May 28 – 31
Our first day started much warmer then last week! While we are definitely heading into winter, the true cold has yet to set in – thankfully. I picked up my guests in Nossob and we headed out to the start of the trail, but really didn’t get very far. Not more then 3km out of camp, I spotted a leopard right beside the road, standing on the embankment. She sat there just long enough for me to stop and get my radio in hand before turning and disappearing into the long grass. My guests, meanwhile, were looking elsewhere, as while I was trying to find where the leopard disappeared to, a honey badger skittered across the road just in front of my vehicle!
An excellent start to the day!
We continued on to the start of the trail, and the journey from that point on was largely uneventful, passing only the usual groups of ‘boks along the way. Once on the trail, we continued with our good luck, spotting a black-shouldered kite, tawney eagle, a common scimitarbill, several swallow-tailed bee-eaters, PCGs galore, a spectacled mousebird, and crimson-breasted shrikes in the way of bird life. As for the larger animals, we saw several steenbok and gemsbok, an African wild cat that went dashing across the track and under a bush, a grey mole snake curled up in the middle of the road, as well as a cape cobra coiled partially around a tree trunk while investigating a sociable weaver’s nest!
We arrived in camp quite excited about our handful of sightings and began setting up camp. One of my guests noticed some tracks in the sand, and I tried regaling them with information about the Kalahari penguin and the kind of spoor they leave behind, but they didn’t seem to believe me that penguins are found in this area of the world! This is what happens when I wake up too early in the morning: I think “pigeon” and “penguin” escapes somehow!
I still stand by my statement that the Kalahari penguin is incredibly rare and not often photographed, however!
Our first night was a quiet one, and thankfully one of the warmest in weeks – 16oC! We had a wonderful night around thee before turning in, listening to the jackals calling overnight. We didn’t find any evidence of activity through our camp overnight, so after a quick breakfast of coffee and rusks, we headed off onto the trail.
We really didn’t get too far – only about 4kms from Swartbos – before we came across a trio of lions sitting right in the middle of our road! They were fairly calm at our approach, and helpfully moved off the road into the shade as we got closer. I decided that there was enough room for me to squeeze by them to give my guests the best possible view, and so moved forward very slowly in the hopes that I wouldn’t scare them off. As it happens, the lions weren’t all that perturbed by my advance – in fact, they were quite curious about my vehicle!
Two of the lions were clearly quite young – nearly adult sized, but still holding onto some of their orange spots that lions cubs have – and they watched with interest as I slowly slid by them. I managed to get most of the way past when one of them decided that my bukky needed a closer inspection, and started wandering right up to me.
I stopped – rather then suddenly taking off, which would most likely have caused her to start chasing me – and we had a short Mexican stand-off. I’d move slowly forward, she’d start moving to follow, I’d stop, she’d stop. Eventually, she tired of this game of “follow the leader” and started approaching closer still, so I revved my engine a couple times; a very “aggressive” sound which caused her to halt and reconsider testing the palatability of my bumper.
Eventually she decided that my truck wasn’t worth the effort, and wandered back to her sister, freeing me to move on down the road another few metres and allowing my guests to move forward and have a look. We sat with them for a few minutes before the same curious youngster got creative, wandering back behind their vehicle – as though innocently going to wander down the road – before circling back behind them to investigate the back of their landy. Before I could get my radio in hand, she’d found a lovely new play toy: their passenger-side mudflap!
I instructed them to rev their engine (as I did), and she backed off long enough for them to roll forward and out of harms way. The lion didn’t care at this point: she had torn off a small piece of the mudflap, and now trotted off, looking extremely proud of herself! Her mother and sister followed her off into the grass, and we moved off and continued down the trail a few kilometres to survey the damage – which, thankfully, wasn’t all that severe: rather a mere war wound to show off to other 4x4ers!
The rest of our second day was much less eventful, spending lunch on Eileen’s pan with the usual complement of hartebeest and gemsbok, and spotting a rock kestrel, swallow-tailed bee-eaters, pale chanting goshawks, steenbok, and gemsbok along the rest of the trail.
We arrived in camp with plenty of time to set up, and my guests relaxed while I did some minor maintenance to our shower station, re-tying the boards that made up the privacy screen which seemed to be trying to make a break for it. We watched a wonderful sunset - enhanced by some nice puffy clouds that had rolled in during the afternoon - before enjoying another nice quiet evening under the African sky.
Our third day dawned bright and clear, with no trace of the clouds from the night before. We set off on the trail and continued our luck with sightings, finding a bevy of pale chanting goshawks, steenbok, and gemsbok, as well as wonderful views of two rock kestrels, a bateleur wheeling in the distance, and several northern black korhaan.
We were also very lucky to spot a small group of eland, well off in the distance. True to form, they disappeared rapidly as soon as we spotted them, but it was still good to catch even that short glimpse of one of the harder-to-find Kalahari ‘bok. We also managed to spot three meercats (or suricate, if you prefer) who were standing sentinel beside our track in a large salt pan, not more then 10 meters away, giving my guests an excellent view! They were cooperative enough to stand still for a few minutes to be photographed, before running off into the grass.
We pulled into camp to find our usual friendly black-headed heron at the witgat waterhole – but this time he had been joined by a friend: a great heron (or white heron, depending on the age of your bird book)! This is the second time I’ve spotted one of these guys n the park, and they are well, well out of their typical range – especially now that we’re in the dry season! Unfortunately, as we set about setting up camp, a trio of pale chanting goshawks decided to give the herons a bit of a chase, sending them squawking off over the dunes. I do hope that they return!
We had a quiet night in camp, with only a few jackals calling in the distance. It wasn’t until the morning that I found the evidence of our visitors: a pair of big female lions! They wandered into our camp and peered at our setup from bit of a distance, before turning off into the bush and wandering down to the waterhole and away. We also found a nice set of owl tracks, landing in the centre of our camp and marching around a bit, before flying off again. I wasn’t sure whether it was the spotted eagle owl, or the barn owl who was responsible for the tracks, as I’d seen both flying around before we headed to bed.
Off on the trail, we had a very nice day of sightings, spotting the first ever wildebeest I’ve seen on the trail. Now that winter is descending, the wildebeest are starting to range further and further from their waterhole lifelines, and starting to come near to our track. We also found the herd of eland wandering through the bush, as well as good sightings of gemsbok, secretary birds, black-backed jackal running through the grass, hartebeest, ostrich, and steenbok.
It was a truly excellent week in the bush, with several unforgettable sightings – and events!
"...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/