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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The Makuleke Contractual Park is quite dry at the moment, with a mere 14.2mm (half an inch) of rain recorded at Pafuri Camp's weather station. But despite this, the area has yielded some beautiful sightings and the trees are still green. Some of them are very thirsty for water, but their green cover is still impressive. The Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers have been flowing due to rain in their respective catchment areas, but the pans are still empty, resulting in the game coming to drink from the Luvuvhu River in front of camp. This means we've had beautiful game densities right at camp, making us question whether the game drives are even necessary!
And we found another two new species for the Pafuri Camp Tree List, bringing the total number of species identified thus far to almost 200:
Rock Albizia - Albizia brevifolia
Mkuzi Bushwillow - Combretum mkuziense
The crocodiles have been fairly active this month, with some large specimens being seen both from Pafuri's main deck and from the comfort of the guest tents' decks. There are currently two hippo who cruise in front of camp and enjoy the shade at Tent #9.
We've seen it all this month at Pafuri - from the small to the big and hairy. The buffalo have been plentiful, roaming through every nook and cranny of the Concession. On virtually every drive guests have seen buffalo herds ranging from 50 to over 300 strong. These large bovines bulk graze, with their constant bubble-gum chewing motion, as they watch you watching them.
The Pafuri Pride (numbering 12 lion) has been making its presence known. Nkanu is the pride male, followed by his three ladies, Kwata (angry), Ku-tiketla (calm) and Xikhaba (droopy), and their eight cubs of varying ages. Kwata's cubs are approximately ten months old, Ku-tiketla's cubs are the youngest, around seven months old; and Xikhaba's two cubs are 14 months old. The guides have been seeing the pride moving as a unit quite regularly and the cubs are all very relaxed with the vehicles.
An African wild cat has made its home close to the Pafuri access road, and we've had regular sightings of it moving close to the turning circle. A genet and her young kitten have also been seen next to the Pafuri access road.
The blue wildebeest have increased their numbers by another two calves and the rhino have been sighted on rhino tracking walks with guests.
Because the rains have not been great and the pans are largely dry, there has been an absence of waders in January. As always though we've seen lots of beautiful and special birds - including Greater Flamingo, which are not regular visitors to the Pafuri area. They were seen close to and at Crooks' Corner. Some of the other specials include: Thrush Nightingale; Pel's Fishing-Owl; Crowned Eagle; Verreaux's Eagle; Dickinson's Kestrel; Blue-cheeked Bee-eater; Black Cuckoo; Great Reed-Warbler; Three-banded Courser; Great Spotted Cuckoo; Black Saw-wing; Senegal Coucal; Pennant-winged Nightjar; Black-bellied Bustard; Bronze-winged Courser; Retz's Helmet-Shrike and Black-throated Wattle-eye.
Pafuri Walking Trail update - January 2010 Jump
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Kings Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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We have had some good rain, but this January has been one of the hottest I have ever experienced…
Game viewing has been very good though and we even had a few sightings of the more endangered wildlife around.
Sightings of the Timbavati White Lions have been AMAZING! It looks like the Kubasa Pride have moved in and it looks like they are here to stay.
The two older Machaton lionesses, (Djuma & Sengela) had an unfortunate run-in with this pride close to the camp and came out second best. The two larger lionesses from the Kubasa Pride chased the other lionesses away from a young giraffe that they had killed earlier that morning. The two Machaton girls were left to lick their wounds further south of Kings Camp deeper into their territory.
After the giraffe kill they struggled a bit, but managed after about 10 days to kill a large buffalo bull in Elephant Dam. They attacked the bull during the night and with severe injuries he decided to lie down in the water to try and stay out of trouble. They stared each other down during the whole day but finally at about 19:00 the two lionesses braved the water and went in for the kill. This was very action packed with very excited cubs that were not keen on getting wet.
After the fight the Machaton Pride re-grouped and joined the young Machaton Male. He soon got pushed out again by one of the Timbavati Boys and was joined by the 6 yr old female. The three older lionesses and the Timbavati Male moved vast distances in search of food without a lot of success, whilst the other two managed to kill a buffalo calf close to Hide Dam. The Rockfig Clan of Hyenas completed a nice scene and caused a brawl to break out over the buffalo carcass.
The now nomadic Schobele boys were also interested in some buffalo after being alerted to the upset bovine, which were bothered by the Rockfig Clan.
The Schobele Boys are looking fine and it seems that they are getting used to being Nomads.
The hyenas were trying their luck at getting some smaller calves in the herd and got chased straight into the area where the lions were resting. They soon realized this and made a U-turn back to their den to rest out the shock.
Rockfig Jr. has moved the cubs quite a few times since I reported on them. We had a few sightings of them late in the month and the youngsters are very relaxed with vehicles. We are still treating these sightings with sensitivity because of their age but we will keep you updated on how they are doing. They are now about 2 to 3 months old and she should start bringing them out to kills soon. Her kill ratio was good this month and we had her on Impala kills most of the times she had food.
Nkateko was seen numerous times in the eastern sector and she was very entertaining. One morning she decided to practice her stalking abilities with a herd of buffalo. This got exciting! A soon as the Buffalo realized that a “cat” was following them, they chased her into the thickets.
My Favorite Leopard, Ntombi, kept us very busy with sightings. With the greater portion of her territory right around Kings Camp itself we are blessed with sightings of Leopard often in close proximity of the camp. The resident troop of Monkeys often “Report” to us if they spot her from their high perches in the camp trees.
A young Male leopard was seen at Makulu Dam and only tolerated our presence from the opposite bank of the dam. This was however a good sighting and he looked very full. Hopefully he will stay around and become more tolerant of vehicles.
Elephant and Buffalo
The large “gray phantoms” were scarce through patches of the month but towards the end we started seeing more herds moving in around the riverbeds and larger dams to swim and cool off from this summer’s heat.
Buffalo sightings were very constant with up to four herds on our traversing on a single drive. That is close to 2000 buffalo in +-20 000 ha (50 000 acres)!
Our favorite Mtenge-tenge finally came “home” after his absence to a neighboring property to court a female there. He is back and entertaining as only a rhino can be in his favorite “spas”.
Sightings of the other rhino’s in the area were also good. Groups of up to 8 together were reported through the month.
Cheetah was seen 3 times this month!
The first sighting was a female with two cubs on an impala kill. The kill was made in the morning and by the afternoon they were gone.
Cheetahs generally consume their food very fast in order to avoid the competition with other predators. They are timid animals and loose their kills often to leopards, lions, hyenas and even large numbers of vultures. Kills are often made in the heat of the day and this helps to avoid direct competition with the other predators.
The other two sightings were also of females. The female in the last sighting also killed an impala in the morning. She was slightly more nervous but Patrick managed to get nice pictures of her dragging the kill to cover.
A large pack of Wild dogs was also around through the month. It is the same pack as last year and the pack number is now at 17. That is 11 adults and 6 puppies.
One sighting that stands out was on the one morning drive. We were watching the Machaton Pride of lions and the call of “Madach” came over the radio. They were close to us and we left the lions to go see the dogs. It was only a portion of the pack, 2 adults and 6 pups. We got to the location and watched them chasing some Wildebeest calves and Zebras. They missed and we followed them all the way back to where the lions were. Close by they located on a leopard’s kill under some thickets next to the riverbed. The adult dogs pulled the nearly whole carcass out and allowed the pups to feed in frenzy.
What surprised me was the fact that barely 60 meters away from them the lions never reacted on the noise. The lions only gave chase after one of the dogs nearly ran over them. The dogs re-grouped after that and moved further west. All 17 were seen close to the camp on the 25th and hopefully they stay in our traversing for another while.
See You Soon…
Morné and the Kings Camp Guiding Team
Report Written By: Morné Hamlyn
Photography By: Morné Hamlyn
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - January 2010 Jump
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Happy new year to you all! If the sightings during January are anything to go by 2010 is going to be a bumper year! Summer conditions were in full swing: hot sunny days, calm, flat seas and wonderful visibility.
We have been spoilt with wonderful ragged tooth shark sightings - up to 25 raggies gathered behind Island Rock at one time. Both divers and non-divers got to enjoy seeing these sharks, as they were resting in shallow water and were easily to be seen whilst snorkelling.
Other shark sightings included grey reef sharks, blacktip sharks and a beautiful leopard shark resting on the sand at Aerial Reef.
Boat rides to the dive sites have been very exciting. We saw a big pod of bottlenose dolphins chasing garfish, and even managed to get into the water and watch for a while. On another occasion we watched a manta ray swimming at the surface while we kitted up for our dive, and at the end of the month we snorkelled with an eight-metre whaleshark!
But the most exciting of all was a trip back from a dive at Regal Reef when we saw a leatherback turtle at the surface. It was in no hurry so we quietly slipped into the water and had the rare privilege of snorkelling with it for a while.
Another rare sighting this month was of a pair of harlequin shrimp (Hymenocera picta). These beautiful creatures look like little clowns, with their white bodies covered in blue and purple spots. They are not seen very often so we were very excited to find them in a pothole at Elusive.
Other great sightings at Elusive this month were 12 lionfish on one dive and a giant kingfish (Caranx ignoblis) sitting under a ledge with a potato bass, not to mention all the scorpionfish, huge honeycomb eels, blackcheek eels, crayfish and couta.
Hang Ten is a magical little reef, sitting at a maximum depth of 12 metres, which is best dived in summer. One dive here produced six squid, a pregnant round ribbontail ray, a sharpnose ray, one pineapple fish and some honeycomb eels and a big honeycomb ray lying on the sand. While we were sitting on the sand watching the honeycomb ray, a manta ray swam past and then turned and swam around us for a while. What a wonderful dive!
Aerial is also a shallow reef, sitting at an average depth of 10 metres and a maximum of 14 metres. This reef generally has something for everyone, from the smallest critters to the biggest. We have seen pineapple fish, pipefish, nudibranches, paperfish, white capped prawn gobies and a multitude of shrimps; including cleaner, humpback, coral banded and partner/clown shrimps in anemones. Hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles were all seen here this month, as well as some impressive rays. Huge, pregnant, round ribbontail rays were seen resting in potholes in the reef and sharpnose and honeycomb rays were found resting on the sand alongside the reef.
After being at Rocktail for about a week, Sam decided he would like to try and do a Discover Scuba Diving course. He was here with family and friends who had been diving every day. Lilli, Greg, Brett, Joe and Peter had been telling him about all the sightings and so he decided to give it a try. Everyone thought he might be a bit nervous, but from the moment he got into the swimming pool he was a natural, and totally at ease in the water. We went for a dive at Aerial with his dad Peter, and his other "dad" Greg watching over him - and had a magical dive together. Sam - we can't wait to complete your full Open Water Course with you this December!
Another guest, Di, made us very proud when she completed a 57-minute dive at Aerial and loved it - much to the dismay of Darryl, who had bet her a bottle of champagne that she wouldn't dive. Di - let us know when you are coming to do your Open Water qualification, so that we can make sure Darryl puts the champagne on ice!
A very special course was completed this month. Duncan (top left), who started diving with us two years ago, completed his PADI Divemaster Course on the 3rd January after finishing his final swim test out at sea. We all watched as he swam through the shore break and ran up the beach with a big smile on his face. Well done, Duncan - it was a pleasure teaching and diving with you, and we're looking forward to seeing you again soon.
As the busy season slowed down a bit and the managers at Rocktail got a break, Ondyne took them all on a Discover Scuba Dive at Aerial. Liz, Gareth, Tara and Ashley did very well. Liz surprised everyone - after protesting that she would never dive - by really enjoying it. Well done, everyone.
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle and Ondyne
The Rocktail Dive Team
Rocktail Bay Turtle Report - January 2010 Jump
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January is typically the month when we start to notice a decline in the number of laying turtle females of both loggerhead and leatherback species, and this year is no different. The exchange of laying females for hatching nestlings is a sweet one though, which we anticipate for the rest of the season.
Throughout the research area nesting female numbers are down, but what is slightly concerning is that hatchlings are few and far between at present. This is possibly because of nest predation, the inconspicuous nature of hatchlings, or because it's still early in the hatching season.
With the year now in full swing and most holiday makers back at the grindstone, our turtle drives are whisper-quiet. Each time the turtle guides go out without guests the turtles are either hatching or laying with a vengeance. This stirs so much enthusiasm among the guests that the next drive is packed to the rafters - and we have a no-show from the turtles. But don't be discouraged, the turtles don't discriminate and sooner or later everyone will strike it lucky with either moms or tots.
Weather is a major influence on turtle movements, especially when the turtles are required to leave the sanctuary of the ocean to venture out onto the beach and lay their eggs. With this in mind, it's easy to deduce that the reason for the slightly quieter turtle activity is the windy and wet conditions this month, which are less than ideal for our venerable turtles.
From time to time the turtle drives turn up more than they bargained for and on one particular evening a couple of guests were rewarded with a royal flush: i.e. nesting females of both species - and hatchlings of both species. Other interesting sightings on the turtle drives include a dead spinner dolphin, thought to have succumbed to pregnancy woes; a dead blacktip reef shark and, strangest of all, a rather large 9.5 tonne buoy thought to have come from an offshore rig. All but the buoy are now gone.
Something we never think about is the discomfort turtles must endure whilst heaving their immense bodies up a beach. A creature designed, over a period of 65 million years, to perfectly suit its marine environment doesn't fair very well against the abrasive sea sand. Above left is a picture of a leatherback that laboured against such odds to ensure the longevity of her species.
Most of you who have not experienced a hatching sequence on our coast will probably be thinking that the hatchlings are easy pickings for birds, reptiles and fish. However, along our coast things are quite different. Unlike those in the National Geographic documentaries, these turtles hatch at night, evading any diurnal predators and really only run the gauntlet of the marauding ghost crabs who rarely take more than one or two. The fish would definitely take a toll, but by daybreak the little turtles are far offshore, bobbing around like inconspicuous debris. Things are not all rosy though, and on average only 1 in a 1000 will reach sexual maturity.
Without trying to predict nature's rhythms we do anticipate a slow-ish February with far fewer nesting ladies, but, with our fingers crossed, we expect the ever-so-cute hatchlings to be spotted more often.
See you next month!
Makalolo Plains update - January 2010 Jump
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Little Makalolo update - January 2010 Jump
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January has been generous with its rains, especially from mid-January onwards. The quiet skies and humid surroundings had us worried, but the heavens soon opened up and the rains were very welcome. Beautiful sunsets lighting up the sky with rich colours are always enjoyed.
Hwange National Park offers a diverse habitat, ranging from open plains to the woodlands. The animals have a wealth of water to choose from as more and more natural waterholes are being formed. The teak trees are blossoming with purple flowers adding to the beauty of Hwange.
Wildebeest all give birth during December and January, in a synchronised season - and this year has been no different.
Large herds of waterbuck, zebra and impala are seen often frolicking in the open vleis. The well-known herds of Hwange elephant have sauntered deep into the park, but every now and then small herds still visit our plains.
The resident hyaena continue to visit us every night. They have become partly diurnal as they are seen from around 3pm in the afternoon, running around the waterhole snacking on frogs and toads.
We have witnessed the return of Abdim Storks, Yellow-billed Storks, White-winged Terns and a lot of visiting Cuckoos. The Crowned Cranes are seen displaying their beautiful multi-coloured wings during their courtship display.
We saw an opportunist Yellow-billed Hornbill wade into the midst of feeding troop of baboon and spot and pick up a false mopane seed. A total of 200 different bird species were seen this month.
"I have stayed here several times, always great standards, very enjoyable visit. The team is so professional and helpful at all times" - Verity, Zimbabwe
"The camp has excellent staff and a wonderful guide, not to mention the good food and oh-so comfortable beds. We loved every minute of our stay, it was truly wonderful and we will be back!" - Jimmy and Heather, Italy
A very warm welcome to Charmaine Sawyer and Sibahle Ndlovu who have joined us as Manager and Assistant Manager. We wish you all the best with us this year.
Guides: Lewis and Charles
Hostesses: Angie and Tammy
Kitchen: Sendy, Mayisa, Alex and Shepherd
Maintenance: Never, Babusi and Charles
Waiters: Jabulani, Makeyi, Alickson and Seliot
Housekeeping: Jibani, Pagiwa and Tawanda
Davison's Camp update - January 2010
Weather and Landscape
It's the beginning of the year and, true to form, we saw no rain for the first two weeks of January. The afternoons were very warm, which is typical for this time of year. We had a high of 45°C (113°F) on the 8th, and a few days of rain.
We are now in the middle of our rainy season, which means that the bush is bristling with new life. We have a burst of flowers like flame lilies, devil and star thorns. It hasn't been a very wet rainy season however, which doesn't bode well for the levels of water in the waterholes. The natural pans are drying up and the pumped ones have low levels. This has affected the movement of animals which is evident by the number of elephant still in the area. Mostly elephant move to other areas during the rainy season but this year a lot of elephant are still around, which indicates that there is generally less water here.
Our mammal sightings for this month were excellent. Large herds of elephant and buffalo have been frequenting the pan in front of Davison's, with the buffalo sometimes spending the night in camp. We want to believe that our resident zebra are back again - the four that used to hang around at the front of camp last year.
Much seems to be happening right in front of camp and we had a spurt of drama on the 22nd: just at sunset a kudu ran straight into the water of the pan, with wild dog in hot pursuit. It stayed there for an hour with three wild dog waiting patiently on the edges of the pan, at different points to block all the exits. A herd of elephant then came to drink, which was a life-saver for the kudu, who dashed into their midst. The chase resumed but the elephant stood their ground, and with a lot of trumpeting chased the wild dog away. The wild dog, being clever, waited for the kudu to leave the elephant and followed it into the bush. The kudu, quickly realising that its chances of survival had dropped significantly, resorted to the sanctuary of the water again. There was a lot of shuffling and trumpeting from the elephant, presumably in a bid to scare off the wild dog. Eventually the elephant moved off and the kudu was left alone in the water. We were sitting at the fire and had almost forgotten the drama at the waterhole, when the kudu ran past for dear life with the wild dog on its heels, just metres away from us. And then, sadly, it was all over for the kudu.
In the morning we woke up to a pride of four lion at the front pan. As luck would have it they arrived just in time for a kudu breakfast, as the wild dog hadn't eaten the whole carcass. The lion moved in and the wild dog, knowing they were no match for the king of beasts, left. Hyaena happened to be in the area and soon picked up the scent of the kill. Within a few minutes the first hyaena arrived, calling his brethren. They amassed at the kill and in no time at all there were nine of them. Given confidence by their numbers they started advancing and a fight ensued. The lion managed to stand their ground, with a lot of roaring, and ultimately the hyaena had to accept defeat. Once the lion had their fill and moved off, the vultures arrived - the last link in the food chain.
On January 3rd we saw 21 different mammal species.
Normally at this time of year we have huge flocks of White Storks around, but due to the lack of rains their numbers have reduced. Our resident Red-billed Teals have also moved on in search of greener pastures. That said, we saw a total of 195 bird species this month.
Guides: Tendai Mdluli and Dennis Nyakane
Hostess: Nelly Chinyere
Ruckomechi Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Vegetation, Landscape and the Zambezi River
January was an extremely warm and humid month, with very little rain. Temperatures often exceeded 40°C (104°F) in camp. We had to sit back and watch the Zambian escarpment get continually rained upon - while we remained dry, as if there was an invisible barrier between us.
The good news is that the long dry spell seems to have passed at last. We received some good rain over the past week, which brought some much-needed respite from the heat and the dryness. The rivers on the concession are flowing, turning the camp into an island. The Charara River behind Ruckomechi is flowing strongly, and the Zambezi is high and quite dirty, as a result of its tributaries now flowing from inland.
The wildlife sightings were great until the rains set in, and now a lot of the game has disappeared inland leaving the odd herd of impala and waterbuck and a lone elephant bull. With the roads impassable at this time of year, we expect the sightings to drop significantly. Luckily, we're not open to guests at the moment. By the time the guests start arriving again in May the roads will be dry, and the wildlife abundant!
Some exciting sightings this month included a leopard spotted in an albida tree near the staff village early one morning. It seemed to be very relaxed and undeterred by the staff waking up early for their duties. We have also had a pair of lion, presumably mating, on the outskirts of camp one night. The following morning they had disappeared into the adrenalin grass and haven't been seen since.
Pierce, the very relaxed elephant cow who often spends a lot of time in the vicinity of camp has given birth to a young female calf. This was very exciting news as we have enjoyed watched her previous calf, Husher, grow up. They spent a lot of time around camp and we often watched with great humour and delight as the youngster tried and tested his resolve against the staff, some egrets and various other inhabitants of the camp.
The birding has been good again this month and we have made an effort to see what's really out there. 141 species were recorded this month and some highlights included a great sighting of a Peregrine Falcon which we were able to drive right up to and get some great photos of. A walk inland into the mopane woodland resulted in some good sightings of a White-backed Night-Heron, Black-winged Stilts, and a Knob-billed Duck nesting in a hole in a tree. The Coucals have had chicks and the camp is often filled with low whooping calls as the youngsters flutter around in the thick undergrowth.
The majority of the Ruckomechi team have been away on leave over January or guiding in Hwange for a change of surroundings and an opportunity to hone skills and learn more about the endless marvels of the natural world. Graeme, Alistair, Johnny and Clea have been getting stuck into the off-season tasks. We welcome Sean Hind to the Ruckomechi team; Sean joins us from Spurwing Island in Kariba and we look forward to having him on board with us. We also welcome Lloyd Mushure, who has worked for Wilderness in Zimbabwe before, and his wife Lindy.
We will anchor down as the rain sets in and look forward to letting you know what February brings to us here at Ruckomechi.
Mana Canoe Trail update - January 2010 Jump
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No report this month - Trail re-opens again in May 2010.
Toka Leya Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Ahh, the start of 2010... January has afforded us much rain, and we have been blessed with magical mid-afternoon storms, lasting for only a few minutes, but depositing lots of rain to relieve the scorched earth and supply valuable nutrients to flora and fauna alike.
One particular afternoon yielded 40mm in the short space of 15 minutes. It was only half an hour later that we realised just how much rain had fallen in the area, when a large amount of water arrived through the backwaters and channels that surround the camp and culminated in a flash flood! Luckily there was no damage to the camp and all our guests stayed high and dry.
As mentioned in December, the abundance of water has meant fewer visits to the camp by the large mammals.
This has not, however, had an effect on the abundance of animals seen on game drives into the National Park, especially in the early mornings. A great sighting this month was that of a single wild dog. We thought we had seen the last of these carnivores, but a sighting with guests on the way back from an external activity proved that these animals are extremely adaptable and hardy and can succeed in any environment in which they find themselves.
The white rhino viewing has been very popular, especially with guests who didn't have the opportunity to see these prehistoric-looking creatures in Botswana before arriving at Toka Leya. We have had 10 sightings of white rhino in the 11 times we have been out to look for them. This success rate has made this particular species the most sought-after with guests staying at Toka Leya. Buffalo have been arriving in camp periodically in the late afternoon, taking advantage of the lush grasses growing in front of the guest tents.
Birding is always popular with guests at Toka Leya, with many opting for boat cruises, not only to admire the magic of the Zambezi River, but also to catch glimpses of some aquatic birds they may not have seen in other areas. While we have seen many of the usual suspects, the sighting of a Pel's Fishing-Owl was the highlight of a productive birding month. White-browed Robin-Chats assist with early morning wake-up calls and the waiters on their way to deliver tea and coffee to guests in their beds get hurried along by these tuneful, high-pitched calls.
Noticeable inclusions in the list for January are: Little Sparrowhawk, Steppe Eagle, Red-necked Falcons nesting on the banks of the river, Klass's Cuckoo, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Red-backed Shrike, Orange-winged Pytilia (first sighting since March 2009) and Yellow-throated Canary.
The rains have definitely increased the water levels around the river, and the Falls are streaming down with more of a vengeance than in previous months. All who cross Knife's-Edge Bridge to view the Rainbow Falls section get a free "baptism" as the spray soaks them.
The rising water levels have meant that Livingstone Island has closed access to Devil's Pool earlier this month, but this should not detract guests from visiting this historic island, from whence David Livingstone first viewed the Falls.
Helicopter flights and white-water rafting have been very popular with guests looking for adrenalin-packed days. You'd be forgiven for thinking you're starring in an action movie when the helicopter flies low through the deep and narrow gorge formations.
"Having my birthday in such a beautiful tented camp was very special! The Victoria Falls was spectacular and an experience I will never forget!" - P, Italy
"Great place - wonderful staff - your ability to create a great experience is first rate! Beat our expectations, not only fabulous food and ambience, but Sandy was an incredible guide. We saw and learnt so much!" - R and L, USA
"Thank you for your wonderful hospitality. Your staff could not have been more pleasant and accommodating, and the lodge and environs coupled with the animals - Great!" - D and D, USA
"We had a fantastic time! The staff is the best and the camp is beautiful" - A and R, USA
Marc Harris; Sjani Cuyler; Kawanga Ndonji; Solly Tevera; Amon Ngoma; Phineas Mufwaya; Sandy Sakala; Rob Chigure and Isaac Kariwo
Till next time, from the Upper Zambezi - "Tuyabonana".
Lufupa Tented Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Kalamu Lagoon Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Shumba Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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No report this month - camp closed for the season.
Kapinga Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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No report this month - camp closed for the season.
Busanga Bush Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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No report this month - camp closed for the season.
Desert Rhino Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Palmwag Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Doro Nawas Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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The maximum temperature for January was between 36-40°C (97-104°F) and the minimum temperature was between 16-19°C (61-66°F). The month began with very little rain - only 10mm at camp - but things improved towards the end of the month. We are hoping for more rain in the next two months before winter sets in once again.
Elephant sightings were great at the beginning of January, but towards the end of the month, with all the rain, we've seen the elephant less and less. They are starting to move up to the mountains again for the rainy season.
In the "Rosy Group" there is one female showing all the signs that she is ready to give birth some time in February. We are watching her closely to try and see her when this magical event happens. We are very excited and can't wait to see the calf. There is a bull in musth that has been seen with the Rosy Group and guests have had the opportunity to see how elephants mate. This isn't something you see every day!
One morning we saw a cheetah close to the airstrip in front of camp. She caught a springbok and then started calling. We were wondering why, but then realised that she must have had some cubs hidden nearby. We waited to see what would happen. She went up the mountain and brought four youngsters back down with her to where the springbok was lying. And then she started to feed the whole family right in front of us. This was really a very special sighting and everyone who got to witness it was pleased and amazed.
We are seeing more and more kudu, ostrich, oryx and springbok as they move closer to the springs.
"We had a fantastic lunch on the terrace. Christmas chicken and local songs were great on Christmas Day!" - Soubeyrand, Gabon
"The highlight was the sighting of Oscar's elephant group from the veranda of the camp on Christmas Eve! The relaxing views and atmosphere were just what we hoped for over Christmas! Everything was almost perfect!" - Dixon, UK
"The highlights of our stay were the kindness of the staff and the service. We also loved the songs at Christmas Dinner and the knowledge of the guide on our elephant safari." - Nemmi, Belgium
"The elephant drive was wonderful (animals and views over the landscape) and we had a lot of time to observe! The waitresses are very friendly and take care of your needs. Don't change! Keep the wilderness of the camp and the way you live in it as it is, please!" - Josse, France
"Staff are friendly and provide excellent service! We were very relaxed and loved the atmosphere. Food was great! Everyone is so accommodating and we felt very welcome! The rooms are unbelievable." - Morin, Gabon
Coenie van Niekerk (Camp Manager)
Danize van Niekerk (Camp Manager)
Agnes Bezuidenhout (Assistant Manager)
Morien Aebes (Assistant Manager)
Henry Luck (Assistant Manager)
Arthur Bezuidenhout (Guide)
Michael Kauari (Trainee Guide)
Ignatius Khamuseb (Guide)
Richardt Orr (Trainee Guide)
Damaraland Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Skeleton Coast Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Serra Cafema Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Ongava Tented Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Little Ongava update - January 2010 Jump
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Ongava Lodge update - January 2010 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The rainy season officially arrived on Christmas day and since then it has rained almost every day - although it looks to be easing up now. The area has become very green and wet with some of the roads no longer being accessible due to mud. It has been an adventuresome time for some of our guests, who got to experience going through water and mud with the vehicle sliding from side to side. Some of them were even eager to lend a hand when the vehicles got stuck - while others did not find this amusing at all.
The game viewing has not been as fantastic as it usually is this month, because there are pools of water scattered around, courtesy of the rain, which means the animals are more spread out, and do not frequent the usual waterholes. The waterhole at Ongava Lodge has been fairly quiet, with our regular lion and black rhino visitors only appearing once in a while when the pools of water around the Reserve start to dry up.
The antelope have also stopped coming to the waterhole as much, due to the abundant availabilty of water through the reserve. However, game drives in the Reserve are still preferable to game drives into Etosha.
The Stompie Pride (resident lion pride) disappeared for a while, but we're happy to report the lion are back now. We suspect the pride moved into Etosha for a while as we looked for them all over the Reserve for three weeks and saw no sign of them. We found some holes along the Etosha / Ongava fenceline which the lion could have used to cross into Etosha. But the lion are back now and have been seen in the parking area and in the areas between the rooms of Ongava Lodge! A few days ago they were all gathered at the waterhole and the young males started roaring, much to the delight of our guests.
The white rhino continue to move further to the western part of the Reserve as this area has an abundance of fresh grass for them to graze on. This area has flat plains, making it an ideal area to find grazing animals such as zebra, wildebeest and springbok. Cheetah have been a little scarce this month, and we've only seen them once. We have seen a beautiful female leopard and her very inquisitive cub though. The cub was so curios that it came within 10 metres of the vehicle and just sat there for 15 minutes, while the mother looked on from her hidden position in the bushes.
Etosha National Park has also been very quiet in terms of game viewing since it started raining. This is typical for this time of the year. The elephant tend to migrate to the northern parts of the Park, leaving only the old bulls behind.
Managers: Ment-Anna, Jack and George.
Guides: Teacher, Henock, Kapona, Lister and Abner
Andersson's Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Little Kulala Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Governors' Camp update - January 2010 Jump
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Weather & the plains
We received some good rain through the new-year and the first couple of weeks of January, a total of 64mm. The remainder of the month has been hot and dry, climbing up to 33 degrees celsius. The Mara River increased dramatically rising to half way up its banks, making life difficult for the crocodiles and hippos. For at least a week the Crocodiles spent their days on the top banks or in the forest whilst the hippos looked for eddies or the slowest running water.
The grassland has been the perfect grazing height for most of the plains game, growing a little longer towards the end of the month. Once the grass becomes too long, most grazers will move nearer to the river line where the hippos keep it nicely mown. This is for two reasons, it is preferred by the selective grazers and they are able to spot predators moving over the short grass.
The Jackalberry (Diospyros abyssinica), Quinine tree (Rauvolfia caffra), Green heart (Warburgia ugandensis) and Olpellie have been fruiting, bringing in hoards of birds, elephant, baboons and Blue Monkeys. These gentle monkeys are arboreal, spending their entire day stuffing their cheek pouches with fruit and moving from tree to tree.
At the end of the month thousands of caterpillars hatched and matured, leaving the forest full of silk threads hanging from the trees. The Klaas Cuckoo and the returning Greater-spotted Cuckoo have been feasting, both specialise on caterpillars as they can handle the toxicity. Where there are caterpillars, there are butterflies and we have been treated to a show of beautiful Swallowtails, Zebra Whites, Blue Tigers, Diadems, Orange Tips and Monarchs flitting from bush to bush.
Elephants have been regular visitors this month. There have been large numbers of families moving through the Musiara Marsh eating the sedge and into the forest where they are browsing on the new growth of Teclea. Elephant bulls have been following up the herds, some in musth in search of oestrus females, but most taking advantage of the abundance of food. It has been great to see a couple of really large tuskers one of them weighing approximately 70-80lbs each.
The three local bulls, namely "Curchill", "Blossom" and "Posom" have been back visiting the forest around Little Governors Camp. One large breeding herd of about 400 buffalos have been moving slowly between the Musiara Marsh, the park gate and Rhino Ridge. Numerous bachelors follow at a distance as well as the old retired brigadiers who spend most of their time along the forest edge.
The rhinos have been seen fairly regularly from the balloon this month, most likely because there is more peace and quiet now that the wildebeest have left us. We have also had some wonderful in camp rhino sightings with the male spotted from the bar at Little Governors and the female and her now fairly large calf seen on the opposite side of the river bank at Ilmoran Camp.
The Marsh Pride of lions are spending more time apart as the game becomes sparse and they need to cover more ground. Occasionally coming together if there is a kill or they have a need for social bonding. Three of the young four month old cubs have not been seen for a couple of weeks, hopefully they are still well and just haven't been spotted as they have been on the move. One of the pride lions and a lioness were seen hunting and killing two young impala on the edge of the Musiara Marsh. It was incredible to see a large male in action in the middle of the day.
The Paradise Pride are on good form, they too have to look further and longer for prey. They were very brave and fortunate to have killed a hippo towards the end of the month. The five young males and the rest of the pride were feeding from it for days. Notch was not around but all the cubs are doing well.
Our small pride of two males, two females and two cubs are still down by the river in their limited territory in between the Marsh and Paradise prides. This pride stilldoes not have a name, but they have plenty of character. The lions and cubs last seen were incredibly fat, whilst the lionesses were actually fairly thin. Either the ladies were doing all the work or the boys were doing none of it!
The young cheetah and her cub have been in the area, not venturing too far as the cub is still a little young and must be kept in hiding whilst it's mother hunts. Shakira and her two cubs are still on the Trans-Mara side of the river. Once the river has receded, she may come back over. It will be interesting to see whether her cubs will follow or become independent and go their own way at this stage.
We have had a few sightings of another female cheetah traversing the boundary of the reserve and Maasai land.
The three brother cheetahs were at the start of the month between Bila Shaka and the Talek River, but have moved off we think towards Keekarok on the Burrungat Plains. The longer grass will provide some good cover for the cheetah, but most of their prey will be moving onto the short grass and will be more concentrated, meaning more look-outs.
One of the female leopards along the riverline, who has become a bit more brazen, has allowed us some great sightings this month. Once she was with a kill, hiding in a small bush near the Marsh with lions on one side and hyena on the other. She seems not to be intimidated by baboons either and chooses rather to ignore them.
Olive and her two cubs are still doing very well. She has moved into the Croton bushes along the River. Otherwise there have been brief sightings of shy leopard along the river line, not sticking around long enough to identify.
Whilst the grass was short and green, Serval Cats seemed to jump out at every turn, their camouflage not being as effective as when the grass is longer and yellow.
Altogether it has been a great month, with lots of wonderful wildlife sightings and we hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge update - January 2010
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