Safari September 2019 ~ Day Four

Day 4

The full moon had almost completed its journey across the night sky as we arose to another beautiful morning. Smoke from the remnants of the campfire gently drifted upwards into the pink pre-dawn light. A lone warthog rummaged in the reeds on the far bank of the river, and I headed for the coffee pot.

The first encounter on our morning game drive was with dozens of helmeted guinea fowl congregated along the edge of a water way. They have an air of nervous insanity as they go about their business. They fall prey to leopards, eagles and some of the larger owls and they behave as if that might happen at any moment. They do have wings and can fly, but their preferred method of getting about is to run in a manic sprint. Whilst foraging for food these birds can easily cover six miles a day.

Helmeted Guinea Fowl

Without warning or reason, one would break into its crazy sprint routine, which would spook those around about and result in the guinea fowl Olympic 100 metre final with twenty or thirty competitors.

A call on the radio alerted Ace to the possibility of wild dogs in the area. So we left the mad guinea fowl to their antics and went off in search of painted wolves.

It didn’t take long before we spotted them. There were six of them on the opposite bank of a slow-moving section of water. Three were standing still and staring intently at something we could not see. The other three were searching for scents further along the bank. One of them suddenly took off at a brisk pace and disappeared into the woods behind it. The remaining five responded by following it into the treeline. Whatever animal they had picked up on was about to have a very bad morning.

Wild dogs on the hunt

Unfortunately, we were not able to follow as there was no safe place to cross the river. An indication of just how deep it was came when a hippo surfaced from under the water. As it watched us from the safety of the river, what seemed like a log drifted past the front of the hippo on the current. That log proved to be a very young baby hippo, which drew lots of “Oooo’s” and “Ahhhs” from everyone onboard.

We encountered another tiny youngster crossing the track ahead of us. A sand grouse was escorting her very young chick across the track. Mum carried on to the other side ignoring the fact that her offspring had run out of energy and had flopped down in the tyre tracks. It took several minutes to gather its strength before making a huge effort to complete the crossing. More “Ahhhs” emanated from the vehicle as it reached safety and caught up with its mother.

Sand Grouse and Chick

As the morning wore on, Ace decided to take us for another bush walk. We parked up in a fairly open area with several dead trees littering the dry landscape. There was no sign of water in this part of the delta.

Ace prepared his rifle and we followed as he set off at a gentle pace. Once again, the group’s ability to walk in single file proved to be too much of a challenge as individuals stopped to take photographs or wander off to look at something that had caught their attention. We gathered by a fallen tree trunk and Ace pointed out some leopard tracks, although he did not think they were particularly fresh. He speculated that the leopard had been there either yesterday or at some point through the night. After seeing those tracks people were noticeably more alert for some reason.

A brief moment of bush walk single file.

The next thing of interest was a pile of animal droppings and Ace challenged us to identify what type of animal had been responsible for the deposit. Each dropping was slightly smaller than a hen’s egg, roughly oval in shape with a slight indentation at one end. It was evident that it had not come from a carnivore and I was almost certain I knew the answer.

“I think it is from a giraffe.” I said confidently.

At home I was a regular viewer of an internet program called ‘Safari Live’. One of the presenters, a man called James Hendry, had been talking about how to identify giraffe droppings and explained that because they fall from such a great height, they get an indentation when they land. Ace asked me why I thought they were giraffe droppings, and I proudly shared my expert knowledge with the group about the origin of the indentations due to the height they fall from.

Indented giraffe droppings

A huge grin spread across Ace’s face and he burst out laughing. I had in fact fallen for a tall story, something that James Hendry is famed for. It caused great merriment amongst my travelling companions and my status as a wildlife expert plummeted, as if from a giraffe’s backside.

For the next hour or so we walked in a large sweeping circle in sweltering heat. A few zebras wandered by in the heat haze. Lilac breasted roller birds ignored us as they went about their never-ending search for insects to eat.

Ace scanning the area for things that might eat us.

Just before we got back to the vehicle, we found several bones lying in the sand from a long dead giraffe. They were bleached white by the sun and had the appearance of weathered wood.

Back on the road, we came across a giant double act. On one side of some water was a lone bull elephant and on the other, there was a goliath heron. The world’s largest land mammal and the world’s largest heron with a few metres of water separating them.

Goliath heron and elephant

A few impala and tsessebe had taken cover from the heat of the day finding some shade beneath bushes and trees. Meanwhile out in the full glare of the sun a reedbuck and a wattled crane walked side by side along the banks of a river. Further along the bank, a group of those crazy guinea fowl were irritating a blacksmith plover. Then we encountered herds of impala, red lechwe, wildebeest and waterbuck grazing on either side of the river with the occasional saddle billed stork thrown in for good measure.

Away from the throngs on the riverbank, five giraffes had gathered around a small area of water to drink. Throughout what is an awkward process for them, there was always two keeping lookout for any dangers that might appear. Even for creatures as big as giraffes, they are constantly on the look out for predators that might attack them. Life for most animals in the wild is a stressful existence, trying not to be killed and eaten.

Lookouts at the drinking hole

Word came over the radio that a pride of lions was on the move. It transpired that it was lionesses and their cubs trying to escape from the three invading males we had seen on our second night. If the males caught the pride, they would undoubtedly kill the cubs in order to bring the lionesses back into season, and thereby allow them to father their own cubs.

It took us some time but eventually we found them, or should I say, Ace found them. They were all lying flat under some trees next to water. Each one was panting heavily, partly through heat, but also because they had spent most of the day running away from the males. It was difficult to say exactly how many lions there were, but it looked like 9 lionesses and a selection of cubs and sub adults. One lioness got to her feet and walked over towards our vehicle. She ignored us, crouched down and started to drink at the water’s edge. She was only a matter of four metres away and it was wonderful to be so close and hear the sounds of her lapping at the water.

Lioness drinking

We were the first to locate the lions and enjoyed a peaceful quarter of an hour with them. But as other vehicles started to arrive, we moved off and continued our game drive.

Parked up watching some wildebeest and tsessebe, Ace suddenly became very animated. He had spotted a rare antelope, a black sable. This was only the second time he had seen one during his time as a safari guide in the Okavango, and his excitement was infectious. The sable is a shy and nervous creature and unsettled by our presence he quickly headed for cover amongst the trees and scrub. With a white under belly and black body, he sported a set of spectacular backward curving horns, easily a metre in length. Running along his neck and down past his shoulders was a jet-black upright mane. It was amazing, for such a large animal, just how quickly he disappeared from sight as he moved in amongst the trees.

Black Sable Antelope

The time was nearly 2:00pm and a late lunch was calling, as we headed back to camp along the Dusty Road.

While we were enjoying lunch, Ace had been keeping a listening watch on the radio and had been following the progress of the lion pride. They were heading in our direction and were not that far away. We piled back onboard our trusty vehicle and headed out into the bush. Ace found a location a mile or so upstream from the camp and parked up facing the river. His hunch proved to be a good one and before long the pride of lions appeared walking along the opposite bank.

Unfortunately, eight different safari vehicles had also tracked the lions down and they gathered around the cats in a most unsympathetic way. Some of the vehicles blocked the lion’s path trying to get as close a possible. It was an undignified and disturbing sight. At one stage a young woman, trying to take her iPhone photo of the lions, leant so far over the side-door of her vehicle that the door opened, and she fell out.

We were all outraged at the way this scrum of vehicles was behaving. We were the only vehicle on the opposite side of the water from the lions, and had it not been for all idiots surrounding the pride, our view would have been spectacular. If the other cars had followed Ace’s lead, the lions would not have been disturbed, and the images of them reflected in the water as they made their way along the riverbank would have been superb.

We left the distasteful sight and headed back to camp.

As we waited for our evening meal, the sun was sinking behind the tree line and darkness was slowly setting in. A few hundred metres downstream a couple of big buffalo bulls were feeding in the reeds. But then our attention was drawn away from them when directly across the river from the camp, the lions appeared. Some of them plodded slowly along the bank, but others stopped at the water’s edge to drink. There was no vehicular access on the other side of the water, and it was good to see the lions going about their business without being crowded out by a vehicular circus.

Some of the pride on the opposite river bank from our camp

This had proved to be a superb location for our first camp with elephants at lunch and lions at dinner time.

After dinner we gathered around the campfire for drinks, stories, and laughter, and as we did so, the big moon climbed into the night sky.

As we drifted off to our tents, we were unaware of the amazing drama that would unfold overnight.

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