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

June 23: Any excuse to say “Wild Green Hair Tree” out loud…

The sightings tonight were fairly similar to the sightings last night, but it was considerably colder and we didn’t have the total abundance we’ve become used to. But it was a rather good introduction to Kalahari life for the new student guides who have just arrived. Having students on the truck tonight gave me an excuse to point out the stand of Wild Green Hair Trees on the sunset drive route. Any excuse to say ‘Wild Green Hair Tree’ out loud. Could there be any better name for a tree than ‘Wild Green Hair Tree?’. Never. I’m completely in love with Wild Green Hair Trees. If Wild Green Hair Tree was a person, he’d be awesome and live in a VW microbus somewhere and smile and wave at passers-by.

Sightings:

African Wild Cat
Jackal
Bat Eared Fox
Cape Fox
Scrubhare
Springhare
Springbok
Steenbok
Wildebeest
Gemsbok
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
Barn Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl

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 14: Pretty Pink Eyelids and Blue Jelly Bean Teeth

I may have had blue jelly bean teeth and a slight raspberry juice mustache on the night drive tonight. It really does pay to look in mirrors before leaving the house. Fortunately the moon is still gone and it was extra dark.

Our drive tonight started with a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl- an exceptionally huge owl with pretty pink eyelids. It’s fairly common here but not something we see often. This Owl is a serious hunter, often killing other birds such as raptors and the very rare Pel’s Fishing Owl. It’ll even hunts Flamingos in other parts of the Kalahari!

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The Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. A photo I took back in 2008>>>

Sightings:

Brown Hyena
African Wild Cat
Cape Fox
Springhare
Scrub Hare
Springbok
Steenbok
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl
Dikkop

June 10: It Was Cold. That is All.

It was cold tonight. It was very, very cold. It was too cold. But nobody told the animals it was too cold and we had awesome sightings on the night drive tonight. Awesome sightings warm your heart, but not your toes…

Sightings:

Brown Hyena
Small Spotted Genet
African WIld Cat
Jackal
Springhare
Spotted Eagle Owl
Gemsbok
Springbok
Kalahari Moose

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