August 10: Happy Lions of the Kalahari

Tonight’s sunset drive guests wanted to see lions. Only lions. In fact, they even told us to drive by absolutely everything else. They were only here to see lions.

So it was settled. We’d travel far and we’d travel fast to reach a place where lions have been spotted this past week. The guests buzzed (loudly) with excitement (and vodka), telling each other that their guides were taking them to the ‘lion camp’. Not so much. If only the Kalahari really had a ‘lion camp’. But it doesn’t. And the truth is I actually see lions very, very rarely on my game drives. I wasn’t hopeful.

Speeding past some of the Kalahari’s most delightful animals wasn’t easy. I usually make a tremendous effort to ‘convert’ guests (especially the lion fans) to the small and exciting little animals that give this place its charm. But part of a guide’s job is to recognize when people can’t be converted. Tonight we were driving for lions and nothing but lions.

That’s why I was shocked to find lions tonight. It never works out that way.

The first lion started out as an odd looking clump of grass on the ridge to the right of us. It’s a miracle we even stopped to investigate! We watched him slowly make his way down the ridge towards us and the waterhole.

Big lion. Bigger yawn.

Kalahari lions are better than cookies. Fact.

As we moved forward to stay with him, we caught sight of a second, blonder lion much closer on our left! The two big males had noticed each other too and set their courses to intercept.

On his way to see his brother…

What followed was undoubtedly the most fabulous lion encounter i’ve ever witnessed! Even cookies couldn’t have made it better. Upon seeing his brother, the ridge lion broke into an excited gallop and the two eventually crashed into each other. They proceeded to rub and nuzzle one another, before dropping to the ground and doing little dances of happiness. Both looked completely overjoyed and I don’t think i’ve ever seen glee so evident in any animal.

Love.

I don’t know if they last saw each other a year ago or a minute ago, but they were absolutely thrilled to see each other now. They reminded me of my little Jack Russell, Matilda. Every time she sees us, it’s like we’ve been away for years (in my case it’s usually because i’ve actually been away for years). That’s love. And these lions had it too. The whole world should be like that. Love. Love and cookies and lions.

It was an incredibly special sighting and a sweet memory i’ll get to take away from the Kalahari.

Does it get much better than this?

Made sweeter by how short-lived it was. As the brothers were still getting stuck into their super-cute greeting ceremony, the voices behind us demanded to move on. “We want to go now. Take us to see the cheetahs”.

*sigh*

Sunset Drive Sightings:

Lion

And the ones we didn’t stop for…

Cape Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Bat Eared Fox
African Wild Cat
Springhare
Scrubhare
Eland
Gemsbok
Ostrich
Wildebeest
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Kori Bustard
Spotted Eagle Owl
Steenbok

August 5: Can You Top an Aardwolf Sighting? The Kalahari certainly tried…

Yesterday I saw an Aardwolf. How do you top that? Tonight the Kalahari tried its hardest and sent in some of its biggest players. Did they beat the Aardwolf? Not quite…

…But tonight I had the best leopard sighting of my life. We watched as a huge male leopard (called ‘Oscar’, apparently) drank at a waterhole and sniffed around looking for girls. Unlike most leopards, he was totally relaxed and stayed close to us as he tried his hardest to pick up any traces of girl-leopards nearby.

Boldly ignoring the ‘no-entry’ sign…

Drinking…

Sniffing around…

This funny face is called the Flehmen Response. Only done when looking for girls…

My favourite part of the encounter was when a tiny Cape Fox noticed it was just feet away from the Kalahari’s biggest leopard. At first it froze. Then it started looking to the leopard and then looking over its shoulder, as if trying to see if there was any backup around. After much consideration, the little fox began to alarm call. Watching such a teeny little animal trying to intimidate such a big one is pretty priceless and seriously cute. Clearly noting the the leopard was looking for girls and not snacks, it eventually trotted away.

And around the next corner… mating Brown Hyenas. If you know anything about these ridiculously secretive animals, you’ll understand how impossibly cool this sighting was.

And we also saw an Eland. And lots of other Elands.

Love Kalahari!

Sunset Drive Sightings:

Leopard
Brown Hyena
Eland
African Wild Cat
Cape Fox
Bat Eared Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Springhare
Scrubhare
Steenbok
Springbok
Gemsbok
Spotted Eagle Owl
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
Tawny Eagle
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Ant-Eating Chat
Fawn Coloured Lark
Fiscal Shrike
Sociable Weaver
Kalahari Scrub Robin
Black Chested Prinia

August 7-9: The Camera-Less Days…

I haven’t actually taken any photos for days now…

…So here’s a random photo I took months and months ago when everything was still warm and the plants were all green and alive. Good times.

Rainbow Buggie

August 7: How to be Really Warm on a Really Cold Game Drive

While the rest of South Africa advertised to the rest of South Africa that they’d had some degree of snowfall today, the Kalahari froze. We didn’t get snow. It just froze. Earlier in the day I said goodbye to my special little Kalahari house and moved to a whole new one. I was delighted to find a cozy corner of the new garden shielded from the icy wind and bathed in hot hot sunlight.  So proud was I of my little patch of summer that I sat there and allowed myself to cook for very many hours.

The resulting sunburn on my face meant that while my poor guests froze tonight, I was very hot. So hot that I spent much of the drive fantasizing about putting my face into a bowl of snow. If only we had snow. But we didn’t.

Sunset Drive Sightings:

Eland
African Wild Cat
Springhare
Scrubhare
Steenbok
Springbok
Wildebeest
Gemsbok
Giant Eagle Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl
Kori Bustard
Dikkop
Gabar Goshawk
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Red Necked Falcon
Tawny Eagle

August 8: Welcome to LOGFAAN

So much positive energy flowing tonight! Guiding people on safari is a two-way thing. A game drive can only be as good as a guests attitude. The people I took out on this evening’s sunset drive would have made it magical if we’d seen nothing more than 23 specks of dust and a Camel Thorn pod.

But good things often come to good people and our sightings tonight were wonderful. We managed to see ‘Oscar’ the leopard again, but he was far far away. This didn’t matter to my guests, who’d seen their very first leopard. And with that, they joined the exclusive ‘LOGFAAN’ society reserved only for those who’ve see a leopard-on-ground-far-away-at-night.

While pulled over watching the stars, we got talking about Men in Black (the movie, not some people wearing black) and there’s a cat in the movie with a entire universe contained in its collar. But it’s entirely plausible. We and everything we know could be stuck in a cat’s collar. Love.

Sunset Drive Sightings:

Porcupine
Leopard
Eland
Jackal
Cape Fox
Bat Eared Fox
African Wild Cat
Scrub Hare
Springhare
Wildebeest
Springbok
Gemsbok
Spotted Eagle Owl
Giant Eagle Owl

August 9: Springhares Might be Robots

It was a night for the little things… and there were so many of them… including two separate Polecat sightings!

Sunset Drive Sightings:

Polecat
Small Spotted Genet
Eland
African Wild Cat
Cape Fox
Bat Eared Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Steenbok
Springbok
Springhare
Scrubhare
Wildebeest
Ostrich
Gemsbok
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Giant Eagle Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl

The night drive was considerably colder and after the first half and hour, we saw nothing but Springhares. Springhares don’t seem to be affected by the cold. I have many theories for this, but i’m leaning towards the one where all springhares are actually little robots. Have you ever noticed how there’s never anything going on behind a Springhare’s eyes? Robots. Must be. I’ll look into it.

Night Drive Sightings:

Spotted Hyena
Cape Fox
Springhare
Springbok
Spotted Eagle Owl
Gemsbok

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 18: The Super-Jackals are Making Shoes Now…

Before the night drive, the camp was buzzing with news of four cheetahs who’d just tried to bring down a wildebeest at the hide.  Later when I went down to see if they were still around, the hide was packed, but no cheetahs. I decided to walk along the perimeter fence to see if I could find them elsewhere. And it worked! Their presence given away by a Tawny Eagle rudely staring directly at them. The four cheetahs were perched on a dune crest.  It’s always so fun to have great sightings right in camp!

Tonight there was a night drive and it started with one guest getting a glimpse of one of the  four cheetahs just outside the camp’s gate. The tracks in the road confirmed what she saw. But of ten people on the drive, just one can add ‘cheetah’ to their list.

Tonight we were tracking lions all over the place. Over the course of the night we followed six different sets of tracks- all of which were extra crispy and fresh.  I love the feeling of following fresh tracks!

Have I ever mentioned how smart Jackals are? They’re smart. They’ve even been coined ‘Super-Jackals’ by the farming community because of their ability to avoid traps and problem solve. And I think that the jackals have started walking around wearing little ‘lion shoes’ to throw us all off. Despite all of the tracks, there were no lions anywhere. But lots of jackals.

Sightings:

Cheetah (for one of us)
Brown Hyena
Eland
African Wild Cat
Gemsbok
Springbok
Wildbeest
Springhare
Bat Eared Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Cape Fox
Spotted Eagle Owl
Barn Owl

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 24: Starry, Starry Owls

Just back from one of those really uplifting sunset drives. Drives are rarely made good solely on the basis of their sightings. Drives are made good by the people you share them with.

I had two separate lion ‘tip-offs’ before the drive and shared these with my two guests. Each sighting was farther than i’d usually drive, but not out of the question, and I haven’t seen lions at ‘home’ now for a long time, so I was more than happy to make the effort. Five minutes into the drive, I knew that these weren’t people to rush off to a lion sighting. They were so content and captivated with the things around them. As a result, we spent a lot of time just parked and absorbing Kalahari. Plenty of good, intelligent questions and wonderful conversation too. Tonight was the sort of drive I wish I could do every night. Love.

We didn’t need lions. The owls were the big stars tonight (not as big as the actual stars, which were also big stars tonight). The Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Spotted Eagle Owl and Southern White Faced Scops Owl all delivered sightings of the highest quality. The memory I take with me from tonight is that of the Scops Owl’s eyes. They were so ridiculously orange! The only time i’ve ever seen orange that intense was last week when I bought a small bottle of orange flavoured ‘Drink-o-Pop’ from the camp shop. I was so taken with the luminous, rather toxic-looking artificial orange liquid that I took a photo of it. It took great courage to drink it. But it’s the only colour I can use to describe the Scops Owl’s eyes. I shall write to Roberts and make sure that they refer to the Scops Owl’s eyes as ‘Drink-o-Pop Orange’ in the 8th edition.

No camera can capture the true orangeness of ‘Drink-o-Pop’ Orange.

Sightings:

African Wild Cat
Jackal
Bat Eared Fox
Cape Fox
Springhare
Springbok
Steenbok
Wildebeest
Gemsbok
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl
Southern White Faced Scops Owl
Black Headed Heron