Hwange National Park

Spot the beast 49

This is a tough one. We spotted this beast during our recent safari to Hwange National Park.

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I know, it was a difficult one… We did not see much more of these three young lions during the several hours we waited for them to move! They were two young males and a female, probably siblings laying under the shade of a fallen thorn tree.

So that you do not think that we are amazing spotting game, we found them following the instructions of other fellow travellers who saw them walking towards the tree!

Below is another picture of one of the young males watching us for a few seconds, all they did to “amuse” us!

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Horn-borer moths

One of the advantages of being a “safari veteran” apart from a bushsnob is that I am now able to enjoy what I found, even the small things that were overlooked while seeking large game. The years of long game drives and walks, some of them starting very early and with freezing temperatures, are a thing of the past. Apart from seeing a pangolin in the wild, I have few wishes left about finding new beasts.

At Ngweshla Picnic site, Hwange National Park, you are allowed to camp and have the site for yourself from 18:00 to 06:00. During the day you share it with picnic site users but there is still plenty of room for everybody. Although rather unique, this is a good arrangement as most of the day you are game-watching away from the site and the camp attendants keep the camp tidy and the toilets sparkling at all times!

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The site has seen better days and, as a consequence, it has a rather “porous” fence that would, if the animals wished, allow them to mingle with the campers, a rare occurrence though. The site entrance has been “decorated” with many animal bones. Although it is debatable whether these are suitable for the purpose, I find the skulls, useful to explain various issues regarding wild animals to our visitors.

The more recent antelope and buffalo skulls on display still had their horns and, as it is common if Africa, most showed little brown tubes protruding from them. I had seen this phenomenon many times before but I never followed its origin in detail. A short search educated me that the Horn-borer moths (Ceratophaga vastella) were responsible.

The larva of this moth, related to the one that upsets us by eating our woolies, are able to digest keratin and, although there are reports of them entering the horns of live animals, it is generally accepted that they only penetrate the horns post-mortem.

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A nice and “mothless” Greater kudu bull.

The protuberances on the horns are the cases of the larvae that the latter built using their own faeces. The cases protect the soft insects from predators and the climate until they pupate and emerge as adults to fly away and colonize new horns.

Ceratophaga vastella, known as a detritivore[1], is widespread in the Afro-tropic ecozone[2]. Thus far there are 16 described species in the genus, with 12 found in Africa. The larvae are cream-coloured and bulky, with a brown head and tip of abdomen. The adult moth is a typical tineid[3], having a conspicuous tuft of yellow hair on the head.

Whenever an animal dies or is killed it will eventually be consumed by the killers and/or depredators including various mammals such as hyenas and jackals, birds such as vultures and others, fly maggots and ants until only bones, horns and hooves are left. The horn-borer moths are one of the last participants turning the carcasses to dust.

 

[1]An organism that feeds on and breaks down dead plant or animal matter, returning essential nutrients to the ecosystem.

[2] One of Earth’s eight ecozones. It includes Africa south of the Sahara, the southern and eastern fringes of the Arabian Peninsula, Madagascar, southern Iran and extreme southwestern Pakistan, and the islands of the western Indian Ocean.

[3] Moths of the Tineidae family, also known as fungus moths includes more than 3,000 species, unusual among Lepidoptera as most feed on fungi, lichens, and detritus. Apart from the clothes moths, which have adapted to feeding on stored fabrics, others feed on carpets and the feathers in bird nests. 

 

Social beasts?

As you know if you followed this blog, this past August we visited Hwange National Park and camped at Ngweshla picnic site. The site is well shaded by some nice large trees that is very good during the hot months but that makes it very cold during the winter as we had suffered last year.[1]

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A view of the canopy above us at Ngweshla.

This time the temperature was slightly higher and we were also much better prepared for the cold. I had even succumbed to peer pressure and acquired a pair of long johns to sleep in, in addition to a thermal bag that fitted inside the sleeping bag! The only challenge remaining were the possible night visits to the Gents that required little thought and fast action!

Camping at Ngweshla is always exciting as usually lions walked very close and their roaring reverberates strongly inside the tent! Only the experience of many such nights spent in the Maasai Mara and other wild places stops you from running to the car seeking the protection of the metal cage. I must confess, without shame, that we had done in earlier close encounters!

We need not had worried about lions but much smaller creatures!

A small swarm of African bees decided to land on a tree above our dining area and, although at first they were polite, soon they became cheeky and started to descend on our food, particularly moist and sweet stuff. We have never had a problem with the infamous African bees and did not expect one. However, the fact that our son is hyper sensitive to wasp stings and needs to carry an epinephrine auto injector made us jitterier than usual.

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Probably because I do not like bees, I was the first victim when I got stung in what I consider a self-defence act although my family unanimouly agree that it was an act of sheer foolishness! I was in the car peacefully enjoying elephants at the adjacent waterhole from the camp when a bee landed on my arm and I squashed violently. I was not violent enough as the beast, despite the smack, managed to leave her sting on me! I was not amused as, although my wife’s family and herself are beekeepers, I am not and I am not planning to learn the skills involved in stealing honey from them!

During the final day the situation got worse and at some point in the afternoon first my wife was stung and then me again! I did not move away fast enough from the seen of the attack and got a second sting. At that time we decided to reacted to lock our son in the toilet fearing a more severe onslaught and to vacate the camp and go on a game drive, after collecting our isolated son with the car from the toilet’s door!

Luckily that was our last day and by the time we returned to camp, after dusk as usual, the bees were sleeping. We left early the following morning, before they woke up, luckily without further incident.

Although the bees were annoying, they brought about some gain. Their presence attracted both the Little (Merops pusillus) and Swallow-tailed (Merops hirundineus) bee-eaters. These spent all day at camp enjoying easy pickings. Of more interest for me was the appearance of a Greater Honey-guide (Indicator indicator) a special bird indeed.

The Honey-guide, as its name implies, guide people to the nests of wild bees by attracting the person’s attention with various calls and flies to a bees nest repeating its call often spreading its tail and making itself conspicuous. Once the bees nest is raided by the honey hunters the bird eats what is left. The tradition of the San people is to thank the bird for its “services” by a gift of honey as they believe that not doing this risks that the bird will guide the hunter to a lion or poisonous snake!

Studies have shown a mutually beneficial partnership for two very different species:man and bird. The “use” of honeyguides by the Boran people of East Africa and the Yao people in Mozambique showed that the honeyguides reduce the search time for bees nest by approximately one third![2]

Although these birds are present all over Sub-Saharan Africa, this was my first encounter with a Greater Honeyguide. Although I knew their trade, I was happy to watch the bird from a cautious distance as I was not interested in obtaining its help but rather the opposite!

 

[1] https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/ngweshla-cold/

[2] http://www.voanews.com/a/honeyguides-lead-human-hunters-to-honey/3432394.html

 

Curious

A couple of mongooses at what we thought was their burrow inside a termite mound was the first we saw while on a game drive close to Ngweshla pan at Hwange National park.

See what happened next in the slide show and video below.

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Naughty hippo, again…

On our final day, after watching lions and birds, we planned a “sundowner” drink at Nyamandlovu pan to end our safari in style. Before it was time for drinks, we got busy watching the many migratory birds present at the pan. These were a large flock of Abdim Storks and Amur falcons that provided us with much entertainment while they fed on beetles and other insects found in the grass.

A family of five jackals, probably residents of the pan, were also around. While four of them were gnawing at an old elephant carcass, a fifth came close to the viewing platform for a look. As I was on the ground at the time I saw it coming and prepared for pictures. Despite the warnings shouted from above by fellow game watchers for me to be careful, I remained motionless and was rewarded with the closest encounter I have had with a black-backed jackal!

While watching the jackal I heard loud splashing noises coming from the pan and I saw a large crocodile (one of the three present) coming out of the water holding a very large chunk of carcass. I left the jackal to its business and rushed up the platform for a better look. The beast, at the left end of the pan, was violently shaking the carcass and scattering pieces in the water while it swam off with the remains to the opposite end.

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The crocodile feeding on the submerged carcass.

The slow approach of a hippo to the area where the carcass had been shaken apart came as no surprise to my family and I, all well aware by now of our earlier observations on meat-eating hippos at Masuma dam![1] We watched while the hippo approached and searched the area with its head submerged. Suddenly it lifted its head and chewed on what appeared to be a piece of the carcass that it had found! This was a very interesting observation, as we had not seen any of the three resident hippos engage in this activity before, despite having spent many hours there!

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The hippo starts approaching…

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Eating a chunk of the carcass that the crocodile left.

After munching on its find, the hippo left the area jumping in the water in a rather funny display that probably expressed approval at what it had just eaten! Fortunately I managed to take a picture of the crocodile (regrettably only after the carcass shaking took place…) and of the hippo finishing its snack and merrily moving off!

 

 

[1] See https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/hippos-from-hell/ and https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/hippos-from-hell-the-videos/ Muy Interesante also covered this issue: http://www.muyinteresante.es/naturaleza/articulo/los-hipopotamos-pueden-comer-carne-921450193942

Ngweshla cold

“Is it too hot in Africa?” is the question I get asked most often by people in Latin America. They have the image of lush forests and the very hot places of Central and West Africa, white man’s grave. I think they do not believe me when I tell them that Southern Africa can be bitterly cold at times. Frankly, I was also surprised when, on arrival, I found how cold it could get!

Muguga and Nairobi in Kenya and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia were cold, the latter very cold but Lusaka, technically in Southern Africa, was rather warm, sometimes even too warm. It was while living in Lusaka that we organized our first safari to Sinamatella in Hwange National Park in early 1991. We camped there during a weekend of July and it was so cold that we had to ask the game rangers to lend us blankets to outlast the bitterly cold nights. I We were there with our baby daughter and I still remember my wife’s concern of not being able to keep her warm! Survive we did but, clearly, we forgot about it.

In comes Ngweshla Picnic site, located in the Sinamatella area, during July! As we were moving through various camps we took small tents so that we could assemble and disassemble them without too much trouble. I hasten to add also that our new nylon tent was “untested” as we had just bought it for the trip.

It was warm when we set up our camp after arriving at Ngweshla in the late morning. After lunch we went on a game drive to explore the area and, although we planned an earlier return, as usual we got delayed following a hungry-looking hyena on the prowl. The sun was setting by the time we got back to camp and there was a chill in the air already. Stupidly we had forgotten to organize our campfire so we did not bother and planned a quick dinner and an early night instead.

The hyena moving.

The hyena moving.

Elephant antiques delayed us...

Elephant antics further delayed us…

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A truly funny stand off!

A truly funny stand off. The jackal looks really tiny!

By the time we had our dinner it was clear that it would be a cold night so we skipped showers and we went to bed early as the tents seemed to be the only warm place at the time. Following the routine I got into my soft pile inner bag and then into the 15°C sleeping bag. I normally sleep in my underwear but, this time, I left my socks on as a special measure! My wife, more cautious, was well covered in her pajamas and even a polar hat!

One of our small tents.

One of our small tents.

If there is one thing I am good at it is sleeping even on the floor with a thin mattress! So waking up in the middle of the night came as a surprise. The latter turned into mild panic when I could not feel my legs. I quickly went through the list of conditions that can leave you paralyzed from the waist down and, before I completed it, I realized that I was suffering from leg numbness due to cold or, put into more simple terms, I was frozen from my butt down, mainly at the back of my legs!

“This is ridiculous” I thought and proceeded to adopt a foetal position placing the warmer front of my leg against the cold back of the other in quick succession. This seemed to work at first but, although I regained the feeling in my limbs, they ended up warmer but far from ideal. My butt remained sub-zero. I beat it with my hands and, painfully, it also warmed up albeit slowly. The situation was bad as I was still far from being warm enough to go back to sleep.

While considering my predicament the little warmth I achieved clearly activated other organs apart from my brain and I felt the need to fulfill nature’s call! “This is great”, I thought while holding on and hoping against hope that I would go back to sleep. All this was taking place while listening to my favourite podcast of the “Two Mikes” in TalkSPORT as there is no Internet at Ngweshla. The topic at the time was how, Rod Stewart’s new wife, concerned about the impact of tight jeans on his reproductive gear, forced him to have cold baths to preserve them! I removed the earplugs immediately as this was not the kind of talk that a person in my current condition needed. Bathing in cold-water gave me uncontrollable shakes and this was not conducive to my bladder control!

To avert a wet disaster inside the tent I summed up my courage and left my tepid bags and put a jumper on and then placed my partially mobile lower extremities into my jogging pants. I was ready to face the cold so I proceeded to open the two tent zippers gently so as not to wake my wife up. My mind focused on my bladder control, I forgot to take a torch, a very useful thing when walking around a campsite at night as the moon was long gone!

Luckily my legs responded somehow and I made a mad rush to the toilet. It was evident that the outside temperature was unbelievably low although I was in no condition for estimates! In the dark and with my bladder nearing bursting point, the slippery step prior to entering the toilet was not in my mind. Earlier in life I had suffered the consequences of the lack of grip of my otherwise very comfortable Crocs clogs and this drawback was re-confirmed as soon as I landed on the smooth tiles of the toilet entrance. I am sure that my semi-numb legs contributed to me losing my footing to land on my cold bum. Luckily there was a buffalo skull placed next to the step for decoration and, providentially, it interrupted my mad bum race!

Miraculously I was unharmed and managed to relieve myself in time. The adrenaline burst of the fall had managed somehow to offset the cold I was feeling and I was slightly warmer by the time I re-entered the tent when I heard “hua wash fat nush” coming from the direction of my wife. I asked her to repeat her message as she was speaking through her nose, the only organ she had outside of her “cocoon”. She was keen on knowing what the noise had been and I reassured her that a buffalo had not mauled me but that I had fallen on the skull of one but survived!

After comparing notes on the temperature situation both inside and outside the tent with her and agreeing that it was in fact freezing I re-entered my sleeping bag, this time fully dressed with the addition of a sleeveless jacket wrapped around my bump not only to stop it from re-freezing but also as an added cushion to alleviate its soreness! Fortunately I felt much better all round despite my tender derriere and I managed to go back to sleep.

The following morning there was no early morning game drive and we remained inside the tents until the sun was up and strong. When we surfaced from our tent we met our son sunning himself. He also froze to death in his tent, despite his recently ended five years in Edinburgh.

Do I need to tell you that the next two nights we slept fully dressed and that I took my torch with me when going to the toilet at night?

DIY Eagle

We spotted the large but simple nest at about 100m from the road between Main Camp and Nyamandlovu pan in Hwange National Park, (Zimbabwe) when we visited this park last July. We looked for its owner for a while and, a couple of hundred metres ahead, we found a suspect: an adult Martial Eagle perched on a large acacia tree at about four metres from the ground. To find the largest African eagle is always exciting as they are great hunters and able to kill rather large prey.

We stopped to take pictures and, as usual, we took the first one from a prudent distance and with the engine on, before getting a bit closer for better ones. We stayed put as we noticed that there was something odd. “Look!” one of us said, “it is entangled in a thorny branch” We all looked and, true to the observation, the eagle seemed to be hooked on thorns and making frantic movements with its head to release itself.

The only picture of the Martial eagle.

The only picture of the Martial eagle.

Awe-struck and concerned we forgot about pictures and started speculating on the sighting. Some of us maintained the entangling theory while others thought that it was catching or eating something. We all agreed, however, that something odd was taking place! We could only watch and wait…

After a few nervous minutes we noted that, apparently, the eagle did not have a prey. Immediately she also, somehow miraculously, stopped shaking its head and looked quite totally unconcerned. However, it was still holding a longish branch!

In fact, it had never been tangled or eating but in the process of cutting a thorny branch and it had just completed the task! Without more ado, the branch was placed in its talons and off it went, landing on the nest we had seen earlier!

A subsequent Internet search did not reveal a record of such behaviour. Although I believe it to be known to specialists in birds of prey, I reported it here just in case as it was an interesting, if anxious, observati

Encounter with lions

We left Masuma dam and its elephant parade and got to Main Camp, only to discover that our lodge was still occupied by the previous guests from South Africa. It seems that the latter rule in Zimbabwe and they appear to show little respect for the local regulations and arrangements. After a three-hour wait, we finally managed to move into our lodge and settled down with the apologies of the Park manager but not from the interlopers!

We enjoyed the area, particularly the outstanding Nyamandlovu pan and viewing platform that, as usual, was very popular with the elephants. However, as we had just enjoyed a private elephant act, we did not spend much time at the pan and instead looked for other forms of excitement.

During one of our game drives a helpful fellow traveller proudly informed us that there was a lion pride on the prowl near the Dom pan nearby. Finding them did not take long (all credit to my wife, again!) and we watched them trying to see how many they were. After a while counting heads, legs and tails we concluded that they were one adult male, two younger males, three females and two cubs.

We spent some time watching the lions to see how many they were.

Counting lions.

Although it was mid morning they were alert and clearly looking for prey. They moved towards Nyamandlovu pan and positioned themselves at a vantage point that enabled them to see the pan and, more interestingly, a small herd of wildebeest grazing in the dry grasslands, surrounding the pan. The lions kept a keen eye on potential prey but they seemed to ignore the wildebeest, to our surprise, as they would have been the obvious target.

The wildebeest did not take their eyes from the lions!

The wildebeest did not take their eyes from the lions!

As we waited, elephants walked in the background ignoring the lions and vice versa. Only when a couple of young adult female elephants, unaware of the lions’ presence, walked straight at them, was there a sign of fear when they quickly bolted and ran tail up while the lions stood up, preparing for a possible withdrawal. It seemed to us that the lions were not keen on the wildebeest but attentively watching something else that we could not see.

The three lionesses prior to the failed hunt.

The three lionesses.

Suddenly one lioness stood up and started to walk with the clear “hunting gaze”: keeping her neck stretched straight out in line with her back and her head always leveled, despite walking over irregular terrain.

One of the lioness starts the hunt.

One of the lioness starts the hunt.

She is stalking somthing we did not see!

She is stalking something we did not see!

While watching her we lost sight of the other two and we realized that a hunt was on although we still did not see the prospective victim! We prepared ourselves for action and suddenly a couple of warthogs came running across the field, moving very fast and away from the visible lioness.

The warthog sees her and runs away!

One of the warthogs running away.

She went for them running at full speed for a short distance but quickly gave up the chase, as the warthogs at full speed were too much for her. While the warthogs disappeared, two more heads popped up in the grass in front of us. Something had failed in the ambush! Perhaps the warthogs smelled the lionesses or, as they looked young, they did not have the necessary skills to shut the trap. Whatever the reason for the failure the exercise proved to be too much and the females went back to the group and proceeded to do what lions do best: rest and sleep! We left them there hoping to find them again later.

The lioness gives up the hunt.

The lioness gives up the hunt.

They were still there in the afternoon and, only when the day cooled down did they move into the bush where we lost them. Luckily they passed very close to us and we managed to take a few good pictures before they disappeared.

Resting on the road.

Resting on the road before moving off.

Showing us her "tools"...

Showing us her “tools”…

An older male joins in.

Two of the males moving off.

Moonlit Elephants

As usual, things did not go according to plan! Masuma dam -in Hwange National Park- had changed slightly. A small and shallow bay had been formed to the benefit of the thirsty animals, in particular the impala, who could now drink in relative safety as the crocodiles could not ambush them like last year.

The new drinking place made it safer for animals to drink. Philosophically, the crocodiles decided to sun themselves.

The new drinking place made it safer for animals to drink while the crocodiles wait.

This change in the architecture of the dam meant that the crocodiles (we counted six of them) were almost invariably sunning themselves on the banks of the dam in an apparent forced fast. There is no need to be concerned about them not eating, as they are able to survive long periods without food.

Hippo conversation!

Hippo discussion.

The sixteen hippos were also there. They behaved as one expects hippos to behave: most of the day time spent inside the water coming out for a “service” (sun, the occasional mud wallow and attention from oxpeckers) by lunch time and going out of the dam in the evening to graze. To achieve this they were forced to queue for sometime to squeeze between the drinking elephants! They spent most of their energy chasing each other inside the water snorting loudly and they were quite adept at showing us the end results of their digestion!

Hippos involved in "social" defecating...

Hippos involved in “social” defecation…

We arrived at Masuma at lunchtime. We spotted a few elephants drinking on the opposite side of the dam but no fresh water was being pumped in.

Elephants drinking before the pump was turned on.

The camp attendant anticipated my question telling me that lions were walking around the dam the night before and he did not dare to walk to switch on the pump! Needless to say that I obliged when he asked me for a lift to get there! While driving, keeping an eye for lions without seeing any, I learnt that a donor was providing diesel for the pump. “Once the pump is on the elephants will come” proclaimed the camp attendant after the engine started puffing. He also informed me that a full tank of diesel would operate the pump for twelve hours. “Twelve hours would take us through most of the night”, I thought while I mentally thanked the benefactor and hoped that the camp attendant was correct in his prediction.

All shyness lost when getting close to the water!

All shyness lost when getting close to the water!

Fortunately, as predicted by the camp attendant, the first elephants started to arrive within an hour of our return! Whether they smelled the fresh water or associated the pump noise with fresh water I could not say but the latter seems the most likely. The fact was that they made a beeline for the pipe producing the fresh water, ignoring the rest of the dam if possible! However, as the place got more and more crowded, the incoming families had to wait until those that had arrived earlier satiated their thirst or enter into the dam and drink less clean water.

The arrival of the first elephants took place at about 14.00 hours. By then we had already set up camp so we were ready for one of the greatest sights on earth: herds of thirsty elephants coming to drink! Your eyes get tired of gazing towards the confines of the bush that surrounds the dam and you need to stop for your eyes to rest. A few seconds later, when you resume your watch there they are as if they magically appeared in front of your eyes! They come out of the bushes in what appears to be a slow motion walk.

The miracle continues as more come into sight. Their slowness does not last long as, with raised trunks, they sniff the fresh water and their pace gets gradually faster as they approach it. It all ends with them breaking into a run to cover the last few metres, the baggy trousers that are their back legs flapping! Their run ends at the water’s edge where they drink showing their pleasure by shaking the water with their trunks and spilling it all over the place while drinking. Sometimes their run takes them into the water where they not only drink but also proceed to frolic like young humans!

Smelling us!

Smelling us!

Although we are used to seeing large herds of thirsty herbivores coming to a water source, they do so in a rather apathetic way. There is nothing like that when thirsty elephants smell water and I can assure you that their emotions show!

Once in the waterhole, their immediate thirst abated, the animals become quiet while making the best of the available water. They do vie for the best position but they do so rather discretely. Normally the larger animals occupy the best spots. These are bulls that come either singly or in small groups and join the drinking party for a while and then leave the way they came: on their own as normally they only join the female family units when there is one on heat.

At sunset, the show continued unabated.

At sunset, the show continued unabated.

Sunset with elephants dusting themselves.

After bathing it was dusting time to cool off.

Occasionally youngsters manage to squeeze in between the tusker behemoths and timidly at first but quite boldly later manage to stick their small trunks into the right spot to get a share of the fresh flowing water. Loud squealing indicates when one of them oversteps the mark and is put back in its place with a shove! Adults show each other respect and only rarely do their interactions go beyond posturing. Overt aggression rarely takes place, and on the occasions that is does, it is normally short-lived. After an initial head clash, often quite violent, one of the rivals withdraws tail up and maintains a prudent distance thereafter! We saw this happening a few times at Masuma.

It is usually a rather gently affair.

It is usually a rather gently affair.

On occasions, however, things do go badly as shown by the chunks of ivory found at waterholes. The most extreme outcome I have ever seen is the skull with a hole made by a tusk on display at the Letaba Elephant Hall in the Kruger National Park. Wapiganapo tembo nyasi huumi” in Swahili means “When elephants fight the grass gets hurt”, a very accurate proverb to describe what you see in these situations! We saw quite a serious confrontation at Kennedy 2 dam near Ngweshla but, luckily, one of the bulls gave up before things got out of hand and the dust eventually settled.

Ocasionally things get out of hand.

Ocasionally things get out of hand.

Their great strength is evident.

Their great strength is evident.

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Eventually they separated.

Eventually they separate and the “loser” moves off .

The elephant parade at Masuma continued throughout the whole afternoon and well into the evening. They paid no attention to the noisy arrival and departure at dusk of large numbers of banded grouse.

Elephants drinking at sunset.

Elephants drinking at sunset.

We stopped watching them for a while to have dinner but their noise stayed with us, as the herds were a few steps from our elevated camp. With dinner over it was time to go back to observe them again with the fading light. They were clearly wearier and their trunks rose more often to smell us and confirm our presence. Belly rumbling also became more frequent and louder. I was aware that the latter is believed to be a communication method among elephants but I did not know that the rumbling moves from animal to animal in a herd, in order to make sure that it reaches the last individual in the herd. Fascinating stuff!

A night picture of the dam with drinking elephants. I applied the Picasa "I am feeling lucky" command to get light into the picture.

A night picture of the dam with drinking elephants. I applied the Picasa “I am feeling lucky” command to get light into the picture. Even the stars can be seen better!

The original picture, above.

The original picture, above.

After a long while we were getting ready to go to bed when the moon started to illuminate the bush across the dam so we decided to wait a while longer. It was well worth it! The moon was almost full and it cast an eerie light over the moving dark grey masses. Absorbed by this rare vision we remained on the watch and for a while forgot our sleep. We stayed with them until they started to move off and only a handful of bulls remained until about 2 am. It is probable that their withdrawal matched the end of the pump’s diesel and their departure brought calm to the dam and we could enjoy a silent African night for a while until the lions started to roar in the distance!

The following morning, apart from the fresh droppings, nothing gave away what we had witnessed a few hours earlier.

Fearless bee-eater

While at Masuma dam, we spent sometime identifying a bee-eater that we had not seen before. Fortunately at least one pair was residing at the dam’s campsite and we had time to have a good look and classify them as swallow-tailed bee-eaters (Merops hirundineus). As my new Roberts VII Multimedia Bird of Southern Africa App says, “The deeply forked blue tail is diagnostic”.

The first picture.

The first picture.

The birds were using two trees from which they would launch themselves in search of prey and come back to the same perch to either try again if they failed or to eat the unfortunate insect if successful. Having watched them for a while we decided that we needed a good picture.

My son is keen on bird watching and wildlife photography so he was given the task of taking “the picture” of the new bee-eater. He approached the birds and took a few shots. Not happy with the results, he tried to get a few steps closer and he got two good shots.

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While moving forward still he saw a fly landing on the side of his shorts but he paid no attention to it as his eyes were fixed on the bee-eater. However, when he was about to shoot, the bird disappeared from the viewfinder. Before he could react he felt more than saw a touch on his shorts where the fly was and, to his surprise, he saw the bee-eater flying away with the fly in its beak! Luckily, he reacted fast and took a picture of the fly being eaten by the bird!

The bird with the prey caught on my son's shorts!

The bird with the prey caught on my son’s shorts!

I have seen garden birds coming to feed on people’s hands or even landing on their heads to feed from there but it was a first to see a wild bird being so daring!