Unfortunately, our first day started out with some technical issues. My poor little Hilux didn’t like the -8oC (!!!) temperatures we experienced overnight on Sunday, and I woke up to find that not only did it not want to start, but that there was ice in the gas line! It took us a while to get the vehicle sorted, which got me to my guests rather late. Fortunately, they were truely stellar and forgiving once I arrived and set us up on our way.
Once on the road to the trail, we were very lucky, seeing several herds of various ’boks, as well as two excellent sightings of black-backed jackal, as well as a bateleur soaring slowly overhead. On the trail, we continued to have an excellent bird day, seeing a rock kestrel, PCGs, a spotted eagle owl in a tree, swallow-tailed bee-eaters, a lilac-breasted roller (my first in a while!), and several northern black korhaan. Aside from the bird life, we also found several groups of gemsbok, another fantastic black-backed jackal sighting, and several sightings of steenbok.
We made it into camp a little later then our usual, but still had plenty of time to set up our tents and sort ourselves out before the sun set. It was a very quiet night, but thankfully not nearly as cold as the night before. We had a beautiful moonless night, and fantastic view of the stars before we turned into our nice warm sleeping bags.
We woke up the following morning to find some nice fresh brown hyena tracks wandering through the camp, investigating our ring of cars before continuning off down the road. We kept an eye out for him as we set off, but sadly the tracks disappeared out over a dune and disappeared.
We continued on for a very nice bunch on Eileen’s pan, wit both the gemsbok and hartebeest residence in abundance on the pan. The gemsbok were even more agreeable then usual, and tolerated our presence throughout the morning, rather then making a run for it at the first opportunity as is their usual modus operandi.
Along the trail we had fantastic views of three black-backed jackals, several large herds of gemsbok, kori bustards, ostrich, hartebeest, and steenbok, as well as the usual complement of steenbok. The bird life was not nearly as varied as the day before, seeing mainly the usual LBJs and drongos lining our path, with the occasional crimson-breasted shrike.
We pulled into camp on the second night, and again looked for tracks, but found that the only thing that had wandered through recently were some steenbok. The night was much warmer then our first, so we were much more comfortable around the fire, and greatly enjoyed stargazing while listening to the jackals calling in the background.
We set off on our third day after being unable to find any prints through our camp, and had another wonderfully relaxing day along the trail. We came across the usual groups of gemsbok and hartebeest, PCGs and steenbok. Most interesting was a small group of gemsbok with a very young calf! The little guy was no more then a month old, and was quite curious about our convoy, peering at us from behind his mother, who was quite clearly nervous at our presence. I was quite surprised at seeing such a young calf at this time of year, as it’s really not the typical time of year to see such youngsters.
Elsewhere along the trail we came across a small group of meercats standing sentinel near their den, secretary birds and kori bustards, as well as a black-chested snake eagle flying overhead with a snake in its claws.
We arrived at witgat and were greeted by the resident black-headed heron – as well as a large group of gemsbok! This would be the first time I’ve seen gemsbok actually at the waterhole, so it was very nice to see that the ‘boks do actually know about this oasis in between the two rivers!
We set up camp and then wandered down to the waterhole to collect the trap camera that had been sitting there for the past two weeks. We weren’t able to find any prints – the gemsbok had clearly spent the day running about in front of the camera – but the camera should give us a good idea of what was in the area.
Once we had set up camp and it got dark, I entertained my guests with a short side show of what had been on the camera trap: several lions (both male and female), a brown hyena, jackal, wild cat, several good shots of the black-headed heron, a barn owl, steenbok, springhare, and 400 pictures of the gemsbok milling around the waterhole!
Our last night was a quiet one, but we did find some brown hyena tracks coming up the road the following morning. We had a nice breakfast watching the sun rise and watching a handful of gemsbok wander slowly in to the waterhole for a while, before setting off on our final day of the trail.
Along the last portion of the trail, we came across one of the largest clusters of gemsbok I’ve seen. We must have spent a good 5 minutes driving through one long herd – quite well spread out, of course, but an impressive number of animals. We also came across secretary birds, the usual complement of pale chanting goshawks and kori bustards, and a handful of ostrich.
Two sightings, however, by far took the cake. I came up over one dune and scared up a group of lions that were shading themselves not 5 metres off the road! They wandered off a bit until they had recovered from the shock, wandering along the ridge of the dune before settling themselves once more once they were convinced my big white hilux wasn’t going to continue its “attack”. We managed to arrange ourselves so that everyone in the convoy could see, and spent a good half hour watching them as they eventually relaxed to our presence and wandered back into their shade, right beside our convoy. A really excellent lion sighting, and one we had all to ourselves.
Not 10 minutes later, we rounded another dune and spotted a herd of Eland trotting away from us. They were far less photogenic then the lions, and disappeared over the dunes in rapid fashion – actually headed back in the general direction of the lions!
Both sightings were brilliant, and a wonderful way to finish off the 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/