June 2006

01 June

Well, as I cannot find my diary anywhere on the computer, I will just have to write to the squeaking guineafowl, as I do like to write to someone when something exciting happens to me in camp…

Today I went to do a stock-take of the deep freeze, and noticing a few tiny, black pellets on the top of the clean white deep freeze top, I glanced up to the roof, and was amazed to find myself under intense scrutiny, being watched very carefully by two enormous ears, with twinkly little eyes beneath them, quivering with interest, watching every move, and moving those petal like ears in every direction, even to the slightest hand movement…such tidy little chaps, but, after a moment of total stillness on my part, they were terribly clever, and tucked their neat little dog like faces into their very own handbags….how very unique….to be able to tuck up their heads into what looks like pouched handbags…in their own bodies….they look so cosy, but the slightest movement on my part, and the great ears, twinkly little eyes are immedietly focussed on me….forget the stock take!! this is much more interesting…

The little creatures are tiny BATS over the deep-freeze….too sweet for words, cuddling up together in a liitle bundle…don’t quite know where they could hide their heads, they were so close!!! watching me, looking like tiny flowers, quivering with interest…and then putting their heads together and going to sleep until I moved again!!! Really too funny!

20 June

Had a most amazing sighting this morning whilst on a walk….We had heard lions roaring and decided to head in that general direction, it is a cloudy, very overcast day, and chilly to boot….then we heard a leopard coughing nearby, and a series of alarm calls from Puku and Impala and Francolin and Guinea Fowl.  So we threaded our way through various trees, following sounds….finally got to “look-out” anthill, and sat a watched the surrounding areas. We saw very alert Puku watching a faraway bush, so glued our eyes to that…then Impala were looking in another direction, so we watched that area…but saw no predators, so started walking along a fairly overgrown path towards 3rd Spring, following a Hippo freeway, which was quite sandy, and told myriad tiny tales with all the little footprints.

Suddenly they weren’t little footprints any more, but huge, very fresh elephant tracks, with little fresh green leaves dropped onto the path. Then we could smell the elephants, then a steaming, fresh pooh. My tracker and I decided that discretion was going to be the better part of valour, and we would back-track, when I saw two rather busy warthogs bustling towards us, tusks gleaming whitely as they approached us, totally unaware. I then noticed a strange shape hidden by some leaves a bit behind the wart hogs…and lo and behold as the sun came out it lit up a Roan Antelope bull, who had not seen us, and proceeded to walk right past us….we were spell-bound, what a beautiful creature, and so regal, slowly passing us, as if we were nothing more than butterflies. He stood and looked at us, but the wind was in our favour, so he was not perturbed at all… Our guest got some really fantastic photos…. …..we watched until we could see him no more, and our noses and ears told us the elephants were not far away, so we finally decided to head back to camp, avoiding the area where we could hear the elephants…..What a morning!!!

It’s now evening time, and the soft sounds of birds getting ready for the night, cooing the sunset to bed, in its web of brilliant colours, oranges, flames of pink and red, turquoise….rising to palest mauve…..the rustle of the troop of vervet monkeys as they head for their roosting tree along the Mushingashi, a Francolin’s staccato call in the distance, and the river like glass, reflecting everything perfectly….

We are indeed privileged to live in such a wilderness….and see so much of what is left of unspoilt bush….

21 June

Thought you might enjoy the dawn patrol….

We clattered onto the Fish Eagle at dawn today, really freezing cold, a silky cold mist swirling and slowly rising, the early dawn sun rays touching the trees on the west bank, and started drifting down the river, really shivering, and holding hot, steamy cups of coffee….it was really beautiful, and lots of nosy hippo heads watched us carefully, only turning as we passed, they must have also been so cold!!! A huge crocodile lying on the east bank, mouth open, teeth gleaming coldly…

….and then we saw six wonderful elephants, walking along the east bank, on the ridge…we watched, then heard monkey alarm calls, and a Puku alarm call, wondered if there was a leopard or lion walking along, then the elephants came down to the waters edge and started eating the reeds, all different, and grey, touched by gold as the suns rays caught them, one of them has a broken tusk, so we called this group Broken Tusk Group, (not very original, but accurate!!!)

…….then the monkeys started chattering in a very alarmed fashion, we drifted closer to the bank and there, from behind a tuft of tall grass stepped a beautiful leopard….unalarmed by us, he casually strolled along the bank, a Bushbuck started barking, another Puku alarm call, and he just strolled along, with not a care in the world…such a rich, magnificently spotted male, crouching slightly as he crossed a large open patch, and then we switched on the engines, cumbersomely turned the Fish Eagle around and followed him until the vegetation got too thick to see him, so we switched the engine off, and began to drift down again, a lovely Green backed Heron kept us company for a while, flying along the water’s edge, just in front of us, many Open billed Storks on the edge, two more massive crocodiles basking, and then …another group of four elephants, much bigger, and more sedate, one rather cheeky, flapping his ears at this silent boat intruder…..the others just carried on drinking, drops of water from their trunks diamond like in the sunlight…..We called them “the Old Boys”!!!

Nothing could top this, so we tucked into some delicious scones with jam and marmalade, more hot coffee and headed for camp, where the hippos were getting out of the water for their morning sun bask!!!

23 June

The drift down to the ‘fly camp’ was amazing…we saw elephants, Puku, Impala, a pair of Saddlebill stork, with two young, as big as the parent birds, (but behaving like two tiny babies!!!), a whole flock of Spurwing geese, three African Skimmers, who gave us a ‘skimming show’…baboons drinking at the water’s edge, Fish Eagle, Bateleurs….hippo by the dozen, one with the tiniest baby we have ever seen, really minute little pink baby…glued to Ma’s side…just to mention a few!!

I am happy to be back in camp, we had a lovely few days at the ‘fly camp’ and heard lions nearby, so went looking for them, found the spoor, and a very fresh pooh, but no sign, although they were doing their ventriloquistic sound all around us, but the bush was very, very thick, and the baboons were sitting absolutely silently in the thick trees… all a bit eerie!!

The sound of elephants not far off made us a tad uneasy about pursuing them, so we trundled back. We had a four and half hour walk, but thoroughly enjoyed it, seeing warthog, puku, impala, Helmeted Bush shrike, Woodland hoopoe, Black headed oriole, White backed Vulture, Brown Snake Eagle, a tiny little button Quail, beautiful butterflies, tiny red firefinches, Meyers parrots…. Back to a delicious brunch, hugely enjoyed, and then everyone rested. At 3.30, we took tea onto the Fish Eagle and drifted down river to the corner…..

During the drift we saw a huge Monitor Lizard, lots of birds and crocs, a few hippos….The plains had been burnt so we mainly saw a lot of smoke…..went back in time for a sundowner…(the sunset totally breathtaking due to the smoke) and relaxed till supper time…the lions then walked behind our camp, making their ventriliquistic sounds again. We listened to them till about ten pm, then silence – not a sound from lions, just leopard, hyeana and elephant.

We got up at crack of dawn and started walking early, up the newly burnt plain, and I learn’t two new things…  Despite the fact that the plains had burnt yesterday, today there were Puku and Impala on the burnt areas…and looking towards the rising sun I was amazed to see a river of fresh silvery spider webs across from burnt grass tussock to burnt small trees….quite beautiful in the morning light, shimmering silkily like a transparent river!  Where do the little spiders go to during the hot burn?

We found the old elephant road and walked up it, flushing a little duiker out.The next minute we heard the death cries of another duiker, right behind the anthill next to which we were standing. Impala snorted alarms and with thudding hooves ran way. Musango and I crept, oh so quietly round the anthill to try to see what had killed the animal…scary, as the grass and bushes were quite thick, and after my experiences with leopard I was a tad nervous. Anyway, we then saw two shapes moving away in the long grass…lion? leopard??? We found the poor little dead male duiker, and found he had been killed by two lions…their spoor was all over the place. The duiker had run into them, as they were lying on the anthill. We obviously scared them away….not frightened enough to run away, they just walked away!!

Then fresh, fresh elephant spoor, and decided to cut through the burnt plain, back to camp. On the way we saw a lovely dove sitting on her nest, head on one side, big black eye watching us, seemingly unafraid, before flying away  and dropping an egg out of the nest as she flew. There was a dead baby inside the egg, but a tiny live nestling still in the nest (how do they survive the fires???).

We packed up camp, and headed for ‘main camp’ -two days is fun if you have keen, relaxed guests… seeing lots of game on the trip back, and a badly injured hippo, many birds, including the two “baby” saddlebill storks…

……….in camp the resident hippo is resting under the little thatched roof I built for bird watching, his head resting on the log, and occasional whiffling snorts coming from him, I took the guests to see him, and two very alert ears twisted in our direction, and one sleepy cold eye opened, but not a movement did he make!!!

25 June

Just thought you might enjoy last nights fun and games…
…a bushbuck barked in the camp site, then another right outside our bathroom, then another on the anthill behind the campsite, a veritable round of alarm barking calls. Then the leopard started his mighty growl, past our hut, to the campsite, back again, and walked through the staff compound, whilst they were still sitting around…they were in their huts like lightening!! An animal ran past our hut, fast and then ran back, past the bathroom, behind the hut. The leopard growled again, behind the hut, extremely close. So close that I could hear the rasping breath!! (a bit scary!!).  Then total silence. I lay listening for ages, must have fallen asleep and was woken by such a ghastly smell, and loud tree rustling… The elephant was right outside my small window, pulling the leaves from the branches OVER our bathroom…..all I could see was a patch of very grey, very wrinkled skin, and the smell….I hardly dared breathe, and could quite honestly have touched his shoulder…

He stood fiddling with the bushes for a while longer, and then turned around so that his trunk passed my tiny window, very pinky red inside…and off he went out from behind the palms and off towards the main camp. I quickly dressed, and followed him down…and called the clients to come and see him…we crept from tree to tree and watched him, lit from behind by the morning sun. It was so cold his breath rose like a golden cloud. He went behind the kitchen and came right up to the kitchen window…I was’nt too comfortable, but Jan got a photo of his tusk between the colander and grater!!! The little ‘kitchen’ bul-buls were very excited at all the company and fluttered to the elephant, back to the table and to the window, chattering and chirping all the time…his stomach echoed a chirruping rumble shortly afterwards. Presently another elephant arrived, the two of them chattered for a moment and then ambled off towards the campsite anthill…

We waited for a while to see which way they would go, and then went for a walk towards Spring 3, when what should we come upon, right outside the camp, but FRESH big lion spoor, with a smaller spoor next to it!!! We followed this fresh trail for a while but lost it heading to Spring 2. We nervously crept around that area, watching Puku and Impala. We then picked up the spoor again at Spring 3, and followed it for a while, but at this stage there was a howling gale, so we abandoned the chase, and meandered home…such a beautiful morning.

We watched two woodland hoopoe, in all their glorious colours playing at the base of a Combretum fragrans…then a Red necked Francolin who had not even seen us, busily clucking and digging for scrumptious stuff… two warthogs, very bossy, running through the bush with tails held high!!!…..a delightful meander…

…but why were the lions so quiet??? By the size of the one spoor, a healthy sized male lion!!!

Roars from the West bank, and the camp Hippo stayed outside Nest house until about 12 midnight!!!

28 June

It is exceptionally cold at the moment, we do not seem to be able to get warm, the wind is constant, and this morning was often a howling gale!! We went on a Fish Eagle dawn patrol, but is was so cold we came back and huddled in the front lounge, drinking hot coffee, we are going for a walk this afternoon, but it is not much fun when the wind is so strong!! All the game seem to feel exactly the same way, and huddle, almost invisible, in thick bush!!

All the hippos are lying fatly, pinkly on the sand bank in front of our camp, with lots of spiky yellowbilled tick birds on their backs, and we saw a very badly beaten up hippo lying downstream, on the bank, he was a mass of cuts, and looking very sorry for himself, at first we thought he was dead, but his ear twitched, and he opened one yellow eye as we passed, then on the way back he was in the water, so hopefully the cold water will heal his awful wounds…..

No sounds from the lions, or the leopard, but lots of hyeana calls, and a bit of hyeana laughter last night. There was a white tailed mongoose outside our hut last night, which I watched for a while, Jan has left us his night vision monocular, which is quite good if you are away from any light at all….he was quite busy, nosing around, tail quite fluffed up…and the haunting deep boom of the Eagle Owl near the Mushingashi mouth….nothing more, a silent, quiet night!

29 June

We went on a lovely walk this morning, very cold and clear, all the antelope standing in huddles, fur standing up, to keep themselves warm. There was a cracking branch in the Mushungashi river, where an elephant was enjoying a branchy snack. We walked through some quite thick bush, where we had a really lovely sighting of a family of bush pigs, their orangey manes lit up by the early morning sun, looking like strange fiery creatures, rooting and snuffling in the gold lit grass. Unfortunately none of us had a camera, so a really memorable sight was lost. but will stay in our minds for a long time. They finally snorted and ran away…only lit manes visible in the long grass. We then saw a magnificent Waterbuck male, really impressive horns, and, as he couldn’t smell us, (the wind being in our favour), he just stood and watched us!

After going on for another kilometre, we came back and the Waterbuck was lying down, totally unperturbed by us, didn’t even get up, or move away. He looked very special, with the sun on his flanks and horns, with two very busy warthogs rooting around him….the sun also glinting on their tusks…  It really is a magic time of day to see animals!!

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