Samara – restoration and rewilding

One of the most impressive aspects about Samara is that the owners and managers are restoring this game reserve back to its original state. The founders of the Samara Game Reserve, Sarah and Mark Thompson, established the reserve in 1997. Their objective is to restore the reserve back to its natural state, in terms of fauna and flora diversity, which last existed 200 years ago.

Away, away, from men and towns,
To the wild wood and the downs, —
To the silent wilderness,
Where the soul need not repress its music.”

~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Samara appears to be a model of cooperation with conservation and scientific bodies to achieve the biodiversity and preservation of the four vegetation biomes in this part of the Great Karoo.

“The earth is what we all have in common.” ~ Wendell Berry

I have not put the images in this post in any sort of order to illustrate the eclectic experience in this wonderful game reserve. The first image was taken on our game drive at dusk looking toward the illuminated sky after the sun had set in the west.

Above the Karoo escarpment on the edge of the plateau looking down onto the flat Klein Karoo and the plains of Camdeboo.

Black rhinos were reintroduced in 2013 and are heavily protected. Several black rhinos were relocated to Samara under a custodianship agreement with SANParks. This initiative expands the range of the species and playing a crucial role in the growth of the metapopulation. They seem to thrive on the difficult to get to slopes of the escarpment.

The first cheetahs were reintroduced to Samara in 2004 after an absence of 125 years. The two cheetahs in the next image are Sibella’s second generation offspring. Sibella was one of the first three cheetahs introducted into the reserve. The cheetah cubs were cleaning the blood off each other after feeding on a kill.

The old farm houses have been restored and converted into luxurious lodges. The next image shows the view looking west over the swimming pool at last light.

The cheetah cubs training lesson. One of the unique features of Samara is that you are able to walk with a wild cheetah family. Perhaps “walk “is the wrong word because even when they are walking it is difficult to keep up with them on the Karoo terrain.

The inside of the manor lodge. It has been graciously restored and modernised.

Samara offers several possible unusal sightings. For me, one of the several highlights was walking with aardvarks. This is a seasonal opportunity and mainly possible in winter when the aardvark comes out to forage for ants in the late afternoon, when it is still warm.

After a busy day walking with cheetahs or rhinos or aardvarks, it is sublime to clean up and sit down in front of the fire and chat about the days activities over drinks.

Samara’s wildlife is diverse and varies dramatically in size, nature and speed.

The manor lodge provides scrumptious meals in a five star wildlife lodge setting. This makes wildlife photography very comfortable with plenty of room to relax and edit your images when you are not out walking with the wildlife.

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.”
~Jane Goodall

Samara’s elephant reintroduction in 2017 brought back these pachyderms onto the plains of Camdeboo after an absence of 150 years. Both black and white rhinos have been reintroduced.

The view at dusk looking down on the plains of the Klein Karoo off towards Port Elizabeth on the coast around 246 kilometres away.

Occasionally dinners were set outside. The setting was gorgeous, but nippy as it was winter.

“Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty.”
~John Ruskin

A herd of black wildebeest on the escarpment plateau at dusk.

A view of the manor house from across the pool at night with the moon rising in a clear winter sky.

A Gemsbok making its way down from the higher section of the plateau. You can also see mountain zebra, eland, blesbok and black wildebeest up on the plateau.

Samara reintroduced lions into the reserve in 2019. This brings these predators back to this part of the Karoo after an absence of 180 years. This will of course alter the dynamics in the game reserve especially among the predators and the cheetahs in particular.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
~Margaret Mead

Samara is now a big five game reserve. The “big five” being elephants, rhino, buffalo, lions and leopards. While the “big five” has been a good marketing slogan it does not do justice to the fascinating biodiversity in this area.

A big thank you to Lou Coetzer and CNP Safaris for introducing us to this wonderful game reserve. It was a highly productive photographic trip. We spent five fascinating days in the reserve in late winter last year. There is no doubt that the seasonality of the Karoo offers very different experiences in the different seasons.

“The Earth is a fine place and worth fighting for.”
~Ernest Hemingway

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

Have fun, Mike

Samara – Cheetahs in training

On our second morning at Samara, we were up before sunrise. Fortified after a cup of coffee and a muffin, we left the Manor House Lodge in the pre-dawn light to look for the cheetah family.

“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” ~ Aldo Leopold

After a short while our guide found the cheetah family in the low early morning light with the help of telemetry. The family was mobile in the foothills of the escarpment. The sun rose in east but we, and the cheetahs, were on the west side of the escarpment so remained in deep shadow beyond sunrise. The terrain was rough. The cheetahs were moving along a relatively steep slope, the ground was very stoney, and there was thick Karoo scrub and brush.

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
~ Edward Abbey

When we found the family they were moving through the scrub and the youngsters were playing. It quickly became evident that we were in for some fun as Chilly was in hunting mode and on the move. The cubs regularly stopped and rested, then would have to run to catch up to their mother.

“In this quiet, peaceful time of twilight there is, in this great circle of life, an awful lot of hunting and fishing and catching and killing and dying and eating going on all around me. As the old fisherman said, ‘That’s the way with life. Sometimes you eat well; sometimes you are well-eaten.” ~ Paul G. Quinnett

The only way to follow cheetahs in this environment is to get off the vehicle and follow them on foot. This must be one of the unique features about Samara for wildlife lovers and photographers.

The cheetahs moved through the scrub quickly and at times we were left well behind. At one point we must have been about 100 or so metres behind the cheetah when we suddenly heard the pounding of hooves. As we raced down hill to see what was going on, we saw a herd of eland bolting away from us.

“Instead of buying your children all the things you never had, you should teach them all the things you were never taught. Material wears out but knowledge stays.” ~ Bruce Lee

Then directly in front of us in an open patch we saw the cheetahs. Chilly had caught an eland calf. Instead of killing it quickly she left it for the youngsters – a lesson in how to finish the kill. Cheetah cubs are usually weaned after around six to eight weeks and these cubs looked to be just over a year old so had been eating meat for many months.

It was clear the five cubs still had not yet learnt how to quickly and cleanly finish the kill. In the next image you can see Chilly lying in the grass watching the cubs tackle the eland calf.

Two of the cubs repeatedly tried to grab the calf by the neck but whenever it struggled they got a fright and one or both of them would dash away from the scene only to return seconds later.

The cubs inexperience was obvious. They had the tripping technique sorted out but the take down was lacking even with four of them on the calf at one time. It appeared that the cubs did not have the jaw strength or the stamina to hold the throttling neck grip for long enough to suffocate the calf..

“As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.” “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connnected in the great Circle of Life.” ~Mufasa in the Lion King

Every now and then we thought the eland calf had succumbed to its mauling as it just lay still. In response, the cubs would stop their aggression toward the calf and just stand around waiting for something to happen.

The smaller two of the five cubs were very skittish and easily scared by the calf’s sudden movement.

It was surprising to watch the five cubs take so long to get the calf down. In the Masai Mara or Serengeti they would never get this extended leeway. This was a privilege afforded by little predator competition at that time.

At one stage the calf managed to get onto its all-fours and move towards the scrub but the cubs were all over it. I was so impressed with the toughness of the eland calf, and despite an extended mauling by five cheetah cubs it continued to struggle to get back on its feet – quite remarkable.

Once the eland herd disappeared down the hill onto the open plains they never returned leaving this calf to fend for itself. I was surprised that the eland mother did not try to protect her calf as eland are large antelope. Eland females are known to cooperatively protect their young chasing off large predators to give the youngsters a chance to bunch together and run to safety. An eland calf will never outrun a cheetah but I would have expected to see some response from the eland females.

It was always going to end badly for the calf, with six cheetahs trying to kill it and no back up from the herd.

Incredibly, among all the disarray there were moments of quiet when the surrounding bush seemed to hold its breath.

I am not sure how long it took for the calf to finally succumb but it was difficult to watch the cheetah training in action knowing that the young eland calf was getting mauled to death. The kill lesson was taking a long time and Chilly became impatient and moved closer ready to finish the calf off.

According to Bigcatrescue.org, the cheetah is the most reproductive predator cat and after a gestation period of 90-95 days, a female cheetah can give birth to a litter of three to five cubs. This level of fertility begs the question as to why the cheetah is so endangered? It is estimated that 90% of cheetahs cubs die with in the first three months, 50% of which are killed by predators (lions, jackals, large raptors, and hyenas). The other 40% fall victim to lack of genetic diversity where there immune systems are compromised.

“If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched. Share my wildlife with me. Because humans want to save things that they love.”
~ Steve Irwin

Samara has achieved some interesting successes in regard to both of the factors which dictate the high death rate of cheetah cubs. Only belatedly, in their wildlife reintroduction programme, did they bring in lions. Importantly, the low level of predator competition has benefited the successful rearing of cheetah cubs. In addition, Samara has actively worked to achieve genetic diversification.

Adult female cheetahs are solitary unless mating or accompanied by their cubs. The mother cares for her cubs adroitly. Once she gives birth to her cubs she really has her work cut out for her. The cheetah mother must make sure her cubs are safe, feed them and teach them survival skills and how to provide for themselves.

“Think, for a moment, of a cheetah, a sleek, beautiful animal, one of the fastest on earth, which roams freely on the savannas of Africa. In its natural habitat, it is a magnificent animal, almost a work of art, unsurpassed in speed or grace by any other animal. Now, think of a cheetah that has been captured and thrown into a miserable cage in a zoo. It has lost its original grace and beauty, and is put on display for our amusement. We see only the broken spirit of the cheetah in the cage, not its original power and elegance.”

~ Peter G.G Freund

The group of photographers with CNP Safaris watching the cheetahs that day, myself included, were exceptionally privileged to bare witness to nature in its rich, raw, natural form for an extended period. Each day was learning experience for those cheetah cubs, another key to their survival.

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

Have fun, Mike

Samara: walking with cheetahs

Samara is a private game reserve in South Africa with deep roots in conservation. This private game reserve includes vast flat plains and the escarpment of the Karoo mountain complex. It has four of South Africa’s seven natural biomes. It is sanctuary to a variety of antelope, bird life and an eclectic mix of carnivores from African wild cat and Brown hyena to cheetahs and lions. Samara has developed a well-respected reputation for its conservation efforts and its Cheetah Metapopulation Programme in particular.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Samara’s cheetah programme started with three individuals, including the well-known Sibella. From the start Samara’s cheetah programme has been a huge success.

What I find so impressive is that the Samara team works cooperatively with university departments and conservation bodies to ensure that these highly endangered big cats are given the best chance of survival. Through the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project, Samara periodically swaps individuals with other reserves. This ensures the long-term viability of the species and the genetic and demographic diversity of the South African population of cheetahs.

“Away, away, from men and towns,
To the wild wood and the downs,
To the silent wilderness,
Where the soul need not repress its music.”
~

Percy Bysshe Shelley

We visited Samara in mid-August, which is late winter in South Africa. The sun rises lazily in the winter mornings. To walk with cheetahs you need to be up early and be in their area at or before sunrise.

Given the early start, which for a wildlife photographer is par for the course, we were on the side of the escarpment at first light. As good as the modern DLSR ISO capabilities are, I chose a little extra enlightenment with my flash.

“As I walk with Beauty. As I walk, as I walk,
The universe is walking with me,
In beauty it walks before me,
In beauty it walks behind me,
In beauty it walks below me,
In beauty it walks above me,
Beauty is on every side.”
~Traditional Navajo Prayer

Our guide used telemetry tracking to find the cheetahs. The cheetah mother Chilli, and the daughter of Sibella, had a collar which enabled the guides to find her in the thick scrub at the base of the escarpment. Without the telemetry tracking capability the chances of finding the cheetahs would have been low as they are highly mobile.

“We walked in the woods at dawn and came upon these wild ephemeral beings!!” ~ Mike Haworth

Cheetahs generally sleep at night in a safe place while the nocturnal hunters go about their business. What was unusual about Samara is that lions were only introduced into Samara in 2018. This gave the cheetahs many years to establish themselves in the terrain without major predator competition.

Chilli, the daughter of Sibella, is a capable mother and appears to be continuing her mother’s legacy. Chilli raised her entire first litter to independence, which is almost unheard of in the cheetah world, as first-time mothers are normally not very successful. Probably one of the key reasons for this was that predators like lions and hyaenas were missing until 2018 and since then the lions have remained on the escarpment’s plateau for most of the time.

In August 2019, Chilly had four sub-adult cubs. I did not take note of their sexes but I think there were two males and two females.

Chilly’s sub-adult cubs were almost as big as her but still very playful and their hunting skills still needed to be honed. We were very fortunate to watch the family take down an eland calf. This story will be the subject of next week’s post.

“The proper use of science is not to conquer nature but to live in it.”

~ Barry Commoner

One of the aspects about Samara which I found intriguing regarding the cheetahs was the terrain. This is not what I would have called ideal high speed chase terrain. As you can see from the next image at the base of the escarpment, which is where the cheetah’s seemed to have hunted while we were there, the vegetation was thick and it was very stony.

The young cheetahs dashed around chasing and playing with each other over this stony terrain but I never saw one of the cubs trip or put a foot wrong over the stones. It was interesting how well developed their spatial awareness seemed to be.

This was an image of Chilly and her sub-adult family in their environment at the base of the escarpment in the Great Karoo.

A little photographic licence showing the silhouette of the cubs playing in the early morning.

The cubs had spare energy to burn. They were very playful in the early morning but calmed down as the sun rose and it became warmer.

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” ~Gaylord Nelson

One the benefits of the foothills of the escarpment is that it gave the cheetahs a good visual on the plains below.

We found the cheetah family late one afternoon resting on an earth embankment. This gave them an elevated view of the area in front of them and a degree of protection from unwanted visitors behind them.

It was not long after this photo that Julius, our guide, hurried us to our game vehicle because some of the cheetah cubs had been harassing the buffalo and they were getting quite agitated and we did not want to have to climb acacia thorn trees in a hurry with or without our cameras.

This was clearly a message post with the weekly news. These three young cheetahs spent quite a few minutes smelling all the messages left by passers by. I guess it must be the equivalent of a human finding a fascinating notice board with lots of interesting postings.

Chilly’s family chilling on a stony road along the north-western border to the reserve.

A huge part of the success of the cheetah breeding programme in Samara can be put down to the unique mothers, Sibella and now Chilly. It must also be said that they had an important break from major predator competition. What will be interesting to see is how the breeding balance changes as the predator population becomes more diverse across Samara.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead

Samara is a story about conservation and rehabilitation. This has involved and continues to involve countering habitat loss, it means managing the human-wildlife conflict and unfortunately it requires serious anti-poaching measures. Management, together with the collaboration of university research and international conservation organisation efforts, have engaged in indigenous flora restoration, the reintroduction of cheetahs in the early 2000s, rhinos, elephants and recently lions. Most of these wild animals have been missing from this wild place for between 130 and 180 years.

“Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political or social boundaries.” ~ Jimmy Carter

By bringing back several of Africa’s endangered species, Samara has taken an active role in increasing the chance of building a genetically diverse, healthy population of wild cheetah, rhino and lions in Africa.

Samara appears to be looking to recreate a long lost haven in the Karoo, which last existed 200 years ago. A Karoo where wild lion, black and white rhino, and elephant (not seen in this area for 200 years) join buffalo, springbok, eland, black wildebeest, blesbok, aardvark, brown hyaena, black-backed jackal, Cape mountain zebra, leopard, and cheetah. There are also Ground squirrel and Blue cranes ,and if you take the time to look closer so much more.

“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

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

Have fun, Mike

One of Samara’s secrets

We visited Samara in the Great Karoo in late winter. This semi-desert region has extremes in temperature between day and night. The semi-desert environment yields unusual opportunities.

One of Samara’s secrets is the “better than even” possibility of seeing an antbear or aardvark (Afrikaans) in the late winter afternoon.

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ~ Roald Dahl

The antbear should not be confused with an anteaters, like those found in South America. The Giant anteater was the subject of a winning entry in the BBC Wildlife photographer of the year competition which was disqualified for featuring a taxidermy specimen. Like any authentic wildlife photographer we only show what we see naturally without human intervention. Whist every photographer creates a photograph with action, composition and background, we do not use stuffed animals to create an image – in Africa we are fortunate enough to have the real thing – though most of the time a little patience is required.

“The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those have not viewed the world.” ~ Alexander von Humboldt

This world has some wonderful and weird creatures. Just as Australia has the unusual duck-billed platypus, Africa has the usual Antbear or Aardvark. This strange looking animal is nocturnal, it has rabbit-like ears and a kangaroo-like tail. It has a pig’s snout and is an eater of ants and this strange mammal usually forages alone. The Antbear is the only species in the order Tubuliderntata and based on DNA analysis could be associated with elephants.

In Samara we were fortunate enough to see an Antbear on two separate occasions. We happened to strike the timing lucky. In August in South Africa, it is late winter in Samara. This means that the days are warm but the nights can be icy cold.

During the day the Antbears usually sleep in their burrows where the temperature is even and it is quiet and dark. The burrows are used as temporary sleeping quarters and on occasions breeding dens.

Come late afternoon in winter the Antbears come out of their burrows and start to forage. Our guide, Julius, said that you will usually not see the Antbear in the late afternoon but being winter it is warm and the Antbear is prepared to venture out when it is still light because it is not too cold. Later, once the sun has set the bush gets very cold in Samara.

Both sightings of the shy Antbear were in the late afternoon and our good fortune was attributed to the warmth of the late winter afternoon. In summer you are unlikely to see the Antbears as they only come out to forage when it is dark because it is warm enough.

“The beauty of Africa is not man made, it is natures gift to humanity.”
~ Paul Oxton

What was really special was that we could get relatively close, within five to seven metres, to the Antbear while being on foot. As with all wildlife they will tolerate you as long as you don’t make a racket and there are no sudden movements.

Once you spend a little time with these unusual mammals it becomes clear that they have acute hearing and sense of smell.

While foraging in grasslands and forests, Antbears also called “Aardvarks,” may travel several miles a night in search of large, earthen termite mounds. A hungry Antbear digs through the hard dry shell of a termite mound with its front claws and uses its long, sticky, worm-like tongue to extract the termites or ants within. It can close its nostrils to keep dust and insects from invading its snout, and its thick skin protects it from bites. It uses a similar technique to raid underground ant nests.

“Cherish the natural world because you’re part of it and you depend on it.” ~ Sir David Attenborough

Antbears are not the only mammals that eat ants. They are joined by Pangolins, and Aardwolves though not at the same time.

While Antbears have cylindrical teeth but these teeth have no enamel coating so are worn away and regrow continuously. By contrast, Anteaters are toothless. Their physical digestion is aided by the pebbles and debris that they consume when they ingest insects. They have long tongues, up to 18cm in length! Aardvarks are nocturnal while Anteaters are diurnal.

A long, sticky tongue lets antbears slurp up termites from their mounds.

Antbears are considered a keystone species, which means they are an animal that balances the ecosystem around them. Other examples of keystone species are Sea otters and tortoises. Antbears dig burrows which various species use at different times. Wild dogs and hyaenas will use discarded Antbear burrows so too will warthogs. Snakes also enjoy the cool quiet burrows.

The Antbear’s legs are short and powerful and end in webbed toes, four on each of the front feet and five on each of the hind feet. The toes end in long tough blunt claws excellent for digging burrows in the ground or holes in termite nests. The claws are reputed to be stronger than the head of a pick-axe.

Apart from being good diggers, these mammals are important pollinators for some plant species, especially the aardvark cucumber.

Antbears are nocturnal animals, and spend much of their time in underground burrows. To escape the heat, they can dig extensive burrow systems, especially during the breeding season. They are expert diggers, and tunnel systems can exceed 10 metres in length.

“Animals have hearts that feel, eyes that see, and families to take care of, just like you and me.” ~ Anthony Douglas-Williams

Antbears can be found in almost any habitat south of the Sahara Desert that has adequate insects to eat. They commonly live in bushland, grassland, woodlands, and savannas. They are not found in swamp forest or any overly wet habitat, because the moisture makes it impossible to burrow. In similar fashion, they avoid extremely rocky habitats that can impede digging.

These mammals are myrmecophagous, which means that ants and termites make up the vast majority of their diet. The only vegetation they eat is the aardvark cucumber. The Aardvark and the aardvark cucumber have a symbiotic relationship, which means both creatures benefit from the interaction.

An Antbear has thick hair around its nostrils, which acts to filter dirt when eating, and the nostrils can be closed fully to prevent dirt and ants getting in.

“We are, as a species, addicted to a story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” ~ Jonathan Gottschall

Antbears are prey to many animals including lions, leopards, hunting dogs, hyenas, and pythons. Antbears have a keen sense of hearing which enables them to detect approaching predators. If they need to escape, they can dig fast or run in zigzags. If that does not work, they can strike with their claws, tail and shoulders, and have been known to flip onto their backs and lash out with all fours.

Our two sightings of antbears were very special. This is one of the “secret seven” in South Africa. The other six are serval, African wildcat, pangolin, large-spotted genet, African civet and porcupine.

“I love and in a way need, a private secret place. It’s a kind of deep obsession, but I also love to need and be with friends and the two things often need to be together… it’s a painful conflict that will never be smoothly resolved.” ~ Morris Graves

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

Have fun, Mike

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

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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