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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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What a month! We have always been proud of the fact that at Pafuri the guides need to have a fantastic general understanding of all the natural facets of the region. This is necessary because of the huge diversity of the area which hosts five distinct landscape types and a enormous richness of fauna and flora. February saw us focusing more than usual on the 'big and hairy' though, giving us limited time to do all the natural treasures of the concession justice.
This was primarily a result of seeing lion on no fewer than 25 days of February's 28 with some very special moments and sightings of the Pafuri Pride. 'Special' is not how an unsuspecting warthog boar, doing his daily thing beneath the fever trees on late afternoon, felt however. He was turned into fine dining for these lion - the chase and kill unfolding in front of the watching Land Rovers.
Porcupine was also recorded as a lion prey item this month. On two occasions the pride tested out the possibility of a spiny delicacy. In the first instance the porcupine was able to shuffle along and avoid being eaten, but the second saw the poor rodent unfortunately draw the short end of the quill.
It hasn't all been blood and gore. We have enjoyed sightings of some newly revealed blue-eyed cubs of under two months in age. They've definitely given us the 'cute factor', while the young adult male lion surprised us all when he swam across the swollen Luvuvhu River. At the time he was on the southern bank and responded to the calls of the other male on the northern bank by swimming across the fast flowing (and crocodile-harbouring) river. Once together the two males ambled on as if nothing unusual had happened and happened upon an elephant bull in musth, who quickly shattered their poise and sent them bounding over bushes as if their tails had just caught fire.
Whilst on the subject of elephant, Callum watched as Red-billed Oxpeckers attempted to glean ecto-parasites off the hide of the pachyderm host. While this might not sound unusual and has been recorded in other parts of Africa before, this is not something that is seen very often in southern Africa. Elephants are able to reach the oxpeckers with their dextrous trunks and so the birds have to be more wary than with other animals, and elephants are also very efficient at using dust, water, mud, rubbing trees and other mechanisms to keep their hides free of parasites.
All of this has been seen against a backdrop of abundant plains game of buffalo, eland, impala and zebra showing increased numbers during the summer season. Nyala, kudu, bushbuck, waterbuck, warthog and other species are also abundant and are seen at regular intervals on most game drives. Leopard and hyaena were also seen occasionally.
Despite our big game focus this month we still thrilled the birders. Much can be attributed to the good rains that fell in January and the 60mm downpour we had on a single day in February. This has created habitat for water- and marsh-dependent species such as African Pygmy Goose, Red-billed Teal, Black Coucal (our first record for the area), Black-crowned Night Heron, White-backed Night Heron, Dwarf Bittern, African Purple Swamphen, Greater Painted Snipe, African Crake and Allen's Gallinule.
We had a rare sighting of a Cape Griffon, we discovered that the Scaly-feathered Finches were nesting, and had a bumper warbler month: African Reed Warbler; Great Reed Warbler; Lesser Swamp Warbler; Olive-tree Warbler; Icterine Warbler; Garden Warbler; Rufous-winged Cisticola; Neddicky; Bar-throated Apalis (very good record for the region); Sterling's Wren-warbler; Thrush Nightingale.
Of course our usual 'specials' like Racket-tailed Roller, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Senegal Coucal, Grey-headed Parrot, Bohm's Spinetail, Crested Guineafowl, Pel's Fishing Owl, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Three-banded Courser, African Cuckoo Hawk, Black-throated Wattle-eye, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Arnot's Chat and Lemon-breasted Canary were also recorded and much appreciated especially by South African birders.
All in all we recorded 281 species over the month with a couple of exciting records.
Pafuri Walking Trail update - February 2011 Jump
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Kings Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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The month of February started off lively with fantastic animal sightings,
Elephant herds seemed to be more localized than usual hanging around in the area which was great for us as you spend no time looking for them. If they were not feeding around the camp all you needed to do was drive a short distance along the Nharalumi River to locate them. Herd sizes ranged up to 50 individuals in the herd.
Buffalo sightings were limited to bachelor herds in the beginning of the month but the large herds returned to our area during the latter part of February. Several leopard kills were recorded and the Kubasa pride made welcome return to our area after a few weeks of absence. I witnessed one of the most precious sightings of my 13 year career as a guide in the bush. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to watch a lioness move her cubs from a den sight to a new den gently carrying each one in her mouth by the scruff of their necks. The big move to relocate the FOUR bundles of fur took over an hour.
Two of Africa's most endangered wildlife species were also seen on several occasions during February, African Wild dog and Cheetah.
We received very little rain this month and the bush is showing just how quickly it can dry out without precipitation. We are hoping that we will get some last rains before the dry season kicks in.
I have to say that I am privileged to be a guide in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and I have witnessed some of the most amazing and rare animal sightings and interactions during my time in the reserve. Armed with my camera I have managed to capture and record these experiences and for me to share them with you is an honor.
Certainly one of the most special sightings that I will treasure for a long time to come was when one of the Machattan lionesses moved her new litter of five cubs to a new den site. It all unfolded before me and as a wildlife photographer should be, I was ready to snap away and capture this wonderful moment.
Please understand there is a lot of tact and judgment involved as not to interfere or disturb the lioness or the cubs. I have to add there is a lot of luck involved here and our timing was perfect.
This is how it happened: I was on a normal afternoon game drive heading south and I had a plan and this plan was to find and spend some time with one of the resident lionesses of the Machattan Pride. I knew the lioness had a new litter of cubs but no one had any idea how many or where she had hidden them. Luck was on my side and after only a few minutes in to the drive I was told by one of the guides over the radio that the lioness had been spotted close to the edge of river bed resting in the shade of a large tree. This was my chance I was waiting for. With purpose I headed straight to the location and on arriving, Albert and I managed relocate her position in the riverbed where she was resting. Instinctively I felt that although not visible at this stage, the cubs were close. This was where she had hidden them amongst the tangles and dense riverine undergrowth of the river bed. I whispered to my guests that we needed to now sit tight and quiet and WAIT! They were all very excited about "Operation Lion Cub!"
After waiting for what felt like an eternity in the hot Africa sun, the lioness finally lifted her head up and looked in my direction. We held our breath in anticipation and with a "plonk" her head dropped to the ground and she fell asleep again, "shucks".
At this point I could sense that the guests were getting a bit fidgety and I knew that I had to keep them interested. I started telling them more in detail about the lioness and about the hardships a mother faced in ensuring the survival of her cubs in the bush. This seemed to keep the guests distracted from the sun bearing down and before we knew it we had been there 45 minutes. AND THEN IT HAPPENED…………. the lioness rose gracefully from the soft river sand and sauntered slowly straight towards where we had parked. Her deliberate intent to bee-line in our direction did make me feel slightly uneasy but I kept my cool and monitored her for any signs that might tell me it was time to give her space. The guests at this time were motionless and dead quite that a pin drop could be heard. I watched as the lioness brushed past within a few feet of the right side of my vehicle and disappeared into a thicket on the banks of the river bed. Seconds later that all familiar high pitched "yowl" of a lion cub squealed out from the thicket directly behind my vehicle. "I can't believe it," I told my guests. Albert was just as astonished and surprised to realize that the cubs had all this time been sleeping within a few feet of the rear of our vehicle. I can just picture it…..We had been the baby sitters and probably mommy had been grateful to get a little shut eye while we were close to her cubs protecting them from any danger.
The lioness emerged from the brush gently carrying one of her cubs in her mouth. This little bundle of tan colored fur with eyes just opening was a mere two meters away from us. I went ice cold and my hair on my arms stood straight up even though it was over 33 degrees Celsius. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven, I was choked up with emotion; this was once in a life time experience! The lioness proceeded to move four cubs to the new den site and we got see it all.
I was able to capture these wonderful images of our special experience.
We had just left the lioness and cubs only to be met with another fantastic sighting. This time the older litter of four cubs made a sudden appearance from the bush. I could not believe my luck and to top it off their mother also arrived on the scene a few minutes later. The cubs would not leave mom alone for more than a second showering her in love and affection. This maternal bonding went on for thirty minutes and it was addictive to watch. I hope by presenting you with a series of images that it might give you an idea of this wonderful sighting we had. At the end of the month I was informed that all the cubs were still alive and were seen feeding on a buffalo carcass later during the month.
Our resident female leopards are doing well and were sighted frequently.
Rockfig jnr and her cub are both healthy and have produced the majority of our leopard sightings during 2010. Tumble the daughter of Rockfig jnr is a real fighter and she has no problem looking after herself. As mentioned in the last month's report she is slowing becoming an independent leopardess.
Mom still hunts for both of them but Tumbela has been seen hunting on her own when mom is not present. Hunger is a great motivator.
When Tumbela eventually decides to leave her mom permanently, we are hoping that she won't travel to far from her natal ground and settle in her own territory nearby. Most leopard cubs become independent between 18-22 months of age. I have though seen leopard cubs become independent at 12 months of age which is very early and then again I have seen leopards only moving off at 32 months. Tumbela is now 15 months old at the end of February and I hope and suspect that she will be around till the end of the year.
The young male leopard called Xinope-nope male is a magnificent male leopard to view. He has an incredibly relaxed nature which is uncommon among male leopards in the wild.
I hope that he will stay and take a resident position up in the south so that we can view him for many years to come. Compared to females, male leopards are difficult to habituate to safari vehicles. At only 20 months of age he is already bigger than any adult female leopard we have in Timbavati. He is stocky, has a solid face and always looks like he means business. We suspect that he is now fully independent from his mother and I hope that the dominant male of his area won't chase him off or try to kill him. Male leopards are extremely territorial and hostile to other male leopards in their territory. They won't hesitate to attack and kill an intruding male leopard that invades their territory.
The relaxed 3 female cheetah cubs know as F8, F9 and F10 by the research team in Timbavati has been seen several times this month. They have grown into young adults and are relaxed with our vehicles. I am hoping that they will remain in our area for the next few months. We also got to see a double kill that was made by these youngsters.
Feeding lasted more than an hour.
I am assisting in collecting data for the research team in the Timbavati and their reports can be viewed as Morne mentioned in the January wildlife report.
Anyway that's all from me this month dear friends. I hope and trust you are healthy and well.
From all of us at Kings Camp, have a great month.
Head Guide of Kings Camp
By Patrick O'Brien
Camp Jabulani update - February 2011
Greetings to our friends here at home and around the world
2010 ended on a bittersweet note for everyone at Camp Jabulani. Joe - the herd's dominant bull - decided to "fly the coop" towards the end of the year. This gentle giant is sorely missed by staff and herd members alike, but his successful integration into the wild herd on the reserve has definitely helped to ease the “missing”. And he still comes to visit from time to time, giving the elephants (and humans) time to enjoy him - but he always turns around and returns to the wild. Regardless of his transition, he is still the same elephant with a beautiful disposition.
The rain that has left most of the country in a state of soggy disarray seems to be studiously ignoring our neck of the woods. The weather has been hot and humid, and - apart from one intense downpour - dry. Hopefully that will change in the coming weeks.
The camp has been treated to some cosmetic improvements, the gym has been upgraded, and new products and treatments have been introduced at The Therapy Lapa.
17 February 2011
We were all set to head out on morning drive, when it started pouring with rain. Wet weather tends to restrict the game viewing somewhat, as the animals are inclined to seek shelter and guests are understandably hesitant to go outdoors.
We decided to visit the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre instead, hoping that things might be a little drier over there.
On our way there we came across two adult leopards. Leopards are solitary animals by nature, so this meant only one of two things. They were either fighting or getting ready to mate. And since it was a male and female, we figured it to be the latter.
There was a lot of hissing, spitting and growling from both parties, although this aggressive 'getting to know you' behaviour is quite normal between leopards. Especially leading up to the 'big event'.
After waiting patiently for what felt like an eternity, the leopards finally mated. That day we saw something most people only dream about, and on a rainy day to boot.
24 February 2011
We had decided to have an early dinner so that we would have more time to spend driving around at night to see if we could find any of the smaller nocturnal animals.
Little did we know what the night had in store for us.
We left at dusk and headed out to see if we'd be lucky enough to witness the shift change between the day walkers and the night stalkers. The drive started off fairly uneventfully, with the general grazers still milling about trying to get in a final mouthful of food before having to pay closer attention to what was going on around them. Kudu darted across the road in front of us, as if they were trying to get to the shops before closing time. The giraffe just stood around, seemingly unfazed by the changes happening.
With only an hour's driving under the belt, we'd already come across a small spotted genet and a honey badger going about their business, a couple of spotted eagle owls, and a number of bush babies performing death defying leaps between branches. We were also just in time to see the glistening bottom of a hippo as it beat a hasty retreat in order to get away from our spotlight.
On our way home we stopped to see if the lions we'd seen earlier in the day had roused themselves from their afternoon siesta yet. As we approached their last known position, we saw eyes shining back at us in the dark.
Just as we'd guessed, they still hadn't moved.
As we drew nearer we noticed large objects taking form in the dark. The closer we got, the clearer they became. A small herd of "dagga-boys" (old buffalo bulls) had bumped into the four lionesses we'd come to visit. Neither party was particularly enthralled by the other's presence, but not trusting each other with their backs turned resulted in a stalemate.
As we sat watching the stand-off, more shapes appeared from the one side. At first we thought it was more buffalo, but it turned out to be three white rhino passing through. We weren't sure if this was purely accidental, or if curiosity had gotten the better of them.
Unperturbed, they willingly took up position in the now three-way battle. This back and forth between the various gladiators went on for about ten minutes, before the lions decided to change tactics by lying down at varying distances from where the rhino and buffalo stood standing. Not trusting the silence, the buffalo moved to where the lions had just been.
We were quietly waiting to see what would transpire next, when out of nowhere a young elephant bull came flying out of the dark. Trumpeting loudly, it threw everyone into a complete state of panic. The buffalo fled straight towards the lions, and they in turn ran off in different directions.
The three rhinos were not that easily swayed however, and swung around to face their attacker head-on. This caught the elephant off-guard, causing it to come to a halt about 5m away from them. He ranted and raved for a while, and then redirected his frustrations at the buffalo and lions. They were all too quick and agile for him though, deftly stepping out of his reach and then turning to see where he would head next.
His main focus became the three rhinos. Time and again he charged them, stopping mere feet from where they stood. The lions moved off about 50m or so, having had their time in the limelight they opted to become spectators instead. The buffalo also left the scene, continuing to graze as they disappeared into darkness.
But the recalcitrant elephant was determined to chase off the rhino. The rhino were having none of it however, and steadfastly stood their ground. The elephant continued to rumble, trumpet, kick up dust, and run this way and that. At one point he stopped just a few feet from the rhino. Towering over them, he swayed menacingly back and forth.
After about fifteen minutes the elephant finally came to a halt. He stood a short way away from the rhino, rumbling and shaking his massive head from side to side. We were so close that we could hear his ears slapping against his shoulders.
Whether he'd calmed down or was just taking a breather between tantrums, we didn't wait to find out. And as we made our way out of the area we could hear the elephant resuming his assault.
Wishing you all a fantastic year filled with love, happiness and laughter.
From The Camp Jabulani Marketing Team
Rocktail Beach Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Rocktail Bay Dive Report - February 2011 Jump
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February was sun-soaked with only two overcast and rainy days the whole month! The wind blew predominantly from the north-east and visibility averaged 15 metres with some decent swell. Overall it was a lovely month.
We have seen lots of little critters and some of our favourite giants too, and we are happy to say that the first frogfish seems to made Rocktail his permanent address, and is happily sitting on a sponge at Pineapple Reef.
Many divers think that skippers have the short end of the stick, being topside all day while the divers get to see all the cool and interesting things, but they couldn't be more wrong. Darryl has seen some great things this month. While we were diving at GoGo's he watched two manta rays swimming around just under the surface and as he was watching them one jumped right out of the water and slammed back down into the surf. The very same day Darryl had his fishing rod dangling in the ocean and only a few metres away from the boat a sailfish swam right past him! A few days later he spotted a nine-metre whale shark just as we were about to come up from the dive, so our team hurried onto the boat and we tried in vain to catch up with it.
Recently snorkelling at Island Rock we came across a family of eels living in the nooks and crannies of the island. We counted a big one, probably the mother, and eight youngsters all living together in one pot hole and several other small ones poking their heads out of other holes around and about. This is the first time that we have seen so many moray eels living in such close quarters naturally.
Further down into the ocean we watched two powder-blue surgeonfish doing a stunning mating dance, they spun around each other on the reef then twirled upwards for several metres then went back down to the reef and repeated this over and over again. We were entranced and could have watched for hours!
We had a fabulous sighting towards the end of the month at Elusive. A 3.5 - 4m female manta ray glided past us in no hurry at all. She cut across in front of us then turned around and started swimming back the way she came. She was swimming slowly enough for us to swim right next to her with no effort at all. Every mark on her huge body was visible and we could even see her skin twitching. We could even feel the water movement from her wings. As we gazed up at this amazing creature we noticed her horns twitch and roll away from her mouth. We were in total awe, it was as though we had been watching a brilliant documentary on TV.
We have had some nice sightings of pelagic fish on our dives; from big schools of seapike, lots of couta also known as king mackerel and several sightings of some good-sized giant kingfish. Shark have been in no short supply this month either, with up to three or four different grey reefsharks spotted on one dive at Pineapple and on many other reefs too. A giant guitarshark glided beneath us as we ascended at Elusive. A blacktip circled us a few times on Yellowfin Drop and we had a pretty close encounter with a 3m plus Zambezi while free diving on Pineapple.
Unfortunately dolphins have been rather shy this month, we only had one sighting, but this one made up for the lack of others during the month. We watched from the boat as they were hunting garfish on the surface. We could see them turning onto their backs as they swam under the surface chasing the baitfish then jumping out and catching them.
Lots of the usual little critters have been seen this month. Nudibanches in all their glorious colours; delicate paperfish in greens, whites, yellows and purples; scorpionfish waiting to ambush their prey in perfect camouflage; and juvenile razor wrasse floating above the sand trying to look like a piece of seaweed. Pipefish have been all over the place too - bluebanded pipefish hiding in the back of small caves, ghost pipefish hiding themselves among the seaweed hoping not to be discovered, lots of a purple pipefish which we are still trying to identify and even a juvenile pipefish less than a centimetre long. Tiny anemone shrimps have been scurrying around in the protection of their home. We also had a very special sighting of a tiny purple Orangutan Crab on the sand at Solitude.
Crayfish, potato bass, sharpnose rays and big pregnant round ribbontail rays, green and hawksbill turtles, moray eels and porcelain crabs have been spotted throughout the month. Even a big brindle bass came in close and circled before peering at over the edge of a ledge at us and then racing away.
From majestic manta rays and an odd looking frogfish to tiny shrimps, we have seen in all this month!
Thanks to Catherine Gifford and Michelle Smith
Makalolo Plains update - February 2011 Jump
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The month of February was warm at the start, cooling down towards the end of the month. The highest temperature recorded was 38.1?C and the minimum was 14.9?C. Some days clouds drifted across the sky, blown about by the wind and allowing some rays of sunshine through, other days the sky was low and grey with the threat of rain, which sadly didn't always fall. The highest rainfall received was 21mm towards the end of the month, which put a stop to our road clearing efforts for a few days.
Landscape & Vegetation
Due to the lack of rain lately, the vegetation was starting to look a little wilted and brown. This has changed now as we received some rain towards the end of the month and the bush is on its way back to its former green glory. The silver terminalias and mouse-eared combretums managed to withstand the drop in rainfall, and the camel thorns have kept peckish elephants happy, providing a nutritious crunchy snack.
Wildlife sightings around Makalolo Plains have been quite amazing for this time of year, with the most interesting sightings of the month being the following carnivores: lion, cheetah, hyaena and wild dog.
We watched the wild dog at Ngweshla taking down a male kudu. Towards the end of the month we spotted the pack of 19 having a rest, building up energy for the next hunt at Somavundla Pan.
Hyaena on the other hand are not always such a welcome sight. Every night the camp is visited by a couple of skulking scavengers. We wouldn't mind them so much but they have become the resident trash collectors, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake and a lot of cleaning up to do in the morning.
Probability findings for the month:
Baboon - 48%, bat-eared fox - 6%, Cape buffalo - 10%, duiker - 10%, elephant - 16%, giraffe - 32%, hippopotamus - 68%, spotted hyaena - 10%, wild dog - 3%, impala - 61%, black-backed jackal - 29%, side-striped jackal - 6%, kudu - 42%, lion - 6%, slender mongoose - 3%, vervet monkey - 6%, porcupine - 3%, roan - 6%, sable - 16%, springhare - 16%, tree squirrel - 23%, steenbok - 23%, warthog - 13%, waterbuck - 42%, wildebeest - 45%, zebra - 55%
Since time immemorial, birds have held our fascination. Their brilliant array of colours, their acrobatic flight displays and their many species have kept us in awe. This month was no exception, with sightings ranging from Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds to Ostriches; watching the elegant Saddle-billed Storks scouring the pans for a meal; and the Red-billed Teals bobbing on the water's surface.
Camp and Guests
Maintenance and construction around camp were put on hold by a very welcome interruption. Our first guests of the year joined us on the 17th of the month and had a great time without too much rain and lots of good wildlife sightings.
The Makalolo Team has grown and changed this month as well. Katt and Kate have filled the managers' positions, Ryan has joined us as Assistant Manager and Lindsay and Lorraine as hostesses.
Staff in Camp
Managers - Katt & Kate
Assistant Manager - Ryan
Pro-guides - Godfrey
Learner Guides - Elias, Douglas, Robert
Hostesses - Lorraine, Lindsay, Cynthia
Little Makalolo update - February 2011 Jump
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Climate and Temperature
February has been very dry, which is most unusual. We had period or three weeks in which we received no rains and temperatures sky rocketed to as much as 35.2 degrees Celsius. Thankfully we had a few storms at the end of the month; however they didn't really deliver what they were promising. A total of 41mm was recorded this month and a minimum of 13.6 degrees Celcius.
Landscape and Vegetation
41mm of rain may sound like very little, but it is amazing what it did to our land. Prior to this the landscape was beginning to look a little parched and in need of water and so it is worth noting that every single little drop is precious in our area. Within a couple of hours of the first rains this month flora was once again blooming with life. The almost-dry waterholes had their drink and were looking rejuvenated once again and the teak forests were looking awesome with their pink flowers and pods.
The stretch without rain was indeed a blessing in disguise for animal viewing. Game was once again forced to head towards the pumped waterholes as the natural pans dwindled. Big herds of elephant came into camp heading straight for our swimming pool. Buffalo paid us homage and spent a couple of nights right in camp causing us to escort guests back and forth to their rooms. It was exciting and adventurous for our guests to literally have Africa at their doorstep.
The sighting of the Ngweshla Pride, consisting of one big male, six females and 11 cubs of various ages, was just phenomenal. The pride was first seen just before sunset at Madison Pan. One by one they came out of the bushes trickling down to the water like ants until all 19 of them circled the pan to drink. Guests had tears in their eyes just watching these magnificent creatures as they crouched at the edges of the pan to have a drink; their reflection on the water was simply breathtaking. The same pride was seen again the following day at the same place although this time they arrived a bit later and it was getting dark. As if by routine they came down for a drink. Once they had finished up, they started walking away and out of nowhere we heard a buffalo bellow and then we made out some stampeding. The guides quickly got their flashlights out. It was wonderful to see that even the youngest cub was giving chase. One poor buffalo ended up in the middle of the pan as it was the only place of safety for him.
We had an excellent cheetah sighting right in front of the camp, although she did not hang around long enough for us to take pictures of her. Wild dogs were also seen on the way to camp. The pack consisted of eight and they were really relaxed and it seemed they were also eager to have their pictures taken as they moved from the bushes right up to the vehicle when it stopped. Perhaps they realise that they are celebrities in this part of the world.
Probability sightings for the month:
Leopard and large spotted genet - 4%, wild dog and side-striped jackal - 7%; African wild cat - 11%, cheetah - 14%, common duiker and eland - 21%, banded mongoose and tree squirrel - 25%, black-backed jackal - 36%, lion - 43%, spotted hyaena - 46%, scrub hare -50%, sable and spring hare - 64%, warthog - 79%, hippo, kudu and waterbuck - 82%, steenbok - 86%, elephants - 93%; buffalo, giraffe, wildebeest and vervet monkey - 96%, zebra, impala and baboon - 100%.
Migratory birds temporarily lost their regular pattern of this time of year due to the lack of rain at the beginning of the month. The huge flocks of storks that normally frequent our plains due to the abundance of food that the rains bring have been sighted gathering into smaller groups and possibly flying to greener pastures. The few Broad-billed Rollers around camp were chirping as they would normally do, and this made us appreciate our residents the Red-billed Francolins calling at crack of dawn even more. A flock of Lesser Kestrels were spotted on a number of occasions in the Linkwasha Vlei hovering and then dive bombing into the grass to catch their feast.
The whole team at Little Makalolo has been putting all their efforts and hearts into 2011 as they balance the quieter days with the busier ones. We are very happy to welcome Rania Mutumhe as Manager. Her enthusiasm for the camp, the guests and staff is infectious. On the guiding front Charles, Lewis and Buli have shared the delights of the Hwange fauna and flora with guests, while Kim, Carly and Shayne made every effort to make Little Mak a home away from home for all those passing through.
"Service was fantastic. Wonderful to see lion mating, hyaena, elephants charging, cheetah, painted dogs. Fantastic food and wine." Bec & Doug (New Zealand)
"The staff was clearly the biggest highlight. This is a very talented group and I can't wait to have our clients meet them. Guiding and wildlife were also top notch." Jim (USA)
"Thank you to the whole team for making this trip a fabulous experience. What a wonderful place, with wonderful people." Annabelle (France/America/Ireland)
Davison's Camp update - February 2011
Weather and Landscape
The first three weeks of February were unusually dry, with temperatures reaching highs of 35°C. Clear blue skies greeted the rising sun and bid farewell to the sinking dusty orb at the end of every day. Occasionally rain clouds would taunt us on the distant horizon, with dark cumulonimbus forming above the heat haze. However the cooling transpiration never fell, the ground became increasingly parched while the drying natural pans forced herds of animals back to the pumped pans.
Just when the brittle brown grass started to snap underfoot towards the end of the month, a cold wet spell swept in. With relief, we welcomed the cool weather that followed - totally overcast days, thunder and wind storms, and lightning flashing in electric purple and green strobes across the ominously cloudy sky. With 30mm downpours in the afternoons, the parched ground and vegetation languished in the sudden onslaught of water, the tanned dry grass started to turn back to green and once again the herds of animals dispersed back to the remote areas surrounding natural pans and puddles.
The dry weeks turned Ostrich Pan into an elephant freeway again, reminiscent of the September and October months. Great breeding herds of up to 40 individuals arrive through the umtchibi trees, from the towering elegant matriarchs to the tiniest calves, all seeking the cool, fresh water.
Lion sightings this month have been excellent, with three different prides being spotted by our guides in one week. The favourite Back Pans Pride is doing well with five cubs ranging from 6 months to just over a year, and two brand new arrivals, estimated at 2 ½ months old. The miniature lions are already play-acting the stalking, grappling and killing motor patterns used by their adults to catch prey, which is a pleasure to watch. Close up sightings of this beautiful family unit, lorded over by the handsome lion, Cecil, were enjoyed by guests. The family are so familiar with vehicles they happily parade unfazed around us.
The Umtchibi Pride, a family of five lioness and sub-adults, arrived almost in sync with a group of guests and settled down at Ostrich Pan for sundowners. After enjoying the cats we left them basking in the final glow of the setting sunset, and moved over to the far side of the waterhole where we watched the moon rising over a group of Cape buffalo. The golden yellow moon reflected off the glassy water as it rose into an inky blue sky, the buffalo were bold silhouettes against the moon, as lions lurked in the background. This was an extraordinary wildlife moment, experienced on the doorstep of camp.
We were lucky to spend an evening with two young, inquisitive hyaena lying on the road in to the camp. They were so curious that they came over to sniff the front of the car, so that only their big round ears were visible above the bonnet. Another sighting saw an adult hyaena chasing a kudu cow through the morning mist at Ostrich Pan. Two days later, we suspect the same hyaena killed an adult zebra a stone's throw from Tent 1. After the event clouds of vultures soared high above, their heavy wings whirring as they came in to take over the remains of the blood-spattered carcass.
A mother cheetah and her three sub-adult cubs came down to drink at the pan in front of camp late one afternoon. The beautiful cats were tormented by a troop of baboons, who intimidated the cubs and gave chase to the family until we lost sight of their white-tipped tails in the tall grass.
Gemsbok have been seen shadowing a herd of zebra at Ngweshla on transfers from Main Camp. The little insectivorous bat-eared fox and their growing pups have also been seen regularly at Ngamo, Scott's Pan and Linkwasha. On one occasion, the little foxes were spotted weaving in between the blotchy pillar-like legs of a giraffe.
This month has been confusing for most birds with the lack of rain for the first three weeks. This has pushed many species, namely the nomadic Greater Painted-Snipe and other water birds, to follow the rain elsewhere. The haunting songs of the cuckoos around camp at the beginning of the rains has been reduced to just the single call of the Jacobin Cuckoo. We can assume that most host species are busy looking after cuckoo chicks.
The Pearl-spotted owlets had been rather quiet with the absence of the rains, and seem to be more active with the return of the rain, often heard heralding the impending rainfall. February has been a busy month for most feathered parents trying to satisfy the insatiable appetites of their demanding chicks. The young White-crested Helmet-Shrikes have left their cup-shaped nests. They raucously and persistently beg for food as they flitter after their parents. The young birds are busy learning a range of survival skills, while Davison's has become the training ground for these noisy fledglings.
A Striped Kingfisher chick was also observed early one morning as it left the safety of its nest in an African ordeal tree. This chick allowed for fantastic photographic opportunities for the early risers. As the saying goes 'the early bird catches the worm.'
Broad-billed Rollers seem to have left camp and have been replaced by a group of Racket-tailed Rollers with the odd European Roller appearing every so often. The hypnotic blue of the rollers flash as they drop from their perch onto the ground to capture their prey. The Southern Black Flycatcher has been misidentified on many occasions as it mingles with the Fork-tailed Drongo possibly benefitting from the aggressive behaviour of the latter. Points to look out for to differentiate the two are their tail patterns; forked for the drongo versus a more rounded tail or slight fork of the flycatcher. The drongo is typically a noisy bird, while the flycatcher is more quietly behaved. Finally, if you can get close enough, the eye colour is another indicator, with the drongo having a dark red-brown eye versus the dark brown to black eye of the flycatcher.
A large group of Ruffs have been observed at Ngamo as well as Whiskered Terns, Yellow-crowned Bishops and Shaft-tailed Whydahs in full breeding plumage.
With the return of the rains, we are eagerly anticipating for what the next month will bring.
'Everything was a highlight, having the ability to get so close to the animals and the knowledge of all the staff.' UK
'Staff felt like family, Great Atmosphere.' America
'The meals were AMAZING! I never expected such a great atmosphere. The staff was friendly and very family like. Best holiday ever.' America
'Going out of the way to ensure animal sightings. The service is excellent. Wonderful food.' America
Ruckomechi Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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The rain is starting to recede slightly and temperatures have soared to 43.3 degrees Celsius. Humidity is still very high and is averaging at 75%. Cool easterly winds have blown through occasionally and brought relief to a very still and sweltering valley.
Vegetation, Landscape and the Zambezi River
Our landscape changed dramatically this month. The Kariba Water Authority (KWA) opened three gates in late January, and then a fourth water gate in mid-February creating quite a substantial rise in the river. Our camp became a hippo paradise as they scrambled and squabbled for the existing vegetation left that was not submerged by water. Unfortunately two of our guest rooms were implicated in the swell of the water and our bridge, so lovingly constructed last season, was damaged. As quickly as the river had risen, it receded again and we managed to fix the bridge and bring order to the two guest rooms.
Out on the concession vegetation is dense. The Zambezi has taken a different course and shows a different picture in its ever-changing landscape. The winter thorns are slowly coming into leaf, bringing a bit of colour to their ghostly branches. Their final few pods, so loved by the elephants, have finally dried out completely and are no longer sought-after.
Hippo and impala locked on our island kept us entertained when the water came down, but soon after we were once again seeing waterbuck, elephant, as well as the inevitable baboon and vervet monkeys returning to the river line.
The Vundu Pack of wild dogs was seen. This pack has 15 members including a collared alpha female. Two male lions, one identified as the mate of our Ruckomechi Pride female, were seen in the Ruckomechi Riverbed. Their calls can be heard most nights as their haunting calls echo across the miles. The usual plains game including zebra, warthog and impala are in abundance at the airstrip and Palm Block.
Birds and Birding
The abundance of insects during this season always brings in fantastic amounts of birds. The Red-winged Pratincoles have returned in their enormous flocks, rising and falling on the thermals. These migrants have made the flight from the Mediterranean and India to breed once again near the Zambezi, to raise chicks before returning to the north.
This is the season for babies. A Black-throated Wattle-eye (previous name Wattled-eye Flycatcher), has delicately built a small cup nest in an enormous Natal mahogany tree.
A stunning coloured Narina Trogan was seen on the boundary road as well as an elegant Long-crested Eagle hunting for supper.
An impala killed a couple days ago brought in all the scavenger birds. The Marabou Storks were seen wheeling around in the sky waiting to have their turn to pick at the skeleton. The White-backed and Hooded Vultures squabbled over the little meat left and took to the skies on our approach.
The inevitable water birds such as the noisy Egyptian Geese and the Blacksmith Lapwing are the calls that constantly echo around camp.
February was an interesting month for the managers, hosts and hostesses as they spent three days at a training course in Hwange. It was a great time to get to know the wider team, learn something old and something new and of course enjoy each other's company.
This month we welcome Sara Short and Greg Stead onto our team. The team are very excited about the season ahead and preparations are underway to get the camp spick and span for our April opening.
Mana Canoe Trail update - February 2011 Jump
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Toka Leya Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Climate and Landscape
After quite a wet second half of January, we have had a dry spell in February which is not expected at this time of year. Thankfully towards the end of the month we had a number of days of rain. The Zambezi River has been rising every day and we now have water under some of the platforms. This is most useful for fishermen as they can throw in a line on the balcony now that the fishing season has opened once again.
We had some great starry nights this month and sunsets are fabulous as they are enhanced by the few clouds in the sky. Day time temperatures have been a little on the warm side but the evenings have cooled down pleasantly.
The birth of the two baby rhino have definitely brought a lot of joy to the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. We are trying our best not to disturb them during these early days, however on the occasions when they have been sighted they appear to be in good health which is a really positive sign for rhino breeding in the Zambia.
Whilst the park doesn't have any of the big cats, great buffalo, elephant and, of course, white rhino sightings make up for the lack of predators.
Water activities have, as usual, produced some really wonderful sights such as swimming elephant. It is always wonderful to see these huge beasts swim across the water from the mainland to the islands.
The islands are full of healthy looking bushbuck. They have clearly had a relaxed life as the boats that float by and the clicking sounds of cameras don't worry them in the least.
Birding on the river has been stunning. White-fronted Bee-eaters have been entertaining us as they flit in and out of their nests on the river bank. They turn the edges of the river to a lovely green colour with their colourful plumage.
Not only have our guests been entertained in the bush with wildlife but the evenings have also been lively with our local band playing traditional Tonga music and performing African dances. We also managed to take some of our guests for a sundowner on the Island which really is a treat.
Our conservation projects have had some really encouraging results and impressed most of our guests. In the nursery we have germinated a few more trees despite it being the wet season and most of the trees still have green seeds. We have been to the market and bought a variety of new seeds which have been soaked and germinated. The sausage trees which we have tried growing from cuttings have all flowered which is exciting. Guests can also participate with the tree planting which is always a favourite activity.
"Wonderful! Can't wait to return. Great staff, you should be commended for your good work!" Palmer - USA
"We had an amazing time! The best service and wonderful, friendly staff. Thank you." Courtney - USA
"Thanks for giving us a wonderful holiday! This is a wonderful place with caring staff. Hope to return one day" T.D - Norway
"The setting is gorgeous but not as lovely as the staff! We had a wonderful experience and will recommend Toka Leya to all our friends as an excellent introduction to Zambia" - DH - USA
Lufupa River Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Lufupa is looking wonderful at the moment. We only received 20mm of rain this month even though we were taunted by massive cloud build up every so often. The mornings and evenings have been really spectacular with either the rising or the setting of the sun. The temperature has been moderate with the days averaging in the mid-30s (degrees Celsius) and the nights cooling off to the twenties.
The general game viewing during February has been fair. Herds of Lichtenstein's hartebeest have often been spotted in the open areas with a number of youngsters. There have also been many wildebeest, zebra, kudu and Defassa waterbuck during the month and much more common game. Our residents, Fred the elephant and the warthog family, are still around. Both disappeared for two weeks but are now back, which has caused us all to breathe a sigh of relief.
We were very fortunate to have three sightings of wild dog this month. One of the sightings included an attempted hunt. Our guide and guests watched patiently as the dogs flushed their prey out of their hiding place and with incredible stamina and experienced teamwork pursued their victim. Unfortunately they quickly gave up and retired to the shade tree.
On the other hand, leopard and lion have been keeping themselves well hidden this month although we have still been hearing them call.
Birding has been fantastic. With all the rain that has been in the area it can only get better. We have been very privileged to have seen rare birds. These birds have all only been recorded a handful of times in the concession. These include the magnificent Chaplin's Barbet, Narina Trogon and Bat Hawk with some specials that we see occasionally like Pel's Fishing Owl, African Finfoot, and as a final thrill, the yellow morph of the Black-collared Barbet which is very rare.
The seemingly murky dirty water did not seem to affect the fishing activities this month. Guests have had the opportunity of pulling fish in the boat such as barbel weighing as much as 12kg. Of course we release them after photographing. A special catch has been the three-spot bream - incredible fighters often encountered in large schools, as well as butter catfish and an array of others.
Guests who have been passing through our camps have been mentioning that they want to learn about our fascinating culture. Therefore we have encouraged staff to discuss their heritage with them and they have obliged with enthusiasm. We now tell the guests about our traditional marriages, family and the relative status of men and women. We sing, play drums and dance traditional songs.
There is a famous song used as background to dance in Nyanja which the guests now experience and sometimes dance with us. It is called the "leta Pani Tingange nshaba" (English translation - Bring the pan and we will roast peanuts). So the waiters go around with roasted nuts in the pan and give it to the guests as we would do back in the village. Something which also amazes guests are the seventy-five tribes that make up Zambia and how they coexist peacefully.
Out of camp Dining
Sundowners in the rain! One couldn't really imagine the enjoyment of this. In fact it was great fun. With a stunning set up and gorgeous backdrop, we couldn't just pick up and go back to camp. We had to enjoy this no matter what, and the guests had a great time. Arriving at the chosen location, with fabulous views across the river, our guests found table and chairs already set up, a campfire, lanterns, bush bar and well garnished snacks awaiting for them.
"What are wonderful and exciting place! We had a terrific stay."
"Wonderful environment, great staff and great food"
"Great wildlife sightings"
Staff in Camp
Manager - Solly Tevera, Evie Bwalya and Zoe Trainee managers
Guides - Idos Mulenga, Sam Simunji, Boyd Longwani and Barry Mukomena.
Lufupa Tented Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Kalamu Lagoon Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Shumba Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Kapinga Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Busanga Bush Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Mvuu Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Rodger the black rhino is becoming a fixture at Mvuu now and has moved from being a rare sighting to that of an almost daily occurrence. He is seen most days along the Ntangai or Nangondo streams. We are also seeing a herd of 65 elephant regularly at the Cormorant Colony north of camp. Never have we seen so many elephant around the river area during the rainy season. By now the herds have usually dispersed into the woodlands. This year however it seems that some herds are joining to form larger ones.
Big news for Mvuu is that the lion are definitely back. During a special stargazing night drive (when the rains hold off, the skies are fantastically clear now) Macloud and his guests heard lion roaring in the south of the park. Later in the month we found evidence of the lion in several different areas including tracks very close to the lodge, and we have subsequently heard more roaring. We believe that there are three males. Lion in the park are usually nomadic males that have come in from the north and the east. Whether they stick around is another story!
In camp we are excited that the huge bird plum tree at the entrance to the camp lounge is now fruiting. This considerable source of food will mean plenty of parrots, lovebirds, Green Pigeons and starlings around camp for the next week at least.
We have started doing night boat cruises and these are proving hugely popular and giving us regular sightings of owls. Wood, Scops, Pearl-spotted, and Pel's Fishing Owls have all been spotted. We also have an opportunity to get close to some very large crocodiles without disturbing them.
Rare sightings for the month
12 February: A rare Meller's mongoose was seen on a night drive. This is uncommon but has a large range from South Africa up to East Africa and is probably more common than we think but tend to be shy and solitary so are often overlooked.
15 February: A Lichtenstein's hartebeest - a very rare sighting - was seen outside the ESOM Sanctuary.
16 February: Great views were had of a Brown-Breasted Barbet near the lodge on a walking safari. This is one of Malawi's rarest birds and in the country is found only within Liwonde National Park.
We had a great sighting of a herd of some 200 buffalo near camp.
17 February: Five Livingstone's Flycatchers together while on a walk from camp. This is not a particularly rare bird in Liwonde but so many together is an extremely rare sight. Another sight was a Pennant-Winged Nightjar on the sandbank of the river.
18 February: Serval spotted on the banks of Mvuu Lodge Lagoon in the morning from a boat. Two Open-billed Storks fighting at Old Cormorant Colony.
19 February: Malachite Kingfishers were spotted mating on a boat cruise. We often see them fishing on their own, but we have never seen them mating.
20 February: A Martial Eagle fighting with a Spur-winged Goose. The eagle was probably trying to get at the goose's chicks, however the goose commendably fought this formidable raptor off.
21 February: 60 buffalo on the floodplain north of camp.
Zebra with a baby on Masanje road. An African Hawk Eagle with a juvenile.
23 February: A Marsh mongoose.
24 February: A black mamba was seen at Ntangai River.
25 February: A Pygmy Kingfisher at the southern floodplain near the sausage trees in a thicket - this beautifully coloured insectivorous kingfisher is seldom seen in the park .
A Fork-tailed Drongo chasing a Bateleur Eagle. The very common drongo is found throughout Malawi and has a considerable reputation for all sorts of unusual behaviour. It is a competent mimic and is often the bird that leads a "bird party" where several species of predominantly insect feeding birds move together through woodland disturbing and then feeding on whichever insects they find. Perhaps most notably it is a fearless protector of its own space and territory and will regularly attack raptors several times its size. The magnificent Bateleur Eagle seems to be a common victim of this aggression.
6 March: A Corn Crake perching on top of a small bush in the Nangondo stream mouth area. We believe this to be the first record of this sparse, "near threatened / vulnerable", palaearctic migrant in Liwonde National Park.
Mvuu Camp and Lodge donated two boats to Bimbi Village, a Mvera Community on the border of Liwonde National Park. This village was relocated from the park in 1968 after which time people moved to different sides of the Shire River and Lake Malombe. These boats will come in handy for the community as they can cross these stretches of water to sell their farm produce to one another. The boats also will make their lives a lot easier in terms of gaining access to health care and other amenities when required. It is believed that some 2 000 people will benefit from these boats.
It is also important that a relationship is secured with the community and that all people living within the park coexist in harmony with their natural environment. Education against poaching and to realise the potential of ecotourism and wildlife is essential. We believe we are making an impact as the community has already been encouraged by local chiefs to collect rubbish, knowing that it can be very harmful to wild animals.
Mumbo Island update - February 2011 Jump
to Mumbo Island
New Reed Bungalow
Our wonderful walk-in safari tents have now done ten years service and the one on Tent Deck 4, which receives a lot of wind and rain during the rainy season, was looking rather worn and ready for retirement. After a lot of thought, we decided to replace it with a reed bungalow. Our carpentry team have become highly skilled in this building technique, in which reeds are densely packed into a wooden framework, making for robust wind and waterproof walls. This building style is also very 'green' and environmentally friendly as the reeds are cut and bought from the remote surrounding villages. This provides a bit of income to these villages and clears the choked river banks. It is also in keeping with the idea that everything built on Mumbo could be removed easily and within a season the island would be back to its pristine state.
In addition to these positives, our reed buildings are also beautiful, hand made and cool and comfortable to live in. Beds and bedside tables will be surrounded by an enormous mosquito net to keep guests mosquito-free in the nights. Over time, all the tents on Mumbo will be replaced with reed bungalows, but in the meantime, those lucky enough to book Tent 4 will be the first to experience our new style!
Decor and Giving back to the Community
As we did last year, we have freshened up the decor on Mumbo by re-covering all of our cushions with locally bought 'chitenje' fabric. Billy Bwanali, the local tailor, did all the upholstery on his treadle sewing machine. He is now busy sewing all the faded, but still lovely, discarded fabric from the old cushions into clothes for the local vulnerable children who are fed by a local altruist named Vision.
We are also pleased to introduce our new island manager Kay da Silva - a Malawian born and bred. Kay has managed other lodges in the area and had her own coffee shop in Blantyre for some years, so she brings a wealth of experience and local knowledge to her new post. We look forward to the personal touches she will undoubtedly bring to the island.
Chelinda Lodge update - February 2011
The rains continue to grace Nyika, while large herds of eland have now split into smaller groups and can be found scattered across the plateau. Last week, guests saw a female leopard and two cubs at the Zambian Resthouse. She appeared very protective of her young.
Another female leopard was spotted by the airfield; she seemed nervous at first but soon became inquisitive and eager to approach the vehicle. There is also a big male leopard that has been seen nearly every day in the staff compound.
Located in the south of the Nyika Plateau and accessed only by a very challenging mountain track, the unexplored Fingira Rock has long been famous for the many Stone Age relics around its base and in the caves of its lower slopes, including clear evidence of iron ore smelting kilns. On a recent visit, guides Richard Strydom and Sam Nkhoma spent a couple of hours walking around the lower slopes and found remnants of clay pots and some human remains (see below).
Fingira is a large conical rock that rises 60m out of the surrounding miombo woodland and can be seen from most places in the park. It is 22km south of Chelinda. Halfway up the eastern side of the rock is a large overhang which was used as a shelter in the late Stone Age period 3 000 years ago. There are some rock paintings, but they are very weathered and difficult to see so guests are requested not to touch them.
We now offer exciting trails to Fingira Rock as well as across the sweeping grasslands of Nyika National Park. Our new trails cater to individuals with all levels of fitness. We provide a variety of walks, from light one-day treks to more challenging overnight treks. Those attempting to reach Fingira Rock should prepare for a tough but rewarding walk.
Esnath Nyambalo of Wilderness carried out an HIV/AIDS awareness talk for the Wilderness Safaris Nyika team. She discussed her HIV-positive status and spent the day engaging with staff and answering their questions.
Knox Mhango from camp tells us more - "Esnath was welcomed warmly and from the introduction of her talk she revealed her status. The staff were attentive as she shared her story and she set a wonderful example for the whole team. Many people asked questions which she willingly answered. She has inspired everyone!"
Desert Rhino Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Palmwag Lodge update - February 2011 Jump
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A month of rain, in all formations, in the Palmwag area has transformed a previously dry and barren land to one that could resemble the rolling hills of Scotland. Cracking the century mark and receiving 101mm, we have received what is our usual annual rainfall all in one month - this being only 90mm in the entire span of a year! All in all for the year so far we have reached 141 mm.
As the hills turn greener by the day, we have also had an outburst of flowers in the area. Adding a hew of colour to our land, we have labelled ourselves 'the new Namaqualand.'
As vegetation is rich over an expansive area and water is in abundance mammals have spread out across the concession. We have been monitoring our sightings with the MCA (Millennium Challenge Association) log books and keeping records of sightings in a possible 62 drives a month. Our guides have found springbok, oryx and mountain zebra. Giraffe, ostrich and kudu have also been around. Some of rare sightings such as black rhino, leopard, cheetah and black-faced impala all featured too this month.
Although the impala is common in some parts of Namibia it is not commonly known here, however the relocation projects which are in place have seen them slowly moving back into the area. The MCA monitoring project will be able to establish the mammal gap in our area and this will instigate future projects of relocation of other animals where needed.
Our reptilian friends are out and about again, from the strange to the beautiful to the downright scary. The male agamas are looking beautiful in their breeding colours of bright orange and purple. Monitor lizards are out and about, terrorising some of the staff. A 1.83-metre long zebra snake was also spotted which caused much excitement.
Palmwag has always been an oasis for birds and this month especially around the lodge. We have a pair of Barn Owls nesting in the reed bed. They can be seen flying around the deck hunting every evening. We welcome new members to the birding community in the form of a pair of Hornbills who are nesting in a combretum (leadwood) across the river from the pool bar. Along with these there are Helmeted Guineafowls, Blacksmith Lapwings and Egyptian Geese who have all made themselves very comfortable around the lodge. What's more, it is breeding season for many of the species which is interesting in itself as the males' plumage colour is brighter than ever as they try to impress females.
Doro Nawas Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Damaraland Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Skeleton Coast Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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The weather conditions around Skeleton Coast Camp have been consistent throughout February. Three seasons in one day has been typical of this month. The conditions have been cool in the mornings with temperatures rising to about 30 degrees Celsius and above by midday. In the afternoons you can count on the prevailing south-westerly wind to cool the region once again.
The rains have been concentrated to the east and south of camp and because of this we have had the rare opportunity of witnessing the Khumib River flooding twice this month. The mountainous areas are still collecting more rain and so we might see the river flowing for a third time. The camp itself only received about 3mm of rains; however this is not the case for the surrounding area where they have had a lot more.
Game has been flourishing in the areas where we have received rain. Bruno, our resident brown hyaena, has been spotted several times by guests while out on drives. He has been less destructive recently and our kitchen and refuse cages have been unaffected by his presence.
At the beginning of the year a leopard was spotted at least twice and this past month we saw one of his kills which, once devoured, was left in the Hoarusib Riverbed. A cheetah was seen at Sarusas Springs which is not unusual seeing that game has been in abundance in this area as they lap up their daily drink. Excitingly enough we have also seen some cheetah tracks near camp.
Elephants have been hiding in the mountain areas as they move away from the wet and look for dry ground. Our last encounter with one of these great beasts was in January after guests witnessed a pride of lion killing an oryx at the borehole. As the lions rested an elephant bull came to feed on the tamarisk trees in the area.
Another lion kill took place this month by three lioness. From start to finish our guests - repeat guests from Belgium - watched a young springbok as it fell prey to the cats. Within a few minutes the lioness had devoured their meal, only leaving a few bones for the Lappet-faced Vultures.
The new Skeleton Coast camp managers had the opportunity to go out with lion researcher Dr. Flip Stander to dart one of the young lioness in the Hoarusib River. Her GPS collar needed to be replaced and with the help of managers and guests assisting Dr. Stander, Maya the lioness received a new collar.
The Hoarusib River just 50km south-east of the camp has always been known for the extraordinary bird life and recently we had a keen birder in camp who spotted 127 birds over three days.
"Incredible flora and fauna against a backdrop of a staggeringly beautiful terrain - Skeleton Coast is a must".
"I look forward to coming back. It was great. All the staff treated me like royalty. Thank you."
Skeleton Coast Camp bids a fond farewell to Camp Managers Trix Malan and Willie Smit. Anthony Swartz, previously from Serra Cafema, assisted by Madri Speelman from the Windhoek office, have replaced them. Rosalia Martin also joined the team from Palmwag Lodge. We hope that they will enjoy their time here and we welcome them into our beautiful paradise.
Sadly we also said goodbye to Grace Muruko who has been with us for six years. Grace is moving to Desert Rhino Camp and is being replaced by Yvonne Ganases from Desert Rhino Camp. Yvonne is no stranger to the Skeleton Coast Camp as she has worked here in the past.
Serra Cafema Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
The weather this month has been a bit unusual. Cloud built up during a number of days only to disintegrate again towards the early evening. Finally we were blessed with rain and we received 7.5mm in 30 minutes. Unfortunately this is all we were given for the whole month. The rest of the month has simply been hot and humid.
The river level though has risen considerably in the past few weeks creating a little island for our camp. The boardwalk is the only way in and out of camp.
Due to the little rain at the camp itself and in the surrounding areas, some green shoots of grass have become noticeable. The Marienfluss has had more rain and their green vistas have given new life to this part of the North West.
Along with the new flora, the fauna are also coming to life. Young springbok and oryx are being seen frequently and the drive from the airstrip to camp displays these youngsters having great fun around the dunes.
Crocodiles have been quite scarce due to the quickening flow of the river. They have moved on to shallow and quieter waters. However we have seen a few crocodiles sunbathing on the sandbanks as we float by on our river cruises. Another large crocodile has made his home around the lodge.
Snakes have been out and about recently. They are clearly enjoying the hot and humid weather. We found a very big zebra snake one sweltering afternoon.
A Paradise Flycatcher has made its nest in one of the trees outside Tent 1. For about two weeks one parent or the other will sit on the little nest which consists of only one egg until it hatches. Therefore we look forward to seeing the youngster on his arrival.
Usually we like to treat our guests to a dinner in the dunes, however as the river has risen so much, we have been unable to do this recently. Our poolside dinners are not affected by the water and therefore these have replaced the dune dinners. They are just as lovely and the staff singing local folksongs always adds a bit of extra spice to our evenings and are much loved by our guests.
"Thank you very much for allowing us to be your guests. The place has wonderful scenery and there is a lot to be seen in the desert which surprises us again and again."
"Thank you for making us feel so welcome and for making our stay special. The setting is spectacular and the lodge is beautiful. We enjoyed all the activities, particularly visiting the Himba people and we are very impressed with Arthur's knowledge."
"We are all very sorry to go and look forward to coming back to Namibia. "
Staff in Camp
Managers: Natasha and Ockert van der Walt and Elizabeth Parkhouse
Relief Managers: Bertha Lunyazo and Johan Liebenberg (Relief Managers)
Guides: Gerhardus Jansen, Steve Kasaona, Harry Ganuseb, Dawid Tjongarero, Athur Bezuidenhout
Ongava Tented Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Weather and Landscape
This month has been quiet on all fronts at Ongava and Etosha. The rain has probably had a lot to do with this. Puddles have formed everywhere across the park allowing the animals to disperse and spread out. Along with all this rain, the landscape has become thick and green - which also helps in concealing animals.
However, one of the biggest advantages of the rain has been the flowers that you can find in our area. We have counted ten different flower species in camp itself. Identifying them is another story however. The few we have managed to identify include the Cleome hirta as well as the common Tribulus terrestri, commonly known as the devil's thorn. The Euphorbia virosa is another that is in flower and thus invites flies, ants as well as butterflies to sample its pollen. Burchell's zebra also seem to be enjoying munching on flowers along with the fresh green grass.
There has been a very rare sighting of elephant in the Ongava Reserve, however our usual sightings, while out on game drive, of lion and rhino have been far more difficult.
Lion, however, are still a regular occurrence at camp. Guests have been able to enjoy them as well as be rocked to sleep by their roars into the night. This is an exciting sound for guests as it gives them a real feeling of Africa. We haven't had any sightings of cubs yet but we are hopefully going to see some in the near future as some of the lionesses seem to be lactating.
During the month we had a surprise visitor in camp - a Geoffroy's horseshoe bat (see below). He visited the camp for about two weeks, sleeping above the family table.
On Valentine's Day we only had two guests in camp so we organised a special dinner for them on the deck of their tent. We added lots of candles and a bottle of champagne. The guests really appreciated our efforts.
While we were quiet this month we did some heavy duty spring cleaning and maintenance. All the staff worked very hard.
"Superb hospitality in a spectacular environment." Phillip
"Having dinner while been watched by lions was something we'll long talk about, but the real highlight was Rio's knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment to make sure we had an outstanding experience."
"The special dinner on Valentine's Day was much appreciated, plus finding the lions." David
"An excellent stay in a superb setting! Being able to be in close proximity to white rhinos is a delight but also being informed of the structures/features of plants and of the traditional uses of these was much appreciated." Kenneth
Staff in Camp
Managers: Gerda, Silvia, Inge and Corne
Guides: Rio, Festus, Bariar, Leon
Little Ongava update - February 2011 Jump
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Ongava Lodge update - February 2011 Jump
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Andersson's Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Little Kulala Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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February has been an incredible month in the desert, particularly at Little Kulala. We've had more rain than we have seen in a very long time. The Aub River came down in flood a few times and the whole area around the camp is covered in yellow flowers. The rain was incessant in the first two weeks of the month. From mid-month we received little rain but the clouds continued to build up every afternoon over the Naukluft mountains, so they are probably not quite finished yet!
Sossusvlei is full of water. The road is now a quiet river which reflects the red dunes beautifully. Our Land Rovers have had to stop at the 2x4 parking and guests have had to walk into Sossusvlei. However the 5km trek is definitely worthwhile as guests are treated to a sight that very few have seen ... the iconic dunes surrounded by still, beautiful waters.
The waterhole in front of the lodge has not been that active this month as there has been plenty of water in the area for animals. Springbok, oryx and Ostrich are often seen as well as a lot of nocturnal animals like Cape foxes, Spotted Eagle-Owls and we've even seen a Barn Owl once. A Spotted Eagle-Owl entertained the guests one evening by preying on insects that were attracted to the light at the waterhole. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks are a regular feature in the morning when the Namaqua Sandgrouse are active at the waterhole. Some guests were lucky enough to see a few catches during the month whilst having breakfast.
We had an Italian couple in camp that could hardly speak English but managed to communicate that they would love to try traditional African food. We made them a beef goulash with maize meal and sauce. They ate with their hands and had Oshikandela for desert. When dinner was finished, English was no longer a problem and all of the service staff and managers got hugs and kisses!
"We enjoyed our stay at Little Kulala, everything was wonderful, the nature, the people, the kindness."
"Very friendly people and beautiful flowers."
Staff in Camp
Managers: Igna and Daphne
Assistant Managers: Corrie, Bona
Relief Manager: Lorna
Guides: Willy, Clement, Agnes, Megusto, Elaine
Kulala Desert Lodge update - February 2011 Jump
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The month of February was a month to remember in terms of rain and the beauty that it bought with it. Our world is green - a very rare event - and full of interesting birds, animals and plant species. The Tsauchab River came down six times this month in full flood. The most spectacular of these came on 8 February when it came with a roar ran about 400m wide covering the waterhole and most of the opposite bank across from Kulala.
Flora and fauna
The wide variety of bird species we are seeing at the moment include Egyptian Geese flying by, lapwings calling after dark, Lark-like Buntings, Rock Martins and Mountain Wheatears to name a few. There are a lot of young springbok around the reserve and some of our guests have also seen Ostrich chicks.
At night, a small white flower comes out colloquially called "desert perfume". It has a lovely sweet smell that permeates everywhere - nature is even providing us with its own perfume in this abundant time!
A member of staff caught and ringed his first Pied Crow, his athletic skills were challenged because the crow was completely wet and couldn't fly and was scuttling all over the ground. We've even seen the "white lady of the south", our leucistic (gemsbok) oryx etched against green grass on the side of one of the surrounding mountains.
"There are many memories! Sitting on the deck watching sunset and seeing all the colours and the concern of the staff when we went out walking far longer than they expected. Seeing an Eagle owl, many butterflies and springbok in the blooming desert"
"The whole stay was superb. The view from the terrace was beautiful, whilst enjoying a sundowner drink. The rooms are all peaceful and private. Staff are attentive but inobtrusive"
Staff in Camp
Managers: Dawie and Christa
Assistant managers: Violet, Kobus
Food and Beverage Manager: Phillip
Relief Manager: Lona
Guides: Angula, Petrus, Jaos, George, Willem, Teek
Kulala Wilderness Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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For the first three weeks of the month the weather was very wet with high humidity levels. We received a total across the reserve of between 80 and 100mm of rain. During the day the maximum temperatures ranged between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius and the minimum temperatures between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius.
These exceptional seasonal rains have changed the gravel and sandy plains into a green carpet of lush vegetation. We now look onto a landscape almost unrecognisable to us as wild flowers spring up in all directions and our land has become a colourful backdrop.
In a very short period of time during the month all the ephemeral riverbeds especially the Aub and Tsauchab were in full flood for a few days. Sossusvlei is also full of water and our guests have enjoyed the odd swim in the Sesriem Canyon.
The desert antelopes on the reserve like springbok and oryx have increased in numbers as the capacity of the land's grazing has swelled. We are expecting to see young calves soon.
Bird watching has changed dramatically over the last few weeks and visiting birds include Black Kites, Augur Buzzards, Jackal buzzards, Lark-like Buntings, Sparrow Larks, Crimson Boubou, Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters. The most interesting sightings were Abdim's Stork and Purple Roller.
"It was a wonderful stay, everybody was nice and helpful. The meals were great and we enjoyed everything. Thank you very much."
"Everything was excellent, food delicious, very friendly service, we enjoyed the dune hike!"
Staff in Camp
Assistant Managers: Petronella and Dios
Guides: Dawid, Richard and Moses
Governors' Camp update - February 2011 Jump
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Thankfully we received some rain this month, bringing a small amount of green growth, however our area of the Masai Mara remains dry as we await the arrival of the long rains. The rain caused a fair amount of animal movement, bringing large herds of zebra into the Masai Mara Game Reserve from the surrounding areas which are extremely dry and have not had the localised rain we received. Early on in the month the zebra were moving into the reserve to graze during the day and out of the reserve at night where lions are scarcer and the zebra feel safer. Then during the month these large herds began to move across the plains, coming to the Marsh to drink during the day and some herds moving to the Mara River to cross. With river levels low the zebra have been able to walk easily across.
Photos courtesy of Vo Van Dung Delobel and Samuel Kiplangat
Sensing a change in the seasons, the wildebeest have now begun to calve, most of them have moved outside the park boundaries, (where pressures from lion are less) to do so. Their sisters in Serengeti will also be calving about now down at Lake Ndutu and towards Olduvai gorge.
A great deal of rhinos were seen over the last month, almost twice weekly. This has meant that the "big 5" were seen three or four days out of each week! We have enjoyed lovely sightings of a mother and calf up on the plains and a male close to the thickets near the Mara River. Rhinos have also been a regular feature on the hot air balloon safaris with five different rhino seen one morning. On the 8th of February our clients flying on the balloon were treated to the unusual sight of two honey-badgers moving near to the Mara River. And on the 4th we were fortunate to witness from the balloon a leopard in an acacia tree with a reed-buck kill.
Elephants split into family groups this past month as the pressure of feeding increased. This is a common trait amongst many birds and animals that find conditions difficult. The elephant families were spending most of their time along the rivers, when it is this dry elephants need to drink everyday and will remain close to known water sources. On the 10th of February we were incredibly privileged to witness the birth of a baby elephant right next to the bar tent at Little Governors' Camp. The mother elephant wandered into camp followed by a group of other elephants. The mother settled herself close to the bar tent and the other elephants then disappeared. After much trumpeting and effort the mother gave birth right before the eyes of some newly arrived guests. Then the other elephants re-appeared and surrounded the mother and the calf. There was much excitement in camp and the mother and calf are doing great! The little one and its mother are still to be seen around and are given a great deal of respect by all. On the 18th of February we were all mightily relieved as a storm blew in from the plains and thunder and lightening accompanied a steady overnight down-pour of 38mm (1 1?2 inches). Then the elephants joined us, happily gathering the Elephant Pepper berries.
Photos courtesy of George Murray and Samuel Kiplangat
With all these zebra around the Marsh Pride of lions have remained in the heart of their territory at Bila Shaka, often moving to the Musiara Marsh during the day to hunt zebra. The are making regular kills, bringing down zebra or wildebeest on an almost nightly bases. With all this food around the cubs have been in a particularly playful mood. The female white-eye (ever the opportunist) has realised with food plentiful, its a good moment to increase the pride, and was seen mating with one of the pride males.
The Paradise Pride of lions have also been doing well. The pride killed a buffalo and a zebra in one night and even the old male is looking healthy and resplendent! On the 8th of February we witnessed the gory scene of the Paradise Pride of lions killing a hippo. The five female lions started chasing the hippo and biting its rear. They eventually brought the hippo down and began to eat its rear end while it was still alive. Whilst it was sad and uncomfortable to see the hippo suffer the pride have to eat, the six cubs soon joined the females and Notch the dominant male and his three sons were not far away. The pride spent the next few days digesting the enormous meal and were content to let the hyenas scavenge the remains. The Paradise Pride have become accustomed to hunting hippos. Last year the six males including Notch killed six hippos altogether and they would feed on them over several days. Since January this year they have killed three hippos, two of which were killed by the females. The hippo hunting tactics they have mastered are only possible due to the size of the pride and we believe are a survival adaptation which they have developed for the leaner months when the great herds of the wildebeest migration have moved south.
Photos courtesy of John Hetherington and Samuel Kiplangat
We have enjoyed wonderful leopard sightings this month. The resident female leopard spent a lot of time between the Musiara Marsh and the airstrip. Guests arriving on the 9th of February were treated to a leopard sighting before they had even checked into camp! A female leopard with two cubs of around two months old have also been seen regularly and a male and female leopard were seen close together on another occasion leading us to believe they may have been mating, so perhaps more cubs to come. All of which is great news for the Mara's leopard population. On the 10th of February a leopard was seen feeding on a crocodile in an ear of the Mara known as double crossing, this is an unusual sight and the question of everyone's mind was who killed the croc?! Closer to camp one of the resident male leopards has been having a hard time losing his prey to hyena. One one occasion he had just killed a zebra and, before being able to hoist it into a tree, was accosted by a single hyena, who promptly stole his kill.
Photo courtesy of Vo Van Dung Delobel
In early and mid february we continued to enjoy daily cheetah sightings with six different cheetah seen on one day; the three males were on the move roaming their territory and the mother and her two cubs were also out. But towards the end of the month the cheetah have become a little more elusive. Considering the movement of the lions and hyenas, it is understandable that the cheetah have avoided the areas that the two larger predators occupied.
Photos courtesy of Samuel Kiplangat and Catherine Rouse
The walking area, not far from the reserve and very much part of the same ecosystem as the reserve, is experiencing the same conditions. There seems to be a few more wildebeest than usual. These are most likely resident however, but are moving around for the same reasons as the animals in the reserve. Walks have been amazing. One particular incident comes to mind. The walking guide and his walkers arrived at the starting point as it was getting light enough to walk. While enjoying a morning cup of tea they noticed a number of topi looking very interested in a certain area. Quickly the walkers set off and were soon presented with a grand spectacle. Three big male lions (the coalition that took over the Maternity Pride in August last year) were being chased around by two buffalo bulls!
Birding over February was fantastic. The migrants were still around and many nests were found. In one small area there was a Double-toothed Barbet nest, a White Backed Vulture's nest, a Hooded Vulture's nest. We watched a tiny Grey-capped Warbler feeding a much bigger Diederick's Cuckoo and actually found a Common Bulbul nest with chicks in it as well. It is a privilege to look through a window into a completely different, secret little world!
Back in Governors Camp we have a new resident; a White Backed Vulture is nesting close to the camp laundry and has a single scruffy looking chick. This vulture has been using this nest for a long time, whenever she needs to lay her eggs and we are excited to welcome the new arrival!
But the big excitement has to be the White Rhino spotted from the bar at Governors' Camp just across the river just before nightfall.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge update - February 2011
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