August 2: My ‘Welcome Home’ was a tree full of Hornbills….

After two weeks away from the Kalahari i’m home! And the best sighting on tonight’s sunset drive, happened before I pulled out of the parking area. A tree full of Yellow-Billed Hornbills! Joy. Love. Cookies. It felt a little like a Kalahari welcoming party, even if they were just there to scope out all the hottest food joints.

A Whole Tree Full of Hornbills. Love.

Hornbills don’t have a brood-patch. Most birds have got a special fluffy bit of feathers on their chests to help them to incubate their children when they’re still eggs. It’s called a ‘brood-patch’. Hornbills don’t have one. I already said that.

Instead of a brood patch, a mother Hornbill will pluck nearly every feather from her body to make a warm soft duvet for her eggies. But you can’t just sit down in the middle of the street and pull out all your feathers. It would be both freezing and embarrassing. So mom and dad Hornbill first choose a suitable hole in a tree. Then mom goes inside. Then dad rushes away to find mud so he can totally wall her into her little hole. She’s allowed a tiny hole somewhere in the mud-wall where dad can drop off an occasional snack. But it’s only big enough to deliver little things like worms and seeds, nothing awesome like cheeseburgers or quiche, which dad secretly gorges on while he’s away.

Photographic evidence obtained from Tshokwane Picnic Spot: what dads do when their family is locked away in a dark dark tree.

Eventually, the kids are born and kept warm by feather-less mom’s discarded feathers. It takes weeks and weeks for her feathers to grow back. When dad is finally satisfied that his wife and children are presentable enough to leave their tree-hole, he comes and breaks the wall down. It’s amazing Hornbills survive at all, given all the opportunities for serious error in their breeding plan.

Then there was the rest of the sunset drive. We saw a lot of Eland trying to dream their way over the camp fence and 932 Bat Eared Foxes.

Oooh there’s too much Amarula in my hot chocolate tonight…

Sightings:

Kudu
Eland
African Wild Cat
Black Backed Jackal
Bat Eared Fox
Cape Fox
Springhare
Springbok
Steenbok
Wildbeest
Gemsbok
Spotted Eagle Owl
Giant Eagle Owl
Dikkop
Tawny Eagle
Yellow Hornbill
Fiscal Shrike
Kori Bustard
Striped Mouse

July 19: Lions, more Lions and some Awkward Teenaged Bateleurs

I loved the drive home this morning! Because I often only drive these roads after dark, it’s so disorientating to see the same places in daylight.

At one waterhole I stopped because I saw a kudu. It only took a second to notice something was not quite cool. The kudu was flanked by two jackals and all three were staring intently at a bush nearby. Their gaze led me straight to a lion! He was watching the trio closely, but lions are only active for two of twenty four hours, and this hour was one of the twenty two that are spent crashed out and doing absolutely nothing.

The Kudu staring at the Lion…

…The Lion staring at the Kudu

Go on… drink at the waterhole…

A few hours closer to home I came around a corner and found a mating pair of lions in the road. The female shot me a quick warning look and I stopped at a fair distance. This is where the real difference between a closed vehicle and an open vehicle shines through. In an open vehicle, I had to hang back a little. So I sat and enjoyed some quality time with them.

In Afrikaans, female lions are called ‘Wifeys’ (or something like that). I think it’s one of my favourite ever expressions.

Pretending to sleep

Together

…and mating

I’d been so focused on the two in front that I didn’t even see the two girls on the dune right beside me!

The Wifeys on the dune

Eventually (and perhaps to my relief, because I was in a hurry) a few construction vehicles appeared on the horizon. The sight of something so unusual and  so fabulously yellow sent the pair over to join the others on the ridge, and I took my opportunity to drive away.

Love lions

I counted 23 jackals at the next waterhole.

This morning there were baby Bateleur’s everywhere! But it’s not surprising given that it takes about seven years for a baby to finally take on its parents striking colouration and stop being a mud-brown colour with a greenish bill and awkward naked legs.  Adult Bateleur’s are the most beautiful raptors imaginable, but it takes a heck of a long time to get there.

And now that i’ve seen my first Grey Hornbill in the Kalahari, i’m seeing them absolutely everywhere I look.

Sightings:

Lion
Kudu
Steenbok
Grey Hornbill
Lanner Falcon
Red Necked Falcon
Red Hartebeest
Yellow Mongoose
Ground Squirrel
Kori Bustard
Secretary Bird
Bateleur
Jackal
Gemsbok
Springbok
Wildbeest

July 17: In the Aftermath of the Lion Storm

Last night it was quite impossible to sleep through the raging ‘lion storm’. There seemed to be countless lions calling from all directions, and for hours.  It’s what I love about this place. In the aftermath of the storm, still with the occasional distant rumble, people in the campsite would be forgiven for thinking that lions would be a guaranteed sighting this morning. But it turned out they weren’t…

No one saw the lions this morning… except us! That’s what you get for booking a morning drive and getting a good head start.  Even if if was well below freezing when we set out. Listening to the lions before we left, I could hear they were moving south very quickly. I decided to take a risk and not drive down a road where I thought they might be, rather choosing instead to see if I could intercept them on the main road. For once it paid off.

The sound of a nearby lion made us stop.  It took a few minutes before he finally emerged from the long grass. Very happy to see one of my favourite lions again after a few months away!  The gorgeous black maned lion was on a mission and headed right for us, crossing the road just behind us and disappearing into the dunes. A moment later we heard the second lion. When we saw him, he wasn’t in such a rush– until he heard the rest of his pride calling from far away. Immediately he changed course and started running in their direction, this time crossing the road in front of us.  We were lucky bunnies. And they were pretty lions.

The second lion to cross our path this morning. He was very pretty…

I learned that a good Lion sighting can physically warm up cold toes.  And with each good sighting, we all got just a little warmer. Some would say the rising sun had something to do with it… But it was all down to good sightings.Later on we saw both kudu and eland, which are the two rarest antelopes here and always wonderful to see.

At a waterhole, a friendly Cape Glossy Starling named Fred came and sat on our mirror. He wouldn’t leave! Eventually, it wasn’t until we were moving that he flew off.

Friendly Fred

Love friendly Fred

And I couldn’t have predicted that the lions would be dwarfed by some Striped Mice! Not just any Striped Mice, but a pile of 14 Striped Mice, clambering over each other trying to get a spot a few millimeters closer to the sun.  This sighting now ranks as one of my very best Kalahari moments. Love.

Maybe the best sighting i’ve ever had in the Kalahari…

After the mice, I told my guests that sightings-wise, this may have been my best drive yet in the Kalahari. And I meant it. But it gets better!

Nearly home again, I stopped to look at a Pale Chanting Goshawk.  As I began to explain to my guests why we always stop for Goshawks (1), I saw them and I gasped. And then I got really excited. And I squeaked and clapped my hands together in the way I do when something truly exciting happens. Geek.

HONEY BADGERS! Mummy and teenager. Because Badgers are indestructible and unstoppable, we didn’t get to see them for long, but it didn’t matter. Even a quick glimpse of a Honey Badger can keep me going for months.

(1) Why we always stop for Goshawks:  Pale chanting Goshawks will sit low in trees trailing Honey Badgers. You almost always see the Goshawks before you see the badgers. Badgers are good diggers but not always good catchers and the little critters who manage to escape the Honey Badgers are grabbed by Goshawks or Jackals. Essentially if you’re a small mammal, an approaching Honey Badger spells doom. If the badger doesn’t get you, someone else will.

Morning Drive Sightings:

Honey Badger
Lion
Striped Mouse
Kudu
Eland
Steenbok
Black Backed Jackal
Springbok
WIldebeest
Gemsbok
Secretary Bird
Kori Bustard
Bateleur
Cape Glossy Starling
Yellow Canary
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Gabar Goshawk
Lanner Falcon
Ostrich

July 16: Yummy Chunks of Wildebeest

A really fun sunset drive tonight with wonderful guests. It was exciting to see both Kudu and Eland! 

Kudus at sunset

We were also lucky to find a huge female lion with a rather large chunk of wildebeest. She paid no attention to the circling jackals who periodically dove in and stole smaller chunks of the bigger chunk. This particular female lion (did I mention I can’t stand the word ‘lioness’?) seems to have been on her own for a while now, and we don’t know why. Lions have complicated families, just like we do. They disagree and fight and break up and make up, just like we do. I like this girl because she’s strong and making it on her own. And she had a great big chunk of Wildebeest to prove it.

Incredibly, not a single Springhare to be seen tonight! The sky is falling.

Sightings:

Lion
Kudu
Eland
African Wild Cat
Gemsbok
Springbok
Wildebeest
Bat Eared Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Bateleur
Secretary Bird
Kori Bustard
Lanner Falcon
Red Necked Falcon
Barn Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl

June 25: Kudus are Kudutastic

Last night I was asked what the Verreaux’s Eagle Owl’s wingspan was. Oddly, none of my three bird books list it, so in this case I had to say I didn’t know. Today i’ve looked it up, and if anyone is curious, their wingspan averages about 55 inches. Which is massive.

So tonight we had the first night drive we’ve had in a while. I think this cold spell is putting people off coming out on night drives, but it shouldn’t because it doesn’t put the animals off in the slightest. Once again we saw so much tonight!

Today’s highlight- a KUDU! Yay! Only the second i’ve seen on a game drive here.  When we first spotted it, it had its head in a bush, but after some backing and forthing we managed to get the view that confirmed its kuduness. The Kalahari isn’t exactly Kudu Central and they don’t much like our environment, but a few brave ones live here quite happily. Fortunately for them, if they want to leave they can do so at any time. No game fence can contain a Kudu. They’re totally invincible.

Very excited about the Kudu…

Sightings:

Kudu
Small Spotted Genet
Pygmy Mouse
African Wild Cat
Jackal
Bat Eared Fox
Cape Fox
Springhare
Scrubhare
Springbok
Steenbok
Wildebeest
Gemsbok
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl
Barn Owl