April 16 – 19
This trail was extra special for me, as two f my guests were my parents! I was quite excited to lead them out into the bush and show them how I was spending my year in South Africa.
On our way to the trail, we were quite lucky to see several jackals, a tawny eagle, and several bateleurs – including a juvenile flying overhead. However, once we arrived on the trail we immediately got rained on – of course! We were surrounded by massive thunderclouds the entire day, and drove through small patches of rain that ranged from light spitting to sudden downpour.
Despite the dampness, we had quite an active first day, seeing plenty of the usual ‘boks: gemsbok, steenbok, hartebeest, and wildebeest. We also saw several PCGs, kori bustards, and secretary birds. But the most interesting sighting was a nightjar, which had been sleeping in the road until we rudely awoke it. We had excellent timing, driving into camp just as it finished raining itself out, and enjoyed a nice dry evening in camp. It did rain on us overnight, but by that point we were snug in our beds, listening to the patter of raindrops on canvas as well as jackals and lions calling in the distance.
To start off our second day, we wandered down to Witgat’s waterhole, and found some beautifully fresh brown hyena prints that came down to the waterhole shortly after the rain stopped. The prints were extremely crisp, and perfectly showed the clawtips, toes, and pads, as well as the thick fur that intersperse the toes in this species.
Once on the road, we had an excellent bird day, spotting a wide range of really fantastic bird life: spotted dikkops in the shade of a bush, a juvenile bateleur flying overhead, several kori bustards, a lilac-breasted roller, ant-eating chats, two African hoopoes, and a pair of spotted eagle owls sitting in a tree right beside the road.
As for non-bird life on our second day, we saw the usual gemsbok, steenbok and hartebeest – including one gemsbok with a horn that had quite clearly snapped in two! However, the most exciting find of the day was a freshly-dug aardvark hole – right in the middle of our road! It was a good thing I had glanced at the road ahead when I did, otherwise I would have sunk my Hilux straight down to the chassis!
We all got out to investigate, and it looked like the burrow had been dug overnight, as there was no sign of rain disturbing the sand that had been dug out of the hole. As we continued along the trail, we could see his perfectly formed footprints wandering along the road for several kilometres, digging little exploratory holes as it searched for ants and termites, before his tracks disappeared off into the bush. An extremely exciting find!!
We pulled into camp our second night and set up under a beautiful blue sky, with beautiful big puffy clouds covering the horizon in every direction. Our second night was, thankfully, dry, allowing us to dry out our things nicely after the rain of the day before. We had an excellent evening around the fire, and settled in listening to jackals calling in the distance and enjoying a perfectly clear sky above.
Our third day dawned bright and clear, with hardly a cloud in the sky. We set off and used the large dunes of the morning leading out of camp for several of my guests to test out the differential lock system of their vehicles. There was quite some debate between myself and my guests on whether the diff system would make the dune climbing easier or impossible. The debate only ended after each car failed to make it more then half way up the dune with the diff locks engaged!
The trick to dune driving is a combination of momentum and power: having too much of one and not enough of the other is a sure fire way to sink yourself down into the sand. While diff locks will give you plenty of power evenly distributed to all four wheels, your lack of momentum will use that power to quite quickly toss sand into the air as you try to make your way up the steep slopes of a sand dune. I tried to hide my smugness at the results (badly, I’ll admit =D), and after shovelling out the ruts we had created we continued on towards Swartbas.
As we continued along the trail this third day, we had a few wonderful sightings of red hartebeest with some youngsters, steenbok, and gemsbok, as well as some spectacled mousebirds, plenty of pale chanting goshawks, as well as a crimson breasted shrike flying along beside our vehicles, as well as our usual lunch-time companions of gemsbok and hartebeest wandering along Eileen’s pan.
We pulled into camp and set our chairs up in the ample shade of the sweet thorn trees at Swartbas, and enjoyed a fire while the sun set over the dunes. That night, we got to listen to the jackals calling in the distance, and woke the next morning to the sound of lions in the distance.
Our last day was an exciting one. It started off with some beautifully fresh brown hyena prints that wandered through our camp. I was glad to see that I’d not spooked him away when I spotted him last week!
Once on the trail, we did manage to see a porcupine scurrying away from our convoy and up over a dune! I figure it was likely sleeping under one of the many blackthorns in the area, and our passing woke it and scared it off. We didn’t get a great look at it before it vanished, but we got an excellent look at the freshly-made prints as well as the drag marks left behind by the quills. We also saw a heard of hartebeest with some youngsters, black-backed jackals, PCGs, and plenty of both red-crested and black korhaans.
A fantastic end to another amazing 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/