Mashatu – morning game drive

Mashatu Nature Reserve is a private game reserve in the Tuli Bloc and is located in the south east corner of Botswana. It is a place of great contrasts and offers an unusual and remarkable diversity of ecosystems and wildlife.

Our family is fortunate to be part of a closed syndicate whose camp is located along the Limpopo river in Mashatu. The camp is positioned next to a large outcrop of rocks which gives the camp its name.

“We live in deeds, not years: in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.” ~ Philip James Bailey

Everyday, weather allowing, we go out on two guided game drives, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In this post I decided to show the eclectic mix of sightings we were privileged to see on just one morning game drive. Each game drive provides wonderful photographic opportunities and the chance to be immersed in the bush with all its colours, sounds and smells. No game drive is ever the same. You see different wildlife in different places doing different things each time.

In summer, we gather on the veranda of the camp’s main lodge for a cup of coffee and a rusk at around 5h30. We are on the game vehicle and off out of the camp by 6h00. It is light by then and affords us approximately four hours on the game drive.

“The world is a great book, of which they that never stir from home read only a page.” ~ St. Augustine

This particular morning we had been travelling for about 15 minutes and were near the landing strip when we came across a clan of Spotted hyaenas. The clan has a den in the rocks near the camp so we hear them most nights with occasional visits by them while we are telling stories around the camp fire after supper.

The adults in the clan were still out hunting at first light.

The adult hyaenas picked up on a smell of the remains of a kill the night before perhaps from a leopard or lion. The older members of the clan have a well worn muzzle which gives them an even more unnerving look.

Very close to where we saw the hyaenas, who eventually found a few remaining bones from the carcass, a herd of blue wildebeest were watching the hyaena with interest as they had young among them. A group of the young bulls started advancing towards the hyaenas but were careful not to get too close.

We travelled further north above the vlei (marsh) where we found a family of Bat-eared foxes enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun.

The Bat-eared foxes were skittish so we did not try to get too close to them. This is where the long focal length lenses help.

“We are all too much inclined, I think, to walk through life with our eyes shut. There are things all round us and right at our very feet that we have never seen, because we have never really looked.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell

One of the Bat-eared foxes was watching a Steppe buzzard intently.

This Steppe buzzard which was the focus of the Bat-eared fox’s attention looked to have found a grasshopper or field mouse which it was feeding on.

Another Steppe buzzard had just taken off with its tail and wing feathers spread wide for maximum lift at low speed. Steppe buzzards are summer migrants like the Lesser Spotted and Wahlberg’s eagles.

On this particular trip we saw an unusual number of Lesser Spotted eagles. Although eagles, they feed mainly on insects such as flying ants and grasshoppers. We saw many of them down near the vlei. They are also skittish and do no like you to get too close. The stove-pipe like leggings are a diagnostic feature of this species.

In recent trips to Mashatu we have regularly seen Lanner falcons. They are usually solitary. Lanner falcons are fast and agile flyers and usually hunt by horizontal pursuit; they take mainly bird prey in flight.

“None but the ignorant can be bored by life. To the lovers of learning, life is pure adventure shared with adventurers.” ~ Pearl S. Buck

By around 9h00 it was already getting hot. The weather was variable with quite a bit of cloud around. Nevertheless, this leopard must have had a busy night because it was already asleep on a horizontal bough in deep shade high above harm’s way.

Near the Majale river we found many Village indigo birds. The Village indigo bird is identified by it back plumage and red beak. This is a small bird the size of a waxbill.

On the ridge between the vlei and the Majale river came upon a herd of Burchell’s zebra. One mare was lying down asleep while her two family members watched over her. This type of behaviour is more often seen among foals. You can identify the Burchell’s zebra by the brown shadow stripe in between the black stripes on its coat.

This was lucky shot of a Kurrichane buttonquail. This character happened to stop in the road to see what we were doing. Normally they flush at the last moment and you just see their backs as they fly 10 to 20 metres into the grass on the side of the road and are lost from view.

“We live in a mystery. Our lives have flowed from exploding stars, from tides of time and gravity beyond our ken.” ~ John Daniel

We got back to camp around 10h00. By now the sun was high and light was getting harsher. As we were driving past the rock outcrop outside camp we saw a family of Klipspringers. The adult male was on lookout. We saw several species of herbivores on top of the rock outcrop including zebra and wildebeest.

A female Klipspringer with her young appeared in the shadows. It is always intriguing to see these unique herbivores standing on what appears to be tip toes. Klipspringers are extremely agile on rocks with their unique hooves.

The sub adult Klipspringer settled down in the shade with its attention firmly focused on the Rock hyraxes running around on the rocks in front of him.

Back in camp around mid morning, we had breakfast together while chatting about all the sights and experiences we had during the game drive. The camp overlooks a waterhole so the game viewing continues all day with great views from the veranda of the camp’s main lodge.

After brunch everyone relaxes and we get together around 15h30 for the afternoon game drive. We were lucky enough to do this for six days.

“Be brave enough to live creatively. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can only get there by hard work, by risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: Yourself.” ~ Alan Alda

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

One thought on “Mashatu – morning game drive

  1. What a pleasure it must be to spend time in this special place. Your photographs are beautiful. I love bat-eared foxes and you have done the hyaenas proud.

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