Naked baboons and feathered friends
I tried to sleep-in a bit, but during the night, the raining stopped and the sun peeked through a blanket of fleecy clouds. With ears attuned to the baboons and the thunderous frog choir, I did not think that much else would wake me, but I was wrong about the enthusiasm of birds after the rains have stopped. In true Tamboti fashion, the francolins were the first to announce day at sparrow’s fart. Their creaky high-pitched calls always make me smile, wondering whether a grasshopper or a genet startled it. This morning was a symphony concert of International standard, and as I do with classical music, I started to listen to each call in focused isolation, trying to identify the “instrument”, but my gentle morning song was interrupted by the sound of running feet on my deck. Feet equal monkeys or baboons in the bush…thus I rocketed out of bed, and stood on the deck in split seconds to investigate. It was a big troupe of baboons and they were heading for the dustbin. I ran down the stairs to shoo them away and after giving me one look, they ran like bats out of hell, up a tree and over the electric fence. Neat, I thought, must have been my Grey Go-away bird hairdo in the morning, as I cheekily put my hand on my hip…. my NAKED hip! To add insult to injury, Timo sat on the rail of my deck and loudly announced me, giving me sideways glances with his serious hornbill face.
Timo overlooking the deck of my tent
The same rocket action got me back in my tent, where I covered up and made a cup of strong coffee. I had to think about this, consider possibilities, and believe me, I laughed at the mental pictures.
After my send-up by the baboons, I continued to listen to the symphony in the bush, but some of the instruments were no longer present, yet new ones joined. Yellowfronted Tinker Barbet, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Blackheaded Oriole, Woodland Kingfisher, Swainson’s Francolin, Rattling Cisticola, Greyheaded Bush Shrike, Orangebreasted Bush Shrike, Puffback, Glossy Starling, Natal Francolin and lastly to add depth to whole occasion, the Ground Hornbills started to call from across the river. As I walked down the path to my tent, Timo announced my presence once again, and that set off the Redchested Cuckoo, sitting on a branch of Jackalberry tree overhanging my deck. I can’t describe my pleasure to have been so close to this bird, and just to lift my spirit, it posed patiently until after I had taken a zillion of photos.
I originally planned to drive out on the S39 – Timbavati road, but it was still closed, however, the S36 was open, and I set out on a leisurely pace on the very wet road. I stopped at Muzandzene for a nature call, and found no one there – not even the grounds-keeper was out yet. I carried onward in the direction Nhlanguleni picnic spot, engrossed in the many species of birds so close to the road. It was very much a situation of going 5 kilometers per hour, as I had birdbooks out, binni’s and whenever I could, I took photos, some just for reference for WTM to identify for me later, and some were really nice shots, especially of the Carmine Bee Eaters, who posed rather unwillingly.
resized by bert
After being on the road for a long time, I started wondering whether the road was supposed to be open, as there was not a single car that went past. The condition of the road in general was good, except for the little spruits that washed away a lot of sand, causing careful entry, other than that, I had no difficulty.
After the turn-off to Talamati, more and more general game started to appear, and I also noticed more raptors. I really enjoyed this quietness, almost thinking that I had the whole Park to myself. At Ngwenyeni drinking hole, I found a large number of giraffe, zebra, waterbuck and impala, although the animals were mostly grazing and browsing around the area. I wondered whether this just habit to hang around the known water sources, as the whole area from where I started to travel, had several pools of water in the middle of nowhere. Shortly after leaving this tranquil scene, I was faced with a bit of a challenge…
In front of me the bridge at Ngwenyeni Dam was looming, a steep slope which was rather washed away ended in a low-water bridge and the river was gushing over it. Luckily, not too strong, but as a single traveler, one needs to be extra cautious and not create potentially dangerous situations for oneself. I slowly inched forward, remembering my instruction, and stopped the car before entering the water. As I drove out, I smiled broadly, feeling very proud of myself. Still no cars passing me…
A few kilometers from Nhlanguleni, I spotted the first signs of human life, a French-speaking couple waved me down and with big eyes, gestured backwards and then cupped their ears to imitate elephant ears. Ok…it was not hot at all, so elephants will not really flap their ears that wildly, unless…shaken and stirred. I thanked them and they pulled away a tad too fast. Ok…it took me a number of years to calm down my elephant phobia after being charged on a few occasions, and I really, really had such a wonderfully serene morning, that I considered turning around and taking the S125 back to the main road. My aloneness really made me feel very vulnerable, and a plethora of “what-if’s” started to buzz around my ears like nasty flies. Fear is a strange thing, caution is a sensible thing. I became very philosophical for ten minutes and then decided that I need to face my fear cautiously. I proceeded very slowly, looking for dark forms in the very dense bush, and soon enough, I spotted a young ellie bull in the middle of the road. I stopped respectfully, and by that, a good kilometer respectful. Problem was that the road winds, and soon the large body was out of sight. Then, three hundred meters from me, another ellie, chomping on grass, appeared. I just sat quietly, if you take my thumping heart out of the equation. The ellie followed the one who disappeared around the bend. I inched forward on the wrong side of the road, praying that I will have neither elephant nor human encounters at this point in time. From the far corner of my vision, I saw that both had moved into the bush at a safe distance for me to pass. I slowly drove forward and as I came fully around the bend, a HUGE bull was browsing, totally hidden by shrubs!
I stopped softly and gently and the song sung so beautifully by Kiri Te Kanawa - Ave Maria - started to play in my mind. The French couple didn’t signal the lucky number THREE – shame on them. Ave Maria continues to play in my mind…The first two elephants were quite obviously Askari’s, and I had hit the motherlode…I had driven halfway through my fear, it was time to find out whether the French didn’t have enough fingers to show the amount of ellies waiting around the bend…I slowly rolled the car forward and gently stepped on the fuel pedal. The elephant did not even give me a side glance. When I stopped at Nhlanguleni, I greeted the caretaker with a broad grin and very shaky knees. Fear conquered is liberating!
Next up on the road was Lugmag Dam, it was fuller than what I had seen it in June, and I felt pleased with this. On the dam wall, a few hippos were out grazing in the cool, overcast weather. I watched the Carmine Bee Eaters in crimson flight as they dived into a pool of water not far from my car. Around the dam, waterbuck, impala, kudu, wildebeest and giraffe. My next turn-off was at the S33 where I had excellent bird sightings and sat at Vutomi Dam for over an hour, watching giraffe, wildebeest, waterbuck and impala. A few meters from there, I encountered a family of Knobbilled Ducks, who kept me snapping away happily.
My route ended on the H1-3, and back on the Orpen road, I decided to loop on the S40 to Girivana drinking hole and from there on S12 back to the main road again. I was rewarded with a very full dam below the drinking hole and a giraffe that towered above me as it ogled me for several minutes. A brilliant sighting of a Martial Eagle – a bonus after seeing a beautiful Bateleur on the S33. Then there was the Blood Lilly, a luxurious deep red crown of flowers in the middle of the veld, that gave me intense pleasure.
Back onto the main road to Orpen, I spot two Saddlebilled Storks in the middle of nowhere – I could not see from where I was sitting, but I am sure there was a good pool of water filled with yummy frogs that kept them there. Close to “tree road” a large herd of waterbuck had gathered, and they were having a playful scuffle.
My day ended with a sighting of a Pygmy Kingfisher who came for an early evening grasshopper hunt in front of my tent. Pleased with my day, I treated myself to a mango and chicken salad on the deck and listened to the frog choir that seemed to have lost some of it over-zealous members. As I sat sipping an Amarula coffee, the hyena called and soon afterward, the soft roaring of lionesses followed.