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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp update - October 09 Jump
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October has been true to form and held onto its reputation as the driest month in the Pafuri region. With the rains still not having arrived the wind carries dust clouds that settle on every surface. Large congregations of wildlife line the banks of the depleted Luvuvhu River for a drop of precious liquid as temperatures soar to heights of 48°C, making for excellent game viewing. Birding has also been exciting this month with several migratory species arriving.
Pafuri waits impatiently for the heavens to open and soak the land with rain. Promising clouds are seen on the horizon and we expect November to bring the showers we so desperately need. Although dry and arid in parts now, Pafuri remains the most beautiful piece of bush in South Africa: A true gem and the epitome of "pure wilderness".
Elephants, elephants and more elephants have dominated the sighting book with up to eight different herds being seen in one afternoon. Total numbers on the concession are estimated at over 300 animals. Enthralling viewing came from breeding herds of up to 80 strong, as well as bachelor groups of more than 15 bulls. One evening we watched as 12 elephant bulls completely submerged themselves in the deep waters at Crooks' Corner, playing and climbing on each other as if they were putting on a theatre production just for us. Buffalo too have been plentiful.
A formidable lion pride is currently developing and on no fewer than 11 days of the month the full assembly of 12 lion was seen: the dominant male, three adult lionesses, two sub-adults and six cubs. Some fascinating interaction between the pride and three elephant bulls was witnessed one evening when the elephant sent the pride scattering in all directions.
Leopard sightings have been fair but not seen as frequently as in the previous month, perhaps because of the persistent presence of the lion pride. Nevertheless, with 13 different sightings one cannot complain. A female leopard was seen to stalk and successfully kill a bushbuck, a mating pair was seen, and we even had leopard drinking in front of Pafuri Camp one night as we ate our dinner. Rhino have also been seen fairly regularly.
We were extremely excited that one of the walking trails groups saw three giraffe on the southern banks of the Luvuvhu River - this is a very rare sighting in the area and an indication of how dry it is beyond the river to the south of the concession. Herds of up to 50 eland, as well as several lone bulls, have been seen several times this month, along with another rare sighting of two sable bulls. Two common reedbuck were also seen on the Limpopo floodplains, also regarded as a rare species in the Kruger National Park. We also enjoyed many sightings of the diminutive and elusive Sharpe's grysbok.
Other interesting mammal sightings included: a baboon capturing a nyala fawn; porcupine with young; a black-backed jackal with three pups; Jameson's red rock rabbit; several bushpig; African wild cat, white-tailed mongoose, genet and African civet.
With the temperatures rising we have seen more activity from the reptiles. Several snake species were seen, including a 3m African rock python, along with the likes of black mamba, snouted cobra, boomslang and the less venomous striped-bellied sand snake. In the river in front of pafuri Camp we watched several crocodile feeding on a waterbuck carcass and we've also found several crocodile nesting sites.
Our feathered friends did not disappoint us this month. We enjoyed some spectacular sightings of some magnificent species. A Verreaux's Eagle-Owl was seen catching a Helmeted Guineafowl, only to be joined by its mate for the feeding. Another Verreaux's Eagle-Owl also launched itself at an unsuspecting klipspringer which just managed to escape. A pair of Bat Hawks mobbed an African Crowned Eagle. Some of the migratory bird species to have already arrived include: European Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Violet-backed Starling, African Cuckoo, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Red-chested Cuckoo and Barn Swallow.
Pafuri Walking Trail update - October 09 Jump
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I've been guiding in the Pafuri Makuleke Contractual Park for almost three years and as a guide, especially one who specialises in trails, it is definitely a difficult place to beat. Not only are we blessed with 75% of the biodiversity of Kruger as a whole within only 1% of the Kruger's surface area, but also ever-changing scenery that takes one's breath away.
This year it got even better: we started Pafuri Walking Trails, giving our guests the opportunity to walk with one of our experienced trails guides in this amazing wilderness. And what a year of discovery, sightings and excitement it has been. Guests stay in one of three fly-camps which are not permanent. Our ground crew deals with all the logistics of moving and setting up the camps, allowing us to alternate between them, thereby lessening the degree of the ecological impact.
The last two months have been very exciting with several cat sightings on foot and on virtually every walk guests and guide alike have seen elephant and buffalo.
One trail in particular sums up the wonder and beauty of this walking experience. We were woken on the first morning by the roaring of the Pafuri lion pride. Both Masuku (second rifle and tracker extraordinaire) and I looked eager-eyed at one another and, with the group of guests, went tracking the pride. Not long after setting off we found spoor, and with the impala alarm calls up ahead, we knew we were on the right track. Soon we spotted three of the pride feeding on a nyala bull kill. The lions had already spotted us and after a while they moved off into nearby cover. With that the scavengers, waiting their turn anxiously, flew in: Tawny Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite, Hooded and White-backed Vulture squabbled over the scraps of a nyala vertebral column and skull.
We set off once again, very pleased with ourselves, and not long afterwards Masuku spotted another two lionesses from the pride together with two new cubs of only about a month old. They were looking down at us from a rocky ledge halfway up the sandstone ridge of Hutwini, the distance giving both parties a chance to contemplate each other safely, the inquisitive cubs in particular showing much interest.
The morning walk was not over yet! A little while later we saw two porcupine scrambling up the ridge as we were making our way to one of the perennial springs of the area - an unusual day-time sighting of this nocturnal species. Soon after that we cautiously investigated the insistent chattering of a tree squirrel and spotted another nyala carcass - the fresh kill of a male leopard whose tracks littered the ground around the dead antelope. The continued chattering of the squirrel indicated the route the leopard had taken and we were lucky to catch a glimpse of this impressive cat running into cover on the boulder-strewn slopes of Hutwini.
A week later, while taking a moment to rest on top of a hill next to the same spring, eyes absorbing the detail of the scenery, we saw another leopard - a female this time. She must have watched us for some time while we were on the hill before we spotted her, which we only did because she decided to move...
Sadly this year's trails have ended, but we look forward to beginning again in April 2010 with our walking season running through until the end of October. Those who enjoy walking, getting close to nature and love spending valued and re-energising time out in one of the most beautiful wild places on earth should definitely come and join us.
Kings Camp update - October 09 Jump
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For this months report we are doing something different than the usual wildlife report. I have decided to write about only one story this month as this great experience in my opinion cannot be covered in only a few lines of the normal reports. We hope you will enjoy it.
I was extremely fortunate to witness a spectacular lion hunt of three full-grown male lions hunting a herd of more than 300 Cape buffalo. As a field guide and wildlife photographer I wish that more guests could have seen this incredible sighting that morning.
It took place early one morning in October. The temperature was already climbing and a very hot day lay ahead in the African Bush. The three "Timbavati male lions" were located at one of the big dams resting in the shade of a tree. Very few game drive vehicles were on drive that morning and I decided to respond to the sighting before it got too hot. I assumed that in the heat, the lions were looking for a spot to rest up for the day. However, this was not the case, as shortly after arriving at the sighting the three big boys arose and marched off purposely in a Northerly direction as if on a mission. The lions continued on steadily with us in hot pursuit following them through the thickets.
The guests on my vehicle of course loved it as the lions were doing something constructive for a change. At one point the lions came to halt listening intently to their surroundings. This gave me a chance to switch the engine off and admire these beauties. At this point while chatting to the guests, I caught a faint bellow from a buffalo herd to the north. At that point it sounded as if the herd was still well off in the distance. The lions however had other ideas, they stared intently in the direction of the bellows and it was then that I realized that these guys wanted more than cornflakes for breakfast. They immediately bee lined towards the bovines who were still not visible to lion or us. The terrain made it tough for me to follow the lions manoeuvring through the thick Acacia bush in my Land Rover. At times I had to slow right down to first gear to prevent damage to the vegetation as I zigzagged between the mazes of trees.
Suddenly out the corner of my eye I noticed one of the males charging off with the other two males closely behind. At this point I lost all visual of the lions for about thirty seconds as I hastily drove in the direction that the lions had disappeared. I caught up with them to find that they had already downed a buffalo calf that they had snatched out of the herd. The calf lay motionless on its side still alive but unable to move probably due to the massive shock it sustained from the impact as the lions knocked it down. Still alive and unable to get up, the herd responded aggressively and moved with intent towards the lions. The lions reacted defensively to this retaliation by the buffalo as the shear number of the herd drove the lions off the young buffalo. This titanic battle was far from being over. The buffalo took back the calf and were standing now over it to protect it from the lions. The lions backed off to about ten meters from the buffalo growling and snarling with intent to attack again at any minute. With an explosive charge one of the males counter attacked the herd of buffalo and charged straight towards them with the other two males as back up. The herd of bovines immediately turned and stampeded away in a cloud of red dust leaving the calf again at the mercy of the hungry cats. This was a crucial moment in the battle and a deciding factor that would decider the victor of this encounter in the end.
The lions Realised at this moment that even though the herd had approached them they could easily be driven off by a counter aggressive response from the lions. For the next fifteen or so minutes the herd kept coming back as stampede after stampede the lions and buffalo toiled for the calf. By this time the calf was critically injured and there was no hope of saving it. The lions knew this too and merely played a game of chess with the buffalo,” Your move and then mine with check mate imminent.”
With one final onslaught, the herd made a last asserted effort to free the calf and bombarded the lions. This time they meant business! The lions backed off in a flash and immediately lay down flat in the grass facing the buffalos growling with anger. The buffalo then in a very unusual behaviour started to horn the now dead calf as if attacking it. I have seen this kind of behaviour before and I put it down to pure adrenalin, anger and possible fear. More than likely they are attacking the scent of the lions on the dead calf.
Two large male buffalo bulls pushed forward to within an arms length of the lions and one of the lions immediately pounced onto the back of one of the bulls but was immediately tossed off by the bucking animal. The male lions quickly moved back to the carcass and placed their bodies on top of the dead calf to cover it an attempt to prevent the buffalo from getting to it.
The battle was finally over and won. It took the lions twenty minutes to win this battle that morning. The vocalization that was generated by both the lions and buffalo was deafening at times. A cloud of dust hung thick overhead reminiscent of smoke smouldering from cannons after an intense battle. The guests were shocked at what has just happened and took a few minutes to gather their thoughts and realize that they had witnessed something very rarely seen.
Fortunately a film crew currently working in the reserve was present and managed to capture the whole story as it unfolded. A video clip from one of our guests of the battle can also be seen on our web blog. www.kingscamp.com/blog
Take care from Patrick and the rest of the rangers and trackers.
Report By Patrick O’Brien (Head Ranger)
Photography by Patrick O'Brien.
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - October 09 Jump
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Rain, rain, go away, come again another day! We've loved seeing our landscape change from the brown colours of winter to the lovely shades of summer's green - but enough with the rain already! Although the boat rides to the dive sites have been a bit miserable in the rain, they have been worth it!
The month began with sightings of no fewer than four whalesharks on the way out to the first dive of the day at Elusive, followed by another two the following day.
The bottlenose dolphins have been quite scarce this month, however during a dive at Gogo's we were rewarded with two dolphins slowly swimming across the sand patch in front of us. Mia, Jaco and Caroline, who were on their first sea dive after having successfully completed their pool sessions of their Discover Scuba Diving course, were thrilled to see the dolphins. The thrills didn't end there though - on our drive back to the beach we were surrounded by spinner dolphins which were travelling along with a group of humpback whales! What a magical day for everyone.
We had lots of other magical whale moments this month as the sightings continued. We saw a baby humpback whale having a wonderful time breaching over and over again - and the Wiggin family sent us the photos they managed to get, such as the one on the left.
Turtle season usually begins mid-October when we are blessed with sightings of loggerhead and leatherback turtles as they come ashore at night to lay their eggs. Loggerhead turtles are often seen during dives, but leatherbacks are very rarely seen in the ocean as they live much deeper and are not normally found on the shallow reefs we dive. On the eighth of October, whilst on the way to Elusive, Darryl spotted something floating at the surface and on closer inspection he exclaimed that it was two loggerhead turtles mating! Quickly donning snorkelling gear Ondyne and the divers quietly snorkelled up to the turtles to get a closer look. A minute later the female descended with the male loggerhead still clinging to her back. What an amazing and rare moment to witness.
Some good news for the turtles is the abundance of big jellyfish on the beach and in the ocean. Jellyfish are an excellent food source for turtles, especially the leatherbacks which only eat jellyfish and bluebottles and do not hunt for other food on the shallow reefs like the loggerhead turtles do. When we first arrived here we saw hundreds of jellyfish during the months of October and November, so many that you would swim around them as you descended and as you ascended from dives! And so many would wash out along the shore that they formed a line of purple jelly "blobs" as far as the eye could see. We saw this happen in 2001, 2002, 2003 and still a few in 2004 - but we haven't seen these big jellyfish for the past four years, so it is wonderful to see them again!
Another sighting that brought much excitement amongst the divers was that of a weedy scorpionfish. Ondyne first found it at Pineapple Reef and again ten days later! Luckily this time the divers had their cameras with them and were able to get some fantastic photos of this very rarely seen fish!
With the water temperatures being quite cold, Darryl mentioned to the divers that it might confuse the ragged tooth sharks and bring them into our area. These sharks are found around the Eastern Cape, in waters colder than that which we experience along our coastline. At the same time each year the sharks move northwards up the coast towards the Durban area, to a place well known for its shark diving: Aliwal Shoal. The sharks congregate here during their mating season and then the females continue northwards and the males return home. If our waters are still quite cool then we sometimes see both males and females in our area but by the time December arrives our water is too warm for the males and only the females remain here, for approximately three months. This time is spent resting before the females return home to the colder waters to have their babies.
During a dive at Gogo's on the ninth, divers saw three raggies, two males and one female. These were the first ragged tooth sightings of the season, so we are hoping that the water will warm up soon!
The following day Darryl saw a 3m tiger shark at Pineapple Reef - a quick sighting, before it disappeared into the depths. That day we had noticed a very strong fishy smell coming from somewhere around the Pineapple and Aerial Reef vicinity; the following day the smell was still very strong and we could see an oil slick on the surface of the water. The next day a dive at Aerial confirmed our suspicions that something must have died in the area. On the southern end of the reef Ondyne found the remains of a humpback whale calf - approximately five metres in length. It was a sad sight to see, knowing that this little calf did not make it back home, but nature takes its course and very quickly the carcass was disappearing. There was a fair bit of meat left on the carcass but we could see lots of bite and scratch marks on the soft bones. Each time we dived at Aerial we went to have a look and were amazed at how quickly it was broken up. Virtually all that remains now are a few rib bones and a small piece of the head. During this time there were a couple more sightings of tiger sharks - no wonder, with an easy meal right there for them.
On the last day of the month Ondyne and her divers were 40 minutes into their dive at Pineapple Reef, when a large shark appeared alongside the reef. At first Ondyne thought it was a tiger shark, a rare, but reasonably regular sighting. She then realised it was a great white shark, a species very seldom seen on our inshore reefs. She quickly got the divers' attention so that they didn't miss out on this absolutely incredible sighting. The great white, about three-and-a-half metres in length, circled the divers, taking a good look - and then moved off. Just when everyone thought the area was clear, Ondyne felt an urgent tapping on her shoulder - the great white had reappeared. It circled the divers a few more times, at about 15 metres, coming unnervingly close before moving off, clearly having decided there was nothing worth investigating. Ondyne then decided this was enough attention and so the divers began ascending, all eyes keeping an extremely close watch on this incredible predator of the seas. The divers all clambered into the boat with Ondyne keeping an eye on the shark under water. Pretty unnerving and a first for all the divers! It was Michael and Ruth's first ever South African sea dive, and an early 75th birthday present for Patric! We think he'd prefer something different for his birthday next year though!
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle & Ondyne
The Rocktail Dive Team
Rocktail Bay Turtle Report - October 09 Jump
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Hello and welcome back to ALL our turtle fans, adopted families and followers. As of 15 October the 2009/2010 turtle nesting season is open! The beach is as prepared as ever and we hope this is going to be a bumper year for our endangered sea-faring, beach-nesting Loggerhead and Leatherback Turtles.
After 15 years of diligent turtle monitoring Rocktail Bay Lodge has handed over the reins to Rocktail Beach Camp and this is where all turtle monitoring for this season will be based.
In preparation for what is sure to be another fantastic turtle season we find ourselves in the unique position of being able to offer no fewer than five turtle guides this year: three are newly trained and two are of course the experienced and long-serving Gugu and Mbongeni. Our three new guides, Siphiwe, Muntu and Ashley, were invited up to Bhanga Nek where along with 20 or so community members they underwent what can only be described as an enjoyable but hard work two-day course during which Eric, Jennifer and Santos from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife put everyone through their paces. The monitoring protocols for turtle recording have changed only marginally from last year. In addition to nesting activity and marked turtles, we are now noting any markings on the carapace or flippers.
Breaking news, and also new for this season, is the news that the coastal protected area has been extended all the way up the coast to Maputo in neighbouring Mozambique. This is not just good news for the turtles but also for all the rural communities along the coastline which will in the future benefit from the increased turtle tourism possibilities. We all hope that the new 'Kosi-Ponta Transfrontier Park' will soon become one of the foremost turtle havens in the world.
With a new turtle season comes 'turtle fever' with all our guests falling in love with these chelonian visitors and their unique stories. This season we have launched the 'Turtle Adoption Book' - a turtle-shaped book placed in a prominent position in the bar to enable our guests to contribute to the cause of these threatened species. All adoption monies make a difference to the considerable running costs of this vital conservation project. The book itself is also a chance for guests to be as creative as they like with their page and to leave their own mark. To remind them of their contribution, each guest will also receive a certificate of adoption, a cuddly toy turtle and of course a monthly newsletter updating them on the previous four weeks of turtle activity.
The weather these past two weeks has battered us, the jellyfish have come out in force and the sand has been too wet to drive on but still the guests have been heading out by the Land Rover-load each night, all hoping to catch a glimpse of what can only be described as one of nature's great events. Gugu and Mbongeni have been taking these drives, with Siphiwe, Muntu and Ashley starting our guided beach walks from 1st November. Rocktail Beach Camp is prepared, ready and excited for this special time of year. Even the camp management have adopted a turtle each to kickstart the season, their contribution to reverse the decline in turtle numbers the world over.
Keep an eye out for our updates and photos as the season progresses.
Makalolo Plains update - October 09 Jump
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Little Makalolo update - October 09 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
As we waved goodbye to a windy September, October greeted us with sporadic rainfall for two days. This cool weather did not last very long and the heat arrived with a vengeance. The heat has been consistent throughout the day, with the evenings cooling slightly. Towards the end of the month a huge storm blew in and gave the dry ground some much-needed moisture. Due to this the frogs have started to be much more vocal at night and snake sightings are almost a daily occurrence. The large 'sundowner' moths share our taste for white wine and join us in the evenings while the 'shongololos' (black millipedes) make tracks across the paths.
Even with the little rainfall we received, the vegetation immediately flourished. It is looking lush and green everywhere and the small shrubs are waiting patiently for the stronger rains. The silver terminalia's growth has been stunted somewhat by the elephant population constantly feeding on them but they are trying to make a new start with lots of little green leaves. The sunsets are dazzling with the scattered clouds lending the skies some intense pinks, purples and oranges. The bush feels alive with the anticipation of more rain to come.
The rhino sightings have been excellent! Numbers 25, 77 and 19 (for research purposes Hwange's reintroduced rhino have all been assigned a number and ear-notched) have been seen up and about, and Number 47's calf is growing and can be seen quite clearly above the tall grass next to its mother. The calf's horn is now a small visible bump.
Elephant are seen in their hundreds around waterholes with numerous young calves walking in their large mothers' footsteps. A special sighting by one our guests, who was awake early, was a wild dog at the pan in front of camp. Other special sightings were a male cheetah on a wildebeest kill by Back Pan, and a pride of 12 lions at a buffalo kill just outside camp.
The birds are as talkative as ever and awaken guests and staff alike with their sweet chirpings. The call of the Red-billed Francolin and Arrow-marked Babbler however, are not so welcome first thing in the morning! We continue to see more and more birds migrating back and the Red-headed Weaver is furiously building his nest for his mate's approval between the office and kitchen. The four babies of one of the Red-billed Francolins are growing up nicely and can be seen as little bundles of fluff dashing around camp eating insects and curiously venturing into buildings, much to the delight off staff members and guests alike - even the men have been captivated by their charms!
"Given that this is our first time in Africa we did not know what to expect but the last 3 days have truly been a life changing experience. From the first welcome drink to the personal touches left in our room, each day. To the amazing good, unforgettable sundowners setting to inviting campfires with great discussions and to the first class hospitality shown by each and every staff member - it made our honeymoon unforgettable. We both look forward to returning to Africa and we will definitely spread the word about Little Makalolo and this beautiful country." Sophie and Erik, Hungary
"Our Journey with you has changed our lives; our hope is that you and your countrymen will prosper and that you shall forever enrich the world with your joy and humour." Mr. and Mrs S
Manager: Charles Ndlovu
Guides: Godfrey Kunzi, Lewis Mangava, Lawrence, Theunis
Hostess: Angeline Mhlanga, Tamlyn Smith
Chef: Mayisa Mpala, Sendy Nkomazana, Alex
Maintenance: Charles, Never, Babusi
Waiters: Jabulani, Tawanda, Alickson, Makeyi
Housekeepers: Jibani, Tawanda, Pagiwa
Ruckomechi Camp update - October 09 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
October has been very hot, as is expected at this time of year, with unusual winds. The advantage of these winds is that the curtain of haze over the Zambian Escarpment lifted early, leaving the awesome mountains fully exposed once again for us all to appreciate. Temperatures have been soaring into the low forties and humidity levels are consistently rising as we approach the forthcoming wet season.
The Zambezi River level has still not risen and large sandbanks are developing all over; small channels are becoming increasingly shallow and the mudbanks are getting larger by the day.
The dry season has hit with a vengeance and the concession is looking very dry and dusty. On the up side, the thinning bush makes for much easier wildlife viewing and more and more animals are venturing down to the river's edge each day.
The sausage trees are all heavy with fruit now and each tree provides shade and much-needed food for passing troops of hungry baboons. The baobabs are almost finished flowering, having done so much earlier than usual this year. The last remaining blooms hang on the ends of the boughs until a strong wind sends them plummeting to the ground. The soft and fibrous bark of these magnificent trees is very attractive to elephant at this time of the year when the bulk of their diet is made up of fibre due to the shortage of other forage.
Ruckomechi Camp has once again been the playground for large herds of elephant. Every day these large, graceful creatures mill around the camp feeding on the succulent ana tree pods they so love. Visitors are often surprised to see one of these giants wandering confidently across the main deck area while staff stand back to let them pass in peace. The spectacle of a group of the elephants swimming across the Zambezi in front of the camp each day never ceases to amaze people, and watching them keep the little ones tightly enclosed between all their bodies when in the strong current is a sight to behold indeed.
Leopard sightings have increased this month and now that the bush is so sparse and dry we are seeing them quite regularly. One leopard was observed being chased by a young lion and seeking refuge in a small tree where he continued to jump from tree to tree to escape the attentions of the lion.
Two young male cheetah have been seen on many occasions around the Ruckomechi River area and they seem to have become accustomed to the vehicles and act quite relaxed when approached. These two magnificent creatures have entertained many of our visitors with sightings of them chasing impala and warthog. It is always a treat to see such animals as they are not common in the area and we hope that they may stay around for a while.
October has been a good month for fishing at Ruckomechi, with the average size tiger fish being approximately 2.7kg (6lbs) and the largest for the month being 6kg (13.5lbs).
A colourful array of kingfishers can always be seen from the main deck area and these include the Malachite, Pied, Giant and Brown-Hooded Kingfishers. Flashes of crimson from the low-flying Carmine Bee-Eaters catch one's eye when sitting on the deck over the water as these wonderful birds fly low over the water in search of insects to feed upon. White-fronted and Little Bee-Eaters are a common sight as well.
As the waterholes dry up inland, an abundance of catfish are left floundering in the shallows, which invites many opportunists to take advantage of an easily caught meal. Yellow-billed Storks are very proficient at this type of fishing and successfully retrieve catfish from the muddy water, often to be harassed by approaching Marabou Storks who attempt to steal the fish from their smaller cousins.
The African Skimmer is a common sight on the river most evenings as they gracefully glide over the surface leaving hardly a ripple in their wake. We will likely only be seeing these visiting birds for a few more weeks before their departure to other parts.
- "We really appreciate the high level of service provided and professional nature and kindness of all in camp."
- "It was a truly amazing experience! Fishing on the Zambezi and viewing the wildlife at the same time. The staff were all so knowledgeable and willing to do anything to make guests feel at home."
- "Fabulous settings, great guides and the feeling of camping with all the comforts."
Caro, Graeme, Sibs, Clea, Kevin, Tendayi and Alistair
Jeremy, Bryan and Matthew
Mana Canoe Trail update - October 09 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
October has been very hot and unusually windy too. The haze has lifted and the spectacular Zambezi Escarpment is once again clearly visible and towering majestically over the river.
The valley is very dry and the inland water pans have almost completely devoid of any water. Both the land and the animals eagerly await the forthcoming rains, and as large dark clouds start to build up on most afternoons there is a definite air of expectancy.
The dry season sees the bush thinning out and the animals having to work so much harder for their food. Despite the heat and this scarcity of food, the Zambezi Valley continues to amaze its many visitors with spectacular wildlife sightings. The sparse vegetation has added advantage for our intrepid travellers making it easier to walk and spot animals.
Elephant frolic in the river on a daily basis and divide their time between the mainland and the reed islands. Large herds of females and babies cross over to the islands regularly and many a guest is amazed by the ability of these graceful animals to swim across the powerful current with their young carefully protected amongst the larger animals. As the canoes drift quietly past the elephant it would seem that they are unconcerned with all around them and are only interested in cooling their huge bodies in the waters of the Zambezi River.
Lion have been sighted on five separate occasions this month - all seen on walks on the Mana Floodplain. Three hyaena were spotted with lion one day, the lion secretively hiding in the long "adrenalin" grass.
African wild dog have been seen twice, once while they were chasing an impala to the river's edge, where the fortunate antelope escaped with its life by jumping into the river. Nyala have been sighted for the first time this season, causing much excitement all round. A beautiful male was seen near Chikwenya Airstrip, seemingly oblivious to the vehicle watching it.
114 bird species were seen during October and there was much excitement when the first European Bee-eaters were sighted. Some other special sightings included a Striped Kingfisher and Red-chested Cuckoo.
A Martial Eagle killed a monitor lizard and was seen feeding on it high up in the boughs of a mopane tree. Not even a metre away it was carefully watched by a Tawny Eagle, perhaps hoping for a morsel of the hapless lizard for itself.
Guests at Ilala campsite are often serenaded by the distinctive call of the Pearl-spotted Owlet in the early evening, the surrounding tall trees providing a wonderful haven for these shy birds.
- "Excellent service, attention to detail, fabulous sunsets and wonderful picnics on the river."
- "Do not change a thing, it is all perfect."
- "Wild dogs up close and nearby, everyone went out of their way to make us happy and comfortable, the food was amazing."
Toka Leya Camp update - October 09 Jump
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It's amazing to think that it has been just a little under five months since this area experienced any rain. This all changed on October 1st, where we had a shower that, although not very long, signified the first rains of the season.
We soon realised it was only a foretaste of what was to follow a few days later, when on 11th October we experienced a storm to rival any that we have seen over the last 12 months. In a matter of two hours that night the vicious south-easterly blew in around 20mm of rain - the horizontal type - and we sat at dinner marvelling at Nature at work. The following morning the area around the camp was glistening, the grass was looking greener and, as the days passed, we witnessed an amazing transformation of the woodland and riverine scrub. Finally, the thirst of the parched land has been quenched.
Lots of guests head out on their game drives hoping for a white rhino sighting, and most are not disappointed. Some don't even have to leave camp... One particular male spent an entire day around Toka Leya Camp, feeding, marking and finally resting in the shade under a tree at Tent 12. Although not frequent, this is not the first time we have witnessed this behaviour and it bodes well for future sightings.
A huge bonus this month has been the sightings, on four separate occasions (once with a kill), of African wild dog, last seen in June. Our guides are beginning to get a real sense of their movements, although they are difficult to track because their range covers the entire Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park.
Buffalo have been very accommodating this month and have been seen near Toka Leya quite often, seeking out the rain-induced newly-lush grasses around camp.
Elephant, although seen very often on river cruises and game drives, have not been as noticeable around camp as in previous months. One early morning fishing expedition down the mighty Zambezi turned into a jaw-dropping moment of complete awe and wonder as we witnessed the crossing of a large male elephant from the mainland through a deep channel onto an island to feed. With his trunk used as a snorkel, the giant pachyderm navigated the slow moving channel with ease. It was a never-to-be-forgotten sight: this massive animal disappearing under the water with only the trunk exposed.
Birding was a delight in October, with many juvenile African Skimmers being seen from the sand banks south of the camp. Migrants of all shapes and sizes have been visiting our surrounds and the European Bee-eaters are now back in force. Some guests decided to explore one of the many small islands on the mighty Zambezi as part of their early morning trip and came across a possible Shelley's Sunbird. Shelley's is a very rare sunbird for this area, sighted only a handful of times before.
The white-stemmed thorn trees that dominate the camp make for even more striking viewing when on the top of the branches one sees two Broad-billed Rollers happily showing off their yellow beaks - an absolute treat! We have also enjoyed sightings of Rock Pratincoles on the boat trips.
We have had various sightings of the White-backed Night-Heron behind some islands, where the backwaters are very still, and where they can go about their activities undisturbed. These birds look a little alien with their "eye patches" and large round saucer eyes; and are very at home on the Zambezi.
Popular activities this time of the year outside the Toka Leya realm include white-water rafting and visits to Livingstone Island. These activities, popular at this time of the year due to the low water levels and access to the rapids and island respectively, offer just a taste of what's available in this area.
An update on our tree replanting project from last month is that the trees are doing extremely well. One would expect a few of them to have been trampled by large game moving around the camp, but they have all survived unscathed and will continue to grow into the landscape, providing refuge for all manner of animal, bird, reptile and insect life. We also planted another hundred trees this month and so far so good.
- "Our hearts were touched, our minds enriched by all the very special people at this beautiful camp! What an incredible experience" P & P K, Czech Republic
- "This was our first stop on our first African experience and it was spectacular. While the sight of a white rhino in our tent yard after breakfast was a special bonus, all the animal sightings were wonderful. But as much as the flora and fauna it was the staff here that make us feel welcome and comfortable with our African experience. Thank you." M & J H, USA
- "Lovely staff, great food, beautiful setting. I loved the tent and natural environment" A N, UK
Marc Harris, Justice Chasi, Mulenga Pwapwa, Jacqui Munakombwe, Amon Ngoma, Mike Muvishi
Lufupa Tented Camp update - October 09 Jump
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October at Lufupa Tented Camp sees summer in full swing, with only an occasional cloud formation hinting at the rains of the emerald season to come. Every living creature is making full use of the river with elephant bathing and buffalo dining on reeds of the river bank.
In the last days of October we experienced our first rainfall, a monumental and glorious occasion for Lufupa. Everything changed overnight: the air quality, the smells, the birdsong ... The first notes have signalled the new season's start.
Wildlife and Birding
Our guests have had amazing sightings of lion, cheetah, leopard, hyaena, elephant and wild dog on game drives. As if the land wasn't enough, the river makes Lufupa so unique with sightings of hippo, crocodile, African Fish-Eagle, Giant Kingfisher, Cattle Egret and magical iridescent banded groundling dragonflies. The river has provided infinite opportunities for stunning sunsets and photographic explorations.
The birth of impala has brought a freshness to the African savannah with sightings of two- and three-hour-old babies taking their first steps being common. We even had one wandering through camp calling out for mum. Our resident elephant and warthog family have also been enjoying the nutrients in the grass and foliage near camp.
Children in the Wilderness
We had the privilege and great pleasure of hosting 24 local children during the last week of October for Children in the Wilderness, and song and dance filled the air each day. The kids had an amazing time producing art, theatre and performances and provided these little souls with tools for life. The children learned how to fish, plant a garden, respect wildlife, and work together as a team. It was an honour to have them with us.
- "Very exciting experience. Members of staff were simply excellent, the level of service - excellent. The entire stay exceeded my imagination." Kasonde, Zambia
- "Many thanks for great food, hospitality and atmosphere. Staff are exceptionally helpful. Excellent venue for game viewing." Earth Touch Film Crew, RSA
- "The most family-friendly camp we've found in Zambia. The staff are unsurpassed in their genteel hospitality and warm generosity. A very pleasant spot for relaxing among Kafue Park's fauna and flora." Koplovsky, Zambia
- "Wonderful place! Didn't want to leave! Everyone has been so helpful. Thank you to you all and continue to enjoy this paradise!" Packwood, Wales
Bas and Natalie van Soest, Gina, Brent, Musaki, Kawanga, Evidence and Lisa
Kalamu Lagoon Camp update - October 09 Jump
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As expected for this time of the year, temperatures soared to their highest, granting us excellent wildlife sightings this month. The vegetation in the area has fully burst into leaf giving the bush a whole new look. Although we had a little bit of rain, it wasn't enough to fill waterholes and change the movement patterns of the game.
Whilst there weren't that many big predator sightings at Kalamu Lagoon Camp this month, there was an increase in sightings of their prey. These included a few of roan antelope which we don't often see this early in the season. There seem to be some new lion prides in the area - and we got to see a bit of them. It was exciting to see the wild dogs again with their pups, all six of whom are still alive and considerably grown. The pack was seen at the camp lagoon where they had killed an impala. The fact that they were very relaxed bodes well for future sightings.
The leopard that we did see this month weren't at all fazed by the vehicles, which they had been at the beginning of the year, when we mainly saw them skittishly disappearing into the bush. One of our best sightings this month was a honey badger which we saw at the Kalamu Bush Camp Lagoon.
We've come to the conclusion that we have a huge population of hyaena in the area. We saw one female who looked on the verge of giving birth, so there will be pups around any day now.
Amongst the unusual sightings this month was a pair of green water snakes mating, and a lesser savanna dormouse, which was the first we've seen in the three seasons we've been here.
We discovered the beauty of the other side of the river when the water levels dropped to their lowest, enabling us to do quite a lot of walking safaris there. On one such walk we came across a small pride of lion on a fresh hippo kill. We were guided to the kill by vultures and concluded that the kill had been made the night before.
Buffalo were seen in large numbers at the lagoons, as well as elephant, giraffe, common waterbuck and a host of other small antelope.
For the birders amongst us, it was exciting to get up early and go for a walk. With no engine sounds polluting the pristine morning, the bird calls were extremely entertaining. None of the birds were to be outdone by each other and together they created a complete symphony of bush sounds. The distinct calls of the Red-chested, Emerald and Black Cuckoos were among some of the most interesting migratory bird calls we heard.
We discovered a 'host' of Southern Carmine Bee-eater nesting sites on the other side of the river. On one visit we saw a single White-fronted Bee-eater entering one of the holes, which created a huge debate amongst the guides, so we all had to go back to the site and sit there until we saw the bird leave and enter the nest again. We also recorded a few sightings of the beautiful Pel's Fishing-Owl and Pennant-winged Nightjar this month.
The lagoons have also been a frenzy of bird activity like the pictured flock of African Spoonbill.
We are all looking forward to the new season and from the management and staff at Kalamu Lagoon Camp we wish you all a very happy Christmas and New Year!
Petros Guwa - General Manager
Gogo Chisulo Guwa - Camp Manager
Frank Tobolo - Junior Manager
Luckson Situmbeko, Sandy Sakala and Petros Guwa - The Guides team
Shumba Camp update - October 09 Jump
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It is hard to believe that we are almost at the end of the 2009 season. October was the hottest month so far and everybody was trying to guess when the first rains would arrive. Last season they arrived on the 24th of October and this season the staff were saying it would be earlier. And they were right! On the night of the 3rd of October the Busanga Plains received their first little bit of rain - just enough to settle the dust and create that lovely fresh smell of rain in the bush.
October was a great month for sightings - with lion amongst the best. We saw lion every single day of the month! On one game drive guests spotted three different prides. Lion hunting, mating, playing, sleeping, climbing, fighting, eating, resting... You name it we saw it this month at Shumba Camp!
Management had some 'challenges' with our resident lions, the Busanga Pride, this month. On the morning of the 1st, the pride made a kill right in front of Tent 5. They took down a male red lechwe, and for a couple of hours the whole pride (two males, five females and three cubs) were stuffing their bellies in front of camp. When they were all satisfied the cats decided to relax in the shade - the nearest being by the manager's tent. Whilst it was great to have the pride in camp and guests enjoyed seeing and hearing the lions from the boardwalks, it became a little difficult for our managers to reach their tent, so for two nights they had to find another place to sleep.
After a full day and night of camp relaxation, eight of the ten lion left Shumba to look for another meal. One of the males and one of the females stayed behind for a day of romance - on the deck.
This was not the only time that the Busanga Pride visited Shumba this month - on a couple of mornings the guests were treated to a roaring wake-up call. The big male even paid us a visit in front of the main deck when breakfast was being served. Needless to say, the fried eggs grew cold as the cameras warmed up.
The Busanga Pride is well known for its swimming antics in the wet season and tree climbing in the dry. But why are they climbing the trees? Theories range from escaping irritating flies to catching a cooling breeze high up on the huge branches of the fig tree. Most likely it is a combination of the two. Guests took some stunning photos of the whole pride up a tree.
North of the Busanga Plains is the territory of the Papyrus Pride, and we were thrilled to see that they also have cubs. We saw the three fur balls for the first time in October and it's a joy to see them playing.
One morning we saw three cheetah kill a puku. A couple of days later we had another sighting - this time our guide, Lex, spotted a dead lechwe that had clearly been killed by a cheetah because it was left behind and not completely eaten. (Lion are able to finish their prey but cheetah often won't because they fear other predators). After some serious tracking Lex found the cheetah relaxing on a termite hill 500m away from the kill. It was a beautiful male and our guests had a great time observing and photographing this beautiful animal.
Apart from the lion and cheetah sightings, we also had a few very special leopard sightings this month. One male killed an impala at the bottom of the plains and dragged it up into a tree. Another leopard walked right past one of our game drive vehicles. Because it was so relaxed, our guests got some wonderful pictures of it posing in front of the vehicle.
- "Dear Ingrid, Rob and all the Shumba staff. Thank you for an idyllic stay in the bush in the world of the Northern Kafue. Your food and service was impeccable. You made me feel very welcome and at home." Betty Jo, USA
- "Don't want to leave - relaxing ambiance and beautiful people. Thanks Ingrid, Rob and other staff for your extra attention - Food outstanding. All the best for your future." Debbie and Vera, Australia
- "A great camp with kind and friendly staff making our stay wonderful. Many thanks - next Zambia trip will again include Shumba!" Suzanne and Hanspeter, Switzerland
- "Thank you so much for your warm hospitality, terrific food and great viewing of lions. Sam our guide is wonderful." John and Lorna, USA
Managers: Rob and Ingrid
Relief managers: Brent, Gina and Sjani
Assistant managers: Pheneas and Mwami
Guides: Lex and Isaac
Relief guide: Sam
Kapinga Camp update - October 09 Jump
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Busanga Bush Camp update - October 09 Jump
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The weather in October has been ever-changing. Towards the beginning of the month temperatures rocketed up to 38° Celsius with the minimum barely touching 13° Celsius. By the end of the month the skies above the plains had been invaded by dark, threatening storm clouds, keeping temperatures comfortable but also ushering in the first summer rains. Just a few millimetres of rain have been recorded thus far, but this is a brief taste of what is yet to come - the swollen skies look likely to erupt any day now.
October has been incredibly interesting in that it is the driest month of the year on the Busanga Plains. Wildlife from all over this vast grassland expanse has been forced to congregate around the last of the dwindling channels and their life-giving water. As a result, the game-viewing during this month has been unparalleled, with the various predators having a smorgasbord of easy prey available. The month of October thus once again belonged to the various cats on the plains.
Early in the month we witnessed an explosion of terrapins. At this time, the aquatic creatures leave their wetland habitat by their hundreds to embark on an annual overland mission - to lay their eggs on dry ground. The Busanga Pride had no intention on missing out on such a rare feast and proceeded to snack on dozens of these stranded delicacies, cracking through their seemingly impenetrable carapaces with ease.
The same pride once again entertained guests at Busanga Bush Camp when they spent an entire day on the camp's viewing deck, lazing about like sunbathing guests. The large male became the star of the show as he claimed the deck for himself, spreading his giant frame out and falling fast asleep as only a true king could.
Later in the month the pride was again resting beside the camp's viewing deck, but this time the entertainment was slightly different... In the late afternoon four lionesses rose and strode purposefully towards an old sycamore fig tree, which stands like an ancient giant guarding the camp. Within seconds and with the prowess and elegance of a leopard, all four lionesses had hauled their incredible bulk into the high branches of the tree. They lay draped over the wide arms of this enormous fig for over an hour, tails and paws hanging and swaying gently in the breeze. The tree-climbing antics of these lions have been witnessed often recently, perhaps a result of the rising temperatures.
Towards the southern edge of the Busanga Pride's territory another pride was embarking on adventures of their own. In broad daylight this massive pride of over 20 big cats had managed to subdue an adult hippopotamus, a battle which must have lasted a few noisy hours. The pride spent almost a week keeping hyaena and vultures at bay whilst devouring their hard-won meal.
In another corner of this immense grassland a startling discovery was made - another litter of cubs! - this time belonging to the Papyrus Pride. The three cubs were found one afternoon hidden deep in the long grass, only their calls for food giving them away. This is the second litter of cubs discovered this year, the first belonging to the Busanga Pride.
Cheetah viewing has improved rapidly as these lightly-built predators have been forced onto the lion-infested grassland to quench their thirst. A number of these spotted majesties have been found resting on top of giant termite mounds, a strategy they use to avoid being ambushed by their bigger cousins. The serval population is thriving in these conditions as well - yet another young kitten was found early in the month. The beautiful little cat entertained guests for over an hour as it leapt about in the grass after insects while its mother was away on a hunt. This is the third serval kitten recorded this year - a great sign for the future of these specialised cats.
Dozens of antelope species can now be seen crowding the meagre channels that weave through the parched grassland. Large herds of roan, zebra, blue wildebeest and Lichtenstein's hartebeest graze restlessly in the rich green grass within the dry waterholes, impatient for the arrival of the first summer rains. Thousands of red lechwe have 'flooded' onto the papyrus swamps, creating staggering herds, their rich ochre coats contrasting sharply with the luminous green background - a scene one is unlikely to forget.
Rare sightings in October include large grey mongoose, cape clawless otter, steenbok and eland. On one late night game drive lucky guests were able to watch a baby porcupine as it followed its mother on her nightly foraging expedition.
October is arguably the most enthralling month of the year for any keen birder on the plains. Palaearctic and intra-African migrants have been swarming in, having completed arduous journeys from all corners of the globe. The first Yellow-billed Kites were seen early in the month and have already set about building their nests. They were quickly followed by African Hobbies, both species having made the relatively short journey from the equator. Large flocks of Abdim's Storks have also begun to form on the open grassland, becoming the fifth stork species recorded in the area this year. Pallid Harriers were the first to return from Europe and are now a common sight, treating guests to spectacular aerial displays consisting of amazingly sharp turns and rapid descents. European Bee-eaters were the next to arrive, their kaleidoscopic colours instantly identifying them. Large flocks of Lesser Kestrels can be seen resting communally in the high branches of dead trees - the little raptors catching their breath after their incredible voyage. European Swallows were the last to greet us and are now often seen darting through the air, hot on the heels of fleeing prey. Big flocks of these manoeuvrable little birds regularly follow the vehicles in the hope of catching any insects disturbed from the grass - opportunism at its best.
Birders on the plains in October have also been treated to the sight of substantial flocks of Great White Pelicans as these strange-looking birds have had to congregate in the few remaining wetlands. A Giant Eagle-Owl and her young chick have taken up residence in a sycamore fig tree very close to camp and are viewed daily as they rest in the deep shade. Rare species recorded this month include Böhm's Bee-eaters, Red-throated Twinspot, Denham's Bustard, Greater Painted Snipe, Slaty Egret and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse.
- "Busanga Bush Camp and the Kafue have been the highlight of my trip thus far - GO LION PRIDE!" - USA
- "Extraordinary experience! The staff couldn't be friendlier and the wildlife viewing was fantastic. Our favourite was 3 lion cubs that we saw every day!" - USA
- "What a fantastic camp! We only spent one night here but felt a very special home in that time. The staff treated us so well - food fabulous and everyone so friendly. The lion cubs were the winners!" - UK
- "We will never again look into the branches of a tree without thinking about lions. JD's obvious love for the bush and all its fauna and flora was infectious." - Bahamas
Desert Rhino Camp update - October 09 Jump
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Palmwag Camp update - October 09 Jump
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Doro Nawas Camp update - October 09 Jump
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There's nothing Namibians like discussing more than the weather and this month has given us plenty to talk about! Of late the weather has been strange for this time of year. We have had a few thundershowers developing in the surrounding area culminating in a few drops at camp with some more substantial showers north east and west of us. The average daytime temperature has soared to over 35º Celsius while night time temperatures have been really mild with a minimum of 17º Celsius.
Wildlife and Landscape
This month a new herd of elephants has entered our area! This is very exciting for us! The new herd has moved from the Ugab (Sorris Sorris) area to the Aba-Huab. Our first glimpses were of a herd of 18 on the open plain in front of Doro Nawas Camp. They were on their way to a reservoir from which the elephants of the area drink regularly. Seeing elephants right from camp was a sight that we and our guests enjoyed immensely.
Cape foxes, Pearl-spotted Owlets and African Scops-owls have all been heard after dark. Cape foxes make an undoglike chirping noise that if anything sounds more like an owl. Pearl-spotted Owlets are only about 19cm in height which makes the sound that they produce rather impressive. They make a very definitive sound starting with sharp whistles that reach a crescendo followed by descending whistles thereafter. The Scops-owl which is common throughout the country makes soft 'prrrp' sound that that one often has to carefully listen for. These little owls are monogamous and only fledge one young per year.
- 'The views were fantastic from the amazingly comfortable rooms! We Enjoyed the elephants and were impressed by your professionalism.' Behrens - Germany
- 'Being able to relax on the main area veranda being spoilt by attentive staff. Lister, our guide was exceptional.' Parsons - UK
- 'The elephant drive and the evening sky were both memorable. It was great to be able to sleep and shower outside in total comfort. The staff were friendly, helpful, considerate and above all great singers.' Hollmig and Dierschke - Germany
'Special thanks for the extra attention on our honeymoon! We loved the elephant drive with Ignatius. Great memories!' Desforges - France
Coenie van Niekerk (Camp Manager)
Danize van Niekerk (Camp Manager)
Agnes Bezuidenhout (Assistant Manager)
Morien Aebes (Assistant Manager)
Steven Jones (Assistant Manager)
Arthur Bezuidenhout (Guide)
Michael Kauari (Trainee Guide)
Ignatius Khamuseb (Guide)
Richardt Orr (Trainee Guide)
-Compiled by Steven Jones and Ignatius Khamuseb -
Damaraland Camp update - October 09 Jump
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Skeleton Coast Camp update - October 09 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
Summer has finally arrived in Skeleton Coast and we are slowly packing away our winter clothes. The evenings and early mornings still have a bit of a chill in them, but during the day it is sunny and warm with scenic cloud build-up in the afternoons.
October was probably also one of the weirdest months when it came to the weather: from blazing sandstorms to rumbling thunderstorms, there was never a dull moment here. We also had our first few drops of rain. The days are getting hotter and heavy clouds arrive in the late afternoons sometimes giving incredible displays of lightning and thunder.
There is not a word or a picture that can fully describe the landscape in the Skeleton Coast. It is a mystifying place where one should come and see with one's own eyes the beauty and secrets this place has.
Dr Flip Stander is back in the area researching the Hoarusib lions. The lions were seen close to the Purros Community and a meeting was held as to the way forward in adequately conserving this special desert-adapted lion population. It is feared the lions could start predating on domestic livestock and that the lions would be killed as a result. Three members from the conservancy have been elected to monitor the lions' movements and they will work closely with Dr Stander during his time here to learn as much as possible.
Guests were treated to amazing sights of the pride and it even included some scenes of two mating lions. The three cubs are getting bigger by the day and maybe they will get some new playmates soon. One of the females has not been seen as much lately with the rest of the pride and the guides reckon she might have cubs. It would be great if they could survive so that the Hoarusib Pride can grow.
A lot of plains game has been seen around Skeleton Coast Camp and Sarusas Spring. Giraffe have been seen around camp and even trying to climb up the dunes.
- "New definition to the word 'paradise'. Fabulous place, outstanding staff. Will be back some time." Robert and Anne
- "Words and pictures do not do justice to this beautiful concession. The staff, food and sights were fantastic." Mari and Paul
- "Thanks to a combination of good luck, perfect weather and our experienced guide Elaine we encountered magnificent elephant bulls and a pair of mating lions. They provided a lasting unbeatable experience." Hu and Conny
- "Quite the most jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring place I could ever imagine. From flying in, driving and exploring on foot it just keeps getting more unbelievable and fascinating. Thank you all for an unforgettable few days." Jack
Some of the conservancy members were treated like royalty, with a two-night stay at Skeleton Coast Research Camp in order for them to join in a meeting. This was a new experience for them, and they enjoyed it just as much as we enjoyed having them here. Some have never seen the ocean before so we treated them to an activity so they can see the ocean and when they came back they could not stop talking about the experience.
Managers: Willie, Monica and Neil
Guides: Gert, Kallie and Elaine
Serra Cafema Camp update - October 09 Jump
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The clouds have been building on the eastern horizon, but as yet only a few drops have managed to fall, hardly reaching the scorched earth. A golden blanket of dry grass currently covers the Hartmann's Valley, but with the looming clouds, the area may soon be transformed to a green carpet, providing much-needed nourishment for the Himba communities' cattle as well as the wildlife in the area. With rainfall in the Kunene catchment area, the tranquil river's water level has risen slightly, after levels dropped to such an extent that our guides faced a few challenges when traversing the river.
Wildlife and Landscape
For an area more famed for its beautiful scenery, we've had some wonderful wildlife and reptile sightings during October.
Relief manager, Dries, saw an African wild cat on his way home after guests had retired to their rooms. Careful not to hurt its eyes, Dries switched to a red light which, whilst not damaging the feline's eyes, also meant it didn't notice Dries! The cat moved up to two feet from Dries before realising what was going on - getting a fright and scurrying off into the bushes.
A brown hyaena has been frequenting Serra Cafema Camp over the past few nights bewildering the local donkeys and staff alike whilst walking home at night! These nocturnal scavengers are not dangerous, however coming across one in the dark of night with their shaggy appearance can be a very intimidating sight!
A baby crocodile has been seen near the main deck on several occasions, which has everyone wondering whether his mother is lurking amongst the reeds. Another interesting reptile this month was a leopard grass snake doing his best to scare off a few tree mice that inhabit the area around the swimming pool. Out on drives we also see the stunning Namaqua chameleon fairly frequently.
Apart from the gemsbok and springbok which are almost standard sightings on our nature drives, we were most surprised to find a Cape hare sheltering beside a rock. These are mostly nocturnal creatures so it was fascinating to find it during the day.
On the birding side a pair of Ruppell's Korhaans was seen with a chick. Benguela Long-billed Lark is also often seen.
Staff at Serra Cafema were surprised to meet a somewhat strange traveller, Dou Dou the adventurer. What makes this guest unique is that he's actually a teddy bear traveling across the globe with his French counterparts. Dou Dou has visited far-off places like Nepal and Lamu and arrived in full Himba dress as he visited Namibia! They took pictures of him visiting locals and spend time showing photos depicting him with children across the world.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the landscapes, the opportunity of riding quad bikes in the dunes and boat cruises, some of our guests were surprised with a sunrise breakfast at Bushman's Koppie on the day of their departure. Wanting it to be a surprise, all we told them is that it would be a 5am wake-up call for their "activity" - and they were more than happy to do so, knowing that we have something special in store! They were rewarded for their willingness to pass on a few extra hours of sleep in the luxurious rooms with a hot breakfast overlooking the valley and as they feasted, the most beautiful sunrise came up to greet them.
-"Pristine environment, outstanding staff, beautiful landscape. Just wunderbar!" Susi, Sophie, Olivia & Andreas
- "We have found many warm friends in a wonderful place. We hope to come here again!" Valentino and Germana
Ongava Tented Camp update - October 09 Jump
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Little Ongava update - October 09 Jump
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Ongava Lodge update - October 09 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
We have received some early summer rains recently. The first rains came about three weeks ago when Ongava Reserve received 8mm and about 4mm a few days later. The heaviest rains measured 22mm which is very unusual for this time of year. This has happened before in previous years, when early rains in October were only followed up with further rainfall in January. The rains have brought with them cooler temperatures from previous highs of up to 38º Celsius. Some of the days have even been overcast.
We have had bush fires recently in Etosha and on the Ongava Reserve. A larger area of Etosha has burnt; the fire also burnt a small portion of the Reserve, but was extinguished with the help of the reserve and camp staff.
The rains we have received so far have transformed the reserve. Trees and shrubs such as mopane, acacia and trumpet thorn have sprouted new leaves and flowers, adding colour to our area. Fresh grass will also start sprouting soon. Some of the game drive roads are already quite muddy, requiring some skill to traverse them.
The early rains have changed the movement patterns of animals. Every time it rains, the waterholes both in Etosha and the reserve are far less frequented. This is due to the fact that there are temporary pools of water all over the area, so the animals tend to drink from these instead of visiting the waterholes. The rain also makes animals such as lion and rhino seek cover.
On Ongava itself, wildlife has tended to migrate from the western to the eastern side following the fires. This is working to our guides' advantage as they don't have to travel a long way in search of species like rhino. Scavengers such as jackals have been observed on the burned areas looking for any mice or lizards that have succumbed to the fires.
We had only one cheetah sighting this month, and it was a special one. As the game drive vehicle came into the open plains of Sonop Area of the Reserve, there they were: a female with three cubs of about 6 months old, feeding on a springbok. The kill was very fresh, probably just a few minutes before we got there. They took turns in eating; as the mother was feeding, the cubs were on the look out. They looked very relaxed but always kept on lifting up their heads to keep an eye on any intruders. We waited for them for a few minutes as they fed until they were fulll, and then they walked off leaving the leftovers for jackals that were now getting impatient on the sideline.
We have enjoyed more black rhino sightings this month both in Etosha and on the Reserve. In Etosha a few have been spotted at Olifantsbad waterhole and on the Gaseb detour. Black rhino also continued to grace us with their presence this month at Ongava Lodge's waterhole, until the rain started. Since the first rains the waterhole has been quiet.
A few weeks ago however we witnessed a near rhino kill at this waterhole! One night, nine young lions were just relaxing close to the waterhole. A female black rhino with a calf then approached the water, and the lions started stalking the calf. They managed to jump on the rhino calf but the mother came to her rescue; she managed to chase all the lions away.
Since the rains started the elephant sightings in Etosha have also been less frequent. Now we are concerned that the elephants will start with their yearly migration towards the northern parts of the park.
Management: Adriano, Ment-Anna, Jack and George.
Andersson's Camp update - October 09 Jump
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Little Kulala Camp update - October 09 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The month began with very unpredictable weather due to a disrupted Benguela Current - and our rainy season started sooner than expected. Autumn was cut short, and summer arrived with a bang. Cumulus clouds were building up on the horizon every day, promising drizzles and showers. There is nothing better than the smell of rain in the desert!
Life is good in "fairy circle" land. For those of you who don't know, "fairy circle" is a name given to the mysterious bare circles in the sand that dot the landscape along the edge of the Namib Desert stretching from the north-western Cape into southern Angola. These circles, which support little flora, are an integral part of the distinctive landscape of this area. While numerous scientists have researched the circles, no one has yet been able to ultimately determine their cause or purpose. Various theories of the origin of the circles have been suggested, including euphorbia poisoning, animal dust baths, meteor showers, termites and underground gas vents.
Fog in the desert is another weird and wonderful attraction on offer. Fog isn't something you would expect to greet you on arrival at Sossusvlei, but it sure makes for a beautiful photo opportunity.
The hardy, determined desert-adapted species make their appearance: springbok walk the plains, ostrich do their dusty dances, oryx slowly make their way back from the outer realms of the true desert. We have also had unusual sightings of a kudu bull on Kulala Wilderness Reserve, but so far no pictures of this lonesome male.
A juvenile brown hyaena has been visiting the Little Kulala waterhole, thrilling guests with sightings of this rare and elusive desert special. More wildlife news from the desert is that Simon, our very own maintenance hero, saved the life of a baby African wild cat. The kitten had fallen into one of the room pools and while setting up bedrolls on the roof, Simon heard splashes and cries. He fished out the very bedraggled cat and set it free to find its mum.
We had an interesting interaction of the two-legged wildlife variety. On their last night in camp, we surprised some guests (well one of them, anyway) by filling their room with hundreds of candles, a bedroll on the roof and chilled champagne. Jan dropped to one knee and popped the big question - Julia said yes. How could she not in such an incredible setting? We're hoping to see them back next year for their honeymoon.
We have said some sad farewells to staff moving on to other adventures - and have happily welcomed new staff coming to join the Little Kulala Team.
Governors' Camp update - October 09 Jump
to Governors' Camp
The weather & the plains
October was a dry, hot and dusty month with the odd splash of rain in the first couple of weeks and a good few days of rain at the end. The plains now look as if a million animals have come through, which of course they have. The migration however has left a large amount of fertilizer, which after a good season of rain should mean the plains grasses will reach 4 foot again. Indeed after the 8mm of rain we received on the 28th and 29th the plains were transformed in a matter of days from a dry, brown to a vibrant emerald green. We look forward to more rain in November.
We continued to have large herds of wildebeest grazing around the Musiara Marsh for the first half of the month. They then headed off down toward the Talek River and south looking for fresh pastures to graze. There have also been large concentrations of wildebeest in the Mara Triangle area, the west side of the Mara River. Our hot air balloon safaris pass right over this area and guests flying in the balloon have had wonderful views of the great herds. There are still some river crossings with wildebeest coming in from the west. The wildebeest still have to cross back over the river on their return back to the Serengeti.
The majority of the zebras remain to the east of the Masai Mara with smaller groups moving through Musiara, Rhino Ridge and Paradise plains areas.
The Rhino have been fairly elusive through October, however we have enjoyed some great sightings from the hot air balloon. October saw the arrival on many young Thomson Gazelle and Impala fawns. Some of these fawns have fallen prey to some of the opportunistic predators around such as the Martial Eagles and larger male baboons.
With the grass drying out on the plains the resident families of elephant have spent much of their time feeding on the lush grasses of the Musiara swamp and forest areas. Some days we have seen up to 50 individual elephants happily feeding in the cool swamp waters.
The Marsh Pride of lions are in great condition after having the wildebeest migration located in the heart of their territory for the last few months. The two pride males are looking tough and proud, they have a few scratches but nothing out of the ordinary, the lionesses are fit and strong. The young cubs are growing by the day and participating in some of the hunts, as well as initiating their own to but to no avail.
As the wildebeest migration moves down into the Serengeti the pride will need to work a little harder to feed themselves. Perhaps in preparation for this the pride have already taken down a buffalo near private camp which is a bold move.
The Paradise Pride have been spending their time down by the Mara River waiting for the wildebeest to cross back and forth. Notch has been spending time with one of his sons and the lionesses have been together with their seven cubs. Sadly one seems to be missing. The pride still has plenty of prey in their territory as the wildebeest are still coming across the river.
Recently 2 lionesses have been located between both pride territories near the Mara River with two two month old cubs. They seem to have just come out from hiding and will soon introduce their cubs to the rest of their pride.
This month we have had the three brother Cheetahs in the area, who are doing extraordinarily well. With their combined strength and team work they have taken down sub adult zebras and wildebeest, large meals for Cheetahs.
Shakira and her three cubs are doing well. They spent some of the month on a walkabout, going as far afield as Tanzania and making their way across the Mara River. She could be showing her cubs other areas outside of their comfort zones before they become independent of their mother. The cubs are nearly fully grown and will soon have to go their own way and find their own home ranges to live and hunt in. Three, healthy, grown female cheetah cubs is very good news for the Maasai Mara’s ecosystem.
Olive and her two leopard cubs are doing amazingly well. She was once seen with three kills in nearby trees. Leopards will often larder their kills in provision for lean times. She is however in a prime spot with her favourite meal Thomson Gazelle in the area year round.
The female leopard which traverses between Governors and Little Governors crossing point has been seen fairly regularly quietly disappearing into the forest. A couple of other lesser known leopards, a male and a female have been seen this month down river from Private Camp.
The Serval cat has been fairly frequently sighted this month as the grass is short and is much more conspicuous.
After the few days of rain at the end of the month, we had vast numbers of “flying ants” reproductive termites taking to the air. These termites have buttery abdomens and are full of protein, a good source of nutrition for many animals and birds.
The birding has been very good with the arrival of some of the migrants have into the marsh and river area. The Narina Trogon has been seen frequently along the forest line. The brown parrots have been feasting on the fruit of the African Greenheart tree (Warburgia Ugandensis) leaving pieces littered all over the ground.
The camps have been inundated with elephant as they move through the forest in search of fresh browse. Families of elephant have moved through the forest around the camps with welcome rumblings and cracking of branches in the night. We have also had an increase in warthog and plains game visitors to the camps this month. They are looking for better graze which the sheltered forest privedes.
Back at Governors Camp a large a growing family of Banded and Dwarf mongooses continue to forage in the open grassy areas and at night genet and bushbabies regularly visit the camp.
At Little Governors’ the resident family of warthogs have been busy reproducing, although their number are kept in check by the local forest leopard.
Altogether we have had a wonderful month of game viewing and we look forward to the promise of more rain in November.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge update - October 09
October, the first month of the short rains, saw the arrival of the rains which, in most parts of Rwanda, people had been waiting eagerly for. The Virunga Volcanoes area probably got the lion's share of the rains (which is normal) but this did not prevent our guests from enjoying their daily treks to the Mountain Gorillas and other attractions of Volcanoes National Park.
A total of 181 mm of rain was recorded at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge during the month of October with the 27th of October as the rainiest day, with some 35 mm received during uninterrupted showers that lasted all day and the following night. For the rest of the month, most of the rain fell in heavy afternoon downpours.
Most days in October started clear with fantastic views of the Virunga Volcanoes from Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, the clouds would start building up by mid morning and release their first raindrops sometime between 11.00 a.m. and 2 p.m. when most of our guests were already enjoying lunch at the lodge or resting in their cottage after gorilla trekking.In total, the area enjoyed twelve days without rain in October.
The prevailing winds still came from the East South-East. Average temperatures at 6.00 a.m. were between 9 and 14 degrees Celcius.
Photos courtesy of Michael Poliza
In Volcanoes National Park, with bamboo continuing to shoot in the Virunga Forest, gorillas continued to feast on this seasonal food resource and most gorilla groups did not move very much. This resulted in mostly shorter and easier treks for the visitors.
In the habituated gorilla groups monitored daily by researchers of Karisoke Research Station, the death of silverback Titus on 14 September continued to have knock on effects during the last half of September and early October. The old female Tuck left the group and spent most of her time alone, though she regularly approached group, she did not have much contact with it. Tragically Ihumure, a young, 4 years old infant who had been actively protected by Titus was found dead during the weeks following the death of the silverback gorilla. Postmortem examination revealed that the gorilla suffered from an internal fracture - possibly an injury made during an interaction with another gorilla group during the last few weeks of Titus's life, when the group kept moving much more than normal. Karisoke researchers are convinced however that sentimental depression following the death of his protector also explains the rapid decline of the young gorilla, a testament to how sensitive gorilla families are. The other gorilla families are doing well and we will continue to report on their progress.
Photos courtesy of Michael Poliza
Back at the lodge we offer other natural, cultural or social experiences that are designed to make our clients stay even more rewarding and enjoyable, These include escorted walks around the area near the lodge which help you better discover a slice of the daily rural life in the Volcanoes area, escorted mountain biking and escorted bird watching walks.
Bird watching is a wonderful way to spend a few hours at the lodge. The lodge's property extends over some 7 hectares (about 17 acres) and is a true heaven for all kinds of local birds that do not easily thrive in the surrounding agricultural plots, where natural shelter is rare and disturbance by human activity high. Over 40 species of birds (of which a few species and/or subspecies endemic to the Albertine Rift forests) have already been identified on and around the property. Some of our staff members are interested in birds and will be pleased to lead you on and around the lodge's property with the specific purpose of observing birds. The staff members have a genuine knowledge of the birdlife around the lodge's property.
If you have a special interest in birds and would like a more professional guiding service, we can also arrange the (paying) service of a professional, ornithologist who is resident in the area and has an excellent knowledge of the local birdlife. Binoculars are a must! Birds are especially active in the morning between 7 and 9.30 and in the afternoon between 4 and 6 (or 6.30 depending on weather conditions).
Images courtesy of Marcell Claasen
We hope to share the magic of the Virunga Volcanoes with you sometime soon.
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