June 22: Rather Distracted on the Sunset Drive

Just back from a great sunset drive. To be honest, I spent much of the drive having big ideas and doing some serious brainstorming for a book i’d like to write. I’ve never really liked the word ‘brainstorming’. To say I was distracted tonight was an understatement. But fortunately I wasn’t actually driving or guiding this evening. Here are the sightings below:

Oooh wait! I took a photo of those owls…

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Verreaux’s Eagle Owls

And this sunset…

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Tonight’s sunset (kind of….)

Sightings:

African Wild Cat
Jackal
Bat Eared Fox
Scrubhare
Springhare
Springbok
Steenbok
Wildebeest
Gemsbok
Ostrich
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
Barn Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl
Yellow Canary
Marico Flycatcher
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Kori Bustard
Tawny Eagle

June 19: Cheetahs, Kills and Ethics

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A Kalahari Cheetah. Not tonight’s Kalahari Cheetah. Some other Kalahari Cheetah.

And the trend for ‘strange’ continues in the Kalahari. Tonight’s sunset drive left me in awe again.

The much anticipated snow never came, but it rained in its place. And it rained on the sunset drive tonight. Quite a lot. And there was thunder. And in these conditions, there were things we’d never expect to see…

On our way home we stopped to watch a jackal. By this time it was completely dark. No moon, no stars, just dark and rain and thunder.  Good weather for jackals. Not good weather for much else. And yet moving the spotlight a few meters to the right of the jackal as we were about to leave, revealed a cheetah. A cheetah panting over a freshly killed springbok.

And while this is one of the very coolest spectacles in nature, it’s here you have to shout ‘lights off!

Cheetahs are active by day. They hunt during the day too. And there’s a good reason for this. In the light, there aren’t so many other predators walking about. Kalahari cheetahs   can lose as many as half of their kills to other predators. Brown Hyenas are one of their biggest bullies. And the night is when the Brown Hyena is on the prowl for a free meal. There’s no freer meal than a dead springbok guarded by lone cheetah struggling for breath in the darkness.

Tonight’s cheetah took countless risks and did what few cheetahs are ever prepared to do.  The least we could do was turn off the light and give it some dark. Any predator anywhere nearby wouldn’t hesitate to take the kill away- or worse. In a situation like this, ethics must always come first, even if it means missing out on a big cat sighting. We couldn’t give away the cheetah’s vulnerable position. After i’d taken ten minutes to explain all of this and more to my guests (and they all agreed about the ethical bit- hooray), we had a quick scan with a dimmed light to see if the cat was still there. Fortunately, it had dragged the springbok into a dip and long disappeared. I hope more than anything that it got the meal it deserved.

The last few days have been full of so many unexpected surprises from animals that haven’t bothered to read the mammal behaviour books. So what’s next….?

Sightings:

Cheetah
Small Spotted Genet
African Wild Cat
Cape Fox
Bat Eared Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Springhare
Springbok
Wildebeest
Gemsbok
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Scaly Feathered Finch
Spotted Eagle Owl
Dikkop

June 18: Strange Things are Afoot in my Kalahari…

Wow. Odd things are happening in the Kalahari this week. Yesterday morning before dawn, i’m woken by strange noises outside. I flip on the light expecting to see my garden porcupine and instead I find Africa’s largest antelope, an Eland, standing at my front door and peering into my kitchen. And tomorrow, they’re forecasting SNOW.

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By the time there was light for a photo, my pet Eland had moved down the street.

And tonight’s sunset drive was just as weird and wonderful.

First up was the African Wild Cat who pulled off the perfect hunt for us and caught a mouse right by the vehicle.  That was to be the first of SEVENTEEN Wild cats tonight.

At one point we stopped for another WIld Cat, only to find it was with nine others. A whole herd of ten Wild Cats. And none were ducklings either. Ten adult African Wild Cats. I couldn’t believe it and I don’t think i’ll ever see it again. Pretty good going for a solitary cat species…

Another thing i’ll never see again? A perfectly posed Cape Fox. Moments later, it’s joined by a perfectly posed Polecat. They were like BFF’s. Every now and then, the Polecat stopped to dig. So it may be that their beautiful friendship was based on exploitation, the same way a Jackal scoops up mice that escape from a digging Honey Badger. I even took a photo.

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This is going to be one of my favourite photos. Best Friends Forever.

Oh, and then a Brown Hyena ran across the road in front of us.

Love love love Kalahari.

Sightings:

Polecat
Brown Hyena
Cape Fox
Bat Eared Fox
African Wild Cat
Black Backed Jackal
Springhare
Scrubhare
Steenbok
Mouse
Whistling Rat
Gemsbok
Springbok
Wildebeest
Gabar Goshawk
Kori Bustard
Black Chested Snake Eagle
Black Headed Heron
Ostrich
Barn Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl

June 13: Big Scary Shadow Bunnies

Polecats are quickly becoming one of my favourite animals in the Kalahari. There’s a lot of personality packed into their tiny, stripy bodies. Tonight’s polecat sighting was quite typical of a polecat sighting and consisted of one polecat quickly hopping down a hole of its own making and disappearing from sight. Love.

The little camp I call home is too often criticized. They say it’s too big. It’s too noisy. It’s too close to civilization. It isn’t. Just look up at our stars on a moonless night. Or try the 500km grocery run. How far do you travel to pick up an avocado and a pack of M&M’s?

But as tonight proved, this camp just can’t be beaten for wildlife sightings. The variety of things we see here totally speaks for itself. It’s very good to be home.

Sightings:

Polecat
Small Spotted Genet
Cape Fox
Bat eared Fox
Springhare
Scrub Hare
Steenbok
Wildebeest
Springbok
Gemsbok
Tawny Eagle
Spotted Eagle Owl
Black Headed Heron

So my much anticipated midnight drive was kind of a little bit cancelled at the last minute.  Instead, the guests opted for the night drive. Just as cold, but not as late.

Much of the night drive was spent behind Scrub Hares. Once you’re stuck behind a Scrub Hare, you can be pretty stuck indeed. There are few events in a Scrub Hare’s life more stressful than being caught in headlights and few events in a guide’s life more stressful than trying not to hit Scrub Hares that are caught in headlights. It desperately wants to get out, but when it tries to run to the side of the road it runs right into its own shadow and totally freaks out. “Oh no! A shadow!” So it turns to get away and is promptly confronted with… it’s own shadow… again. “Oh no! A Shadow!” So it turns back and meets its shadow again. “Oh no! A shadow!” You get the picture. The sides of the road are guarded by big menacing shadows that look like bunnies and scare the Scrub Hares senseless.

The best thing to do is always to turn off the lights and let it escape . But it doesn’t always work. At one point, I flicked my lights back on only to find i’d acquired a second Scrub Hare and now had two running from their own shadows instead of one. When I turned off the lights and the engine, one of the Scrub Hares scampered over to the side of the vehicle, peered up at my guests and then quickly took its place back in the middle of the road. It knew what it was doing. Scrub Hare’s are too often overlooked on safaris, but last night they ensured that our night drive was all about Scrub Hares. I didn’t take any photos but here’s a faithful interpretation, made from cookie dough.

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It’s a fairly accurate depiction, but I wasn’t wearing glasses and I was dressed more warmly.

Night Drive Sightings:

Scrub Hare
African Wild Cat
Cape Fox
Bat Eared Fox
Springhare
Springbok
Gemsbok
Spotted Eagle Owl

June 9: Springbok are Like Canada at Christmas

There were Eland everywhere tonight! I feel like such a lucky bunny. We had four separate groups tonight and about 50 Eland in total.  I even took a photo because I don’t know when i’ll get the chance again.  Eland are intense. Even weighing about 800kgs, they can clear a 3 meter fence from a standstill. They obviously didn’t remember that they have that ability last night when several collided with the camp’s perimeter fence.

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They were far away. But they were Eland.

Our big excitement for the evening came when we rounded a corner and found a huge female lion in the road and headed in our direction. When I pulled over to give her more space, she changed course and came for us instead. When she reached our bumper, she suddenly skipped off to the left and then passed nearly touching the vehicle- just inches from me. Adrenaline rush!  Even if i’m doing this job for the next twenty years, that feeling isn’t going to change. It’s indescribable to be outside and so close to lions. I needed tonight’s experience. Love.

Then it got even better! We followed her in reverse for a while before she stopped and took note of two Gemsbok nearby. The next hour and a half was spent watching her in total darkness as she decided on her next move. The lion was definitely interested in the Gemsbok and she kept us totally captivated, but in the end she continued on her way and so did we.

I had a flashback to my childhood tonight. When you shine a light on a huge herd of Springbok at night, they look like a suburban Canadian street at Christmas time. And tonight felt like a Canadian Christmas. The temperature dropped below freezing when the sun set. Love cold Kalahari.

Sightings:

Lion
Eland
Gemsbok
Wildebeest
Springbok
Ostrich
Springhare
Jackal
Spotted Eagle Owl
Bateleur
Black Headed Heron
Kori Bustard
Tawny Eagle

May 29: Tonight’s Sightings

Oh dear. I’ve run out of internet. So I’m trying to report tonight’s sightings from my phone. Here goes…

Sunset drive:

Springbok
Wildebeest
Gemsbok
African wild cat
Jackal
Bat eared Fox
Springhare
Scrub Hare
Spotted Eagle Owl

Night Drive:

Brown Hyena
Jackal
Cape Fox
Steenbok
Bat Eared Fox
Spring Hare
Springbok
Spotted Eagle Owl
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl

The Kalahari was completely alive tonight. And it felt like summer again, with warm weather, crickets and barking geckos. Love.

The night drive was made very exciting by a slew of suicidal springhares which had me making emergency stops all night. Like the sort of emergency stops you do on a driving test. 7 of them.

We also had a lovely surprise when we met a Brown Hyena at a waterhole. We watched as it pasted a stalk of grass and then I managed to find the pasting when it left. I get way too excited about hyena anal pastings. I’ll dedicate a whole post to them sometime, and then you’ll see why…

And we counted more than 60 Bat Eared Foxes on the night drive alone…

Love Kalahari.

May 17 to May 19: The sightings

May 17th Today I drove north to work up at another camp for the weekend.  I always love the drive up there and today, as usual, it was stunning! In 170 kms there were some lovely moments. Among them… Four cheetahs who happened to cross a road right in front of me. A good reminder that I live in one of the most privileged places on the planet. My ‘traffic’ on the way to work was a cheetah who didn’t want to leave the road. Three separate Slender Mongoose sightings today! The Slender Mongoose is one of those special little sightings – you do see them, but it won’t be often. They’re seriously shy. And they’re the colour of milk chocolate when it melts in the sun. Love. A group of 33 Ostriches too! Most were young ones, but nearly full grown. It was quite the sight and I got to see all of their footprints in the sand. There’s no weirder footprint out here than an ostrich. But if you want to talk about weird, forget their footprint and start talking about the sound they make. I also saw the first Double Banded Coursers i’ve seen during the day. This weekend i’ll be on the lookout for the Emerald Spotted Wood Doves that have been spotted up here in the last week. I love it when birds show up in places they aren’t supposed to be. Wood Doves tend to give themselves away with their very distinctive call (sounds a little like doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo….), so fingers crossed! May 18thMy favourite thing to do when i’m up here is sit at the hide. And my favourite thing to watch at the hide are Wildebeest. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched them try to drink. I say ‘try to drink’ because rather than treat the waterhole like the small, safe concrete trough that it is, they treat it like a crocodile infested swamp down a dark, dodgy alley.  You just want to shout ‘It’s OKAY!’ at them as they edge closer and closer to the waterhole.  They try approaching from every possible angle over the course of an hour, only to be scattered by the slightest grasshopper or butterfly.  It’s frustrating for me so I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for them.  You can actually see their thirst. In the end, there are always a few who haven’t got their drink and need to wait for the next episode. And in a few hours, it happens all over again…

Trying to drink…

May 18 Night Drive I couldn’t describe how eager I was to get out tonight! It’s been a whole week since I last took a drive. Holidays are nice, but i’m ever so thankful to be back at ‘work’… The night is absolutely beautiful. It’s not too cold yet and there’s no moon, so the stars are shocking. This must be one of the best places in the world to stare up and gawk at the sky. Using the star program on my computer, I learned that there’s a whole section of sky where all the stars are abbreviated to ‘Boo’. There’s ‘G Boo’, ‘k Boo’, ‘BY Boo’, ‘v2 Boo’ and countless others. Whatever symbol you can put before ‘Boo’, they’ve thought of it. I like that. ‘Boo’ in this case is short for ‘Bootes’ which is a constellation, but I wish I didn’t know that. The wildlife was great tonight too. Three good sightings of African Wild Cat but the big event of the night was meeting two gigantic porcupines in the road. What I love most about porcupine sightings is that once they’ve left the road and disappeared into the grass, you can still hear them for a very long time. Porcupines just cannot move silently through the bush. That can’t be healthy for them. Tonight’s sightings: Bat Eared Fox Jackal Cape Fox Porcupine African Wild Cat Kori Bustard Springhare Scrubhare Springbok Gemsbok Spotted Eagle Owl Verreaux’s Eagle Owl Southern White Faced Scops Owl May 19th Sunset Drive Tonight was a little on the quiet side, but again, it was a seriously beautiful night and I was so happy to be a part of it. The sighting of the day was when a Gemsbok and Wildebeest decided they didn’t like each other anymore and had a head-bashing session with one another! There didn’t seem to be any hard feelings, because afterwards they wandered off into the sunset together. Tonight’s sightings Bat Eared Fox Jackal Springhare Wildebeest Gemsbok Springbok Red Hartebeest Spotted Eagle Owl Ostrich Kori Bustard Secretary Bird