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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Lodge
update - February 09 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
We owe the wealth of our wildlife encounters this month at Rocktail Bay Lodge, to the seasoned skill and well-honed expertise of our guides. Mbongeni (MB) and Gugu (above) have a combined 38 years of experience here conducting turtle research. It's an exhausting season for them; for five months (October to March) they drive the 25km stretch of beach down to Mabibi and back at all hours of the night and early morning - but they will assure you, they live for it.
As the nesting season draws to a close and the adult female leatherback and loggerhead turtles return to their vagabond ways, sightings are harder to come across. But the baby turtles, emerging from a 60-day incubation period, tunnel through the metre of sand to greet the bright new world and to discover their first daunting challenge: the beach. Instinct compels them to cross the sandy minefield of crab holes to get down to the water. This is new and fragile life, instantly embroiled in a determined struggle for survival - nature at its most basic.
To witness this wonder one must be in the right place at the right time with the right guide. One guest accused our guides of being magicians after spotting nearly invisible baby turtle tracks from the previous night. Following them up the beach to a shallow hole, Gugu or MB digs a little and produces a baby straggler. There is no sorcery involved; this is just nature doing what it does, with someone there to testify to it.
Turtle hunters haven't been the only lucky ones - our keen birders have also been thrilled by being able to see Yellow-throated, Cape and Rosy-throated Longclaws with good regularity.
Another sighting of a more unusual nature was that of a male baboon, who sauntered into camp one day, unannounced. With half an invitation, he would have gladly accepted an afternoon cookie and a spot on the couch.
The coastal forest holds many treasures during the rainy summer months. Golden-banded foresters, a species of butterfly endemic to this area, are in profusion. Golden orb-webbed spiders seem especially diligent, and golden marulas sweeten the air.
We're looking forward to sharing more of these and other experiences with all those who come to Rocktail Bay. English, Polish, American, German, South African, Dutch, Welsh, Irish, French, Italian and Bulgarian were some of the nationalities that visited us this month.
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - February 09 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
February is usually associated with the hottest weather of the year, but this year so far it's been all about rain, rain, rain! We've had our fair share of rough seas and high winds, so it was with much relief when we finally got a bit of respite mid-February to enjoy the typical beautiful, hot, lazy days to which we are more accustomed.
Things have quietened down a bit after being so busy during the holiday season, but our waters certainly haven't. There are still thousands of juvenile fish all over the reefs, and with a lot more plankton in the water of late, there is plenty of food to be had for all sea life! The warmer waters combined with lots of plankton bring whalesharks to our reefs. Rob and Lisa were the only divers during a wonderful dive at Pineapple Reef and as we ascended they were playing with the slinger, which were swimming all around them at their safety stop. Then as they looked up they saw a massive 10m long whaleshark passing right over their heads! Lisa rated her dives here as "better than Thailand!"
Due to the rougher, surgey sea we have had of late, fewer dives to Island Rock have been possible, because of the shallower depths and the close proximity to Island Rock. We have been unable to keep tabs on the raggies as much as we would have liked but we did manage a dive with them mid-month where we counted four females. Perhaps they are starting their return journey southwards to the Eastern Cape, will keep you posted next month.
We had an incredible snorkelling experience with a pod of about 20 bottlenose dolphins, they were content to play around us, blowing bubbles and calling out as they swam around, under and through our group, creating formations and shovelling sand on the bottom. We must have been in the water for about 40 minutes with the dolphins and eventually the temperature of the water became a bit too cold for the children who were snorkelling with us that day, so we hopped back onto the boat, very excited about the amazing experience we'd all just had. Then, on the way back from our first dive, we were graced with a huge pod of spinner dolphins happily playing around the boat and further afield. These normally very shy little dolphins don't usually come in so close to the boats, so it was a wonderful experience for us all to share.
During another wonderful snorkelling experience Clive saw a total of 15 spotted eagle rays at Island Rock, they were all feeding on the rock bait that grows on Island Rock so were in no rush to swim away!
A very exciting find this month was that of a Mauritius or Leafy Scorpionfish (Rhinopias eschmeyeri). Ondyne spotted it during a dive at Elusive. It was sitting very well camouflaged in the seaweed. These are not like the typical raggy scorpionfish we see on this reef all the time, but are just as masterful at their disguise, using the seaweed to camouflage themselves. Their colours vary from light purple to red and yellow. They do not have the same decorative markings as the raggy scorpionfish and have prominent fleshy flaps over their eyes, which the raggy scorpionfish do not have.
Other masters of disguise are the ghost pipefish; these tiny fish look just like floating pieces of seaweed and are quite difficult to spot. We have seen lots of them this month at Pineapple Reef, Aerial and Gogo's. The most impressive ones were found at Pineapple Reef, where a pair had decided to use a small piece of purple seaweed to hide next to. As the seaweed moved backwards and forwards with the water movement so did the pipefish, a mesmerising performance by very good mimics!
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Ondyne
-The Rocktail Dive Team-
Pafuri Camp update - February 09 Jump
to Pafuri Camp
The Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers are still in flow as they come together at Crooks' Corner. The area is still lush and green with the major pans inundated and the springs bubbling profusely. Waders and water birds have congregated at the edges and in the shallows of the pans with the familiar call of an African Fish-eagle breaking the silence.
February 2009 was a fairly dry month with only 29.1mm of rain for the month and an average temperature of 39°C with some days reaching 44° C - pretty warm; however the evenings are becoming quite pleasant.
Even though it is peak summer and we have experienced a fair amount of rainfall, elephants - bulls and herds - are still frequenting the area which is unusual for this time of year. Although not many herds were seen, the signs of the giants were evident, and bulls often seen in the vicinity. Also, whilst driving along dense stands of grass, two curved horns bobbing just above the grass level and the churring flights of Yellow-billed Oxpeckers often hinted at the African buffalo within. Herds up to 200 buffalo were often seen during February and on many game drives two or three herds were located. These bulk grazers wrapped their ample tongues around the nutrient-rich grasses and this, together with the added effect of their trampling movements, should allow the large herds of impala to begin feeding again in areas where the grass has for the majority of summer been taller than shoulder height.
Leopards were not shy with several sightings during the course of February. The lions that we saw most regularly this month were two sub-adults (a male and a female) who made their arrival in the area known to all. Although at first a little shy, they made for great viewing and on one occasion were also seen feeding on a nyala kill.
The highlight this month however was the confirmed return of wild dogs to the concession. These animals are always a highlight and we were ecstatic when this particular pack (five animals: three adults, two pups) entered the area in September 2008. They have not been seen often but in February graced us with their presence again when a single adult was seen. It seems that they have restricted themselves to the western regions of the concession and this can be attributed to the lower predator densities in this area.
As many a birder knows, Pafuri is never shy when it comes to our feathered friends and February produced some nice sightings of the feathered kind. An interesting sighting was the crimson beak and legs of a Dark Chanting Goshawk revealing a not-so-happy tree squirrel whose furred body lay motionless. Another was a solifuge (also known as a sun spider or red roman) caught by a Woodland Kingfisher. Solifuges are actually not spiders although they resemble them, they are arachnids, but lack venom glands and digest their food internally, unlike spiders (virtually all families except the feather-legged spiders have venom glands and digest their meal externally). Spiders also have silk glands, which solifuges don't. Solifuges are hairy and scary with lightning-like speed, and one was even seen attempting to catch a frog during February. This individual came off second best, as it subsequently became a meal for the Woodland Kingfisher mentioned above.
Some bird specials seen included: Lemon-breasted Canary; Three-banded Courser; Glossy Ibis; Allen's Gallinule; Blue-cheeked Bee-eater; Crowned Eagle; Thrush Nightingale; Senegal Coucal; Long-crested Eagle; Pel's Fishing-Owl; Crested Guineafowl; Red-breasted Swallow; Purple Heron; Mottled Spinetail; Grey-headed Parrot.
Camp update - February 09 Jump
to Toka Leya
Weather and Water Levels
February has seen the rising of the great Zambezi River as the water pushes down from the floodplains in the Lozi area. The Victoria Falls are bursting over the edge creating an immense cloud of mist and creating heart-stopping moments for those that are brave enough to try their paddle at white water rafting. For those that prefer to stay on terra firma the drives into Mosi-Oa-Tunya Park has produced several interesting encounters.
February is a month of spectacular sunrises and sunsets and in true Zambian fashion the guests have enjoyed their sundowners right next to the mighty Zambezi River.
The game around Toka Leya Camp has settled down comfortably around camp this month; a herd of buffalo often take refuge from the hot midday heat under the trees that surround camp and it is not an unfamiliar sight to see the resident herd of elephants walk through camp to the Zambezi for their late afternoon bath.
A particular highlight was a pack of five wild dogs that have being sighted in the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park of late. When the waters of the Zambezi River were still low one can actually hop, skip and jump from one rock to the other to reach the other side, and we believe that is how these dogs made their way to Toka Leya. Now that the river has risen again we think that the dogs are somewhat trapped here until the water levels drop again. (It may not be the clearest photo, but it is proof nonetheless that these dogs have arrived!)
The Flight of Angels was particularly popular this month. Being taken up by helicopter and viewing the Falls from above just enhance the splendour that thunders just six kilometres from our doorstep.
Makalolo Plains update - February 09 Jump
to Makalolo Plains Camp
Climate and Temperature
The days here at Makalolo Plains have had a huge variance in temperatures. Most of the days have been warm and sunny but there have also been the days with cloudy weather and a chilly breeze blowing. Most of the month has been very comfortable. Maximum temperatures for this month have been in the region of 34.7 degrees Celsius and minimum temperatures around 14.2 degrees Celsius. Rainfall for the month has also been good and this month we have had a total rainfall of 172.5mm and on the best day we had 80.5mm on the last day of the month.
Vegetation and Surroundings
The area is still looking very green and lush; the much appreciated rainfall has as every good season here in Hwange changed the area and landscape to a beautiful panorama of colourful veld flowers and plants out on the vast open plains. Some of the more palatable grass species closer to the waterholes are being grazed by herbivores such as zebra and wildebeest. As we look further away from these water points and move closer to the denser areas and Kalahari sands more of the unpalatable species such as the more commonly known thatching grass are towering at two metres in height. Wild flowers such as the Vernonia, Wild Hibiscus and Foxglove species make for very interesting colours at the moment.
The open plains have been a kaleidoscope of variety in the animal world. As the sun stretches its arms across the plains on the concession wildlife meander back-and-forth enjoying the succulent grasses that grow during this season. From the front of camp several different species can be seen such as elephant, Cape buffalo, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, impala, sable, black-backed jackal and many more.
The resident leopard that has been moving around in the night has been heard several times and the disturbance of francolins and side-striped jackals signalled the presence of this illusive cat on several evenings. The pool here at Makalolo Plains has also been a favourite for the elephants that have come past camp for their usual drink of fresh water. Elephants have started appearing more regularly as their seasonal migration patterns have been disturbed by scattered rainfall in other areas of the Park. Several bulls in musth have been encountered and staff have managed to avoid their cranky behaviour as they trek across the area in search of suitable herds with cows that may be in oestrous.
There have also been some sightings of some of the more endangered and specially protected species such as white rhino and bat-eared foxes. The rhino have been moving huge distances and literally have been seen in completely different areas of the concession overnight. The territorial bull in the area has been seen on a few occasions and has afforded some good viewing.
Birds and Birding
As Hwange boasts a total of just over 400 different bird species this is a particularly good time of the year for bird enthusiasts to see birds that are so pleasantly colourful. We have had several fantastic sightings this month and among these are birds regularly seen such as Comb Ducks, White-faced Ducks, Abdim's Storks, Red-knobbed Coots, Greater Painted-snipe and Grey Crowned Cranes. Staff in camp were also delighted to watch African Paradise Flycatchers hatching very close to the camp kitchen. In amongst the staff houses we were also lucky to observe the feeding of Black-eyed Bulbul chicks. This month we have had a total of 165 different bird species.
Staff in Camp
Amon Johnson - Management
Jaelle Claypole - Environmentalist
Washington Gump - Chef
Raymond .Ndlovu - Professional Guide
Willem and Trish Botha - Concession Managers
-The Makalolo Team-
Desert Rhino Camp update - February 09 Jump
to Desert Rhino Camp
On the 14th of February we were blessed with lots of rain. In one hour we had over 110mm which is more than our average for the year! All the rivers in the area came down - at one point standing on the kitchen steps I got really scared as the water level kept on increasing. Thankfully the river receded but the rains continued for the whole night. Up until now we have 140mm of rain. It's been humid and hot during the days reaching 32º Celsius and at night going down to 19º Celsius. Most days it stayed overcast making for pleasant weather.
Wildlife and Landscape
We have have enjoyed incredible animal sightings this month - out on drives guests saw lion, black rhino, different types of antelope and all sorts of birds.
Sitting at Groot Axab spring and watching Shackelton's Group - a pride of five lions - was a definite highlight. They were so relaxed we could sit and watch them for hours. The stillness that surrounded us and hearing the river flowing in the background gave is such peace in our souls. It felt like nothing else mattered in the world.
Even though rhino were found frequently this month, it's been a harder at times with pools of water scattered all around the Palmwag Concession. At present the rhino don't come to the springs which provides the SRT trackers with a big challenge in looking for them.
Loads of different bird species have been spotted in and around Desert Rhino Camp. For example, yellow Southern Masked Weavers have been building their nests and it's exciting to see how the female comes and investigates to see whether it is acceptable. Then there have been: colourful Bokmakieries (a bush-shrike) with their beautiful voices, Black Kites, Black-breasted Snake-eagle, Lapped-faced Vultures, Abdim's Storks in huge numbers, Steppe Buzzard, Lesser Grey Shrike, Eurasian Golden Oriole, African Hoopoe and Carp's Tit.
An interesting reptile around camp is the Ovambo tree skink that is often seen in the mopane trees, scurrying down the trunks.
Other News - black rhino translocations
Since the beginning of the month, MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) together with SRT (Save the Rhino Trust) have been busy capturing black rhino for translocation to neighbouring community conservancies and other parts of Namibia. The plan is to capture both young bulls and females. The reason for this is that the population of black rhino currently found on the Palmwag Concession has reached its ceiling with regard to reproduction rate and available territories. So these animals can now assist in recolonising other areas previously occupied by this species, thereby increasing its traditional range even further. This is great news for the continuing conservation of black rhino. From Desert Rhino Camp Igna and Gotlod have been assisting with the capturing.
Food for Thought
"He who asks a question is a fool for a minute: he who does not remains a fool forever."
Managers and Guides
Daphne and Ignatius - managers
Helen and Kapoi - assistant managers
Harry and Gotlod - guides
Morne - trainee guide
Palmwag Lodge update - February 09 Jump
to Palmwag Lodge
Driving along the northern edge of the Palmwag Concession there is still a lot of grazing for the wildlife. The ephemeral Hoanib River already received an inflow of water and driving can be treacherous! Kaokoland finally had some long-awaited rain and we are all rejoicing! We should have an abundance of game around Palmwag Lodge again later in the season.
We were lucky to still have the odd bull elephant pay us a visit. One of our rooms became the new rubbing post of one of these elephants inflicting some damage to the roof. Perhaps the palm trees in the area are no longer good enough?
For the first time in the three years, we saw flocks of Lesser Kestrel feeding in the concession. Red-footed Falcons, Red-necked Falcons and the odd Peregrine Falcon are all rare bird sightings here in the area for us. Yellow-billed Kites and Abdim's Storks have also arrived en masse! Even a pair of Lilac-breasted Rollers was seen for the first time (to our knowledge) in the campsite area. Pearl-spotted Owlets have been heard for the first time too.
General game sightings have been good - Hartmann's mountain zebra, gemsbok (oryx) and giraffe. Springbok lambs with their dainty little legs are everywhere. Predators were a bit scarce this month though, apart from the likes of black-backed jackal. An unusual sighting was that of a stripe-bellied sand snake feeding on a female rock agama.
We had a few quiet days this month and all the guides were working in the 'garden', eradicating invasive water-thirsty alien plants from around the camp.
Sadly we had to bid farewell to Matthias Sanib on 7 January 2009. Matthias worked at Palmwag Lodge for many years. He joined the Wilderness pension scheme with funeral benefits last year and his family received a good lump sum of money to take care of his funeral and associated costs.
Serra Cafema Camp update - February 09 Jump
to Serra Cafema Camp
We experienced highs of 38ºCelsius with humidity reaching up to 84% - the heat very much befitting the red sandy dunes behind camp with the humidity intermittently relieved by a cool breeze from the Kunene River. On the 21st February, Serra Cafema welcomed a brief relief from the heat in the form of a few sparse rain drops, which cooled down guests, staff and most notably the spectacular bird life around camp who were even more vocal after the rains. In the past we have reported on a flood that resulted in Serra Cafema having to close its doors to guests for 10 days in March 2008. As we are nearing that time and with unpredictable rains all over Namibia, everyone at camp has been keeping a close eye on the water levels of the river in anticipation of possible floods, but as yet there has been no cause for concern.
Drives out into the desert reveal a fascinating array of desert life: from oryx eking out an existence to the smaller creatures that all call this part of the Namib home. Closer to camp things have been interesting too:
Guests and staff alike have been very excited about a breeding pair of African Paradise Flycatchers nesting right above the main area deck. Unfortunately, one of the chicks died, but the remaining little ones are doing fine. A couple of Red-faced Mousebirds have built a well camouflaged nest in some vegetation close to the main area which now is home to three nestlings. We are ecstatic that these beautiful creatures have deemed it safe to set up home so close to camp and that they don't feel threatened by human activity on the deck.
On the 4th February 2009 one of the local residents of the Kunene, an enormous 3.5m Nile crocodile paid the staff village a visit in the evening! As expected this was quite a surprise, but our guides managed to coax him out of the accommodation area and back into the river.
On the 20th February Franco, one of the guides at Serra Cafema Camp, notified staff of a 1.5m African rock python making his way to the workshop. We gently picked it up and Francois, who was the guide looking after two guests visiting Serra Cafema, introduced the reptile to the guests. A unique experience for them! The python was then released further from camp that very evening.
After the floods in 2008 our vegetable garden was destroyed. Thankfully the process of restoration has begun and the fence for the new vegetable garden is now almost complete. Everyone at camp, and especially the chefs, are now very much looking forward to organic fresh produce sourced from our very own garden with its fertile soils.
"A wonderful place with wonderful staff! Heartfelt appreciation for the few memorable days here at Serra Cafema Camp. We had great fun and formed great friendships with you!"
"Thank you all for an incredible experience. We have been touched by both the beauty of the country as well as the warmth of all the people at Serra Cafema Camp. It has been an experience we will never forget. We hope to see you all again in New York or Africa!"
Little Ongava update - February 09 Jump
to Little Ongava Camp
The month of February brought so many special and exciting things in and around Little Ongava. African Paradise-Flycatchers have been incubating eggs on their nest for several weeks when finally three chicks appeared recently. Father and mother flycatcher seemed to be very proud and were relaxed enough to let us take some nice pictures of their little ones.
This was not the only newborns on Ongava Game Reserve in February. Guests enjoyed the presence of newborn black-faced impala, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, zebra, kudu, springbok, rock hyrax and many more other youngsters. With all these young animals around you can only imagine that easier times have arrived for the predators in Ongava Game Reserve.
With the rains in February, the landscape is getting greener every day. Looking out from the viewing deck of Little Ongava the reserve has evolved into a beautiful, lush area with plenty of food for the grazers and the browsers.
Weather and Temperatures
February was for Little Ongava the time of some good rains. The record was an impressive 100mm of rain in a single storm! Luckily, for most of the guests the rains generally were not active during the day. Often the game drives were not affected by the wet weather and the guests could enjoy the beautiful green nature.
Every day cloudy skies would change into clear blue skies and back again with temperatures varying between 22 and 30º Celsius. The sunsets were stunning in February when the last lights of the day coloured the clouds into pink, yellow and finally a red pallet.
When the rains arrived in Ongava, staff and guests have seen different kinds of animals. Chameleons seem to be very happy in the wetter season and we encountered these fantastic creatures often.
A beautiful coloured mopane worm which will change into a impressive moth was also seen hatching from his egg this month. These worms feed on the leaves of mopane trees and are considered to be a delicacy by the native people. So perhaps in a few weeks' time Little Ongava will have mopane worms on the menu for guests who are interested...
You will find more birds in the wetter summer months because with more insects and seeds around, there is a feast of food everywhere. In February, several guests who were interested in birding visited Little Ongava and they had some amazing sightings with impressive daily species tallies. The bird list included for example Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Martial Eagle, Lappet-faced Vulture, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Levaillant's Cuckoo, Monteiro's Hornbill, Hartlaub's Spurfowl, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Short-toed Rock-thrush, Violet-backed Starling, Chestnut Weaver, Green-winged Pytilia and many more!
February also seemed to be a month where different animals moved to the comfortable, dry and warm guest areas: from an African Red-eyed Bulbul making a nest in one of the pilot rooms, to a resident rock hyrax in the lapa and a gigantic stick insect coming for breakfast. It's a little difficult to differentiate the stick from the stick insect in the accompanying picture!
Derek, Longhorn and her baby, three of our white rhinos, were often seen during our drives on Ongava Reserve. Some guests were having a sundowner with these monolith animals close by. An experience of a lifetime, of course with the guide keeping a sharp eye on the rhino and the guests!
We also enjoyed sightings of the lion on the reserve and especially Stompie's Pride. Guests often have the opportunity to see this huge pride of 18 lions. There are four adult females in the pride and one of them is Stompie, a nickname she earned because of her short tail. Stompie is an old female that has given birth to many cubs over the years. This pride was also seen feeding a recently killed adult greater kudu.
At Little Ongava we have often sightings of klipspringers. These diminutive antelopes prefer rocky areas and our lodge is ideal for them. You find the klipspringers often in the area of Room 3 where they use the boardwalks to go from the one side of the hill to the other side. They seem to follow the example of the rock hyraxes in the area and are becoming more and more comfortable with people around.
The special day of the month was Valentine's Day and at Little Ongava we did our best to create a romantic atmosphere. With a full camp, which means only six guests, we organised private dinners for every couple. When the guests came back from their game drive they were surprised with a romantic table for two, beautifully decorated with hearts, candle light and a red menu card.
The chef produced a delicious menu - the starter was a heart-shaped tomato and camembert tart and of course the dessert had to be chocolate mousse!
Rob and Ingrid managed Little Ongava over the last eight weeks and we must say we enjoyed every minute of it. We would like to thank all the staff members of Little Ongava for giving us the support and a warm welcome. Little Ongava is a beautiful place and we will think back of this period with many good memories. Rob and Ingrid will continue their work as managers for Wilderness Safaris Zambia.
"Such a beautiful place! Great hospitality thanks to Ingrid and Rob. Our guide Gabriel was very knowledgeable and never stopped spotting birds for us. Lions and white rhino (Sonja and her baby). I hope Stompie stays well. We are sad to leave!" - Brett, USA
"Thanks to the team for a truly memorable stay! A magical place!" - Fuehrer, USA
"Thank you for such a relaxing stay and wonderful hospitality. Our accommodation was first class (and the management too!). Thank you Rob and Ingrid" - August, UK
"We have had a wonderful five days and have loved every minute of it. Thank you, the great Little Ongava Team." - Samuelson, UK
Ongava Lodge update - February 09 Jump
to Ongava Lodge
Temperature and Landscape
The month of February has been a very wet and much cooler one than last year. Due to overcast conditions occurring almost every day the temperatures are much cooler in the mornings and evenings. Over the past month we have seen the dramatic transformation of the scenery of the reserve: from a brown, dry landscape to a beautiful, vibrant green paradise.
The trees are colourful again, scattered with brightly-coloured leaves, pods, fruits and berries. This has attracted different species of birds, as can be seen around Ongava Lodge and the waterholes. The trees are dressed with singing birds as they build their nests or as they feed on the fruits and berries. Many rock hyrax around camp seem to be having young and there have been some additions to the cute striped tree squirrels too. The reserve is covered with fields of beautiful bright yellow daisies, devils claw and tall grasses.
Due to the heavy and frequent rains we have received so far, which is higher than average, there are pools of water scattered around the reserve. The reserve has a total of 14 waterholes of which half are artificial ones. All of the artificial waterholes are filled to capacity and in some cases are even overflowing. The good rains have affected the density of wildlife at waterholes both on the reserve and in Etosha National Park.
Although wildlife sightings have decreased significantly at the waterholes, large herds of springbok, zebra, blue wildebeest and other antelope can be seen on the open areas of Etosha and Ongava Reserve.
Etosha National Park during this time of the year is usually quieter mammal-wise, but also very unpredictable in terms of sightings as you never quite know what you are going to find. On the morning drives in Etosha you are likely to spot the rock monitor, lying on the road trying to warm its body temperature. Sometimes you can spot them on the sides of the road lumbering around alone, looking for carrion, eggs and beetles on which to feed.
On the open plains are the elegantly looking Secretarybirds as they stomp around in pairs looking for anything that moves. To spend time watching these birds feed is an amazing experience indeed. The heaviest flying bird in southern Africa, the Kori Bustard, is also seen on the open plains as it searches for food or rests under a tree to escape the afternoon heat. The mopane woodland reverberates with the call of Monotonous Larks that seem to be calling and displaying from every second tree.
The plains and waterholes located to the east of Okaukuejo are usually empty this time of the year with animals more concentrated on the western edge of the Etosha Pan just north of Okaukuejo. Here the flat plains are littered with springbok, zebra and wildebeest. Giraffe can be spotted as they cross the wide open plains to reach to their favourite food - the acacia trees.
In comparison to Etosha, Ongava Game Reserve is always promising and reliable with regards to wildlife sightings. Our ever-dependable white rhinos grace our guests with their presence on almost every afternoon or morning game drive. Reliable sightings have been Long Horn (a female white rhino) with her inquisitive seven-month-old calf, Tony, one of the biggest white rhino bulls. Long Horn, as the name suggests, has a very unusual horn measuring 1.2m and still growing. Tony was seen many times usually with a different female every few days possibly looking for a receptive female.
Herds of assorted antelopes grazing on open areas can be seen daily too. The animals you would have difficulty spotting now are the browsers (kudu, eland and giraffe) because the bush is quite thick and only the heads of the giraffe can been seen browsing the tree tops. Our notorious pride of lions, Stompies Pride, was seen regularly though and even found feeding on an adult kudu bull. We suspect Stompie, the oldest female in the lion pride, will be having cubs soon, which is further exciting news.
Due to the numerous pools of water around it is not unusual to come across a two-ton rhino wallowing in mud - now that's a sight not to be forgotten, and something that can be seen here at Ongava.
Andersson's Camp update - February 09 Jump
to Andersson's Camp
The weather in the Etosha area has been incredible; the days have been partly cloudy keeping temperatures in the low 30º Celsius and the evenings cool and moist. The sky is filled with different cloud formations make for excellent sunsets. Stargazing is limited due to cloud cover at night but the early evening sky is well lit with an awesome show of pyrotechnics as lightning streaks across the horizon. Rainfall has been exceptional this year with a total of 420mm already recorded; we are well beyond the average annual rainfall.
The drives into Etosha National Park have been in some cases rather hard work but with our guides systematically covering the waterholes we have had numerous lion, rhino and antelope sightings. We were even lucky recently with a leopard sighting however none of us were as agile nor quick enough to snap off a picture of this elusive cat.
In camp we have experienced something unusual - porcupine is frequently seen as well as a new nocturnal visitor. A honey badger has been seen wandering the pathways at night. We think he is either seeking some attention or is a bit aggressive as he tends to chase after people. Honey badgers are renowned for the bad temperament so the latter is probably true. He certainly puts an interesting angle on our camp guest briefing, but this is Africa after all and seeing wildlife such as this is what makes it all so special.
With the rain the bush has become brilliant emerald green and very dense but accompanying this change has been the amount of bird life around Andersson's Camp and the waterhole. Some recent guests counted 99 different species from our waterhole alone including Crimson-breasted Shrike, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Black-faced Waxbill, Southern Pied Babbler, Wattled Starling, Chestnut Weaver and Red-headed Finch. A new arrival has been a Spotted Eagle-owl who shows off his true colours as he hunts at the waterhole each evening.
Andersson's Camp will be celebrating its first birthday next month. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff at Andersson's for making this camp an excellent destination in the Etosha area.
-Darrell and Elaine Cerva-
Little Kulala update - February 09 Jump
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The Namib has been receiving and continues to receive wonderful rains for the last three weeks and it is not showing any signs of abating at the moment. This has brought welcome relief to all the larger animals, birds and plants after a very long and dry early summer. The area is turning green with many grass species germinating. Trees are sprouting new shoots, springbok are dropping lambs and the whole area is bursting with life.
The clouds make for spectacular sunsets and we have enjoyed rainbows in the sky and with the clouds provide very dramatic colours. Our area has also been carpeted with yellow flowers from the devil thorn plants.
Maximum 33º Celsius and minimum 18º Celsius recorded for the month. We are generally experiencing relatively humid weather at the moment with cloud build-up during the mornings and then rain in the area and occasionally at camp in the afternoon and early evenings. The two major rivers in the area are full: the Aub River close to camp has come down several times and the Tsauchab River that feeds Sossusvlei has been in flood regularly in February.
The river water has not managed to break through all the way to Sossusvlei yet though. Occasionally after rain storms there is water in small pans and pools in the Sossusvlei area but the main water pan has not been fed yet from the rivers. The Sesriem Canyon is filled with water and we will soon be able to swim in it once the sediments settle in the water. There is also a wonderful waterfall as the water from the Tsauchab enters the canyons mouth and plummets down 36 metres (120 feet).
There is a profusion of insects around at the moment with the cumbersome adult antlion being very impressive. In its adult phase this insect looks like a dragonfly and is mostly nocturnal.
There have been regular sightings of bat-eared and Cape foxes along with the usual sightings of wildlife like springbok, gemsbok and ostrich. Bird life is quite prolific and we have regular sightings of Namibia's only true endemic bird, the aptly named Dune Lark. There has been a lot of nest building activity from the likes of weavers, sparrows and martins.
"Aperitifs on drives and the reserved honeymoon dinner." (In the wine cellar!)
"Unigue room design, surrounding landscape and fantastic meals."
"Team work and very helpful staff."
Damaraland Camp update - February 09 Jump
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February kicked off with a wet start to the rainy season. We've had a remarkable 105.4mm rain so far in comparison to last year February (44.7mm). Along with the rain we've been blessed with extraordinary sunsets, painting the skies in pastel colours ranging from pink to orange and fluffy grey clouds and breathtaking rainbows lighting up the late afternoon skies.
Wildlife and Landscape
With February welcoming the start of the rainy season, Damaraland has gone from a red rocky and bare landscape to a green garden covered in petite wild flowers tinting the hills with purple, yellow and pink hues.
Along with the Huab River which started flowing on 13 Feb, nearly every other river has been in full flow, making travelling by vehicle slightly more challenging, but yet so adventurous.
Along with the lush vegetation, early mornings and sunsets are filled with the soothing sound of song from birds. Much to everyone's amazement, marble frogs have emerged from the dry cracked earth and are now enjoying the temporary pools created by Mother Nature.
The biggest of the three herds of desert-adapted elephants in Damaraland, were found in the Huab River system - all together for the first time in months. Moving into the area about a year ago it makes them the newest addition to the elephants seen in the area. The herd consists of 28 elephants, which is incredible for the area. They have three calves at the moment of which the youngest is eight months old.
The Cairns guests were lucky to find a fresh kill by an African wildcat.
We were delighted to welcome back guests Woerffel on their 6th visit to Namibia. Guests Marco and Jan made for two very interesting travel companions - They met several years ago at a skiing resort in Switzerland and have been travelling together ever since. Jan is also our second 80-year-old guest this year, and was very eager to take part in nearly every activity offered, but preferred relaxing by the pool with a gin & tonic.
Guests from Hawaii were so kind as to send several books to be donated to the Bergsig School. On 12 Feb, Duane, Karen and Pascolena went to the school and handed out the books and stationary.
Four local ladies from the two conservancies, Torra and Doro !Nawas, joined us in camp for a housekeeping and service training in-house course.
Lianshulu Lodge update - February 09 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
February has been a mild month at Lianshulu - we were expecting heavier rains but to no avail. Instead there were reports of the central regions receiving more rain than us, which is unusual. The pools along the roads and tracks have dried up and made our routes into the Mudumu National Park more accessible again. With the sun shining and clear skies for most of February, the evenings have been balmy and not so humid and hot, with the days mild and temperate.
It is certainly the green season, and the grasses are reaching shoulder height in some of the areas of the Park. Most bushes and flowers are budding, and fruiting trees are heavy with their produce. One needs to be careful when walking under the fig trees as it's common to have a few overripe fruit tumbling down every now and then.
Creepers and epiphytic plants are taking root in the bigger trees and in some areas Lianshulu Lodge seems like a jungle with dense canopies and vegetation. We have decided to allow some of the traditionally cut lawns alone and are trying to return them to a more natural state, but the rehabilitation will take a season or two.
On the Kwando River the water lilies are taking over in the quieter lagoons and are a beautiful sight. They are flowering now and the lily-trotting African Jacanas are raising their chicks on them.
The rainy season is traditionally a more difficult season for wildlife sightings in the Caprivi - wildlife like elephants and buffalo follow ancient migratory routes into Botswana or Zambia at this time of year. Wildlife normally spreads out in the park and move away from the roads, river and waterholes. That said we have still had enjoyable wildlife viewing and there have even been regular sightings of elephants: a bachelor group of an older bull and younger males has been frequently sighted along the Kwando River, downstream as well as in front of Lianshulu Lodge; an old lone bull has also been coming onto the island in front of the lodge and resting under the big trees in the hot midday; and a breeding group of females and youngsters has been foraging in the area.
Guests have also seen a pair of bat-eared foxes on recent drives and even a young African rock python crossing the road. Groups of zebra, impala, warthog and a lone buffalo bull were also seen this month out on drives and the ever-present hippo population on the popular boat cruise never let us down. Water-loving species like red lechwe, common waterbuck, reedbuck and even sitatunga are seen along the water edge on boat cruises.
What is phenomenal about the green season though is the baby boom! Nursery groups of impala and young zebra are an everyday sight, and in and around camp we have many busy parents trying to raise their young. On the property we have a bushbuck with a young fawn, she sticks to the thick bush and being such shy you have to be lucky to see her; the vervet monkeys are everywhere with at least six of the females toting young ones. They are about three months old, so finding their feet and getting a bit braver now.
In the mornings you can often find the monkeys in the fig tree next to our deck - the females sunning themselves, the adolescents making a mess with the ripe figs and the little ones daring each other to leave mom and join their older siblings in the tree.
Banded mongooses are very busy too, moving big distances to feed their litters, the group averaging on about 40 strong now can be seen coming through the grounds with young at all different stages, some being carried by the scruff of their necks, and others being encouraged to join the group and run a bit faster, all sticking close to adults so as not to be left behind.
A new hippo has joined the ranks, a young male who is clearly going through a tough time with mum pushing him off and dad pushing him out. He has found sanctuary in the lodge area and grazes on the grass at night. We'll have to see how much longer dad tolerates him so close to his territory.
Birds and Birding
Birding at Lianshulu is excellent as always. With the fruit-laden trees Lianshulu Lodge and area is attracting more and more. African Green Pigeons and Meyer's Parrots are sighted in the trees around the Lodge. A pair of African Barred Owlets has moved in and can be seen roosting in the trees during the daylight hours, and heard most of the night, while the fruit bats are in heaven with all the ripening fruit and budding flowers. A flock of African Pygmy-Goose have moved into the lagoon and are seen regularly as well as the African Jacanas and their recently fledged chicks.
Lianshulu has been taking a few guests 'back of house' - showing guests were the staff live, how we get our water, the workshop, the laundry etc. The feedback from these walks has been very positive, and guests have enjoyed finding out how things work.
"Animals seen were not in huge herds, but most species were seen and sightings were good."
"Excellent animal sightings, keen birders and added new species to our list."
"Camp Management Team was very friendly and the waiters were amazing!"
"Justin, our guide, was very honest about what we may or may not see - this was great."
Camp Rebuilds and Upgrades
We are working vigorously on our deck. It has had a bit of renovation underneath where support beams were replaced after damage done by termites and water. The flooring of the deck is also being redone, with old varnish being sanded off and the beautiful natural wood underneath showing its true value and worth.
Lianshulu Lodge sadly says goodbye to Petros and Gogo this month. Petros and Gogo are Zambia Camp Managers who came to help out in the three months that their camp was closed down due to the annual wet season in Zambia. We had a great time with them and enjoyed their expertise and knowledge.
-The Lianshulu Team-
Spirit of the Namib safari report (11-20 February 2009) Jump
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Having landed at Ongava Game Reserve and checked into Andersson's Camp at around 12h00 we headed off on an afternoon game drive on the reserve with Lesley, one of the guides from camp. We saw several herds of plains game and were lucky enough to find a new born baby springbok only 15-30 minutes old. Leaving this delicate creature we headed across Leopard Clearing but all the recent downpours had left the roads a morass and we duly got stuck. Realising how mired we were, we quickly arranged for another guide to collect our guests and get them back to camp for dinner, while we worked to free the vehicle, getting home at 24h00.
Having learnt our lesson, the next day we headed into the Etosha National Park for a full day trip and covered a large area with visits to productive waterholes like Rietfontein, Sueda, Salvadora, and Homob just to mention few. We encountered healthy herds of plains game such as springbok, gemsbok, zebra and blue wildebeest and after a relaxing lunch at Halali Camp in the central reaches of the park we headed back to Andersson's Camp. While enjoying dinner we were lucky enough to see a white rhino come down to drink and both nights while at Andersson's we were serenaded in our beds by lions roaring nearby. What an experience! It was also very special to hear the staff singing for us on our second night.
We left Andersson's on the third morning and headed to Palmwag Lodge where we arrived in time for lunch and had an excellent afternoon walk. Seeing that the weather did not bode well the following day we changed our itinerary and headed straight down to Damaraland Camp for the night, returning the following night. We then spent three days exploring the enormous Palmwag Concession reaching spectacular remote sites such as Aub Canyon or Van Zyl's Gat just to name few. While doing rhino tracking we saw black rhino close to the confluence of the Agab and Uniab Rivers and if that was not enough we also saw six lions that morning in the area of Groot Agab Spring. What an experience and luck! I personally didn't see any lions in the concession the whole of 2008! Summer in the Palmwag Concession is also the time for beautiful flowers - like the pictured string-of-stars (Heliotropium sp), aptly named indeed!
From Palmwag we headed south to Damaraland Camp via Twyfelfontein, Burnt Mountain and the Organ Pipes. We had lunch there, and after check in and siesta we went for lovely afternoon walk to explore the beauty of this magnificent area. Leaving early the next morning we headed to Swakomund via Uis and Henties Bay. Halfway between the camp and Uis we managed to get stuck again, but were very lucky to have the help and skills of local Damara people. We arrived for lunch in Swakopmund, where we tried local fish for lunch. A free afternoon in this lovely coastal town followed before we headed for bed at The Stiltz.
The next day after an early breakfast we headed to Walvis Bay to do the kayaking and after that the guests did a scenic flight across the Namib all the way down to Kulala Wilderness Camp at Sossusvlei. We drove through and met the guests for sundowners in camp with guests. The last full day of the trip we slept in and after brunch headed to Sesriem Canyon, thereafter proceeding to the enormous red dunes of Sossusvlei where we took nice relaxed afternoon walk into Dead Vlei. We had our sundowners back in camp again.
The last day of the trip we drove to Windhoek via the Spreetshoogte Pass and Rehoboth, and had lunch at Goche Ganas before we all took leave of each other with heavy hearts and a longing to be back out in Namibia's spectacular desert wilderness.
Governors' Camp update - February 09 Jump
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February was a hot and dry month with morning temperatures averaging 19ºC and mid day temperatures around 34°C. Some localised rain fell in the first two weeks of the month but since then the grasslands have been drying out and the Mara River level dropping.
There are still some trees in the woodlands fruiting, mainly Warburgia Ugandensis (African Greenheart) and this keeps the elephant in and out of the camps. One large bull elephant has been coming into Il Moran Camp almost every day. He has a habit of curling his trunk around a Warburgia tree and then giving it a good shake so the tasty fruit fall to his feet.
Hippos have also been nightly visitors to all our camps, keeping the grass levels down. Hippos are typical herbivores that crop the grass by using their lips (they have a horny layer on the top and bottom lip to assist this) and the grass is then processed by large molars at the rear of the mouth. Their large canines are weapons of defence; this can be seen when they yawn to an almost 80° gape in a display of dominance. The deep scars they carry show the damage they can inflict on one another.
Groups of male giraffe, and waterbuck, are resident on the fringes of the woodland and topi and their four month old calves are often seen congregated into small herds throughout the grassland plains.
Two days ago a lioness from the Marsh pride killed a female warthog opposite the entrance into Il Moran and then yesterday evening a beautiful large male leopard was seen close to the entrance to camp.
Herds of wildebeest with their calves have been seen on the edges of the reserve and Bat Eared Fox's and Black Back Jackals are ever present. The early morning is a special time to see a family of little foxes sunning themselves; they will stay out until the morning heat warms up and then go to ground, often in old termite holes.
Good numbers of Zebra graze out on the plains and there are a few zebra foals about now; their coat pattern is brown and white and the brown will slowly turn to black when they are 6 months old.
Large breeding herds of Impala and solitary Bushbuck frequent the riverine woodland; the bushbuck in particular favour the open glades. There are some large troops of Olive baboons near the Marsh and within the riverine woodlands. Another tree; Teclea Simplicifolia is fruiting at the moment, the fruit starts off green and then turns bright red like a ripe coffee bean; Baboons and others in the subfamily (Cercopithecinae) love this fruit. And they often rise early to start feeding on these fruits.
A Black Rhino has been on the plains and in the croton thickets in the last three days, so the 'Big five" can be seen in a morning's drive. Across the open grassland plains there are many warthog with young who are 3-4 months old. Unfortunately, there is a high mortality rate with warthog piglets and by the time they reach 6-8 months old (in which time they would have been weaned), a sow may loose 40-50% of her offspring with predation and temperature variation paying a major role. Warthogs are often seen running off in single file with erect, needle-shaped tails; juveniles will file in a fixed order and at the first sense of danger, warthogs and young will bolt and turn at the last second to enter their bolt holes rear end first. Lion will often go to the extra effort to dig them out.
The Marsh/Bila Shaka pride with 4 lionesses and 9 cubs of varying ages have been resident around the Musiara swamp and marsh areas. Three days ago they killed a zebra on the river bed that borders the reserve and a few days ago, they nearly brought down a male buffalo, but with a bit of luck and the help of two other bulls, the buffalo got away with a sore rump and flank. The same three buffalo are seen regularly and the wound is healing well; often with lion bites and deep scratches, septicemia can easily set in.
The Paradise pride is made up of 7 females and 6 males, one of whom (large blond-maned) is Notch and the other five younger males are his nephews. These lion are often seen close to the River and if the River levels are low they cross back and forth.
The Ridge/Maternity pride of 6 lionesses, one male and 9 cubs of varying ages are also thriving. These lions are often found on the western grass plains and towards the croton thickets nearing the banks of the River.
Another lioness and her male cub have been seen close to the Paradise pride's territory where there is plenty of prey and another nomadic male and two lionesses have also been hunting close by.
The coalition of three young cheetah have been up on the ridges and across the plains. They have been feeding off Zebra yearlings and Topi calves.
Shakira and her three seven month old female cubs are doing well they are feeding off Thomson Gazelle fawns and a few days ago she killed a male Thomson Gazelle.
The female cheetah (Serena) with her two approximately 15 month old cubs; one male and one female cub, were last seen in the Paradise area and just latterly have been crossing the Mara River where the water levels are low. Like lion they regularly cross back and forth. Another lone female has been hunting near the Marsh.
A large male leopard has made his home in the croton thickets near the River and a few days ago he was stalking a female warthog on the riverbank, but an impala snorted alerting the warthog of the leopard's presence and the warthog ran off to see another day.
In the scrub and riverine woodlands of the River, there are two females, one with two cubs estimated at 4-5 months old and another with a much older male cub of 8-9 moths old.
Another female leopard, resident close to the Riverine Woodland near Governors' Private Camp has a nasty wound on the base of her tail and we think this was a result of a skirmish with Olive Baboons or a spotted Hyena over a kill.
There have been a few more sightings reported of Zawadi and her two 3 month old on the fringes of the reserve.
On the feathered front; Spoonbill Storks are being seen in the Musiara Marsh. Eurasian Bee Eaters are also around now and we have had some lovely sightings of them in large flocks as they fly low over the grassland plains. The Kori Bustard males have been displaying; raising their tail feathers to expose fluffy under tail coverts and inflating their neck feathers whilst emitting a deep resonant honk.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
Don't forget we have some fantastic special offers on safaris at the moment and there is still time to book your migration safari.
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