November 2010

01 November

I just had the most amazing experience!!!

As many of you know a cloud of worry and anxiety and sadness hangs over our camp at the moment as we have not yet found our poor, beautiful lioness, which has been so badly snared. Every day I just “wish” her to come to camp so that we can get her darted and at least have the awful snare removed.

However, I was sitting on my veranda when I heard the various alarm calls coming from the other side of the camp. So I ran through, and saw a bushbuck rushing off, then several puku making their soft alarm calls and watching the dining area intently. I walked slowly forward and there was this lovely lioness just behind the hammock. Sadly it was not my snared lady, but she stood still and looked straight at me. Gulp! I was in the open a bit, so I backed off towards the kitchen area and she followed me with that lovely slow loping walk. I slipped into the dining room. She was about five metres from me and walked up to the dining room and lay down in the shade just near to the tree that the elephant had broken down. I didn’t move,but just stood as still as a mouse, listening to her rather rasping panting. I wondered what I would do if she came to the door. I watched her so nicely through a gap in the reed mat. She is beautiful, with lovely golden eyes, black nose and white whiskers. She looked rather hot.

Then I heard the voice of Joel, our housekeeper, who was walking towards the office. She pricked up her ears so I could see the black tips well, and watched him. I called to him to go into the office slowly as there was a lioness watching him. To give him credit, he did just as he was told. I think my voice may have disturbed her as the lioness then stood up, walked towards River Hut, then slowly to Sunset Hut. I followed slowly behind her. She looked back once, but did not stop. In no hurry, she just stood listened for a while, panting. She was so beautifully blended into the golds of the dry grass. Her footprints were clearly defined in the path past Sunset Hut.

Then some foolish puku came rushing past and the lioness ran, in a half hearted attempt to catch one, then vanished as a puff of golden smoke into the grass. I stood and waited on the veranda of Sunset Hut for a while and watched her walk back to the car park, and then past Anthill and Weaver Hut. She is now walking along the campsite road towards the plain.

What an amazing experience. I feel as if I had just won a special gift. I just wish with all my heart she would lead me to our injured lioness, so I will watch her for a while and if necessary follow her in Eric, our game viewing vehicle. So-this was my afternoon show. It is hot and dry, but such a beautiful experience. I’ll never forget being so close, in natural surroundings, to a wild lioness. it was a bit scary now that I think about it, but at the time exhilarating.

02 November

Chris, (Big Bwana) is in Lusaka doing admin work and so I am on my own. I had an exciting morning this morning.

As is my wont, I got up at 4.45 am. It is such a lovely time of the day. I had been woken up earlier by a leopard coughing right behind our hut. It was a very loud and rasping sound. This was accompanied by the soft constant puku alarm calls and the more strident bushbuck alarm barks, However, it was not light enough to see what was causing the fuss. I watched the sky lighten slowly, the birds started singing with  the hueglins robin leading the total dawn chorus. The dawn sky became golden and then the loud hum of the bees started as they busily collect pollen before it gets too hot. Morning tea arrived and I went to greet our guests. We found leopard spoor throughout the camp, well defined on some paths.

We planned to go on a game drive as the guests had their young son, who was too young to walk in the bush, with them. We drove past an elephant which was almost invisible in the nearby anthill. Only the tusks gave it away, shining brightly through the foliage. All the puku were huddled in a group, looking a bit shocked, and we realised why when we saw a dead puku very close to them. It had been eaten by a leopard or lion but was still very fresh and bloody. While driving around Pan 1 we saw a very big, dark leopard walking through the long waving grass. It was barely visible, except for the flicking of a spotted tail. He was too well camouflaged to watch him so we turned around and there was another leopard watching us. She was really splendid, lying near a patch of green grass and watching us and her companion.

During the drive we saw some fat green pigeons sitting in a dry tree looking like ripe fruit as well as a flock of meyers parrots which looked lovely as they sat and watched us watching them. They made such joyful shrieks and displayed such lovely colours with their yellow shoulder tips and that brilliant turquoise rump.

The sunrise was spectacular. A great red ball slowly burnishing the sky with a taste of the heat to come. We drove on to Spring 3 where we saw a lovely, peaceful sight. A troop of yellow baboons, many with tiny babies clinging to their backs like little jockeys, or to their stomachs looking like little rucksacks. There are lots of exquisite baby impala, big eyed, big eared, spindly legged and gambolling like lambs around their serious mothers. A big group of puku and many mud-blackened warthogs were all enjoying the peace, the green grass and the muddy water. Usually the water is quite clear, but with all the activity has been churned into muddy drinks. Some white fronted bee eaters were flying about, displaying their beautiful colours as they swooped.

After a drink of clean water we meandered slowly back to camp. Along the way we saw a lot of vultures around the now skeletal remains of the puku. 2 Lappet faced gentlemen looking very morose, and about 8 white backed vultures were still squabbling and struggling with the bones. They flew off as we started the engine. We again saw our slow, gentle elephant standing near the campsite.

It was quite a magic start to the day and now the storm clouds are gathering and I just hope that we do not have a squall like we did yesterday. The wind was frightening and the Kafue had great deep waves that looked like the sea.The wind whipped the waves into white horses and all the hippos were invisible. Even the african darter was blown off course as he tried to fly into the wind… really very dramatic.

We went on a sunset cruise “drift” at about 5pm, but the wind was quite gusty, so we couldn’t really drift. instead we idled very slowly using the engine. My heart was in my mouth as I had seen a lioness lying on the bank, very close to the water’s edge. I initially thought it may be our poor injured lioness, but it wasn’t. It was one of her two companions. As we got closer we saw that they were both together, a bit too close to the water’s edge for my liking with these monster crocs hanging in the water. They were so totally relaxed, they did not even wake up. W drifted into the shallows and sat and watched them for ages. Photographically the light was not great, but good enough to get identity shots. We decided to continue downriver, but the weather was turning squally and the drizzle started with a vengeance, so we headed back to camp, huddled under the thatch shelter.

As we got back to camp we saw our “nursery” of baby hippos emerge from the water, and in the slightly eerie, pre rain evening light we watched the tiniest little things walking along the water’s edge, chomping grass like mamma, while the teenagers opened their big mouths at each other. Including all the different sizes, we counted eight in the nursery group. As it got darker we noticed the big mammas coming out. At one stage there were 5 really big hippos with the youngsters. If you sit very still you can hear them grazing with a lovely, scrunchy, rubbery sound. In the distance a hyena is calling and closer, a very persistent Mozambique nightjar calls. We went off to bed on a dark, cloudy, windy night.

03 November

This morning we went for a walk, starting off in a chilly, fine drizzle. We heard the crackle of branches from the elephant relaxing in the campsite. Lots of birds are singing and we saw our usual tree full of meyers parrot. We were just going through the Mushingashi Crossing when two egyptian geese flew up making a lot of noise. We saw a very big crocodile with a flapping, panic stricken egyptian goose in his maw. Poor thing. It was thankfully quick, and then the croc just lay in the water with the poor gooses feet showing in his mouth. We watched him for a while, his evil, woody-eyed head just showing in the still water.

Impala alarm calls sounded over the Mushingashi so we hot-footed it in the direction of Spring 2. There we saw a lioness and a male lion just disappearing into the Mushingash. It got very exciting as we crept slowly up to the Spring and then tip-toed to the crossing. We were holding our breaths as we were about 8 minutes behind them. We crept through the river bed, every leaf falling making us stop and listen with hearts in mouths. Reaching the other side, we could see nothing, so we meandered about looking for tracks and also found nothing. Walking into the wind, as we imagined the lions were doing, we wandered up to Spring 3. Beyond the spring there were lots of impala and puku as well as a beautiful bushbuck. There was lots of evidence of bush pig too. A wattled plover flew over and at us so we meandered about looking for her egg. They are such beautiful eggs and are just laid on the open ground. However we had no luck in locating the egg.

We wandered through the minty herbs at Spring 3 which gave off a lovely fresh smell, and returned to camp, noticing some beautiful butterflies, fresh termite tunnels with busy head- heavy golden termites bustling about, beautiful dragonflies sitting on blades of grass, a big grass-blended praying mantis which was looking for some unsuspecting insect, beeeaters sitting in picture perfect rows and a fork tailed drongo darting about. Time for brunch.

11 November

We have had a massive dawn storm and it is lovely and cool, but a pain for walking as everything is sooo wet and muddy.

We have never seen our poor lioness again, which is so sad, but hopefully the tragedy will have a positive outcome as it has alerted us to so many loops in the system which we are addressing, slowly but surely. So hopefully her pain will not have been in vain in the long run. It still haunts me and makes me feel ill that such a beautiful creature should suffer so needlessly.

We have a patrol team here at the moment looking for poachers and snares.

18 November

We went walking very early to avoid the extreme heat which really is intense at about 9.30 am in early November. Dawn is a lovely time to leave. The sunrises are beautiful, and the light is lovely, lighting up all the leaves, spider webs and grasses. The birdsong is very loud and the puku barely lift their heads as we wander slowly by. There is a black collared barbet bobbing his red head as he duets with an invisible mate and two black eyed bulbuls chasing each other with joyful cries whilea dozy warthog meanders by, his white tusks gleaming wetly as he rootles by in the dew damp grass. He has not seen us and he is lucky we are not a hungry lion. We pass by the anthill that houses, at various stages, warthogs, porcupines and hyenas. It is a posh home with two entrances. However, it is also the haunt of both a lioness and a handsome leopard who cleverly sit at the top of the anthill and watch the unsuspecting creatures go in and out of their front doors. I’m not sure if they have ever caught anything, but the litter of bones around the doorways implies something.

We find porcupine tracks on the path, and fresh poo, and then we see a big porcupine, fast asleep in a Warthog hole, facing the world. He is so fast asleep that he hasn’t heard or seen us. We watch him for ages, totally fascinated with that sleepy, snubby face. He looks as if he could do with a wash and his quills are down. Eventually one of us makes a sound and he opens one sleepy eye, goes back to sleep, then decides something is going on. He wakes up enough to turn around, raise his quills and stumble back into his burrow….a very sleepy porcupine.

Lots of fat doves are sitting in a tree, looking like ripe fruits. We hear the green pigeons calling with such a comforting, cosy call and ni the distance lion roars. We decide that it is too far to walk to find the lion, so we sat and had a drink of water and a peanut butter cookie before walking back through the Miombo. It is a silent, quiet walk with many small things to see like beautiful fungii, a golden grasshopper, duiker, tail flicking as he hurried away, lilac breasted rollers,  chattering red billed wood hoopoe, dramatically black and white as they fly way, bees humming their music in a flowering tree. Slowly we walk back home through the golden grass.

30 November

It was really a dramatic night. I was watching a DVD some friend had given me, but could hear strange sounds. Hippo were making a funny noise, grunts an so on. Then I heard lions in the camp, very close to our hut. We went out a couple of times with our big bright torch but could not see them.They made their communication calls in and around the camp for about an hour and then it became quiet. We went to sleep and woke to hear them nearby once or twice. This morning they were right next to our hut, making strong, grunting, moaning sounds. It is still not light enough to see them. I did creep out to see what I could see with no success. Then silence.

Later the staff arrived and told us that six lions had been in their compound. They we forced to run into their huts. The six lions were chasing a hippo, which explained all the sounds I had heard.

Now, in the simply glorious early morning light, (At this time of the year it is amazing. Everything is lit with bright golden rays. I guess it is after the rains which makes everything so clear and shiny) I hear monkey alarm calls over the Mushingashi. I decide that I am going to get into the Finfoot and just drift downriver and see what I can see. It is so cool that the lions will probably be walking for a while. I’ll drift down as far as the rocks and then return. The river has risen quite a bit and it looks lovely, so I guess drifting will be a bit faster than usual. When the river was at it’s lowest we barely moved in some spots.

Anyway it was a lovely and exciting night. It is quite thrilling when a lion makes a sound so close to where you are sleeping behind a grass wall. One is definitely aware of the power behind the sound!

Leave a Reply