of test trips. She is not quite ready to take guests yet, but will hopefully be ready by the end of January for her maiden voyage. With her complete canvas roof and teak sleeper deck, we'll be able to explore the lagoon and the islands which have been created with the rising water levels and enjoy the good fishing that the lagoon offers. Many of the islands have been cut off since the water rose and flooded the access roads. Now we'll be able to explore and walk on islands that have not had a human footstep on them in over five years.
From a festive Zarafa Camp on the Zibadianja Lagoon, we wish everyone a successful and healthy 2010.
Stu, Tess, Comeford and the Zarafa Team
Selinda Camp update - December 09 Jump
to Selinda Camp
Weather and Landscape
The month of December has been an odd one as far as weather goes - with very little rain having fallen for this time of the year. Luckily that has not stopped the amazing sightings our guests have had.
Now is the season for wild mushrooms and, as the saying goes "if you snooze you lose". I discovered eight mushrooms which had pushed through the concrete-like soil of a nearby termite mound one evening after dinner and was looking forward to picking and eating them the following morning. I woke up early to ensure our guests' game drive started smoothly and then saw that the mushrooms needed three more hours to spread their umbrellas and become perfect for picking. I was dreaming about drizzling them with garlic and just a hint of lemon juice as I went to check on them a couple of hours later, only to discover, much to my disgust, that I'd been beaten to the feast by the local troop of primates! Oh well - I only have to wait a year for there to be more...
Elephant have been abundant on our northern border, in the area known as the Makoba - which is also home to lots of zebra, wildebeest and impala thanks to the couch grass. The depression close to our abandoned walking trails camp has filled up with water from the flood water and makes for amazing sightings of lechwe and other grazers, not to mention birds. The Spillway has seen an increase in hippo activity, especially around Selinda Camp where two bulls have decided that they both need the camp within their territory. This means that one has to be wary when walking guests to their tents at night.
The wild dog have been very active this month, and have had a considerable impact on the young impala numbers - which has resulted in great sightings. The two packs (one of six which operates between ourselves and Kwando; and one of six adults and seven pups) are in great condition and seem to be doing well. We are all hoping that they will settle on the concession making the area even better than it is now.
There are elephant calves a-plenty around, making game-drives a little nerve-wracking. One minute you are happily driving through large "empty" thickets and the next you are face to face with an annoyed mother elephant and the rest of her breeding herd. They seem to be settling down a lot more now as there is a large amount of food available.
Lion activity has been on the increase for some reason, especially on the northern boundary area. Two young males and a heavily pregnant female have been roaming the area which will hopefully result in Selinda once again having an established lion pride. We wait with bated breath...
Our resident female crocodile, who spent a long time guarding her nest from nest robbers, has moved off now that her brood has hatched successfully. On investigation of the nest, which was done ever-so-carefully, it was observed that not more than a handful of eggs were laid, some of which didn't survive and hadn't hatched. This is nevertheless a good sign that things are improving after a year of bad drought.
Camps Update - December 09
Lagoon camp Jump
• The Lagoon pack of Wild Dogs has been very active this month, being seen several times on different game drive roads. On one such occasion the Dogs were followed hunting Impala close to the 2009 den site. The hunt was a success before some marauding Spotted Hyenas challenged them for the scraps and took away a tasty morsel for breakfast.
• There was an exciting Leopard sighting away to the north of the airstrip recently. A party of guests and guides noticed a commotion early one morning and driving up to the clouds of smoke found a female Leopard climbing a tree with a baby Wildebeest in its jaws. Towards the woodland the helpless mother looked on in bewilderment before scampering to safety.
• Elsewhere, the three brother Cheetahs are a frequent sighting, usually to the North and despite the scattered rains large numbers of plains game, Elephants and Buffalos can still be found in the area.
• Evening boat cruises are not for the faint of heart at the moment as the Kwando Channel reaches its lowest level of the year and is crowded by angry Hippos desperate to remain in deeper waters. Once the Hippos have been negotiated however the summer skies provide a dramatic array of coloured clouds to enjoy while sipping on your Gin and Tonics.
Kwara & Little Kwara camps Jump
& Little Kwara camps
• Game has been pumping this December at Kwara and Little Kwara.
• The seven male Lions have moved further east towards the camp and have been a common sight in recent weeks. They pulled down a Giraffe for Christmas lunch and sat on it for the better part of a week providing excellent photo opportunities for visitors.
• A male tomcat Leopard was spotted by Kwara staff members nosing around the camp early in the morning but soon disappeared as people starting walking around. Other Leopards have been seen by the airstrip and on the Shinde Main Road – always keeping well away from resident Lions.
• Guests on a night drive had a wonderful sighting of a Serval hunting for rodents in the long grasses close to the boat station. Normally, Servals will move off quickly at the sight of people but this one treated us to almost half an hour of entertainment which ended in him catching a mouse.
• Elsewhere, herds of Elephant and Buffalo are scattering further and further into the Mopane forests as the pans continue to fill but Elephant bulls and ‘Dagga Boy’ Buffalos are still seen on the periphery of the woodlands and down towards camp.
Lebala camp Jump
• Plenty of Lion sightings this December at Lebala. One of these occurred on the floodplains close to camp where three females failed in an attempt to kill a Warthog. The spirited animal managed to plunge down a disused Aardvark hole before the foremost Lioness could get a hold of it. A long vigil outside the mound amounted to nothing and the Lionesses eventually lost interest and disappeared in search of more food.
• There have been plenty of Cheetah moments this month as well. The year has ended with a female successfully bringing up four cubs to sub adult status through all the trials and tribulations that that entails. They are about the age now where she will think about leaving them before finding a mate for next season.
• The Lesser Striped Genet that was living in the trees above the dining room at Lebala camp has moved on and is nowhere to be seen but there is still plenty of wildlife to be seen from the viewing decks.
• Elephants move to and from the floodplains in the afternoons and in the evenings Hippos come from the channel in front of the rooms onto the Lebala ‘lawn’ to graze.
• We also had a small Crocodile basking by the bridge leading to the main area of the camp.
• Hundreds of zebra have completed the migration from permanent waters to the nutritious new grasses of Nxai Pan.
• Additionally, thousands of Wildebeest, Springbok, Giraffe and Gemsbok combine to create a rich tapestry of life around the Nxai Camp. This has provided great opportunity for photographic guests to capture nature’s annual miracle and the predators that stalk it. The multitude of young animals provides unique opportunity for predators to prey on weaker opposition.
• A Cheetah mother and cub were beautifully photographed walking close to the pan. While the mother was very much on a mission to get from A-B, all the cub seemed to want to do was play and several photographs captured this special moment.
• Elsewhere, Lions are spotted on occasion flanking the multitudes of game and occasionally can be seen drinking from the Nxai Camp water hole along with wary Elephants and Giraffes.
• Birding is also excellent at this time of the year with all migratory birds present showing off their bright breeding plumage.
• Heavy rains in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve have transformed the desert into a blanket of green this Christmas. Festive visitors have been treated to a lush world of migrating antelopes and hungry cats at Tau Pan.
• Tau Pan’s two resident male Lions are a regular site as they strut their authority on the pan and surrounding woodland. The two are never far from each other and are certainly the Kings of Tau Pan.
• There have been Cheetah sightings as well. With the synchronised dropping of all the antelope calves over December there are plenty of vulnerable youngsters available for the Cheetahs to hunt.
• Lucky visitors have also had sightings of rarer animals such as Caracal, Bat Eared Fox, Cape Fox and the occasional Leopard sighting.
Mombo Camp update
- December 09 Jump
to Mombo Camp
Another month, and indeed another year, has passed us by here at Mombo - an incredible month full of the joys, trials and tribulations of the Okavango Delta's inhabitants. The weather has had us all absolutely amazed and totally confused. The rainclouds have built up almost daily, into a solid storm on the horizon, but then pass right by us, leaving only a taste of the good rains we should have received. This has forced us to give up on any sort of weather prediction, which creates havoc when trying to decide on a venue for the next meal... The one storm we did receive, however, lashed us for about 20 minutes, drenching us with rain, and producing such a wind that it pushed over a large marula tree, narrowly missing our swimming pool. Summer in Botswana: a time of unpredictability and awesome beauty.
The animals here at Mombo have been as incredible as ever, and we have had one very welcome addition to our animal family: a new baby white rhino was spotted by Poster at the beginning of the month! The birth of many of these endangered creatures is a fine achievement for all the people who have put so much energy into the rhino project at Mombo.
The breakaway Maparota Pride of eight lion set up home in and around camp for a couple of weeks this month. They developed a habit of walking past the front of the rooms in broad daylight, prompting a total lockdown in camp, but allowing guests the extreme privilege of watching lion from the comfort and safety of their tents. One particular morning, during breakfast, the lion were sprawled out on the floodplain in front of the lounge. A couple of buffalo came sauntering out from their night's sleeping quarters behind the kitchen, heading across the floodplain and straight towards a sleeping lion. We all watched in amazement as we were the only ones aware of the impending collision... Only when the two buffalo were about five metres from the sleeping lion did he raise his head, and we could not figure out who was more surprised - buffalo or lion. Both buffalo ran into each other in their fear and confusion and then ran off full speed back towards camp. The lion could only stare in amazement, only realising later how close he came to a nice, big, protein-filled breakfast.
Legadima, the famous Mombo female leopard, also paid us a visit one morning. She lay just outside Room 8, peacefully cleaning herself, whilst the manager walked right past her on the way to do an early morning wake-up call. She then wandered off past Little Mombo, on her way to a nearby island where all the game drives caught up with her later in the day. She went on to provide many wonderful sightings during the month.
Her daughter, Pula, also gave the guests and guides some entertainment when she was seen chasing a fully grown male kudu - an impossible prey for a young female leopard. More than likely she was playing, and practicing for a serious hunt.
Our local single wild dog is still doing well. She and her unusual pack, made up of jackal and hyaena, were seen resting one afternoon, all in the same area. A lioness happened to come strolling past, totally unaware of the unusual group. There was then a great showdown as she tried to take on all three species of predator - with even the jackal nipping at her Achilles tendons. Eventually she admitted defeat and left the triumvirate victorious.
Managers at Mombo: Gordon, Tanya, Martha, Max, Marlene
Guides at Mombo: Simon, Moss, Pete, Doctor Malinga
Little Mombo: Nat and Cisco
Xigera Camp update
- December 09 Jump
to Xigera Camp
We had some spectacular thunderstorms in December to cap off some hot days. A storm broke early one morning and we received 30mm of rain before sunrise, leaving the day to dawn clear and sunny. We've had some very hot days, with guests flocking to the pool and our famous swimming spot at Xigera Lagoon.
Spotted-necked otter have been seen several times from mokoro on the floodplains and in the channels around camp. We also had the privilege of a few close-up sightings right at the camp bridge, when we managed to get a few photos of these graceful beauties. They spend a lot of their time hunting at the reed edge for small fish, crabs, frogs and aquatic insects. Crystal-clear water, like that in the Okavango, is a big advantage for otter because they hunt fish by sight. This is one of the reasons there are so many here in the Delta.
The resident vervet monkeys have three new additions to their troop. They are still very small so the mothers are keeping them clutched to their chests and not letting them wander around. Their limbs need to get strong before they can jump around the treetops. They will be suckling for a few months still before attempting to forage for fruits, leaves and seeds like the adults. On our island the adults feed predominantly on the fruits of the wild fig, jackal berry, bird plum and mangosteen trees.
On one game drive our guide, Ace Gabanakitso, who was watching a male lion with his guests, suddenly noticed something moving in the trees some distance from his position. After checking with his binoculars he confirmed that there was a leopard up the tree and he took the guests off to investigate. They found a female leopard lying on a branch with the carcass of a small impala hanging in a fork of the tree. She hadn't fed much on it and was just relaxing in the shade of the branch.
When Ace returned to the spot later in the afternoon he found the leopard feeding on an adult impala close to the first kill. It took him a moment to put the puzzle together - he realised that the leopard must have first killed a mother impala, making her baby easy prey, so she killed the baby too and hoisted it into a tree for later consumption. This is typical leopard behaviour, and one of the reasons why they are the most successful big cat - they are resourceful and make the most of any situation. They are truly calculating and opportunistic. After spending three days consuming both carcasses she came down the tree, somewhat rounder than before, and disappeared into the tall grass.
On one morning's boat trip our guide Teko Ketlogetswe found a huge dead hippo in the lagoon. On closer inspection he could see big teeth marks across its body, where another hippo bull had attacked it. These big animals are fiercely territorial and can fight to the death - as proved here. The crocodiles soon moved in and fed on the carcass.
Teko also had a very special sighting while out on a game drive with repeat guests Chad, Eric and Javier: they noticed a honey badger running down the road so they slowed down to take a closer look. They then noticed a very small baby trying to keep up with its mother. She picked it up and carried it by the back of the neck, like a cat would do, and bounded off into the bush with her precious package - a very rare sight indeed.
Anton Wessels, Gideon Mvere, Virgil Geach, Tlamelo Phuthologo and Matshelo Nkwe.
We look forward to seeing you out here and hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a festive New Year.
Chitabe Camp update
- December 09 Jump
to Chitabe Camp
Vumbura Plains Camp update
- December 09 Jump
to Vumbura Plains Camp
Little Vumbura Camp update
- December 09 Jump
to Little Vumbura Camp
December has once again proved that it's one of the best months at Little Vumbura. We were blessed with rain and some awe-inspiring displays of lightning cutting across the sky. Our main area and fire pit proved to be the best places from which to watch Africa at her amazing best: sunrises, sunsets, and tremendous storm displays.
The game viewing was, as always, phenomenal at Little Vumbura this month.
The Kudu Pride is still doing very well and is as strong as ever. The Vumbura Pride, with their four juveniles, is also doing well and was seen many times this month hunting and, as lion are wont to do, resting.
Selonyana, the female leopard, was a superstar again this month for our guests. We are delighted to confirm that she does in fact have a cub! Both our guides and guests saw her and the cub a few times this month - which was a great experience for all, as it's not often that one gets to see a leopard cub that is only a few weeks old.
Our single male cheetah is still around and gave us all some good sightings this month. One morning our guides found him resting by Jacky's Pan (one of the most productive areas in the Kwedi Concession), not far from a big herd of buffalo. There were more than a hundred buffalo - stretching across the pan, as far as the eye could see. The guests decided to spend some quality time with the cheetah, and were rewarded with him getting up, stalking and successfully pulling down a small impala right in front of them. The guests (and the buffalo!) watched the whole thing - just another wow morning in Africa. One of our guides, Rain, found a female cheetah we haven't seen in a long time, with her two 16- to 18-month-old cubs. Both cubs were very shy and skittish as they haven't had much exposure to people or vehicles.
We had some wonderful sightings of Africa's second most endangered carnivore - wild dog. The pack of ten is still around the area and we got to watch them resting, marking their territory and successfully hunting.
Management: One & Alex Mazunga, Adelaide Stanley
Guides: Rain Robson, Sevara Katsotso, Lazarus Moalosi and Onkabetse (Onyx) Mothupi
All pictures were taken by Rain Robson
We hope and trust that you had fantastic Christmas and a happy New Year. We wish you all the best this year and look forward to hosting you here at Little Vumbura.
Duba Plains Camp update
- December 09 Jump
to Duba Plains Camp
Jacana Camp update
- December 09 Jump
to Jacana Camp
Summer is in full swing here at Jacana - making the days gloriously long, and eventful. The ambling along of an elephant in front of camp and the wondrous lightning shows late in the afternoon are bound to keep you mesmerised. The daily temperatures are rising and the cold weather is something of the past. After the sun has set, a compromise is met between day and night and the comfortable evening temperatures allow for a well-deserved rest. The water levels around camp are at their lowest, and the wildlife is incredible.
The ever-present elephant never disappoint, and many guests were welcomed by their presence this past month. On Christmas Eve we were joined by one big male, as he casually strolled past the place we were having our dinner, next to a baobab tree under the stars. And we have been graced with the regular visits of a male hippo - no need for a lawnmower here.
The season of plenty has been good for all, and the population of red lechwe in front of camp exploded. This, in turn, made it a good hunting ground for predators such as lion and one particular male leopard who warns of his presence with that low guttural call of his. The Jao Pride is back and patrolling the floodplains and the lionesses with their male guardian were regulars on our sightings board. Big, healthy and strong - they survived another flood season.
Beauty, our resident female leopard, has done it again - giving life to three healthy little leopard cubs. Her perpetual battle for survival has all of us spellbound, and questioning whether she can successfully mother these cubs to adulthood. The cubs are still young - only a month old - and rapidly growing. What will the new year hold for this spotted family?
The discovery of a mongoose family in camp has us very excited. There are 22 of the little guys, some of the females are pregnant and are most likely expecting in the new year.
Our little troop of monkeys is also growing and their antics provide endless entertainment around the camp. Just before Christmas we welcomed four little babies to the troop.
Waking up to the sound of Wattled Cranes and the calls of a distant Pel's Fishing-Owl early in the morning adds to the magic of a summer visit to Jacana. The floodplain is continuously covered in large and small birds of great variety.
Earlier this month we had some keen birders and in their three-day stay they managed to identify 109 species of birds. The drying-up of the water causes concentrated bird hotspots, where the gathering of Egrets, Herons and Eagles is just incredible.
Children in the Wilderness
The first two weeks of the month saw the next generation of wildlife enthusiasts in our camp. 32 children from two local villages, Tubu and Gumare, were given the opportunity to stay at Jacana and learn about their surroundings during their summer holidays. This community development project is one of the longest-running in Botswana and has reached over a thousand children to date. We had a great time with the children and their mentors, and can't wait to welcome them back next year.
"Wonderful. Fantastic. Thanks to all of you!" - Mike & Tony, Switzerland
"Merry Christmas! We will never forget Jacana and your special hospitality. Thank you." - Jacque & Mike
Camp Staff for December
Managers: Pieter Ras & Danielle van den Berg
Guides: Joseph Basenyeng and Mike Tebogo
update - December 09 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
Weather and Landscape
We had a cloudy start to December with overcast weather that cooled the summer days down very nicely. The middle of the month brought two lovely rainy days which delivered 40mm of rain, but as the latter half of the month progressed temperatures soared to 38°C (100°F) before Christmas. High winds blew and thunderclouds gathered, creating the most spectacular rainbow patterns over Kwetsani. We could see rain falling in the distance but we had to be content to watch the showers drift by, delivering very little rain to us. Only 50mm of rain fell this month, versus 114mm in December 2008.
The early rains in the Angolan highlands have apparently already delivered a significant amount of water. We have received word that the waters in the panhandle of the Delta are already beginning to swell. Should the predictions of a big inflow materialise, we can expect another very big flood year and probably an early one too. With the 2010 season's floods in mind, lots of work is on the go to secure the airstrip. Large earth walls are being constructed to keep the waters back long enough for pumps to keep the seepage off the airstrip. Houses in our staff village have also been raised off the ground after an exceptionally wet 2009. We are doing whatever we can to ensure that our guests will be able to experience the spectacle of the 2010 flood season in comfort.
December seemed to arrive so quickly this year. It is a wonderful time of the year and we love sharing it with those guests lucky enough to be here over the festive season. It is not only the festive cheer that we enjoy but also the continued arrival of so many newborn animals: tiny warthog race behind their mothers, frisky impala lambs can already keep up with theirs, and the precocious migratory wildebeest and tsessebe foals are also quick to follow in the footsteps of their herds.
It is also at this time of the year that the lechwe females retreat into the safety of the tall dense reeds which grow along the deep water courses to drop their young. Our water-tolerant felines follow in an attempt to foil the lechwe, which do not make hunting easy in the wetter, thicker areas of the Delta.
Kgosi, our handsome lion pride male, has again serenaded us continually this month, roaring loudly throughout the night on numerous occasions. His two females have largely kept to themselves, seemingly not wanting to share their spoils with him.
After almost eight days of teasing, where the pride roared very close to the island every night but refused to show itself, Serge and Oliver went out in pursuit of the roars on their final night here. Not only was their search successful but also very exciting as the females made a kill literally seconds ahead of them. They heard the anguished cry of the unfortunate lechwe and arrived seconds later, to find both females ripping into the carcass. It is a truly wonderful experience to watch these nocturnal cats in action.
As they say, some people have all the luck. This was definitely the case with Serge and Oliver as earlier that day they were extremely lucky to spot Beauty, our resident leopard, with her three cubs. This was the first sighting since she gave birth a few weeks ago. It seems that Cedric, their guide, has some bond with Beauty as prior to this sighting Cedric had the only other sighting of the cubs when Beauty gave birth; since then they have been kept well hidden.
Cedric had noticed a steenbok darting from the long grass and went to investigate. He found Beauty lying in the grass, having obviously tried her luck hunting the steenbok. Beauty was initially her usual relaxed self but as a third, visibly weaker, cub appeared she became anxious and started to 'sneer' at the vehicle. Cedric immediately backed off and left the family in peace. At this stage we are making a conscious effort to keep away from the cubs to ensure their safety and also to ensure that they do not become too habituated to the vehicle. What is quite amazing is that this ageing leopard has produced a litter of three.
In the last few days of the month we had an extremely lucky (and lovely) family stay with us: on the second day of their stay they were woken in the early hours of the morning with lion roaring in camp; on strolling down for breakfast they were greeted by seven buffalo grazing in front of the lodge; after breakfast they tracked down the lion by vehicle, and later also had wonderful sightings of leopard and elephant. Needless to say, they arrived back for brunch filled with excitement. It seems their day was not yet over - they had a wonderful afternoon safari with another leopard sighting and some really extraordinary sightings of python and porcupine. This was certainly no ordinary day on the floodplains!
As the sweet shoots of the floodplain grasses appear, the plains game continue to arrive to feast in the few months before the annual floods arrive. The wildebeest are now accompanied by their young, small groups of buffalo are also showing themselves from time to time and, at last, the first few zebra have made themselves visible, accompanied by our flagship species - lechwe - which fill the magnificent floodplains.
We would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very prosperous New Year and hope that you have a great 2010 filled with many happy safaris. We wait in anticipation of meeting new guests and look forward to seeing repeat guests in the New Year.
Camp managers: Mike & Anne
Guides: Jonah & OB
update - December 09 Jump
to Jao Camp
Festive Greetings to all our Jao newsletter readers! It's very difficult to believe that we are almost into 2010 - my how time flies when you're having fun. We always seem to be "harping on" about how wonderful Jao Island is, but no matter what the time of year or day, there is always some miracle of nature to humble and astound us all.
Of all the seasons, Mother Nature really shows off during the summer months. Previously "drowned" and dormant tree, grass and flower seeds suddenly appear out of the blue (or brown), creating both arboreal masterpieces and verdant grasslands. Our ever-present Delta waters host a myriad of reeds, papyrus and sedges, and all of these interwoven zones create perfect habitats for tiny frogs, water birds, bats, insects, mammals, and reptiles. Perfect habitats produce an abundance of babies and the "baby season" is by no means over yet!
In last month's newsletter, we were very proud to announce the arrival of Beauty the leopard's cubs on the 11th of November. Sightings have been few and far between, and only very occasionally have we seen her, sans cubs, crossing the Jao Bridge on her way onto or off the Island. However, on the 15th our guide, Cedric, was on an afternoon activity with guests when they came upon Beauty. She was stalking a steenbok which managed to evade her. As she sat still in the grass, not one, not two, but three tiny little cubs appeared at her side. At the appearance of her cubs, she began to get very restless with the vehicle nearby and Cedric made the decision to leave the scene. He can report that Beauty and her five week-old cubs all look in very good health - and we all eagerly look forward to our next "sneak preview". We have also decided that Cedric must have a very special affinity with Beauty as he was present at the birth of her cubs as well.
Earlier this month, we began to see some other new arrivals - in Jao's resident herd of impala. Female impala move slightly away from the rest of the herd and usually give birth in the early hours of the morning. Maipaa, one of the Jao guides, had a very interesting sighting early one morning - he was with guests about to depart on their morning activity, when they came across a still wet baby impala lying in the grass with, unfortunately, a very large male baboon looming over it. The adult female impala was very close by and became agitated at the baboon's arrival. Maipaa deduced that the mother had just given birth, which may have caught the attention of the baboon. Baboon have been known to kill and eat very young impala, which are a valuable source of protein. This particular story has a happy ending however - after Maipaa stopped the vehicle to see the baby, the baboon moved off and soon lost interest, whereupon the mama impala moved back to her newborn and began to clean it. Later on that afternoon, we were all very happy to see our brand new addition skipping alongside his mother as she grazed.
Jao's group of "Merry Mongoose" have still not shown us this season's babies, but they are getting up to mischief by attempting to find suitable nesting sites in the most inappropriate places! They have even managed to figure out how to open zippers on canvas covers which has forced us to design mongoose-proof protection for our equipment. We believe that the mongoose are staying in the thicker vegetation around the edge of island so that the ever present Yellow-billed Kites don't get a chance to snatch the babies.
We were privileged to host friends and family of David and Cathy Kays for a few days, the culmination of their visit resulting in the engagement of their Tiffany Kays to Brendan Riley. After much subterfuge, many false leads and several treasure hunts, Brendan finally managed to pop the question to the woman of his dreams, and the entire Jao Family wish them everything of the best for their future together!
And now comes the time for applause and cheering - at our annual Staff Christmas Party the Jao Team came up tops in the all-important Inter-camp Tournaments! The Jao Boys ousted the other teams in a do-or-die soccer match that was talked about for days afterwards. Well done to everyone - we are very proud!
"Christmas came early. Thank you for the magical visit" - David, USA
"Memories of a lifetime!" - Hans, Joost, Laura & Jeffrey, Netherlands
"Thanks for showing me that "Neverland" exists" - De Sousa Family, Portugal
"Thanks for a fabulous time. We had the greatest Honeymoon and couldn't have picked a better place!" - Alona and Andrew, Canada
"Not much to say other than amazing! Such a good time and fabulous experience - THANKS!" - Lewis-Oakes Family, England
"Wonderful camp, exceptional staff and great drives - couldn't ask for more!" - Delbert & Ginna, USA
Des and Kim Nel; Chris Barnard; Tara Salmons; Joanne Davies; Virginia
Maipaa; Cedric; TJ; David
We all look forward to 2010 and send Jao Seasonal Greetings to you wherever you are in your part of the world!
Tubu Tree Camp
update - December 09 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
"On the first day of Christmas, Tubu gave to me..." One lioness that decided to join us while having sundowners on top of the Tubu hide! As the guests watched, she was wandering around the floodplain islands so they decided to get in their vehicle and try to get a closer look. Well, what they didn't know was that she would come within metres of the hide, and that they would have got a great view if they had just stayed put!
On the second day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Two male zebra fighting out front on Tubu's floodplain. What a spectacle it was - guests had just arrived and were able to witness this amazing battle that continued for most of the day.
On the third day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Three cheetah hunting. Guests got to watch them chase a steenbok and then an impala - neither successfully. Only days later were they seen to eat.
On the fourth day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Four Southern Ground-Hornbills having a feeding frenzy on the Tubu floodplain. But this isn't an entirely true statement as there was possibly a number five being fed in a hidden nest near camp! In which case, on the fifth day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Five Southern Ground-Hornbills - maybe...
On the sixth day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Six different leopard sightings! Guests were here for three nights and on each drive a leopard was spotted so that a total of six different leopard were seen,
On the seventh day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Seven herds of elephant causing some excitement at Tubu's waterhole. All shapes and sizes showed up for their own private Christmas party it seems.
On the eight day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Eight young warthog! The warthog have been busy this year and Hunda Island now has many babies.
On the ninth day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Nine giraffe wandering around, minding their own business and posing nicely for some beautiful pictures.
On the tenth day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Ten African buffalo. The buffalo herds are in and out of Hunda and we got to witness ten playing in a mudhole. What a sight to see these big boys having so much fun.
One the eleventh day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Eleven banded mongoose. That's our resident two who have since joined up with a new family. All eleven are hanging around camp to entertain us.
On the twelfth day of Christmas Tubu gave to me... Twelve large male kudu. Wow, it is something special to see this group of big male kudu together.
Merry Christmas from the Tubu Team and here's wishing you an awesome 2010!
Management: Justin Stevens & Jacky Collett-Stevens
Guides: Kambango, Johnny & Shadreck
Kalahari Plains Camp
update - December 09 Jump
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