April 2012

11 April

Its lovely to be back in the bush after such a long absence. I think it’s the longest I’ve been away from camp at a stretch – ever!! I was in Lusaka doing admin/catch-up chores when our mother died. I had to go to Jersey for her funeral and have been away nearly 7 weeks in total. Its a long time, but the welcome back is always overwhelming…. from the bush, the staff, birds and seeing the animals again… its all wonderful!

We have re-arranged our hut (which had become a general store room) and have added a new ‘pantry’ which houses food and the deep freezes. It is close to our hut so that the solar panels are reachable. We have also added a new storeroom as the old “A” frame was much too small, and the ants were feasting on it, so it has been removed and replaced with a bigger storeroom behind the Library/Office area.

I think the re-arrangement of our hut has startled Chris (Big Bwana) a bit as it is nearly all open now which allows us to lie in bed and look out into the bush or sit on the veranda and see everything that passes by. Our computers are in a smaller section of the room, so it now feels as if we are outdoors all the time which is most enjoyable. The birds come in early in the morning and sit on the strands of the open wire wall and sing heartily… There is no escape from the dawn chorus! Big Bwana has taken to putting a saucer of sugar and scraps on the end of the bookcase and woe betide if we have forgotten to fill it up as the exclamations and complaints from Hueglins Robin, Blackeyed BulBul, Yellow bellied Greenbul, to name a few, are startling in their intensity and volume. Its great fun sharing our space with these winged friends.

The other morning as the sun was rising and casting a golden glow over everything a very sedate Giant Rat walked along the path, obviously going home to bed after a successful evening or night out. He looked very elegant with his slightly elevated rear end, sunlit whiskers twitching as he meandered along.

Walking along the pathway from the kitchen to our hut was like walking along an alive pathway. It is filled with fluttering, chattering birds… looking like little mobile flowers….Blue waxbills, tiny glowing Firefinches, dramatic, darting Twinspots, all flitting and flying ahead of me, interspersed with bright, daffodil yellow butterflies..almost too much for the senses, all so alive and colourful.

Walking through a beautiful shady spot towards one of the huts I spied a very big brown bump lying under a tree. On closer inspection it was Bertie, our little hippo who has grown quite big now, fast asleep. We think he has taken to sleeping under the trees in camp to avoid the unwanted and agressive attentions of the latest hippo pod male, Whilheim, who is massive, mean, a bully to boot, and seems to spend his days picking quarrels with anyone he can find. A real ‘meanie’.

The night was disturbed by gargantuan sounds of a hippo fight. We imagined Wilheim being really vicious with some poor, wandering hippo. Luckily Bertie was in camp so we knew he was safe. Two male lions roared nearby, only one set of roars then silence besides the soft sounds of the little Barred Owl continued through the night with the big moon still casting a silver glow everywhere.

13 April

Last night was chilly. Grey, heavy clouds coming over and a nippy breeze, so, after supper an early we had an early night. Big Bwana was watching his new Wooster and Jeeves DVD’s with sporadic chuckles ensueing. With no warning there was an elephant right next to our hut, gently, quietly taking some leaves from the bush on the corner of our veranda. His tummy rumbled and we could hear his breathing. The lions roared, from almost the same spot as the night before. Our elephant moved round to the other side of our hut, again, quietly pulling some leaves from a bush right next to the bed. Its lovely being part of an elephant tradition. Our camp elephant, Lysander, has been doing the same thing around our hut for 10 years now and we imagine he must have been doing it for many years before we came. He does not seem at all bothered that our hut is now here as we left his path free, so he still comes to the same spot everytime then moves away, slowly, silently. We hear him poohing as he ambles towards the river. This morning is appears that there were two elephants in camp last night as there are different size tracks under the trees. A dark night-soft, owl calls, gentle elephant breathing, muted lion roars and a jackal’s sharp bark early this morning.

14 April

Last night was a golly-gosh evening! We were sitting around the campfire with our guests when Gertie the (very big) hippo and her tiny, tiny baby appeared, slowly walking out of the now receding river, right up to the short grass in front of our campfire. Gertie is quite immune to the spotlight shining on her and the baby seems also quite unconcerned. It really is the sweetest little thing…really tiny and pinkish, much like a tiny little bumble bee. The baby hippo grazes with great concentration next to big mama who is a seriously big lady. Every now and again the baby would lie down and snooze, with Gertie checking and nuzzling it every few minutes. They were about 15 to 20 metres from us. Then the baby stood up and appeared to be limping. As it had been fine when walking earlier, Chris assumed it had stood on a thorn or something. It is amazing how quickly you mentally bond with such cute little creatures. Now we were all worried about …lets call the baby “BB”.

We hear branches cracking and the staff tell us that there were two elephants near the office. We went in to supper and listened to the elephants. Gertie had moved away and was walking through the camp, with BB limping next to her. The elephants stayed nearby. We could hear their breathing as they quietly munched on nearby leaves. We all sat and chatted for a bit after supper, having to wait for the elephants to move away as they were effectively blocking the paths to the rooms.

I finally crept through a different route and got to my room, only to discover an elephant right next to our hut. Then, whilst cleaning my teeth, I heard him very close by so snuck through to the bedroom, just in time, as the elephant was starting to eat the leaves of the bush that grows in our shower… trunk over the wall, MUCH too close for comfort. The Lions roared throughout the night, but by the sounds were meandering about. The roars sounded as if they were walking towards Spring #3, then back towards Supergetti Junction. We will go and look for them, or their tracks, later this morning.

17 April

…a dramatic sound clip when we heard soft roars near our house…90 metres away just after sunset, when Charlotte saw a huge golden male (there they are!”.)

18 April

Last night , shortly before sunset, Chris and I were sitting outside our hut, when we heard a very, VERY close male lion starting a roar. We jumped up and got our binoculars, and Chris his recorder. We saw a magnificent male standing about 150 metres away, staring straight at us. He was briefly highlit by the setting sun, then walked out of sight. What a magnificent view. Just like a dream lion…. huge, golden and majestic. Whilst all this excitement was going on a cheeky little elephant shrew hopped past us a few metres from where we were standing. They are such pretty little creatures with their long snouts and big eyes. Three male lions roared, twice more, then absolute silence. We sat and waited for ages, but not until very late did we hear them again, patrolling along the Mushingashi, backwards and forwards. There is obviously a strange lion over the Mushingashi river who roars sporadically and infuriates our pride males who have spent a restless night going up and down the river banks roaring their territorial roars. There is also a lioness roaring a more muted roar. She is also over the Mushingashi, so maybe it is a siren call for our males to meet her? The Mushingashi is still too full for the lions to cross over. This roaring has continued right up to now, at 8am, and is still continuing. Lovely, exciting stuff.

There is a veritable cacaphony of sounds this morning early almost like an orchestra warming up. Far off ground hornbills, the fragmented call of the lone Wattled Crane (what a huge bird he is to be sure!), who seems to have taken up residency here, and calls every morning. I wonder if he/she has a nest nearby? An elephant trumpets not too far away, lions roaring, the sun rising and casting it’s golden glow over dew heavy grass, so all vegetation looks diamond spattered, the Hueglins Robins giving us an impressive rendition of some famous bird opera, black eyed Bulbuls chattering away, yellow bellied Bulbuls on the wire in our room, greeting us with great enthusiasm. “A lovely new day… whats for breakfast?”

22 April

It was a fairly warm, truly beautiful golden afternoon. We were just sitting down to afternoon tea when we heard lions roaring. 3.45 Pm is a funny time to hear that sound, so some were keen to go and look for them. They decided to be dropped off on the other side of the Mushingashi where the sounds had come from, by the boat cruise that was setting off for the sunset cruise drift. The lions continued to roar until quite late. They must be newcomers to the area. Hopefully they will roar so that Chris can get a recording of their roars and see if we have recorded those particular roars before. We also watched a H.Gull sitting on a floating pad of water weeds. Whilst sitting around the campfire we heard lots of impala alarm calls just over the Mushingashi. This went on for a long time, so our lions must have been walking about, although they have become silent now.

I woke up with a start during the night, as I heard a funny raspy sort of sound near by. I sat up and whispered to Chris that I thought there was a leopard close by, a sort of deep breathing “whew” sound and soft footfalls as “it” passed the hut. But the sounds were of a lion as we discovered early next morning. Chris had left his wellington boots at the edge of our veranda and they were nowhere to be seen. But some very clear lion tracks were in the sand at the edge of our veranda and our visiting soft footed friend had taken the boots, moved them to near the solar panels, chewed one at the top and punctured the other one. We tracked the footprints through the camp. Our visitor had walked to the kitchen, then explored around the front area near the benches where we sit in the evenings. We were all so pleased to see the tracks and know that the lion was comfortable exploring the camp.

Whilst I was helping the staff make some herb bread before dinner I saw a truly massive hippo through the kitchen window. It was walking slowly up from the river to the kitchen. What an enormous beast. He / she stopped for a while as if listening then slowly made its way into the thicket near the kitchen. Later on I saw by my torchlight that the hippo was eating outside our hut.

29 April

Wel, finally! back in the bush after a hectic three days in Lusaka. It is a long drive but bearable with Big Bwana making funny remarks along the way.

We arrived to a truly beautiful evening. A newish moon, shedding a faintly silver glow everywhere,stars blossoming all over the sky, and the most lovely welcome – our camp elephant, Lysander was next to our hut. The staff had not lit our geyser as he was nearby in the early evening. When when we got out of the car, there he was, standing next to the hut. At first I had not realised the greyish bulky shape was his rear end but my impression was, that as we unloaded basics from the car and chatted to the staff, he was listening to our arrival as he did not move away and stood, breathing deeply and softly pulling leaves from the bush near our hut. Then he moved to the kitchen area, so we abandoned the idea of a hot cup of tea. Later he came to the other side of our hut, gentle deep breathing. He accidently knocked the wall of our hut and all the things on the wall shook, bags hanging there swung about and the picture moved. Big Bwana, who was sitting at his desk, moved to the bed, and we lay and listened to him, gently rummaging around the hut, truly much to close for comfort. The impression was of a great canopy of warm elephant welcome, surrounding us with a lovely cosy feeling of belonging to this beautiful bush. There was a very loud and raspy leopard call near the “Dining” and Lysander was completely silent for a while, so we were not sure where he was, but a few moments later the deep breathing resumed, and a tummy rumble too followed by the usual sound of a mammoth poo dropping nearby. This happened just near the geyser as we saw in the morning. It never ceases to amaze me that such a massive, giant animal can leave such a little footprint in terms of damage. Just a few fallen leaves, a big poo (already been attended to by the myriad dung beetles that are about) and some wonderfully veined tracks on the camp paths.

There were not our usual hustling / singing / chattering / bustling bird flock in the room this morning. I think they must have missed us and their usual bowl of scraps, although now the Hueglins robins have popped in to say “welcome back”. I am sure they have seen that I am snacking on a biscuit so the welcome is tinged with “yay! food arrived at last” thoughts. I have one sitting on the corner of my desk as I type, his bright inquisitive eye watching the hand movements on the keyboard. They really are enchanting. I feel deeply priviledged to have him as a desk companion. Excited monkeys alarm chatters near the Mushingashi. I suppose they must have seen the leopard that was walking through the camp last night, his tracks looking like fallen flowers on all the paths. It is such a pretty footprint. I think we should call him some dramatic name …hmmm. It will come to me. I’ll think about it and let you know.

30 April

Another lovely starlit, faintly moonlit night and after a long, chatty dinner and sitting around the campfire we all went to bed. As usual, I fell asleep like a log, but woke up to some soft sounds. I sat up in bed to listen better. What was it? A nearby lion, doing her low communicative moaning sound? A Pel’s Fishing owl? ..hhmmm. Not too sure what it was, then some soft, whispery sounds, grass rustling a bit? I just could not figure it out at all. Then the soft moan / snore sounds continued, not that regularly, and both Chris and I were puzzled. We shone the big torch around, but had no luck with any sightings. This morning I got up at 5am as is my want, and was walking towards the kitchen by the back path when I heard the sound again….and there, lying right next to the path, was a big fat hippo rear end. I took another couple of surreptitious steps to see more clearly and saw the snubby nose, twitching ear and his sweetly sleeping face nestling against an old log. I’m pretty sure it was Bertie. I crept back and took the other path to the kitchen and looked from another perspective. There was this very big young hippo fast asleep and giving sporadic gentle snores. Our mystery sounds were now explained. I warned everyone not to disturb him, and we left him to his slumbers. I later took a guest to see him and he twitched his nose and ears and lumbered to his feet and just walked slowly away from us. Gosh, even a teenage hippo is pretty big from 10 metres away.

31 April

We have a bird convention on at the moment in camp.There was very little warning, and suddenly a whole group of immaculately dressed business birds arrived, neat in grey, rather shiny suits, top hats being raised with alarming promptness and regularity, chattering and bustling about-all telling each other to “Go away”. Well, I don’t know if you have ever had a group of Grey Louries take over your camp, but it is an experience not to be missed. They fly and flutter, chattering non stop, and swoop and utter amazingly serious cries. The camp is invaded by them. We counted 11 all together yesterday, all sitting having a serious meeting at the top of a dead Leadwood tree. We are not sure yet what this summit meeting is about. No doubt it will filter through and we will eventually be informed. Probably discussing the latest news in Europe….a recession wasn’t it?

Leave a Reply