Feb 20 – 24
We started off splashing through the remnants of last night’s rain, which took the humidity for our first day of travel through the roof, unfortunately. We all got to camp rather hot and sweaty, but thankfully we’re currently doing the South to North run of the trail, which means our first camp is Witgat, which has a very nice swimming pool!
Ok, actually, it’s the cistern for the waterhole at the camp… but it’s wet, it’s clean, and - as long as you can clamber up the 10 foots sides – it makes for a wonderful swimming pool!
Despite the heat, we had some excellent views this first day, enjoying our tea under a large Sheppard’s tree while a small herd of gemsbok and a handful of red hartebeest wandered through the pasture-like dunes. Eland, Springbok, and – as per usual – many Steenbok were also in evidence.
The birds have also been agreeable to us this first day, spotting many flocks of namaqua doves, Pale Chanting Goshawks (including several juveniles), Tawny Eagles, Kori Bustards, and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters.
The Kalahari remains unbelievably green, but is now also turning into beautiful fields of red, purple and yellow as various flowers begin to bloom. The Mouse Whiskers have just started blooming this week, and there were several valleys between dunes which were absolutely covered in their delicate yellow flowers. It reminded me of fields of canola like I’d see back home in the prairies of Alberta in summer – not desert like at all!
After arriving at camp we had only a few short hours to set up and relax before one of the rather imposing looking clouds that had hovered on the horizon all day finally rolled overhead and dumped down upon us, sending us all running to batten down the covers of our tents and seek refuge in our vehicles. Thankfully, this rain let up after about half an hour, and was just enough of a soaking to bring the barking geckos out early, serenading us over dinner.
The rain came back well after midnight, and we slept cozy in our rooftop tents listening to rain on the canopy, thunder to the south, and lions roaring to the north.
The second day dawned wonderfully cool – and, thankfully – dry! We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast while watching the sun rise and slowly burn away the clouds before setting off back into the dunes.
Our second day was wonderfully relaxed as we took in the sights, enjoying several sightings of hartebeest and gemsbok – each with young only a few scant weeks old – secretary birds, many (many) Pale Chanting Goshawks, and the usual bevy of steenbok. We were also treated to a sighting of an African Hoopoe out in the dunes, as well as a Black-chested Snake Eagle and small group of Red-necked Falcons soaring overhead.
We stopped for tea in the shade of a nice big Buffalo thorn, and I set out to check and ensure the latrine was safe. Not 5 metres away from the long-drop, I came across fresh – very fresh – lion prints. I retreated warily to the truck to retrieve the rifle (no, I’ve not learned from last week!), and I set back out to have a look and ensure that the lion was no longer around. Thankfully, it looked like he had departed earlier that day, as his prints were on top of the rain of last night, but had been walked on by a brave steenbok at some point since.
As we made our way back to the vehicles, we came across a Black Backed Jackal den! As we talked about how the dens are created and used, we were all surprised when a Jackal emerged from the den and took off at full tilt away from us! It was an excellent sighting, and hopefully the Jackal will remain in the area.
As we arrived at our second camp, we set up with a wary eye to the sky, as the grey storm clouds of the previous evening were slowly gathering again. We were less critical of the wonderfully cooling breeze that the evening brought with it – sorely needed after a very humid day!
I scouted the camp (rifle in hand, this time!), and searched for signs of recent activity, but found only the prints of a couple of gemsbok.
Our second night, thankfully, was a dry one, and our third day dawned warm and very humid with a clear sky above us, and beautiful puffy clouds along the horizon in every direction. We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise while listening to an ostrich calling in the distance, before setting off on our day’s journey.
Our third day was eventful if only for the 3 different Red Crested Korhaan that displayed quite close to our group – though I swear the latter two were displaying just to spite me after I gushed about how rare seeing the display! We also saw several groups of Gemsbok – including one demonstrating the Fhlemen grimace – each with small youngsters, porcupine quills, many korhaan, bustards, and steenbok, as well as a very agreeable herd of hartebeest of 7 adults and 4 babies which were very relaxed as they stood in the shade just beside our cars.
We spent tea at Elieen’s pan again, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch while watching hartebeest graze, gemsbok run for the hills, and a bustard wandering about the pan, all while big, puffy clouds drifted across the sky above us.
Once we arrived at camp, a wind came up and finally blew away the humidity… but also blew in imposing looking clouds, and the sound of thunder heading our way. We set up and prepped dinner as quickly as we could, but our haste turned out to be unnecessary, as while we were surrounded by lightning on all sides, we somehow managed to miss all the rain.
Our fourth day dawned clear and –thankfully – dry! We headed back towards the main road through fields of grass and three-thorn scrub, seeing black-shouldered kites, tawny eagles, pale chanting goshawks, and yet another mid-display red-crested korhaan (grrrrr. Silly birds!). But by far, the best sighting of the day was a black-backed jackal that decided to go for a morning jog beside our vehicles, keeping pace for a good half kilometre.
We stopped for tea just off the main road where we found a female leopard track, but sadly no leopard. And then, sadly, I bid my guests adieu and ended yet another wonderful trail!
"...I can believe things that are true and things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not..." - Neil Gaiman (American Gods)
Miros Photography on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gbfootprints/