The Great Karoo-Samara

In August 2019, it was late winter in South Africa. Helen and I were fortunate enough to join Lou Coetzer on a CNP Safari trip to Samara Private Game Reserve. This was a new unique destination which turned out to be very different to our Chobe, Grumeti and Masai Mara destinations and very different to all the other South African places we have visited. Different and fascinating at the same time with unique landscapes, wildlife and interactions with the wildlife.

“Once a year go someplace you’ve never been before.” ~ Dalai Lama

The Karoo is roughly split into two sections: the expansive Great Karoo wilderness in the north-east, and the smaller and tamer Little Karoo in the south-west.

“Never let your memories be greater than your dreams.” ~ Douglas Ivester

Samara lies within the Great Karoo. The latter incorporates around 400,000 km² of semi-desert landscape, a region uniquely defined by its geography, history, geology and climate. This region is characterised by its low rainfall, dry air, cloudless skies, and extremes of temperature during the day and at night. In winter on the plateau in upper mountainous regions, the temperatures can fall to -15c. In summer in the lower lying areas the temperatures can rise over 40c.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell-Holmes

Samara is located at the foothills of the Camdeboo mountains. We visited Samara in late winter so it was nippy at night and the early mornings were crisp, but the days were warm and sunny.

There are three aspects about Samara which make it extraordinary: the landscapes are a photographer’s dream; the conservation efforts by the owners provides unique sightings and experiences with the wildlife. Thirdly there is an eclectic mix of wildlife in the park offering good sightings of several rare species.

“At first encounter the Karoo may seem arid, desolate and unforgiving, but to those who know it, it is a land of secret beauty and infinite variety.” ~ Eve Palmer

The conservation efforts have brought both White and Black rhino to the park. We were able to leave the vehicle and walk close to this female White rhino and her (alert) calf.

We walked to within 30 metres of the White rhino. This was a family group with the bull closest to us and the female behind with the calf close behind the female.

Being in the Karoo, you would expect to see springbok in this area….and they are numerous.

One of the more exciting species which we never got close to, was a flock of around 200 Blue cranes. They were very skittish and would not let us get within a few hundred metres of them before flying off. The trick was to find out where they roosted. An experience for another trip.

Being in a semi-desert region we found Ground squirrels. The males were very vocal – alarm calling when standing on their back legs.

“All of our dreams can come true if we just have the courage to pursue them.” ~ Walt Disney

One of the several unique sighting in Samara was of an Aardvark or Ant bear (as we called them in Zimbabwe). This is the first time I had ever seen one foraging in the open in daylight.

These are nocturnal mammals so it was very special to watch this Aardvark going about his foraging out in the open and reasonably close to us. Aardvark are usually very shy animals but this character did not seem to fuss about having us nearby. We had some exceptional sightings which will be the subject of another post.

Conservation of any endangered species must begin with stringent efforts to protect its natural habitat by the enforcement of rigid legislation against human encroachment into parks and other game sanctuaries.” ~Dian Fossey

After meandering around on the flat open plain section of Samara we headed up the mountains. The journey up the mountain was along steep passes. On our way up, a more unusual sighting was of a Black rhino foraging in the thick bush on the side of the mountain.

Once on top of the plateau, the view down onto the Great Karoo plains was spectacular.

Up on the plateau, as the sun was sinking, we came upon a herd of Black wildebeest. The herd would not let us get too close and bolted every time we attempted to drive closer to them.

As the evening sky darkened, the mood became quite bewitching.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

As the sun on the south side of the plateau set, the light cast a very different picture. The last vestiges of the day’s sun rays caught the protruding rocks- a last illumination for the day.

It was getting cool up on the plateau as the sun set. It was winter after all. For a photographer, winter can be a magical time to photograph landscapes because of the incredible light and colours which are created in the crisp dusty last light.

“Dark and light striking each other, vividly etching wild colors through the horizon. The charm of sunset makes me want to scurry home.” ~ Tara Estacaan

It was getting dark and time to pack up the drinks (after our sun-downers) and make our way back down the mountain to our gorgeous lodgings at Manor Lodge which took all the hardship out of this rugged terrain.

The last visages of the day were sinking in an electric blue serenade. This was the view from Manor lodge. Inside there was a large log fire burning to entice animated discussion about day’s sightings over a few heart warming drinks.

This was the first day of a five day visit to Samara with Lou Coetzer of CNP Safaris. Over the days that followed we were privileged enough to walk with cheetahs and watch them kill an eland calf and walk with aardvarks in the late afternoon and even get close to White rhino. These experiences will be the subject of my next few posts about Samara.

The vastness of the Karoo pervades your senses. In our short time there, we were introduced to a small selection of the unique animals and birds which live in this wild open place. It got cold at night, being late winter, so dinner and drinks around the fire were very welcome and the evenings were spiced by stories about walking with cheetahs, rhino and aardvark.

Heads filled with stories, we went to bed brimming with expectation about what the next few days would bring us.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of your life is to give it away.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be,

Have fun, Mike

The widow's long tales

Mid-December in South Africa is usually a time when all the avian migrants have arrived. They add variety, colour and complexity to our avian population. Avian migrants travel further and do not have to contend with the same issues that their human species have to face.

South Africa does not have “birds of paradise”, but it does have resident birds of extraordinary beauty.

“When you look what do you see – what you have been taught or perhaps an association? In nature take some time to look, unaffected and unconditional. Watch its behaviour and you will see its intimate understanding of its surroundings – its natural intelligence. Then perhaps you will begin to see what you are looking at.” ~ Mike Haworth

One male bird which really puts on the ritz in summer is the long tailed widowbird. The family of widowbirds are so-called because they are all dressed in black. Their overall plumage is black with flashes and sashes of vibrant reds, oranges and white.

These widowbirds are seed eaters so once the summer rains nourish the grass it grows quickly producing a bounty of seeds for these birds to feed on.

“The bird of paradise only alights on the hand that does not grasp.”~ John Berry

The transformation for the summer breeding season is extraordinary. The next image was taken of an adult male long tailed widowbird in the non-breeding winter season. The males lose their long luxurious black tail feathers and their winter plumage moults to a dark streaked brown colour though they retain the red-orange epaulet on their shoulders with a white band under the red shoulder marking.

Young males at the start of the breeding season begin to grow their tail feathers but they have not yet developed their striking body colouring.

Even in the non-breeding season the males and females exhibit differences in behaviour and morphological traits. The differences become more apparent as the breeding season develops. Adult males become entirely black, including under their wing-coverts. Males’ wing shoulders are orange red and their wing-coverts white. Their bills are bluish white. Males develop their luxuriously black long tails, which contain twelve tail feathers.

Males defend territories in the grasslands with vigour and panache. Their displays are something to behold. Females have a long nesting period so survey the male territory carefully before choosing a mate. Breeding takes place from February to July, reaching its peak in March and April. Unlike the bishops and weavers, the females weave the nests, which are shaped in large dome structures with a lining of seedheads, anchored in the high grass stems within males’ territories.

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” ~-Brandon Sanderson

The males put on an elaborate display to attract females. When perched on a grass stem, they fluff out their head and neck feathers and open their wings to look larger and more dramatic and show off their epaulets.

One less romantic explanation for why females favour long tails in males is that the expanded tail enlarges the lateral surface area of the male by 2–3 times, making him much more visible from far distances over open grassland.

When a female enters his territory, the male takes off and with a ‘keeled’ tail and starts his deliberate slow exaggerated flight and is sure to flash his colourful epaulets.

“Stories are our primary tools of learning and teaching, the repositories of our lore and legends. They bring order into our confusing world. Think about how many times a day you use stories to pass along data, insights, memories or common-sense advice.” ~ Edward Miller

Widowbirds and bishops are polygynous species. This means the male mates with many females so the females must chose carefully. Females must chose the males which are strongest with the best genes, so the only way to judge this from a distance must be their displays and looks. The grander the displays and longer and more luxurious the male’s tail feathers the more attractive – something like the length and colour of a male lion’s mane.

The long-tailed widowbird’s diet consists mainly of seeds, supplemented occasionally by insects. Watching them at Marievale Bird Sanctuary they seem to do most of their foraging in flocks on the ground and in the grass.

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Southern Africa cannot offer the scientifically classified paradisaeidae, “birds of paradise”, which are known for their gorgeous colours and remarkable displays. This part of the world can offer the striking male long-tailed widowbird which has one of the most remarkable ornaments among passerine (feet adapted to perching) birds. Their tails feathers have a luxurious black sheen and can be more than half a metre long. They possess the most extreme sexual ornament among the Euplectes family of weaver, bishops and widowbirds.

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” ~ Ansel Adams

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Elephants families

Spring in Mashatu in September is fresh but not cold. The sun rose around 6h00 so we needed to be on the vehicle heading out into the game reserve before sunrise.

“We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.”~ Leonora Carrington

After about half an hour of driving, the sun had risen but was hidden behind the dawn clouds. The bush was quiet and so were we as we came upon a small family group of elephants which were fast asleep. One mother was lying on the slope of a natural drainage ditch with her year old calf directly behind her.

After watching her quietly for a few minutes she woke up and ‘groggerly’ got to her feet.

Shortly after the calf’s mother had risen the sound on the gravel must have woken the calf. The mother looked half asleep for about 10 minutes after having woken. It did not take the calf long to find its mother’s milk and start suckling. Progressively the other members of the family started rising.

“We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate the very finest traits of human behaviour – empathy, self-awareness and social intelligence. But they way we treat them puts on display the very worst of human behaviour.” ~ Craydon Carter

Later in the morning we found another herd which was making its way slowly down to the Majale river. This was a herd of females with their calves.

It was very dry so most of the bushes were crisp. The elephants were using their feet to dig out roots and rhizomes. They were also eating the bark of many of the bushes that still looked alive. The youngsters are always inquisitive – beyond survival.

The serenity and harmony of the scene with the elephant herd wandering by in the soft spring morning light was something which instils a deep sense of peace and balance in your soul.

The calves were never far from their mothers’ side unless they were off sparring with the other calves in the herd. Usually the calves were on the opposite side of their mothers to us, which is their natural protective instinct.

“Ask any guide what are you more afraid of at night on foot in the bush, a lion or an elephant. The answer is emphatic, a female elephant. She is dead quiet. Her eyes do not reflect and she is fiercely protective.” ~ Mike Haworth

Another herd, another morning. The matriarch was leading her herd down to the Majale river. I always find it remarkable that these elephants trust us enough to walk close by in single file. They obviously watch us carefully but regularly they will walk within a few metres of us.

“If you have been brutally broken but still have the courage to be gentle with others then you deserve a love deeper than the ocean itself.” ~ Nikita Gill

On our last morning, we had an exceptional sighting of a cheetah chasing down a steenbok, however, some guests on another game vehicle close to the kill scared the young cheetah away, which was very disappointing. This, however, was good fortune for a black-backed jackal which was close to the kill scene and enjoyed the unexpected rewards. After all the excitement, we drove down to the river to look for a place to stop for coffee. We stopped at a regular lookout point on a high bank above the Majale river. The river was essentially dry but for the very last small ponds of water. This was inevitably a gathering place for all the wildlife.

Often late in the dry season the last pools of water are stagnant and the elephant prefer to dig in the riverbed for water which seeps into the hole they dig, as it is cleaner. These “diggings” are life savers for much of the wildlife.

We were watching the elephants and impala from about 400 metres away, so we got off our vehicle and had a cup of coffee with muffins while watching the comings and goings around the remaining small pools of water.

It is times like this that you have to pinch yourself. You realise that you are witness to one of the miracles of the natural world – intelligence applied with peace and consideration.

“Inside us lies every possibility that is available to a sentient being. Every darkness, every light. It is the choices we make that decide who or what we will be.” ~ Charles de Lint

After the terrible times at the turn of the century around the abuse of Northern Tuli elephant calves, Mashatu has always been a sanctuary for elephants where they are cherished and protected.

We have have much to learn from these sentient beings. We will provide sanctuary and protect these beings regardless of the misunderstandings of the east.

“We do not have to be ashamed of what we are. As sentient beings we have wonderful backgrounds. These backgrounds may not be particularly enlightened or peaceful or intelligent. Nevertheless, we have soil good enough to cultivate; we can plant anything in it.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa

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

Have fun, Mike

Mesmerising Mmagwa

Mashatu Game Reserve is located in the eastern portion of the North Eastern Tuli Game Reserve ( an area of 720 square kilometres) which is the eastern most part of the Tuli Block in south eastern Botswana. Mashatu is unusual in that it has so many diverse landscapes to explore. To the north west is the Motloutse river outlook, Soloman’s wall and Mmagwa Hill. To explore these three sites is a half day trip. It is ideal to be up Mmagwa either before dawn or at dusk. It is about an hour and a half’s drive from Ponte Drift (South Africa-Botswana border post), so it is easier to do a sunset trip.

“These are islands in time — with nothing to date them on the calendar of mankind. In these areas it is as though a person were looking backward into the ages and forward untold years. Here are bits of eternity, which have a preciousness beyond all accounting.” ~ Harvey Broome

This means travelling in an open game vehicle in the afternoon heat which depending on the time of the year can be very hot in mid-summer. Thankfully, we were in Mashatu in early spring when it was still hot but bearable.

The drive to Mmagwa takes you through a “foot and mouth” dip where you have to stop, get out of the vehicle and walk on a chemically saturated sack in a tray. After this chemical adjustment we got back onto the vehicle and proceeded onto Mouloutse river lookout.

It was early afternoon so it was hot as we drove into the amphitheatre which is a few hundred metres from the Motloutse outlook. The amphitheatre is a sandy open area surrounded by a rugged sandstone ridge. The shade of a well leafed tree at the edge of the amphitheatre provided welcome shade for lunch.

After lunch we drove down to the Motloutse lookout. It is a climb to get up the rocks to the lookout but it is worthwhile. The vista is spectacular from the lookout. One is able to look up and down the Motloutse river for kilometres. Being early spring, the river was just sand but in the rainy season, when in spate, this river flows bank to bank.

“To me, a wilderness is where the flow of wildness is essentially uninterrupted by technology; without wilderness the world is a cage.” ~ David Brower

The Motloutse lookout is on top of a granite ridge. It is rugged and stark but has a charm which lingers in your imagination.

Even if you have no interest in geology, you cannot help but be fascinated by the rock formations in Mashatu, especially in the Motloutse-Soloman’s Wall area. Apart from which there is plenty of wildlife up in this part of the game reserve.

Solomon’s Wall is an impressive basalt dyke which once formed a vertical natural dam wall across the Motloutse River. The two sides of this breached barrier still tower up to 30 m high, and are 10 metres wide.

Before the wall was breached, the dyke created a natural dam wall which held back a great lake. Evidence of this lake lingers in the form of alluvial semi-precious stones including quartz and agate which can be found in and along the Motloutse’s riverbed. The first diamonds found in Botswana were found upstream of Soloman’s Wall in the 1960s.

“With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Over the millennia this dyke weathered to form blocks. At some point the dyke was breached by the water which dammed up behind it. Today the wall has been washed away across the Motloutse river which allows the river, when in spate, to flow unimpeded down to the Limpopo river. Either side of the river, Soloman’s Wall remains intact as a reminder of what must have been an impressive natural dam wall with an equally impressive waterfall over it. Even though for most of the year the Mouloutse is a wide dry river of sand, in the rainy season it can flood bank to bank making it completely impassable.

After visiting Solomon’s Wall, we drove to Mmagwa Hill. On top of Mmagwa Hill is the remains of the Moltoutse ruins. Mmagwa was once part of the royal dwellings of the rulers of the Leopard’s Kopje Dynasty – the forerunner of the legendary Mapungubwe Empire, southern Africa’s first kingdom. The remains of this empire can also be seen some 35 km east of Mmagwa at the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site in South Africa. Great Zimbabwe is thought to be another satellite of this erstwhile empire.

This area was also made famous by Frederik Courtney Selous who hunted elephant in the region during the late 1800s. Baines also passed though here on his voyages. Cecil John Rhodes who led the led the Pioneer Column through this area into south western Rhodesia. It was also the route for the Zeederberg Express (stage coach service) from South Africa into Rhodesia. Cecil John Rhodes must have also stood on top of Mmagwa gazing north and contemplating the possibility of the Cape-Cairo railway. Rhodes’s initials can still be seen engraved in the trunk of the baobab tree on top of Mmagwa Hill.

A characteristic of the Tuli landscape is the abundance of ridges and outcrops formed from a variety of rock types making the Tuli area a paradise for geologists and landscape photographers alike. The geology has, to a large extent, determined the soils which lie above the rocks and the geology has also determined the ground water system in the area.

The Tuli area is situated on the Basement Complex which consists of a number of stable shields, known as cratons, surrounded by less stable mobile belts. The cratons are large, stable masses of mainly granite and metamorphic rock. The Tuli area is specifically located on the Limpopo Mobile Belt which is unstable (in geological terms) which has caused its significant deformation. Strongly folded rocks form the base material which is overlaid sandstone and igneous rocks such as granites and dolerites, which give the area its diversity of rock types and its impressive landscapes.

The so-called Rhodes Baobab impressively stands at the western end of the Mmagwa ridge. This solitary baobab towers as a sentinel at the most exposed part of the ridge but has managed to survive there for hundreds of years. The top of this baobab must have broken off many years ago leaving the uniquely shaped trunk and two major branches which are still alive.

It is always worthwhile being on top of Mmagwa Hill at sunset. The vast vistas reveal herds of elephant and the height provides a view for tens of kilometres.

“Mmagwa is place to come and contemplate the ages past. The view is expansive. There is a calm sense of reverence instilled in this wild place. A reverence which will remain with you long after you have left.” ~ Mike Haworth

Quiet contemplation of the beauty of this area over a sundowner sitting on this massive granite rock while bathed in soft evening light will illuminate your imagination and lighten your soul. When everyone is quiet, there is a palpable sense of reverence on top of Mmagwa Hill.

I have been up Mmagwa many times but this visit was unusual. This time, Jack asked Kate to marry him at sunset next to the baobab. It was a very romantic setting and the occasion produced many tears of joy, huge smiles and offers of congratulations.

After the celebration the sun had set below the horizon. The air was still and the temperature warm. For about 20 minutes after the sun has set the colours in the evening sky became progressively more saturated gladdening this photographer’s heart.

In early spring it is very dry and the air is full of dust which the light catches at sunset creating this beautiful smokey orangy-peach hue. We were making our way back along the ridge to get down one of the steep sections before it became too dark.

Once you hear the hyaenas calling in the valley below as they make their way to the spring, you know it is time to get off the hill.

This is one of those places which infuses a deep sense of Africa in you. You really get a sense of times past. The landscapes reflect the geological history and the hyaena’s whoop at sunset remind you that this is Africa and the nocturnes have awoken.

“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.” ~Aldo Leopold

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Cheetahs thriving in Mashatu

Mashatu Game Reserve is in south east Botswana adjacent to the Tuli circle. Today, Tuli is a village in Zimbabwe which forms the centre of a circle described by a 10-mile radius. The Tuli village was the base for early poineers into the then Rhodesia. The circumference of circle was described by the radius of the canon’s firing range which was positioned in the camp at the Tuli village. The southern half of the Tuli circle stretches south of the Shashe River into Botswana.

There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value. Conservation means development as much as it does protection.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Despite being a dry area for most of the year, this is an area of prolific wildlife and birdlife. We are fortunate enough to be involved in a private syndicate operating in Mashatu. One of the special features of Mashatu is its leopards but the cheetahs are also thriving in this private game reserve.

On our first afternoon game drive we found one of the female cheetahs with four sub-adult cubs. It was dusk, it was dry and dusty. The cubs were clearly tired.

The cheetah mother was ever alert. This is the the inbetween time when the day time hunters are looking for a place to sleep safely and the nocturnal hunters are just starting to get moving.

Stop for a moment and think how stressful it must be as a cheetah mother trying to constantly stay alert and keep your little ones alive. Surprises are dangerous and can be deadly in the bush. I am always so impressed with their independence and self-reliance.

“The wilderness holds answers to questions man has not yet learned to ask.” ~ Nancy Newhall

The next day, mid-morning and we found this lone cheetah male who had just killed an impala ram. It was hot and the kill was out in the blazing sun. This male was panting heavily. As all cheetahs do, they rest for a short while to catch their breath and then tuck in to their kill because of the high probability of it being stolen.

This male cheetah has started to feed and opened up the soft underbelly but he was clearly very hot and did not look under nourished so he just stood assessing what the odds were and tryed to decide what to do next.

Eventually he decided to retreat into the shade of a Shepherd tree. It was too hot and he was too tired to drag the kill into the shade. I always marvel at bush cats’ ability to lie on rough stoney ground in apparent comfort.

“The wilderness and the idea of wilderness is one of the permanent homes of the human spirit.” ~ Joseph Wood Krutch

Wild animals do not seem to have regrets or harbour their thoughts on what might have been. They take stock of the area and start looking for the next opportunity.

The four sub-adults were in prime condition, testament to an excellent mother. It would not be too long before they would be abandoned by their mother, as her teaching would be done. True empowerment with consequences!

But for now the shade and the company would do just fine while they regrouped and waited for the next opportunity to present itself.

These sub-adults looked relaxed but they were still alert and as soon as a distinct sound was heard they all turned around to locate it.

I watch wild mothers and see how they protect their young as best they can and even more importantly they empower their young and teach them the way of the world to ensure they can survive on their own.

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”

“We must not only protect the country side and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities … Once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature, his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted.” ~ Lyndon B. Johnson

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Wings around Mashatu

We visited Mashatu in mid-September 2019 with family and long standing friends, Simon and Cora Ford and their daughter Kate and fiancee Jack. Simon and I grew up as children in Zimbabwe and both developed our love of the bush from our early childhood. Our friends have a deep love of the bush and it was a privilege to show them around Mashatu.

“More than any other creature, beyond insects, birds offer a kaleidoscope of colours, shapes, and behaviours and they are exquisitely designed for their environment.” ~ Mike Haworth

In mid-September, it is early spring in southern Africa so the migrants have not yet arrived and the residents are preparing for the time of plenty.

This tawny eagle was perched on top of a large bush just above a kudu bull which looked to have died from natural causes. The reason the tawny was in the tree and not on the ground was that a leopard was surveying the carcass.

Not far way, the lions had taken down a female Eland. There was not much left after the lions had had their fill followed by the hyaenas and then the jackals. Needless to say, the real waste disposal team were on the scene, an assortment of vultures and Marabou storks were also congregating. Marabou do not have ability to tear off flesh from the carcass so rely on pieces removed by the vultures. Marabou are not shy to use that strong dagger like beak to steal a morsel or two.

Another diurnal resident is the ubiquitous Kori Bustard. This is one of Mashatu’s big seven. It is the largest flying bird in this part of the world. It is very seldom you will find an image of a Kori bustard walking towards you, they are very wary of vehicles and like all wildlife have a distinct safe distance which they like to keep from something they are unsure about.

After driving around the Majale river environs looking for lions, cheetah and leopard we traditionally find a prominent spot to get off the vehicle and have a “sundowner” and watch the sun setting. This is normally a time of animated chatter about what we had seen in the past hour or two. This means it is dark by the time we head back to camp. There is a spot light on the vehicle which we use after dark. It has a red filter to reduce the effect on the wildlife. On the way back we saw this Spotted Eagle owl.

The Spotted Eagle owl was quite a sighting at night. Even with our vehicle turned off and everyone silent on the vehicle this owl would turn its head back and forth picking up sounds in the night air which we could not hear.

Another excellent night time sighting was this Three-banded courser. The Three banded and Bronze-winged coursers are mainly nocturnal and tend to freeze when approached. Their eyes are large and wide open, ideal for nocturnal activity. I have also frequently seen the diurnal Temmnick’s courser in Mashatu.

A Red-eyed dove. This is a common visitor around camp in Mashatu, it is bigger than both the African morning dove and the Cape turtle dove but they all have the distinctive black collar on the back of their neck. This dove likes the riverine forest habitat around our syndicate, Rock Camp, in Mashatu. I find the best way to try to remember their calls is to verbalise. For a red-eyed dove it is ” as if to say – I am”.

A pair of Tropical boubous visited camp every day. They were usually seen burrowing around in the leaf litter under the large Mashatu tree just next to the main lodge. These boubous have an astounding medley of call. The Tropical boubou is a bush shrike and it pairs for life. They can often be heard duetting. To vocalize, they move higher off the ground than during their usual activities, and may perch on an exposed site. They also nod their head and bow their body when calling, making them even more conspicuous sometimes. As many as seven different types of duet have been recorded and seem to form some sort of morse code like language.

“Hear how the birds, on every blooming spray, With joyous music wake the dawning day.” ~  Alexander Pope

e

A Jameson’s firefinch distinctive because of its red belly, neck and face and black-grey bill. The crown, nape and back are a washed pink. They normally come to drink from the bird bath in ones or twos.

These are Green wood-hoopoes. They travel in family groups of up to ten individuals. They scour the bark on the trees for insects and grubs. They make a racket like babblers and are colloquially called “cackling widows” because of their noise and dark plumage. It was interesting to see them in what looked to be sucking up water with their long red bills.

In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence. ” ~Robert Lynd

This was a young Kurricane thrush which was just starting to develop its malar markings on its throat and cheeks. This was also an afternoon visitor around camp. It also scoured and tipped through the undergrowth looking for insects and grubs. Although a common resident in southern African I have not regularly seen them.

These white helmeted shrikes were wild but are quite habituated to all the comings and goings in the camp so do not fly off at the first sight of people.

White helmeted shrikes normally travel in family groups of around six birds. They chatter constantly but are not as noisy as babblers. They are alway a welcome sight around camp and visit daily for a drink and dip in the bird bath at the camp.

These were the birds that we saw on out travels around the Mashatu game reserve and we did not specifically stop for the birds. The rest were seen around camp in the middle of the day. There is abundant birdlife in Mashatu at all times and it becomes overflowing in summer when all the migrants from lesser spotted eagles to all the cuckoos and woodland kingfishers and carmine bee-eaters arrive to feast on the abundant insect life.

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.” ~Robert Wilson Lynd

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Feline surprise

It was around 7h00 on a fresh spring morning in Mashatu Game Reserve in south east Botswana. We were travelling in our open game vehicle along the dry bed in the Majale river. This is usually a wonderful place to see wildlife crossing the riverbed on its way to its feeding places. The diurnal wildlife is going to its feeding grounds, and the nocturnal wildlife is looking for a place to sleep. The cathemeral wildlife, which is active both in the day and at night, are wandering around looking for opportunities.

A few hundred metres in front of us we saw a young leopard crossing the riverbed.

“If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.” ~ Heraclitus

The young leopard climbed up the far bank and disappeared into the crotons. Undeterred, we found a route for our vehicle up the steep river bank and started to look for the young leopard which we expected to be mobile and hunting. To our surprise we saw her up a dead tree looking down at the ground in front of her.

What she, and we, did not realise is that there were two fully grown lionesses lying in the shade of a bush close to the dead tree. This leopard must have climbed the river bank and walked straight into the two sleeping lionesses. Instinctively, this leopardess climbed the tree out of danger from the two lionesses.

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask, act. Action will delineate and define you.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

This young leopardess settled down for what looked likely to be a long wait. She kept her eyes on the lionesses all the times.

Every now and then this leopardess looked up, very alert because she was assessing whether the lionesses were sufficiently fast asleep for her to descend the tree and make her escape.

Alert, wary and patient.

The lionesses seemed to not have seen her and rested peacefully never looking up at her, high up in the tree about 30 metres away. The leopardess was caught up a dead tree with no protection from the rising sun which was getting hotter by the hour.

Eventually we decided to leave the stand-off and go and look for a little more action. About two hours later we decided to go back and see how the stand off was developing. It was now really hot, the young leopardess was no where to be seen. The lionesses were lying peacefully in the shade. The stand off seemed to have ended happily for all concerned.

“Take a chance! All life is a chance. The man who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare.” ~ Dale Carnegie

The young leopard obviously got a big fright walking straight into sleeping lions. Her instinctive reaction was to climb the nearest tree to get out of harm s way. The intensifying heat from the rising sun must have forced her to take a calculated risk and come down the tree and escape to a cooler or shady secure place.

But life inevitably throws us curve balls, unexpected circumstances that remind us to expect the unexpected. I’ve come to understand these curve balls are the beautiful unfolding of both karma and current.” ~ Carre Otis

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike