November 2006

01 November

It’s lovely to be back in the bush. I had spent a delightful few days with my dogs and cats in Lusaka, but driving back through the punishing heat, with all the supplies for the camp on the back of the truck and a damp shawl around my shoulders, I was thinking – ‘why am I doing this?’ As I entered the bush I could see that …

– everything is getting so green and all the baby Impala are standing in fragile curiosity, watching us with huge ears and big shiny black eyes,

– the road hasn’t been driven on and in the setting sun you can see the elephants have walked in single file along the road, their tracks like shiny platters on the rain spattered ground,

– the warthogs are looking so plump and healthy, all tinged with the various earthern colours, red ochre, yellow ochre, dark grey…artists colours from wallowing in different soils, with their tiny babies imitating the parents in miniture…rushing off with radar tails held high, little faces scrunched up as they follow blindly at great speed….

– the sedate, rather regal Puku males, standing in bachelor herded splendour, moving slightly to get out of the vehicles way…backlit by the setting sun.

On arriving in camp, I noticed

– that the elephants have been here during our absence, with elephant droppings everywhere, not too much tree damage, but some re-arranged branches,

– the bed time bird song – glorious chorus, just before they all go to roost,

– the hippos ha-haing and grazing in front of the lounge area,

– the moon coming up

As we walked home to our little thatched cottage way up stream, I listened to the sound of far off lion roars, a hippo grazing parallel to our path, and a leopard grunting nearby. I realised that all is well with this peaceful world and I know why I’m back… We really are so privileged to live in this beautiful area…

02 November

The best thing happened tonight. we went for a game drive this afternoon and saw 8 Eland! This was on the camp side of the Mushungashi near spring 3. 7 Magnificent Eland cows and a HUGE eland bull of which I got brilliant footage. Then, to top the evening off we heard a lion roaring very close and then saw a young male lion right near the car. We watched him for about 15 minutes getting some very nice film of him and some good photos. As we we moved off, we also saw a young lioness of about 3 years old who just lay and ignored us from a distance. Altogether a successful game drive. (Adam)

03 November

Two magnificent leopards walked past our hut this morning at 4.30 a.m. in the moonlight. We were both woken up with explosive leopard grunts and Puku alarm calls right outside our bathroom and were alerted to their presence by Impala alarm calls. Then we jumped up and looked out of the front window and there they were, in richly spotted splendour, strolling down towards the Main Camp! We saw them so clearly and one was a really big chap…  What a sight and what a start to the day…. (Adam)

16 November

Some of the pleasurable things that have been going on this last week. Firstly I was sitting quietly outside my room and 2 bushbuck, one female and a fawn, walked right up to the veranda and got within a few feet before they noticed me. They then took off with breathtaking speed. Then, this morning I was talking to Chris in the office when something fell out of the tree and landed next to my chair. Chris asked me what it was, so I looked over the arm of the chair and there was a snake coiled up, hissing at me and making striking movements at my feet. I’m sure you can imagine the next few seconds. When I was comfortably out of range, I took some time to consult a snake book and find out what it was. The book gave us a choice of snakes. It was either the rhombic egg-eater which is harmless or it was a common night adder which can be deadly. So, we re-examined it from a distance but couldn’t decide. I then plucked up the courage to face the rearing, hissing reptile (it was actually tiny, about 30cm long) and decided that it wasn’t deadly. So we put it in a plastic bag and set it free near a far away anthill. It was quite creepy really because it looked and acted exactly like a night adder but it could only hiss the hiss and couldn’t slither the slither.

Just so you know I got the information on the snake from a book called, “The Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa”, by Johan Marais published by Southern Book Publishers in 1992 (page 172) . The snake is called the Common or Rhombic Egg-Eater (Dasypeltis Scabra). It has a light tan colour with a series of white lines and dark v-shaped markings or bands running the full length, similar to the Common Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus). It strikes readily when alarmed, although its teeth are small and of little use, showing a black mouth lining similar to a poisonous snake such as a mamba. This is simply a defence display to scare off would-be predators but it can be alarming to people, and because it bears such a striking resemblance to the night adder, it is often needlessly killed. Marais refers to it as, “probably South Africa’s most inoffensive snake”.

Then, this afternoon, I went for a drive when we suddenly stumbled across a herd of 15……. Wait for it…… 15 Sable Antelope! All in one place and staring at us. They stood for a while until I started reaching for my camera, but as soon as I turned it on they all ran away! We drove on again thinking how lucky we were when suddenly they ran out into the road in front of the car! They stood a little while until once again they ran off as I pulled out the camera. (Adam)

23 November

Such a storm we have just had!!….torrential rain, amazing thunder and lots of lightening…and the whole atmosphere is cool and clear. There is always a special silence after a storm…with just the occasional spatter of rain drops hitting the ground…and a distant rumble of thunder fading away into the distance.

Last night, on my way to our hut, I happened to see some tiny buds on a branch of a tree quite low down on the ground. I stopped to look at them in torch light, as they were really very pretty. This morning, when I came down at 5 am (the clients had to leave at 6 am to catch a flight from Lusaka by noon) the whole camp was “alight” (for want of a better word)  with the most exquisite tiny white blossoms. How they managed to come from tiny buds to white blossoms overnight I cannot imagine. It is most beautiful, giving the whole camp a fairylike atmosphere, and is still looking lovely-despite the storm, which I thought would dash them all to the ground. Now that the rain is over there are tiny Blue Waxbills flitting in and out amongst the blossoms and the Hueglins Robin is singing her joyful song. There is that pale green light over everything, just before the sun sets in the cloudy pale grey sky!

24 November

He rains have started! Sometimes dramatic thunder storms, other times gently soaking rain, like right now. The river has not risen yet, so we are still seeing Hippos pretending to be little rocks until they stand up, when one sees the enormousness of them. Their great round stomachs are still above the water level. The migratory birds are appearing. I saw a flock of White faced Whistling ducks this morning flying in rigid formation like a squadron, but quite spoiling the effect with their cheerful whistling call, sounding like happy children. A great grey elephant crossed the river late evening last night. His tusks flashed white as he moved slowly through the water, melding beautifully with the grey and orange sunset, grey river and grey clouds. It was quite a sight.

I went for a walk at 6.30 am this morning. We had a terrific thunder/rain storm yesterday afternoon, and everything is so clean and clear after a storm like that. It was really lovely, still very cool with the pale green light that seems everywhere at the moment. I think it is all the new green leaves, buds and shoots on all the trees, plains of short grass which gives that strange green impression, really lovely. All the short grass areas were full of herds of Impala, with some tiny, perky eared, fragile babies and lots of cattle egrets following them around. The Impala are truly beautiful, with their dark markings, shiny black eyes, twitching, flicking dark ears, flashes of white as they flick their tails and make the soft, woofy communicating sounds. The egrets also make a quiet guttural sound, so there is this soft, comforting sound all around as I crept through the herd. They were singularly unimpressed with me, and continued to graze after giving me a searching gaze.

I went to see if I could find the carcass of a dead leopard that our staff found a while ago. It had been dragged to an anthill and taken into a deep hole by…we know not what! But I was hoping to find the skull, as the leopard I know well from around the camp has a slightly chipped tooth and I wanted to see if that was the same one. All I found in the two anthills which I know have big holes in them were lots of Warthog tracks coming out of the holes. I walked into one family emerging from their hole, looking a tad bleary eyed, and rather ruffled and unkempt. One of the Warthog’s mane was up and very bedraggled. They were not in a hurry to get into the open and stood snorting and wuffing at each other for a good ten minutes before pushing off to forage. At the tree line the teenager got onto his knees in no time at all as there must have been something tasty there. I was being very carefully observed by a Waterbuck-standing like a statue in the tree line, looking for all the world like a tree, but with steady, unblinking black eyes. It took me a few moments to realize what was ‘glassing’ me!

I feel quite sad about the leopard, because he was a very large, distinguished looking male who frequented our camp and surrounds regularly. I hadn’t heard his rasping cough for ages  – funny how used to things one becomes, and how aware one is when they are no longer there. I think he must have been quite old though. He was totally uncaring of vehicles, and used to roll, mark trees, stretch, clean his great paws, all within eye-shot of our vehicle. When the staff found the dead leopard, lying in the open close to the camp, the only marks on him were where the vultures had started to open the gut.

The front of the camp is looking spectacular. The water’s edge is framed with great rows of white Cattle Egrets, who change colour with the fickle sun in the sometimes cloudy, sometimes bright sky. Sometimes they are tinged pretty pink, other times as white as white can be and other times almost blue. Every now and again they will rise as a mass, fly a few meters in a most dramatic show of white wings and settle down again….a paint-able picture!

25 November

Just thought I’d tell you about an interesting walk I went on… Chris was reading a bit to me from David Attenborough’s book “Life on Earth” – all about flowers and insects. Anyway, I went for the walk and after listening to David Attenborough’s story, I starting to be much more aware of the flowers which, as you can imagine, are amazing after the first rains. Snake Lilies, Black Arum lilies, strange flowers, which I have never seen before, coming straight out of the ground with no leaves to announce them and everywhere lots of blossoms on trees. I stopped at a Snake Lilly and watched it very carefully. There were some smallish ants walking around the dainty red flowers, and one or two looked as if they were dead, stuck right down in the centre of the tiny bloom. But, as I watched, the ant wriggled backwards and came out. It must have been sipping the nectar. The Wild Rose tree with beautiful white roses and lots of yellow stamens, looks almost like an English Dog rose. I noticed a dramatic black bumble bee clasping clumps of the yellow stamens to his belly, before buzzing to the next flower to do the same thing again and again. Tiny flies were sitting on the individual stamens, all after nectar and pollen, and a black and yellow beetle eating chunks of the yellow stamens and leaving brown patches on the flowers. I can’t imagine what his role was ….

27 November

I saw a really savage sight! A very large, beautiful reddish brown beetle was lying on it’s back, rather feebly waving its legs and large antenna in the air. I went to right it up and saw that it had been attacked by red ants. I knelt down to look more closely and saw that they were actually tearing the abdomen of the beetle in much the same way as lions tear the carcass of their prey. They were even making a scrunchy sound! I got a twig and shook the ants off the beetle (I know you shouldn’t interfere with nature- but…), the ants all fell down and scurried around in hungry circles. The beetle was really badly eaten, but still alive. I can’t imagine how he could have been alive. His head and wings were untouched, but the abdomen was nearly eaten up. I put him on a safe branch and thought I’d observe him from time to time, but a while later, he was no longer to be found.

I also found some of the tiniest clam shells I have ever seen. They may be baby mussels but they were clam shaped, smaller than a little finger nail. I also found some lovely, clear pebbles and discovered a beautiful Jackalsberry tree root formation – a magic place to find seats of every shape and description, ‘un-bothered by humans’. A Pied Kingfisher was fishing right near us, but not very successfully, I’m afraid.

29 November

Such a beautiful early morning here! As I walked slowly down from our hut I couldn’t get over all the special things to see that are new on a daily basis. In our bathroom, for example, there was a small egg like growth on one of the poles, snow white and pretty, shaped like a small bird’s egg. As I have been watching it over the last few days it has grown into a beautiful, jewel like, fungus, shaped like a clam shell with lovely markings on it, like the age rings on a cross section of a tree…lovely gold’s and browns…and now as big as the palm of my hand.

Coming into the overgrown path towards the main camp there is a village of really big mushrooms, burnished coppery gold colour. Perfect homes for all the childhood friends –  mice, gnomes, elves, who live in mushrooms. Perfect even to marks on the domes that look like tiny windows. One can really recapture the childhood wonder and remember with delight the stories of tiny creatures who lived and had adventures in just this type of mushroom town.

The little Yellow-bellied Bulbul is so clever. He was born just outside our bathroom and thinks the bathroom is absolutely his. I often switch on the shower so that it will form a puddle on the floor, which he knows is just for him to splash around in and enjoy. Now he has found out how to move a corner of the curtain on the mirror, and I often find him angrily tapping his reflection in a tiny piece of mirror. He looks most put out when I shoo him away.

A whole tiny grove of exquisite miniature elephant leaves have sprung up (leaves that look like elephants ears), jewel like in their emerald perfection. Some tiny plants that look like the Bulbinella plant I grow in Lusaka, which is great for rubbing on stings and bites (I wonder if they have the same healing properties as Bulbinella? The colours at this time of the year are so vivid, totally dramatic shades of every green you can imagine, everywhere.

A really big Impala ram was standing on the path when I came down, and was so unconcerned. I was able to admire his majestic horns, graceful body and colours without any concern from him. He sauntered off rather indolently and was soon lost to sight in the long grass on the bank of the Kafue.

We have a “lost” Crowned Crane, who flies around making his most mournful, sad cry. Is he constantly on the lookout for a mate of his, or is he just a lonely crane, or perhaps a sub-adult now on his own? We just don’t know, but the cry makes us feel so very sorry for him. We usually see three of them together, doing their graceful crane dance, catching frogs and just generally being together, so we are even more confused as to his single state. It is a bit of a mystery. He is at the water’s edge right now, looking rather splendid, but lonely.

Along the front of the capm there is a green sward of growth.Yesterday there must have been a veritable feast of delectables as there was a constant stream of birds marching along, startlingly white feathered cattle egrets, dramatic black and white Blacksmith Plovers. These are followed by their cross-looking, yellow wattled relations, the Wattled Plovers, then some cheerful, chirpy Wagtails, incessantly wagging their tails and exquisite little… hhhmmm, I think it was the Curlew Sandpiper, but need to double check if I see it again. I had a good view of it but did not check the book at the time. There are also those little wader birds which are quite hard to distinguish. And of course, my dear, favourite, Red-necked Francolins, fluffily crouched in the grass line, watching everyone marching past with their hard red-eyed stare.

Now I’m going to look up a new track I found on the path. I can’t think what it is, so will let you know when I’ve identified it. A leopard walked past our hut in the early hours of the morning, rasping grunts as he passed. We did not see him this time, although the moon was quite bright.

I have just been watching two small birds, a pair of Southern Black Tits, who discovered a small leaf nest consisting of two green leaves folded over to form a type of cylindrical structure. The leaves were joined together with some sort of web. Inside was an envelope of quite strong brownish material, (I’m still not sure what it is made of), and the two little birds quite mercilessly pulled out a big bug which was inside. It took them quite a while to break into the cocoon-like structure. I think maybe it was a large, baby spider. The poor thing was torn to bits, as they pulled small parts out, almost similar to the lions and their prey – very savage, and surprising, as they are such pretty little birds.

That was the morning…wish you had been here to enjoy it with us.

29 November

Talk about alive! Our camp was certainly alive with special things last night. Firstly, our camp hippo, Simple Simon came lawn-mowering up from the river, late evening, straight towards the dining room, stopping every now and again, as is his slow want. It was a really beautiful sight with the dramatic sunset and our first flock of White faced Whistling ducks on the bank behind him. He suddenly moved fast and came straight for the us, so we darted into the kitchen. He looked at us for a moment and then we noticed another hippo coming up from the river at speed. It was obvious that he was chasing poor old Simple Simon who headed off towards Hippo House as the newcomer disappeared.

I decided to head off to our hut quite early and left Chris reading in the office. Edward and I saw a hippo lurking in the palm trees near the entrance to the Parking lot. An owl flew past us on silent wings. I saw nothing else so I did my usual evening chores and started reading. I heard a lion in the not too far distance, probably near the main camp – not a full roar. A while later I heard a leopard near the campsite and more lion roars, coming closer and closer. I imagined Chris would be enjoying the sounds. Then I smelt an Elephant. Although I couldn’t hear it, I could certainly smell that very pungent, strong smell. Chris appeared shortly afterwards, having disturbed a lion walking along the path. He had had as big a fright as the lion, by the sounds of it. The lion had made the sudden ‘grroof’ sound as it disappeared.

We went to sleep listening to the lion roars and were even woken up by the loudness once or twice. This morning our poor Night Watchman had much to report. On his way back from ‘escorting’ Chris to our hut, about 350 metres from the camp and the office, he had seen a hippo in the Car Park, and rounding the corner near Sunset House he saw a huge male lion. He backed off and came round the other way. Shortly afterwards the great big elephant decided to browse his way through the camp, stopping and snacking right next to the kitchen which is where Edward sits. Edward had marked all the animal tracks with circles in the soft sand, so that we could see exactly how close everything had been.

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