Safari April 2016 ~ Day Five

Day 5

It was an interesting night in the tent with Craig. I’m not sure if the lion incident had affected him, but again he was up three times to go to the loo. At one stage, it was not the sounds of the African night that awakened me, it was Craig. He was talking in his sleep.

“Oh shit! Oh shit!” he shouted.

Maybe it was the lions again.

When the appropriate time to waken came, everything in the tent was damp. Outside, the Okavango Delta was blanketed in a thick, low lying mist. The staff were all over the vehicles with towels drying our seats. My record of being first to the breakfast table remained intact and soon it was time to hit the road again.

The tall grasses were bowed over under the weight of the dew sparkling in the first golden light of dawn. It looked stunning. Shadrack took us to an open area to watch and photograph the sun rising up through the mist. It was a spot he knew well. A large dead tree in the mid foreground added drama to what was already a beautiful scene. The tree became know by our group as the ‘Sunrise Tree’ and each morning we would pass by as we headed out to explore.

The Sunrise Tree

As we took our photographs, a group of several female waterbuck wandered past the tree. If they had been walking towards us it would have made a stunning image. However they were walking towards the sun presenting us with their backsides. Whilst not as photogenic as the front end, the backside of a water buck is interesting non the less. As if painted on with a brush, waterbuck sport a white circle around their rear quarters. Now I don’t know if this is true or not, but some say that the waterbuck was one of the first animals to board Noah’s ark. The waterbuck went in search of the toilets, and not realising that it had just been painted, sat down on the white toilet seat. Seemingly, since that day waterbuck have carried a white circle on their rump as a permanent reminder of that unfortunate incident.

One waterbuck did pause and look around and show us the pretty end. It was just long enough to grab a quick image of her in the dew laden grass. Of the many hundreds of images I took, this would prove to be one of my favourites.

Waterbuck in the Morning Dew

The mist clung to everything, including the wildlife. A coucal, perched on a dead tree, hung its water logged wings out to dry. Zebra emerging from log grass looked like they had been caught in a downpour.

Coucal drying its wings

Dawn mist in the Delta

Our drive took us through new landscapes with large, open spaces with giraffe, wildebeest, and zebra. The wildebeest seemed restless and chased each other around or engaged in mock fighting. Later on, the heat of the day would sap their excess energy and they would calm down and focus on grazing.  In some of the many water holes, hippos were taking to the water, keeping cool as the temperature of the day started to climb and crocodiles were pulling themselves onto the banks to bask in the sun.

Shadrack was hearing rumours on the VHF radio that lions were active in a certain area and we set off to try and find them. We found tracks of a lioness with young cubs and followed them until they disappeared into thick bush. Without hesitation, Shadrack spun the steering wheel around and into the trees and bushes we ploughed. For the best part of an hour we zigzagged back and forth through the bush, but found nothing.

We pressed on and came across an a rather odd sight. A bull buffalo was making his way towards a shallow area of water. He walked very slowly with a really bad limp. His front left leg  seemed incapable of weight bearing, and yet there was no obvious sign of any injury. He was undoubtedly in a great deal of pain and we speculated about what might have happened to him. Maybe he had twisted his leg in a fall. Perhaps it was an injury sustained in a fight with another bull. Whatever the cause, he was not a happy buffalo.

Another factor made this an unusual sighting. He was wearing a head dress. Around his horns he sported a tangle of green reeds and water plants. Atop the head dress a yellow-billed ox pecker clung on. We watched as the bull made his way into the water and then, with some difficulty, he lay down. Perhaps he was hoping the cold water would soothe the pain he was experiencing in his leg.

Buffalo Bull and head dress

There was no evidence of any predators in the area that might take advantage of an injured animal, so we wished him well and left him in peace.

We met up with the other vehicle, who had also had a fruitless search for the lions. We parked up under a large tree, overlooking a water hole and enjoyed morning tea / coffee and biscuits. As we drank, we did a bit of bird spotting, swapped stories with the occupants of the opposite vehicle and interrogated our guides on various aspects of wildlife and the Delta.

Back on the move, we slowly worked our way back towards camp seeing impala, kudu, and many animals we had already encountered. Then, as we turned a corner, there in front of us was a leopard. A female, she was nosing around in the grass in the centre of the track. For several minutes we sat quietly watching her. She seemed quite oblivious to our presence, and then suddenly, with a purposeful gait, she walked straight towards us.

I was in the rear seat with a lady called Gill. The leopard walked past Gill’s side of the vehicle and was so close, if Gill had been foolish enough, she could have put her hand out and stroked this spectacular cat. The leopard looked up at Gill, with me peering over her shoulder, and snarled. That was a goose bump moment.

Leopard stare

We all swivelled around in our seats and watched as she made her way along the track. She suddenly stopped as a small group of impalas caught her attention in the bushes to her right. She instantly adopted stalking mode crouching low to keep out of sight. The impala were oblivious to the danger they now were in.

A couple of quick steps – stop. A couple more – stop. She was only 30 metres from lunch. But then a snort!! The impala had either spotted her or picked up her scent. She watched as her lunch fled into the distance with great leaps and bounds.

Impala have a distinct marking around their hind quarters that vaguely resembles the letter ‘M’, and in particular, the logo of a famous fast-food chain. For that reason, and also because most things eat impala, they are known as the McDonalds of the bush.

McDonalds of the Bush

The leopard resigned itself to not having a Big Mac for lunch and turned to a large tree with low spreading branches. She flopped down against the trunk in the cool of the shade. As she slipped into a midday snooze we quietly drove off, back to camp, feeling very pleased with our good fortune and hopefully some good photographs.

Lunch was followed by a quiet couple of hours and then it was back on the road again. This was definitely not a trip for those who do not like long game drives. The morning drives varied between six and seven hours with another three in the afternoon. But I was loving it.

Today’s afternoon jaunt had brought us no new sightings, but by now we had spotted most of the species living in the reserve. Just after five o’clock we found a large dark maned lion resting beneath some trees next to a water hole. He looked like a seasoned campaigner and, unperturbed by our presence, mostly slept as we watched on.

Checking out a nearby impala

In the woods a male impala snorted as he rounded up and exerted is authority over his hareem of females. The sound got an instant reaction from the lion who sat up and stared intently in the direction of the sound. It all went quiet. Losing interest, the lion turned round, lay down with his back to us and resumed his slumbers. Show time was over.

We made our way back to camp as the sun was setting. Huge rosy pink clouds billowed to the north east, and they were the first clouds we had seen all day.

Storm clouds building in the evening sky.

Dinner was mashed potatoes and lamb chops – loads of them – followed by stewed pears in red wine. As we ate, there was the distant rumble of thunder and sheet lightning lit the sky where once there had been rosy pink clouds.

After dinner, people drifted away to their tents. Gill and I sat for a wee while longer enjoying a glass of wine. As we were about to retire, I spotted a black lens cap on the table that had been left by one of the guests. I said to Gill that I would take it back to my tent and reunite it with its owner at breakfast in the morning. This was an act of kindness I would come to regret the following morning.

Once again, to the amazing sounds of the African night, I turned in and slept the sleep of the dead.

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