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Tswalu Kalahari and Phinda: August/September 2015


Alexander33

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Atravelynn

Springhare shots are almost impossible, so congrats on yours. Your birding up front produced some gorgeous photos.

 

Tswala and Phinda make a fantastic combination!

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Tdgraves

Lovely Cheetah sequence - even the dead and bloody Springbok can´t detract form the cuteness factor of the cubs. :)

 

Interesting what you are saying about the guides - I think it was @@bushmaniac who stated similar issues in her report.

I wondered about this comment when it was originally made by @@bushmaniac and thought it may have been to do with the fact she took her own guide. We have been twice now and never had an issue like this. But I guess that is probably because we are quite laid back and will just go with the flow, so if the guide suggests a departure time, we will usually accept it (unless it is ridiculous). I also thought about the comment from @@Alexander33 about packed breakfasts and joining for dinner (which is uncommon in tswalu, compared with other camps). Maybe they were just tired? All day game drives are NOT how it is done in South Africa. A 3 1/2 hour morning drive followed by breakfast or brunch and then a 3 1/2 to 4 hour evening drive (depending upon whether night drives are allowed) is pretty standard. Given that they have to get up early to prepare the vehicles etc. and have work to do after the drives, perhaps they were just in need of a rest (which is what they usually do in the middle of the day, especially when it is hot)?

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offshorebirder

 

... All day game drives are NOT how it is done in South Africa.

 

Bummer. Seems difficult to do more than scratch the surface of a 100,000 hectare spread if you can never get more than 3.5 hours' drive from camp...

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Tdgraves

 

... All day game drives are NOT how it is done in South Africa.

 

Bummer. Seems difficult to do more than scratch the surface of a 100,000 hectare spread if you can never get more than 3.5 hours' drive from camp...

And one of the reasons that the guides get so frustrated with the number of guests who only visit for 2 days. They feel obliged to race from area to area to "tick off" the things that those guests want to see. Obviously if there is bad weather, it is more of an issue. I don't know why their TAs don't tell them to stay longer....

 

The middle of the day is very hot and not much happens.

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Alexander33

Well, before anyone is misled into thinking I'm some kind of pushy ogre with no regard for human nature or needs, I ask that we not lose sight of my overriding comment here:

we were happy with the level of guiding we received. Kalie and especially our tracker, James, were very personable

And perhaps I should elaborate a bit more on the subject. At the end of each drive, Kalie and James and the two of us would talk for a few minutes about our shared goal for the next drive. I always asked for their recommendations, and we usually adhered to those recommendations without any hesitation.

 

One thing that we quickly realized about Tswalu was its sheer immensity. As I will explain in greater detail later in the report, it sometimes took well over an hour just to reach a target destination on the Reserve. And only then could the tracking commence, which often took a good deal of time just in and of itself. Consequently, we would discuss -- in advance -- where on the Reserve we would be headed on the next drive and the amount of time it would take to get there.

 

Early on, there were a few instances where, due to the time incurred in travel and tracking, we did not have sufficient time to spend at a particular sighting or to have as much of a quality sighting as we could have. In short, on just a few occasions, it became apparent that in order to have time to get to a particular place and then additional time to locate our target, not to mention sufficient time for observation, we'd really need to leave, say, 30 minutes earlier than had initially been suggested -- or, if it were a morning drive, we'd agree to take breakfast with us, in lieu of leaving earlier.

 

But everything was planned ahead of time. We certainly never asked to extend a drive in the midst of it. Perhaps this wasn't very "laid back" of me, but it was all discussed up front and there was never any tension between any of us. And the dinner invitation was an open one -- at the end of the afternoon drive, Kalie and James would simply tell us that they were joining us for dinner or, as on the first night, that they were going to go ahead and turn in.

 

I hope that this more detailed explanation clarifies my stance. The bottom line: We had a wonderful time at Tswalu and hope to have the opportunity to return someday.

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Tdgraves

Sorry for hijacking your TR @@Alexander33 it wasn't supposed to be a criticism of you - you seemed very laid back when we met! I just felt I couldn't respond to earlier comments before returning, in case things had changed in the intervening years. All 4 of you appeared to be enjoying your dinners, so maybe the tiredness comment was unfounded! I must point out to other readers, that about 50% of guides were freelance and I assume that they would not be asked to return if they received poor feedback from guests....

 

On our 2011 trip, we were really keen on seeing cheetah and it took our tracker about 2 1/2 hours and three large circles on foot to find them. By this stage it was already past breakfast. The camp kept radioing in to find out our progress. We told them we would have lunch instead,so that we could enjoy the sighting, now that we had finally found them! This is the joy of having a private vehicle!

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Alexander33

@@johnkok

@@SafariChick

 

Phinda is doing just great. We had a very fine visit there, and as @@Atravelynn mentioned, it really combined well with Tswalu. We'll get there in this report eventually! Thanks for following along.

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hannahcat

This is just wonderful, thanks so much for deciding to write up a trip report! I really love the sound of Tswalu and having your own vehicle.

 

Your sunbird pictures are just glorious, and I love the fluffy/fierce cheetah cubs. Now I'm in suspense though ... will there be a pangolin after all?

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Alexander33

@@hannahcat

 

Thank you for your kind words. In turn, I'm enjoying your trip report and appreciate your effort so much. Maybe we can join forces to prod each other along in order to get our tasks done!

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Alexander33

It’s not my intention to do a day-by-day account of our experience, but in trying to convey the emotions and sensations that Tswalu produced in me, I find myself adhering pretty close to such an approach for that part of the trip, so let’s just go with it for now, shall we?

 

Warning: These next few installments are all about the experience and won’t feature particularly good photographs. My apologies in advance.

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Alexander33

It was our first morning at Tswalu, and we decided to search for desert black rhino, one of our target species. A cow and her calf had been found the day before, and we hoped they were still around. We left a little after 6:30, which seemed a bit late, as the sun had already arisen and we had a long way to go before reaching the area of the Reserve where the rhino had last been spotted.

 

The morning was sunny and crisp. About 30 minutes outside of the lodge, just as we reached the crest of a hill, James motioned and Kalie hit the brakes. The two climbed out of the vehicle, eyes glued to the ground. Pangolin tracks. “Oh, take all the time you need!” I said. Unfortunately, they returned after a few minutes. The tracks were probably from last night, their maker no longer around. On we drove.

 

We did spot 4 bat-eared foxes along the way, but they were in no mood to pose for our cameras. We would come across foxes several times during our stay, but invariably they were skittish and we never could manage a decent shot.

 

We also saw a good deal of plains game that was typical of Tswalu. These shots give a general idea of the environment through we were traversing.

 

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Zebras showing what they thought of us.....

 

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A lone black-backed jackal surveyed the landscape for morsels.

 

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Alexander33

Finally, James spotted rhino tracks. By this time, another vehicle from the lodge was in the vicinity for the same purpose, and James joined their tracker to explore on foot while we circled the block in which we thought the cow might be found.

 

The block was a large tract of flat land, more thickly vegetated with acacia and thorn scrub than I had imagined, bordered by a long sand dune on the far side. James and the other tracker were walking on an elevated portion of the dune, looking down below, scouting for the rhino. Periodically, we would stop and scan the landscape with our binoculars to see where they were. We had been looking at a hartebeest skull, Kalie explaining how a certain insect actually eats the horns (nothing goes to waste in the Kalahari), when we decided to have another look through the binoculars. And there were James and the other tracker both running up the dune as fast as they could, before they paused under a tree and turned around to scan. We could actually see them heaving to catch their breaths.

 

Kalie radioed James to ask him what in the world they were doing. They had found the rhino, was the response. It was not the cow, but rather a big bull, asleep in the dense brush. They had stumbled upon him, quite close. (I thought you were supposed to never run? “Whatever you do, don’t run,” is the mantra I’ve always heard). In any event, run they did, the rhino bull apparently never having taken notice of them.

 

At this point, it was about 10:30, the sun high in the sky and the light harsh already. We off-roaded to see the bull for ourselves. Although this was my first black rhino, I’ve seen white rhino before, and it never fails to amaze me how enormous they are. And this one was huge. And sleepy.

 

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The other vehicle came and joined us, and then left after 10 minutes. I heard the guests say something about “breakfast.” After having spent almost 2 hours tracking this rhino, it seemed criminal to spend only10 minutes with it. Kalie suggested we give him some time, to see what he might do. And here's what he did:

 

First, the rhino lifted his head to have a look around.

 

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Then he laid his head back down.

 

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Then he lifted it again.

 

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Then he rested it again.

 

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Ah, well. Such is the fickleness of nature. Obviously the rhino was less impressed with our dedication and devotion to him than he was to the sun and temperature, which was steadily rising to a more appropriate level for the Kalahari than the day before. But I wasn’t sorry that we had spent time with this magnificent creature. I’m an optimist by nature, and, well, one just never knows. Clear that the big bull was firmly ensconced in his resting spot for the long haul, we moved on for our breakfast in the bush, happy at least that we had found the rhino at all. (And glad we were that we had that breakfast, for we were over an hour away from the lodge, and the neither the alternative of cutting our sighting short nor starving to death in the desert particularly appealed.)

 

This type of conundrum would present itself several times during our stay. On the positive side, we’d find what we were after. On the negative side, the Reserve is so large and the animal density at Tswalu is so spread out, that by the time we would find what we were looking for, the animals would be in heavy brush, settled in for the heat of the day or the cold of the night.

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elefromoz

"Happy at least that we had found the Rhino at all".....too true, even if it's head was the only thing moving, what a find.I hope he enjoys many more days resting in the sun, with only "dedicated, devoted" tourists enjoying their time in his company.

Lovely Cheetah cubs with fat tummies. Looking forward to the variety of Antelopes you saw.

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Alexander33

That afternoon I decided that we should take advantage of the clear, bright sunshine by visiting one of the meerkat colonies that Tswalu is known for. Having had success in finding the rhino, only to be thwarted from taking the kind of photographs that I had hoped for due to the high sun and heavy brush, I thought that the late afternoon light that we were ensured of that day would be perfect for memorable images of the meerkats, and that we should take advantage of the opportunity, lest another weather system with clouds and wind come through beforehand.

 

But Kalie suggested that we first look for wild dogs, as a pack had been found that morning. He said that we would have plenty of time for the meerkats after we saw the dogs. I wondered about this, but assented, and off we went. James astutely found their tracks, and while he and Kalie were on the ground setting forth a plan to find them, another vehicle from the lodge appeared. As with the rhino the day before, the trackers joined forces and, in short order, the dogs were found – a pack of 9 adults and 10 pups. A few of the adults were collared, like the cheetah the previous afternoon.

 

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Nearby was a hartebeest kill, the leftovers of which two jackals were busy helping themselves. I was surprised to see this, as I had always thought that wild dogs will devour every ounce of their kills in no time at all. Perhaps a more experienced Safaritalker can elaborate?

 

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We were very happy to see the dogs. While we had seen wild dogs at both Timbavati and Sabi Sand, this was our first time with puppies – and they were very cute. They’d jump and play around a bit, only to then all snuggle up in the sand for a snooze.

 

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As you can tell from the photos, however, what I was beginning to call the “Kalahari Curse” reared its head once again. The dogs were in fairly heavy brush, and our positioning at the site just didn’t avail itself to ideal photographs. But we were delighted with the pups!

 

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Alexander33

After a time, Kalie said that because the dogs obviously had full bellies, they were unlikely to stir much before nightfall, and he suggested that we proceed to the meerkats. Kalie wanted to make good time, as he felt it was important that we have this sighting to ourselves. But another vehicle was already at the one site he had in mind, and another vehicle ended up being present at his alternative. As a result, we had to drive farther – and longer – than he had anticipated. By the time we finally arrived, the sun was rapidly setting, the wind was picking up – and only two meerkats were still above-ground (with one quickly descending right as we got to the mounds on foot).

 

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It wasn’t exactly the classic meerkat experience I was expecting. We’d have to try again.

 

Onward we went for sundowners. Kalie knew of an especially beautiful vista, but as we drove up, another guide from the lodge waved us off. His group was already there. Same thing at the next place. I felt for poor Kalie, who was disappointed with what had happened with the meerkats and now was getting even more frustrated, and I wondered if it were not standard practice for the guides typically to coordinate things like this amongst themselves, so that visits to the meerkat colonies and standard sundowner spots would run a bit more seamless. (Of course, nothing is guaranteed on safari, obviously). As twilight set in, the call of wine set in as well, and I told Kalie that we were perfectly happy to just pull over somewhere, which was true.

 

Even “somewhere” in the Kalahari is pretty spectacular.

 

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Before leaving home, I had tried to prepare myself mentally for more challenging circumstances on this, our second safari, but, to be honest, I still had some growing up to do. As I will explain in greater detail later in the report, Tswalu changed me. In fact, I would almost say that I had a revelation of sorts on our last afternoon there. But, at this point, we were still on our first full day, and I simply wasn’t there yet.

 

I say all this in the hope that you will forgive me in advance when I tell you that I was just a little disappointed in the day overall. Because, truth be told, I was, and I felt guilty for that. I also knew that my feelings weren’t rational. After all, what, exactly, was there to complain about? We had found everything we had set out to find for the day: the rhino in the morning, the dogs and the meerkats (meerkat?) in the afternoon. At the same time, each of the sightings had had its detractions: the rhino already asleep for the day; the meerkats already asleep for the night; the dogs in harsh light and heavy brush.

 

And then I did something one should never, ever do on safari. I started playing the “What if….” game in my head. You know, it goes something like this: “What if we had left earlier this morning? Would we have found the rhino before he settled in for his nap?” Or, “What if we had stayed with the dogs and skipped the meerkats? Would they have awakened from their nap for an evening hunt?” Or, “What if we had skipped the dogs and just gone to the meerkats like we had originally discussed? Would we have gotten those classic shots?” This is a recipe for dejected misery that I recommend for no one.

 

Fortunately, this rotting mind game was vanquished by the time I consumed my wine, largely on account of the spectacular Kalahari sky, which I stared into, mouth agape. I literally could not stop gawking at the millions of stars, all gathered in a glittering dome above our heads with an intensity that we had really never witnessed before. J. mentioned that it looked like some weather was headed our way. I laughed. “No,” I said. “That’s the Milky Way!”

 

Pity city folks like us! There is so much light pollution in our sprawling American city that we just don’t see the Milky Way as one can in the remote Kalahari. And Kalie was quite the amateur astronomer, pointing out the constellations and giving us the names of various stars. (As if I need yet another photography challenge, night photography is now on my long list. I yearn to capture the magic we felt that night – and the sense of how small we felt in such a mighty universe).

 

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Alexander33

Did I mention that on the way to the meerkats, we had dropped James off by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere? Yes, indeed we had, for he had spotted another set of pangolin tracks. So while I was drinking my wine, and trying to stop feeling sorry for myself and hoping I wasn’t coming across as a spoiled brat, and while Kalie was pointing out the Southern Cross to us, James was walking around the desert somewhere quite far from our present location, with his shoulders slumped and his head bent down, trying his hardest to find us a pangolin.

 

Alas, the radio call finally came. No pangolin. The tracks were probably from this morning. We would need to rendezvous at some remote point with another vehicle that had been kind enough to retrieve James. Perhaps en route there was yet still time for us to discover something that would cause the day to end on a high note. And what could that possibly be?

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Alexander33

We finally connected with James almost 45 minutes later. He was his usual smiling, cheerful self as he climbed aboard, and he must have been our good luck talisman as well, for we had hardly stopped waving goodbye to the other vehicle, before James suddenly gesticulated. Off to the side of the road, there it was.

 

An aardvark!

 

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Okay, it wasn’t in broad daylight, but there it was nevertheless. In the open. Taking its time, as it ambled along, scratching at the sand and searching for the bounteous termites and ants that it held. And as we watched it – maybe 5 minutes in all – I could swear that the heavens opened and the angels sang. An aardvark. On our second safari. It was high time for me to quit sulking.

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michael-ibk

Black Rhino, Wild Dogs with pups(!), Meerkats and a *§§%)/"?§%)/ Aardvark!! Indeed, listen to the angels and quit sulking immediately, I would kill for such a sighting. ;)

 

But seriously, I totally understand. We´ve all had those "What if" days, and to a great extent, I think it´s the "photo-curse". If we didn´t worry about the light, the angle,unobscured views and such, how the photo might turn out, we would all just be totally thrilled with such sightings. But - unfortunately most of us do. :)

 

And I really, really like that second dog Picture, btw. In General, the Kalahari sand creates a great Background.

 

Is that a Rhebok in the first Picture of your "General game" post? Interesting, didn´t know they have them.

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Okay, it wasn’t in broad daylight, but... – maybe 5 minutes in all

..An aardvark. On our second safari. It was high time for me to quit sulking.

 

" it wasn’t in broad daylight"

Right, you wanted a nocturnal animal to have paraded itself for you in broad daylight :rolleyes:

 

"5 minutes in all"

Right, you wanted hours with a shy nocturnal animal :rolleyes:

 

"An aardvark. On our second safari"

Right, rub it in. Why don't you? 10 times that number & I've never seen one :blink:

 

"It was high time for me to quit sulking"

Right, you saw an aardvark, for 5 minutes, and on only your second safari. I'm off to have a good sulk now. :(

 

:D:P:D

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Anomalure

Wow! I need to get to Tswalu sometime soon. Aardvark on your 2nd safari - lucky, lucky, lucky...

 

@@michael-ibk I think they look more like Mountain Reedbuck to me, but not 100% sure. Can't see the side of the head - Mountain Reedbuck have very obvious glands - but either way the white, fleecy fur, and facial features remind me more of Mountain Reedbuck. The horns are really the dead giveaway between these two species which can sometimes be similar. The more rufous coloration also reminds me of Mountain Reedbuck as well, but again, not totally sure.

Edited by Anomalure
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elefromoz

@@Alexander33, unfortunately you will not get much sympathy with the days sightings, Back Rhino, Dogs and Aardvark, in racing circles terminology, you got the trifecta. What a day

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@@Alexander33

Very enjoyable

It is good that you share your honest emotions - but some great sightings -I am sure you have had worse days :)

Great that you saw the rhino, and the dogs with pups (beautiful)

And an Aardvark!

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Tdgraves

@@Alexander33 I wondered why you left the dog sighting...suddenly everything is clear!

I don't think I reached the photography regret stage until much later in my safari career. It is a difficult symptom to treat!

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Alexander33

We´ve all had those "What if" days, and to a great extent, I think it´s the "photo-curse". If we didn´t worry about the light, the angle,unobscured views and such, how the photo might turn out, we would all just be totally thrilled with such sightings. But - unfortunately most of us do. :)

 

@@michael-ibk

 

So true. And your comment triggers a thought in me that I hadn't thought to mention before.

 

While I've really gotten into nature photography since that first safari two years ago (and have such a long way to go!), we are always cognizant of the recurring need to just put our cameras down and be at one with the moment. That part probably hasn't come through very clearly, since I always seem to be carping about the angle of the sun. But to me, a safari just wouldn't be a safari if it were only viewed through the lens of a camera and the sounds of nature were constantly interrupted with the clicking of a shutter.

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Alexander33

 

Okay, it wasn’t in broad daylight, but... – maybe 5 minutes in all

..An aardvark. On our second safari. It was high time for me to quit sulking.

 

" it wasn’t in broad daylight"

Right, you wanted a nocturnal animal to have paraded itself for you in broad daylight :rolleyes:

 

"5 minutes in all"

Right, you wanted hours with a shy nocturnal animal :rolleyes:

 

 

@@johnkok

 

Yes, right, exactly! So glad you understand where I'm coming from. And I also wanted it to stand on its hind legs and give me a big toothy smile and dance the tango. I didn't get that either. <sulking>

Edited by Alexander33
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