June 2009

01 June

We were down at the Fly Camp getting “Hancock” (our trusty, character filled old Land Rover) back on his feet …oops, I mean wheels, after a long illness. This should soon happen fairly soon, and we are really looking forward to exploring with him.

Anyway, I was sitting at the front of the camp, watching a pair of black headed orioles when I hear monkey chatter over the river… not great alarm, but some concerned chitter-chatter. So I went down to the bank and climbed into the Banana boat with my binoculars, foolishly without my camera… and scanned the opposite bank. The river was mirror still, and quite beautiful. The reeds on the other bank were waving their reflections into the water. Then a slight, almost apologetic, soft, bushbuck alarm bark- again, nothing too panicky. I scanned the bank again, this time spotting a massive crocodile lying half on the bank and half in the reeds. His evil, toothy grin showing golden in the early morning rays (I really do not like crocodiles).

There was nothing to be seen, so I sat and watched some african darters drying themselves in their draculian way, wings blackly outstretched. I looked at the grass again, only to have a heart stopping moment as I realised I was being observed by two piercing golden eyes. A massive leopard was lying in the grass on the other bank, watching me with penetrating intensity. With no head movement,  just his eyes followed my every move. Whew! I was glad that a river separated us. He was really big, and apart from the eye movement and a few black rosettes you would never have known he was there. I very slowly moved to get out of the boat to fetch my camera and to call Chris while he observed me all the while. However, when I got back he was nowhere to be seen. My adrenalin rush for the day!

Some bush news….

WELLINGTON

As you know our dear old hippo, Simple Simon, is no longer around. We miss him so. I think he was chased away by a new, and very dominant chap whom we have called Captain Wellington. Honestly, if you could see him or meet him, you would agree with his name.

Firstly I must describe him to you. He is enormously fat, with big jowls, and a ferocious, bulbous eyed stare. He is prone to swaggering through the camp, on his nightly search for fallen sausages, and when he finds them he eats them with such greedy ferocity, making the most amazingly lion-like sounds. Honestly, you would think a pride of lions was in camp, consuming and quarreling and snarling over a massive kill.

He obviously thinks he is king of the camp. He lies in the Kafue River, his nostrils, eyes and ears protruding, just near the big pod of hippos who rest and relax in front of the camp. The group is getting closer and closer to the bank as the water level drops. Soon they will all be basking on the beach, like great big pink cushions. I’m not sure if Captain Wellington is the pod ‘bull’ or just an aggressive outsider, waiting in the wings, as he is always just a little bit away from the main group and very watchful.

We will wait to see if he has any endearing characteristics. Simple Simon was such a gentle old chap, who wandered through the camp, resting in his “Shallet” when tired, gently eating the fallen sausages, and hesitating whenever he saw something new.  Wellington is quite different ,and you get the impression of a very bumptious, self confidant, self opinionated hippo. We will see…………!!!!!!

09 June

I was relaxing in the lounge area after our guests had just left and was idly watching a big hippo, lazy eye, two alert ears and snorty nostrils showing above the water. Four yellow billed tick birds arrived and landed on his head. He was obviously put out, as he lowered his head into the water immediately. The four tick birds flew up, chattering angrily. The hippo then raised his head and they all flew straight back and landed on his head again. This has gone on for four times and he has now decided to let them rest for a while as there is now a stillness. The hippo’s face is showing and four tick birds are resting on his head., obviously looking for delicious delicacies, which probably take the form of ticks or possibly maggots if he has an open wound. I wonder how long he will put up with the hungry guests?

Talking of hippos… I have told you about the swaggering, bossy new hippo (whom we have called Wellington), who explosively snorts and struts and tail splashes his poo along the paths throughout the camp and savages his fallen sausages from the Kigelia Africana tree with loud and ferocious snarls. These are most un-hippo like sounds….indeed, much more lion like.

Well, we have another hippo haunting the camp too,. This is a gentle, quiet very ladylike hippo, whom we have called Lucy. (I am assuming she is a lady due to her polite behaviour). She rests quietly during the day near our hut in the fast dropping Mushingashi River. She moves closer and closer to the deep water as her watery resting patches dry up. I have a lovely photo of her snoozing as the sun rises and when we are going to our rooms in the evening she is often grazing around the camp, but quietly moves away, and after a while we hear her scrunching as she continues to graze. My next project is to get a photo of Wellington.

Read about Ross Holland’s trip to McBrides in May here

The bush is looking beautiful as the season changes, golden and glorious, and gets colder and colder. The mornings are really cold, and evenings chilly, so we sit around the campfire with shawls on, and watch the amazing night sky filled with stars. We listen to the hippos on their nightly search for tons of food. The elephants have been in the camp, gently browsing and this time not knocking over any trees. in the distance, the sound of the hyena echoes through the cold night.

LION UPDATE

Charlotte went down to the Fly Camp recently to check on the new lions there and try to photograph them. A group of about 11-12 young lions moved into the area last September

On the way down she saw four lions and photographed three new males, about 3.5 years old, that she had seen before. These were part of the “Red Brigade”, called that due to their reddish manes, which arrived in the West Bank area from September last year. This morning, across the river from the camp, some lions roared very loudly and memorably. They are likely members of the Red Brigade which consists of more than 4 males.

(The lion in the third photograph has been christened “TAVNER”)

Jun - Charlotte McBride

Jun - Charlotte McBride

REDBRIGADE1

REDBRIGADE3

The following is some excerpts from our notes….

NEW: LION DATA : 1/9/08.

Male lion roars were heard for the first time over the river from our camp about 4 nights ago. There had been a period of about 3 years when no male lion roars had been heard over the river West of the camp.

These could be three year olds roaring, another possible indication that male lions disappeared over the river 3 years ago, and the cubs left there have only just started roaring.

For the Fly Camp area, the lion called “Fly lion” disappeared about 3 years ago, and “The Lonely One” disappeared about the same time on the East bank.

We saw the first young lions on the west bank on 23/9/08. There were about 10 of them, from roughly 15 months to 2.5 years old. These were the first lions seen on the west bank for about 3 years, so it was an historic occasion. Later we saw them among the reeds on the west bank on 20/10/08 and again on 21.10.08.

At this age, (approx 22-24 Months) young males are ejected from their pride by pride males, and, depending on the number of new cubs, young females may also be ejected. In Botswana, in our study in Savuti 1979-81, a group of 9 young lions ( 3 males and 6 young females) were ejected from their pride and its territory .

This underlines the hypothesis that 2 to 2.5 years ago, something happened to the lions on the West bank. Most certainly the males (absence of roaring), but whether females were included is unknown.

There appears to be about 8-10 lionesses, seemingly all young, in the new group (although more observation is necessary), and at least one male who is about 3 years old and has no left back paw. (The wound is healed, though).

A similar situation seems to pertain around the Fly Camp with a number of young males and some lionesses, though not as many.