August 11: August Wind is Windy

It was another really cold Kalahari night! The day had been ridiculously windy and while I usually shake my fists at the wind (“Grrrrr go away wind…”) it serves an important function. So I let it be. This time.

By the time it gets to August in the Kalahari, it’s very dry indeed. The winds always come at this time of year and they help to spread about all the grass seed that’s been floating around.  And the winds get Tumbleweed on the move, and no sighting beats a genuine Tumbleweed bouncing down the road on a cold morning!

I’m recycling photos here, but this is a Tumbleweed flower from back in the days before they all dried up, broke off at the base, curled up into big balls and started bouncing around the dunes. Beautiful much?

One of my favourite Kalahari relationships is between Bushman Grass and Driedoring bushes. When the winds come, they super-fluffy Bushman Grass is often caught by the super-catchy Three-Thorn bushes. When the rains come, it means the bushman grass grows close by the bushes.  In turn, both these plants help to stabilize the sand and yet more things can grow and more little paws can burrow. Love.

Another recycled photo (red face), but this is a Three Thorn Bush (Driedoring), probably one of the Kalahari’s most important little plants, stabilizing the dunes and providing food and shelter for lots of little things.

It’s also these crazy winds that shaped the dunes over time to the relatively fixed position they’re in today. So wind is excusable in the Kalahari.

The wind may have kept some of the animals tucked up under bushes for the sunset drive, and we saw noticeably less than we’d expect to see. But with endless things to talk about, it was a fantastic drive.

Sunset Drive Sightings:

African Wild Cat
Eland
Sprinhare
Gemsbok
Springbok
Wildebeest
Steenbok
Ostrich
Tawny Eagle
Spotted Eagle Owl

By the night drive, the wind had subsided a little and more nocturnal goodies came out to play!

The drive began with a Spotted Hyena right by the vehicle. We’ve been seeing them frequently the last week, which has been very exciting. This particular one was eyeing up a nervous herd of Eland across the road. Their fears were founded as 7% of Spotted Hyena kills in this part of the Kalahari are said to be Eland calves.

I noticed in this particular herd what I love most about eland herds. The size differences! Unlike other Kalahari antelopes who seem to come in fixed sizes of small and large, you often find the full range of sizes in one Eland herd, from XS to XXXL! And when an Eland is XXXL it’s really XXXL. A full grown male can be larger than a Buffalo, weighing in at more than 800kgs. In the past week we’ve been lucky to see a number of these monster eland close to camp.

An absolutely wonderful drive to end my time in this park. Love Kalahari!

A lovely poignant image. Love Kalahari 🙂

Night Drive Sightings:

Spotted Hyena
Small Spotted Genet
African Wild Cat
Eland
Cape Fox
Bat eared Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Springhare
Dikkop
Gemsbok
Springbok
Wildebeest
Spotted Eagle Owl

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August 4: “AAAAAAAAARDWOOOOOOOLF!” *deep breath* “AAAAAAAARDWOOOOOLF!”

I try as often as possible to tell people on my drives that aardwolf’s eat 300,000 termites each night. Because I never see aardwolfs, I have to find other ways to sneak in the little fact I love so dearly…

…“Bat Eared Foxes eat termites, but not as many as an Aarwolf does! An aardwolf eats 300,000 in one night”…

… “See this Brown Hyena? It’s kind of like a big Aardwolf, except it’s not at all and Brown Hyenas don’t eat termites, but Aardwolfs will eat 300,000 in one night!”

…“The African Wild Cat has distinctive stripes on it’s legs. You know what else is stripey? An Aardwolf. And Aardwolfs will eat 300,000 termites in one night!”…

Tonight, I got to tell my guests that “Aardwolfs will eat 300,000 termites in one night!”, except this time, an actual Aardwolf heard me say it. Cool? Very.

The drive hadn’t gone tremendously well to that point. While we’d seen a huge variety of nocturnal goodies (see epic list below), we’d also driven far afield in search of lions who weren’t there and my guests had disagreed with me at a Wild Cat sighting, insisting it was rather a leopard. They’re still convinced.

As I was starting to let my mind wander to the peanut butter cookies in my kitchen, I casually glanced to my right. And there was an aardwolf. Right there. Just meters from the truck, and staring back at me with a face i’ve only ever seen in mammal books.

I won’t go into my exact reaction. It involved a lot of gasping and squeaking. I told my guests that this was my first ever Aarwolf sighting and that they were lucky enough to see one of Africa’s lesser-seen safari stars. And of course I told them about the 300,000 termites. There were smiles all around, but I suspect they were more in response to my reaction, which progressed from gasping and squeaking to hand clapping and jumping up and down in my seat as the reality of the situation sunk in.

Seeing something new is always such a rush. Technically speaking, i’ve had two aardwolf sightings before this one. My most recent was by the side of the road as the truck I was in sped by at 140km/h, leaving me thinking, “goodness me, was that an aardwolf?”. My first sighting was on my field guiding course. I remember feeling like my life was complete, that I could die now that i’d seen an aardwolf. Perhaps a tad dramatic, but the feeling was indescribable. Only when we got back to camp did our photos prove the ‘aardwolf’ was in fact a Bat Eared Fox. But never mind, i’d still had the experience of seeing an aardwolf.

So tonight was extra special. You never even hear about aardwolf sightings in this part of the Kalahari. Everyone knows they’re here, but they’re a little like pangolins and black-footed cats– kind of mythical.

An unforgettable night.

Did I photograph tonight’s aardwolf? Noooo… but I do have a grainy 3 second video of a blurry blob moving up a sand dune. I did photograph this Spotted Hyena half an hour later, another animal I hardly ever get to see in the Kalahari.

Sunset Drive Sightings:

Aardwolf
Spotted Hyena
Eland
Small Spotted Genet
African WIld Cat
Cape Fox
Bat Eared Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Springhare
Scrubhare
Steenbok
Springbok
Wildbeest
Gemsbok
Ostrich
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl
Tawny Eagle
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Kori Bustard

The night drive was rather more sedate with less squeaking and hand clapping. The highlight of the drive was a Spotted Hyena just as we came in through the gate. Love that feeling of hopping back into the truck after locking the gate behind me, only to find that a large predator had been watching all along.

Night Drive Sightings:

Spotted Hyena
Eland
African Wild Cat
Bat Eared Fox
Cape Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Springhare
Scrubhare
Steenbok
Gemsbok
Spotted Eagle Owl