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Peter Connan

In search of rain: Kgalagadi, December 2013

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Peter Connan

Back in August we were having dinner with my parents when my dad mentioned that he really wanted to go to the Kgalagadi. But my mom doesnt handle heat very well. So my wife (who is also scared of the heat) says that my dad and I should go. There was one proviso though: we had to be back for Christmass. For my sin in choosing the wrong career, I am basically forced to take the bulk of my leave during the December school holidays, so we had to jump quickly and to some extent we could not pick and choose the best camps.

Fortunately, we were able to book three nights at Rooiputs and two nights at Two Rivers (note, not Twee Rivieren), which suited us very well. We are both fairly well sorted for self-sufficient camping, and prefer solitude and peace.

The two of us left Joburg at around 4AM on the morning of the 14th December under threatening skies. Al went swimmingly until we hit Kuruman, where my old banger, usually totally reliable, decided to just die. 15 minutes of anxious fiddling later it magically started up again, but before leaving Kuruman I purchased a replacement coil as insurance. As a result of this and some excellent conversation and a first-class brunch with my second cousin, we arrived at Twee Rivieren rather later than expected. After signing in we proceeded on to Rooiputs where we would be spending our first three nights, but not before unpacking our cameras.

 

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Stopping at Rooiputs waterhole to photograph a Gemsbok, somebody drove up and said there was a lion under a bush just a couple of hundred meters away. So we went haring off to find it, and indeed a beautiful male lion was soon found.

 

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Unfortunately, the sun had already dropped behind a dune, so we headed off to campsite no.1, which turned out to be a no.1 camp, and very soon we had the tent pitched, and the food heating (we have developed a habit of taking a cooked meal for the first night as we are invariably tired after a long drive, in this case it was leftover sheeps offal, a favourite delicacy of ours) to the accompaniment of a magnificent sunset (which I was too late to capture) and the manic barking of thousands of geckos. As an encore, the lion roared us to sleep.

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Soukous

December 2013 perhaps??

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Peter Connan

The next morning we were up at five out of the camp at five thirty. A solitary Springbuck ram was waiting for us at the waterhole, standing guard over his domain,

 

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as was the ubiquitous Jackal. General game is quite common in the riverbeds, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon, and we saw a lot of raptors as well. It was also evident that some rain had already fallen, with some small puddles of water in the road between Kij Kiy and Melkvlei. But close to Melkvlei we came across a very sad sight: a very emaciated lioness was lying in the road, drinking from one of the puddles.

 

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There were already a couple of jackal hanging around, and three or four vultures relaxing in the trees.

 

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Shortly, two more lion appeared, one a youngster, the other a slightly older male. The male had an injured eye and a wound on its back, while the cub looked fine until it jogged, when it kept one paw in the air.

 

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A Spotted Hyena arrived after a few minutes and circled to approach the lioness, then noticed the other two lions and decided to keep its distance. However, it stayed in the area and was obviously really looking forward to lunch

 

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Midday was spent in the same pastime as most of the wildebeest in the Kalahari: hiding under a shady tree.

 

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Later in the afternoon, at Rooiputs waterhole, we watched three Gemsbok queuing behind two secretary birds, who were waiting for a Tawny. The bloody-minded eagle took at least half an hour to finish drinking. In the end it flew off, but by then the Gemsbok had given up and charged off into the dunes. I was starting to think the Wildebeest had competition in the madness stakes in these parts. We also had the privilege of watching a Pale Chanting Goshawk hunting (unfortunately unsuccessfully) on the way to Kij Kiy.

It took us quite long to spot the lion resting on the dune above Kiy Kiy, but fortunately we had been entertaining ourselves photographing the pigeons drinking until he woke up, had a good scratch and then ambling down for a drink. The lions around here certainly know when the tourists have to leave to make it back to camp before gate-time!

 

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Peter Connan

December 2013 perhaps??

Yup, can one of the mods fix it please?

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Soukous

Oh man, the shots of that emaciated lioness are very sad.

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Kitsafari

The male lion has a magnificent mane but its the pic of the emanciated lioness that's so heartbreaking.

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Peter Connan

The next morning, we just missed three cheetah drinking at Kij Kij. We followed them for a while, but they disappeared into the dunes.

 

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Near Melkvlei, we found the emaciated lioness, lying under a tree not 30m from where it had been drinking from the puddle in the road the previous morning. It was still breathing, but only just.

 

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At Melkvlei picnic site, there were two Spotted Eagle Owls sitting over one of the picnic tables. For once, the real struggle was getting far enough away. I eventually lay on my back to get far enough away to achieve focus.

 

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Heading back south, the lioness had stopped breathing. We found her erstwhile companions under a tree about 2km south, looking very sorry for themselves.

At Kij Kij, two secretary birds entertained us with an elegant dance.

 

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As did, a little later and a bit further south, two ostriches.

 

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At Rooiputs, just on sunset, a wounded hyena was standing in the drinking trough.

 

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Shortly after we had our fire going and we were relaxing in front of the roof, we heard scratching on the roof, and I was just in time to get a couple of photos of the Wildcat that had decided not to share our campsite with us after all.

 

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wilddog

@@Peter Connan Title edited for you. :)

Great report and particulary liked the shot of the Wild Cat. Quite special.

 

Tragic lioness but at least it is a natural, if rather long, drawn out death

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Peter Connan

Thanks @@wilddog

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Big_Dog

Epic close up photos of jackals, birds and hyaenas. The lion and cheetahs are also excellent, but a shame about the lioness.

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pault

Looks like the decision to go is working out well so far. Some great sightings and beautiful photographs. I love the look of this place and the wildlfe you see. Can't wait to go here.

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madaboutcheetah

Awesome report.... Thanks for sharing!

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PCNW

Really great photography Peter! That lioness...oh so sad. I would have so been tempted to leave her some food which would of course only prolonged her slow death.

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Peter Connan

Thanks all.

 

@@madaboutcheetah, stay tuned!

Next episode tonight...

Edited by Peter Connan

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TonyQ

@@Peter Connan

Great start lots of really good and interesting images

Sad to see the emaciated lion - and that hyena is really beaten up!

You did really well to get the wildcat pictures (and I enjoyed the insects!)

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Soukous

Interesting TR Peter, you've certainly moved Kgalagadi higher up my wish list.

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egilio

Sad to see lioness and her cubs in that state, but that's nature.

That male is a stunner! Prime age class. The long mane hair is merely because of the open environment where the hairs are not pulled out that quickly. The mane between the ears and the top of the head has filled in so no mohawk visible anymore, fur has lost some of it's shine and some scratches are visible, the lower lip has sagged, and you could see quite a bit of black on the nose. Most likely in the 6-8 age class, but could even be a bit older, the teeth could have been a clue for that.

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Peter Connan

Thanks everybody!

 

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As a special treat, there was a brown hyena at the waterhole the next morning.

 

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He didnt really hang around for photos though, but fortunately the ubiquitous two jackal turned up shortly thereafter,

 

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followed not too long thereafter by a beautiful male lion.

 

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The rest of the morning was spent in a leisurely drive back to Twee Rivieren. Along the way, three Springbuck picked a fight,

 

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a family of suricates,

 

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a lanner falcon, a pale chanting goshawk, some sociable weavers, a kori bustard, some Namaqua and spotted sandgrouse and a black shouldered kite entertained us. After brunch at Twee Rivierens beautiful picnic site, we took a drive up the Aub for a change. Shortly after re-joining the riverbed, we followed a hunting secretary bird for a while before continuing

 

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to Monro, where for the first time in our holiday, we hit a traffic jam. We thought the jam was caused by a male lion lazing under a tree. This was far too boring for us, so we pulled back to get the ideal spot at the waterhole for when he came to slake his thirst. This turned out to be a mistake, because in fact what had caused the traffic jam was due to the mating display. Which we missed. Although we heard it. Too late. Doh. As a small compensation, three Lanner falcons and a couple of crows put on their best show.

 

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That night we slept at Two Rivers, the Botswanan campsite just across the road from Twee Rivieren. This one is quite luxurious by Botswanan standards. It has a proper ablution block with showers, flush toilets and the works! Although, to be honest, the geyser obviously hadnt worked in years, and was now more of a nest. One of our major hopes had been to experience a real Kalahari thunderstorm, and that night the weather looked quite promising. Unfortunately the storm missed us by quite a long way.

 

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Peter Connan

Our next three nights would be spent at Nossob, so we headed north. About 50km from Nossob, we came across several large puddles in the road: last nights rain. We reached Nossob in the mid-afternoon and pushed on a bit further for waterhole action. It was a quiet day though, at least in terms of predator sightings, although we had some good raptor and antelope sightings. That night the lions roared all around the camp. Wonderful.

 

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Soukous

more super photos Peter. Shame you clipped the goshawk's wing or it would have been a peach.

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Peter Connan

Jip, he was just that little bit too close,that photo is un-cropped...

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Peter Connan

Following a pretty sunrise, we headed north to Polentswa waterhole (this was quickly turning into our favourite waterhole). Waiting for us were a couple of Tawnies, some tousling Springbuck and a few Gemsbok. We had not been there long when we heard a lion roaring, followed by a second one. The roars were repeated and were obviously coming closer, and it was not long before they appeared from the brush on the other side of the riverbed, and approached the waterhole, still roaring most beautifully. What an awesome sound when heard close up!

 

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The resident pride consists of three females and two males. Watched carefully by the various antelope and a couple of avid photographers, they had a relaxed drink and then ambled off past us.

Shortly, the rearguard jackal arrived for his morning drink. After this, we headed back south, and at Bedinkt, we found a single cheetah just lying around. Being a cheetah though, he was constantly moving around, looking here there and everywhere.

 

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Eventually, there were five or six cars there! This in a national park that was apparently virtually fully booked at the time!

Eventually, he had a drink and then moved off. We followed for a while, but the banks at the side of the road in this area are so high, and the driedoring (Rhigozum trichotomum) so tall that we lost sight of him. As he had been heading north, we kept going, getting nice sightings of a roller and a Yellow-billed hornbil.

 

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And ended up back at Polentswa where a couple of white storks were searching for frogs in the water.

 

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Heading back to Nossob, I spent a while in the hide. A couple of jackal came for a drink, and had a bit of a barney, unfortunately too far and too dark for good photography.

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Big_Dog

I'm loving this trip report. God the Kalahari is stunning. The more I see of it, the more desperate I become to visit. More great predator shots too - including a brown!

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TonyQ

@@Peter Connan

Great lion pictures + you show the environment really well

I really like the brown hyena - I have never seen one

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Peter Connan

The next morning we got up especially early, to spend a bit of time in the hide, but all we saw was the sunrise.

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Heading north again, found some Kudu cows near the lookout point, but quite deep into the dunefield. At Bedinkt, some Springbuck were having fun, rushing around, pronking and generally kicking up dust in the beautiful early-morning golden light.

 

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Heading on for Polentswa, we found our first Ludwigs Bustard along the way.

At Polentswa, there were a few forlorn Springbuck lying in the shade of a large tree while a herd of Wildebeest bulls giving a fine display of why they are known as the clowns of Africa, dashing about, chasing each other, having the odd tousle and generally acting crazy.

 

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Their leader had a distinct blazed face. We settled in under a thorn tree ourselves while a large flock of sandgrouse came for a drink. Shortly, we were royally treated when a juvenile Bataluer flew up and landed in the tree above us. He was evidently aware and wary of us, giving us the beady eye regularly. He was so close, I could hardly fit his head in, and this is one of the few occasions my dad took the teleconverter off his 300mm lens.

 

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After half an hour or so, he flew down and had a drink before flying off.

 

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About five minutes later, a herd of female Wildebeest with 7 young calves came trooping down for a drink,

 

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but Blaze-face started chasing them around. Each time they approached , he would chase them away again. Sometimes, he would even chase them through the waterhole, so that eventually it was nothing more than trampled mud, whereupon he let them drink. Bastard.

 

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Because everybody says that Cubitje Quap is the place to be at mid-day, we headed back to see the action. But the only action we saw was a single shaft-tailed Wydah and a few butterflies. But at Nossobs waterhole, we found the resident lion pride. While we were away, they had caught and devoured a Wildebeest calf.

 

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We spent the hot hours lounging in the shade downloading photos and charging batteries, and shortly after 16h00 headed back to Bedinkt, where it was pretty quiet, until the resident pride of lions paid us a visit.

 

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And when we got back to camp, the Nossob pride were still pretty much right where they had been the whole afternoon, with some of the lionesses lying in the road. Eventually, right before gate time, they headed of into the dunes.

 

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