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

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

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

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 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 17: Grass-Eating Vampires

 For some reason, everything seemed to be afraid of the dark tonight. Almost all of our sunset drive sightings happened before the sun went down, with the exception of our only Springhare. A Springhare wouldn’t be caught dead in sunlight. They’re like the vampires of the rodent world. Except they eat grass. Not like those vampires who call themselves ‘vegetarians’ because they only eat bears and wolves and not people. And Springhares don’t sparkle in the sun. At least I think they don’t, but then i’ve never seen one in the day, because they don’t come out in the day. Hence the point i’m trying to make. (I may have spent the day watching those ‘Twilight’ films for the first time. I’m not proud of it. They weren’t good and they’ve affected my thought processes.)

It’s so hard these days to find new birds to add to my terribly dorkish Kalahari bird list. But today I got two new birds, and both in the same tree! While i’ve seen plenty of Gymnogenes elsewhere, i’d not seen one here before. My other new bird was the Grey Hornbill.They’ve been taunting me for months with their call, but tonight I finally got to see one. Love.

Not even slightly a Gymnogene…

Note: A few days later and upon closer Inspection, I find my Gymnogene to be rather a Brown Snake Eagle. In my defense, it was far away. So no Gynogenes for me.

Sightings:

Gymnogene (except it was a Brown Snake Eagle)
African Grey Hornbill
Eland
African Wild Cat
Jackal
Bat Eared Fox
Steenbok
Striped Mouse
Springhare
Springbok
Gemsbok
Wildebeest
Spotted Eagle Owl
Tawny Eagle
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Black Harrier
Black Chested Prinia