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Tswalu Kalahari and Phinda: August/September 2015


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@@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.




I think you're right -- mountain reedbuck. My notes from that drive aren't what they should have been, but mountain reedbuck rings a bell. I will go through our photographs and see if we managed another shot. They didn't stick around long, and, if there are any other photos, they're probably not very good.


I also will have an "antelope posting" later in the report. Thanks for your expertise and interest!

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




Well, actually, not quite. There's still a missing piece in the puzzle at this point, because the decision to leave the dogs was actually what set into motion the revelation I would end up having on our last afternoon there, the thing about Tswalu that changed me. Hopefully, by the time I finish up, then everything will be clear!

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@@tony Q


Thanks so much for your supportive words.

Edited by Alexander33
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The info on the immensity of the reserve, type of terrain, the timing of outings, the guides, customary practices, etc. is all very helpful. It's actually good that the place is so big. That's more protected area and an opportunity for visitors to spread out.


You had a good flash to get the aardvark in its natural environment of nighttime. Very cool. To see such an elusive creature after only 2 safaris is very special. And the dogs!


You are brave to divulge those petulant feelings that occur to us all at times. It will make others feel better reading your comments to know they are not alone. As in many things, our disappointment is not with what occurs, but with the gap between what occurs and what we expected. Between the stunning nature documentaries, photo sites/contests, and even safaritalk experiences posted here, it is easy to let our expectations balloon into what's not realistic.


What a privileged problem this is! But telling yourself how privileged you are does not necessarily change that bio-chemical physiological process going on inside that feels like a letdown.


The "photo curse" mentioned by @@michael-ibk also comes into play I believe. Even you mention some of the disappointment stemmed from the lack of quality photo opps rather than the lack of sightings. So not only is there a challenge of merely locating something special, but of capturing the image of that "something special" that meets a preconceived notion of what we think it should look like. We like to be in control but the very nature of viewing (and photographing) wildlife means we necessarily relinquish that control. It's a conundrum and an expensive one at that!


I once talked to an avid photographer who was on a trip in the remote tundra surrounded by polar bears. He responded to the question, "Isn't this fantastic?" with a dejected look, shaking his head "no." "Bad light, dirty bears," he uttered with disgust.


By the way I really like the mountain reedbuck!

Edited by Atravelynn
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Hurrah Hurrah an Aardvark!

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@@Alexander33 your time at Tswalu was certainly well chosen. Black rhino, wild dog families, meerkats and an aardvark and with all those pangolin tracks perhaps you will be lucky in the next few days?


I love that red Kalahari sand, such a dramatic backdrop for photos.

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Must agree with @@michael-ibk that the cheetahs on page one manage to exude charm even when their fur is wet with blood - something that not all carnivores can pull off.


Also enjoyed the photos and story of the obstinate rhino.


I think many of us have played the "what if" game and felt some disappointment (and not just on safari!), but rest assured that everything you've captured looks great from this end.

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I hesitated to resume this report today, out of respect for the victims in the horrific terrorist attack in Paris last night and out of solidarity to recognize the state of mourning in France that has commenced.


However, that is what terrorists seek to do: to frighten us and to disrupt our lives. I will not succumb. Continue I will.


To my French friends: "Liberté, égalité, fraternité." My heart and thoughts are with you.

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Hurrah Hurrah an Aardvark!


Yes, indeed!


A note on aardvarks and the normally nocturnal species that Tswalu has become known for:


Prior to my booking this trip, I had read that August was the most likely month that the normally nocturnal species might be found during the day, due to cold temperatures at night. However, Kalie and James both confirmed that May, June and July offer better chances for this, and that by late August and early September, when we were there, nighttime temperatures have usually warmed up enough that these creatures return to their nocturnal routines. That said, @@Tdgraves did have an aardvark sighting in the late afternoon while we were there. However, we certainly did not have 23 aardvark sightings like @@bushmaniac did in June (although she was there for 10 nights).


One unexpected benefit of an August or September visit, for us at least, was that the blackthorn acacias were in bloom. These shrubby trees are found all over the reserve, and their bare branches covered with white cottonball-like blossoms stand in beautiful contrast to the stark red sands and sage colors of the vegetation. Birds also flock to feed on the flowers and their nectar.





Thanks for your continued interest and support @@Towlersonsafari and @@Treepol.

Edited by Alexander33
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Your eloquent comments and observations are so spot-on, I find I am unable to add anything of benefit to them. Thank you for summing up my feelings so expertly.

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@@Anomalure @@Alexander33


Tswalu has a mammal checklist, I just found out, and it says "Unconfirmed" for Rhebok. So, Peter, either you had the very first sighting ever, or it is a Mountan Reedbuck indeed. ;)

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Must agree with @@michael-ibk that the cheetahs on page one manage to exude charm even when their fur is wet with blood - something that not all carnivores can pull off.




Those cubs definitely straddled the line between Cute and Gruesome!


I just noticed that my focus was primarily on the cubs, since their mother was collared, but here's a family shot:



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And I share your feelings on the state of world affairs today. Lovely blooming blackthorn acacias.

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The next morning, we decided to pursue lion. I had long heard of the famous black-maned Kalahari lions, which were supposed to be larger than their counterparts elsewhere. I will let others more experienced than I voice their learned opinions on this. To me they looked like the lions I had seen at Kruger. Kalie did explain that their paws tend to be larger, in order to give them better traction on the sands.


En route, we came across a mixed herd of zebra and eland.









As with the rhino the day before, tracking down the lions took some time. Another vehicle's guide and tracker (armed with a rifle) were on the ground in search of them, and that plus the fact the brush in this area was so thick meant that it was too dangerous for James to go in also. We would need to wait for the other guide and tracker to find them. We took advantage of the downtime by proceeding with our breakfast in the midst the quiet solitude of the starkly beautiful landscape.











By the time the radio call came through, the lions, a pride of 10, were doing what lions do most of the day – sleeping. Again, the vegetation was thicker than what I had imagined we would encounter, and that, coupled with the sharply contrasting light, made quality photographs a challenge. We nevertheless spent a good deal of time with them and enjoyed the occasional “bone” they would throw us, either by yawning now and then or standing up briefly and then moving to the denser shade of a larger tree, before collapsing back to the ground for a long slumber.













The big male had seen some interesting times. Evidently, he had lost an incisor, which did not bode well.







One of the up and coming Young Turks came to check out the old guy, but left him alone to continue his nap in the shade. To me, however, it was a glimpse of what was to come.







I should mention at this point, for those who do not know, that as immense as Tswalu is, the Reserve is actually fenced off in two separate, distinct parts. The lions are contained in only one of these areas in order to manage Tswalu’s conservation efforts toward the prey species – sables, most notably, from what I was told. While both areas are huge and it is possible to drive for long amounts of time without seeing the fences, they are there and we did see them on a number of drives.

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After the horrors of the terrorist massacre in Paris, what better way to salve the soul than by spending time in the vastness of nature, even if only vicariously through your Kalahari journal. I know that I feel a lot better.

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Tswalu looks fabulous. The red dunes and soil really come alive in your wonderful trip report. And what great sightings! Tswalu now goes on my bucket list!

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@@Alexander33 @@michael-ibk @@Anomalure


The photo on the previous page you are all referring to, I am 100% certain, is that of a mountain reedbuck.


The grey rhebok would have even more pointed ears, a much duller coat and black veinous patterns inside the ears (as with a steenbok). The last trait is the most useful diagnostic feature when distinguishing between the young of the two species, which are otherwise very similar looking.

Edited by Safaridude
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@@Alexander33 @@michael-ibk @@Anomalure


The photo on the previous page you are all referring to, I am 100% certain, is that of a mountain reedbuck.


The grey rhebok would have even more pointed ears, a much duller coat and black veinous patterns inside the ears (as with a steenbok). The last trait is the most useful diagnostic feature when distinguishing between the young of the two species, which are otherwise very similar looking.


And when it comes to antelope expertise, there is none more knowledgeable on ST. So it is steenbok of course :rolleyes:


:D Sorry - mountain steenbok. No, wait, a mountain reedbuck :)


Enough mischief :P

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Tswalu has a mammal checklist, I just found out, and it says "Unconfirmed" for Rhebok. So, Peter, either you had the very first sighting ever, or it is a Mountan Reedbuck indeed. ;)



The photo on the previous page you are all referring to, I am 100% certain, is that of a mountain reedbuck.


The grey rhebok would have even more pointed ears, a much duller coat and black veinous patterns inside the ears (as with a steenbok). The last trait is the most useful diagnostic feature when distinguishing between the young of the two species, which are otherwise very similar looking.




Leave it to you to be all logical and efficient. Think of the hours we could have spent whiling away the time studying my bad photo with a magnifying glass and discussing fine identifying points amongst ourselves. But, oh, no, you had to go mention the Tswalu checklist.....


D'oh!! Of course.....




J. was a bit more diligent than I in keeping track of things. Yes, indeed, as you can see, "Reedbuck, Mountain" is ticked off.


Thanks @@Anomalure and @@Safaridude for your expertise and interest! @@johnkok, you can sit with me in the backseat of the Antelopemobile.

Edited by Alexander33
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At this point, we were about midway through our stay at Tswalu, and we had to make some strategic decisions about what to pursue from this point forward – and about the necessity of departing the lodge earlier than we had previously, so that we’d have a better chance of good light when, hopefully, we found whatever we might be looking for. Since this was only our second safari, priority went to quality sightings of species we had not seen previously. That meant second attempts at black rhino and the meerkats made it to the top of the list.


We started with the black rhino. So far, we just had Pops sleeping in the brush. Kalie mentioned that the cow and her calf that we had missed the other morning had been relocated, and James strongly felt that they would be feeding this evening. If we were to chance it tomorrow morning, they might just be napping as the big bull had by the time we found them. So, with his assertive counsel, we dedicated another afternoon in the hopes that we’d have better luck with rhino. And indeed we did.


We found the cow and her calf, and another young bull that I believe was also her offspring. The young bull kept his distance from the cow and calf, but he was keenly interested in something.








Suddenly, he high-tailed it and disappeared into the thicket.





What had spooked him? The answer suddenly appeared before us. It was Pops, this time awake and actually standing up! He, too, was interested in something nearby.











On a few occasions, he'd turn and start to amble away.





But then he'd circle back again, and stand poised toward the same direction as before.





Clearly the object of his attention (affection?) was the cow. She and her calf, a female, had been sleeping in the brush, but just as James had predicted, as the afternoon wore on, they arose and began to feed on the surrounding bushes.

















As for the calf, she would usually stay by the safety of her mother’s side, but she did give us a precious few glances of her demonstrating an increased interest in the world around her…..







…..before trotting off back to the security of her mother.







We spent the remainder of the afternoon with them -- all in that beautiful golden light that I so treasure -- until the shadows became heavy, at which point we left them in peace to finish their dinner together in solitude. It had been a wondrous sighting.


On the way to sundowners, a kudu imitated the leaping joy in my heart....





.....and then stopped and turned to watch us, as we stretched our legs, reflected on the day and enjoyed another spectacular Kalahari sunset.








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I’ve always been one to enjoy night drives, and ours at Tswalu always held the promise of something interesting. After the sun had set, we began to make our way back to the lodge.


Along the way, we again found springhares – such odd creatures.







Around a bend, a set of eyes appeared in the spotlit darkness. I assumed they belonged to another springhare, but, no, this time it was an African wild cat!





Another first for us.


The African wild cat looks very similar to our domesticated house cat, and for good reason – they are the progenitors of our familiar pets. They are just a bit larger and usually have a black tip on their tails. Interestingly, they are threatened due to interbreeding, but I was told that those in more remote areas like the Kalahari are pure breeds.


(I wish I had tried leaving my flash off and just ratcheting up the ISO to see if that would have resulted in better night shots, but there was never time to adjust.)

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As an aside, we had also come across white rhino that morning on the way to the lions – a cow, her calf and an older offspring – but they stuck to the heavy cover and weren't interested in socializing.









At the risk of bemusing those of you who are more experienced than I, and in a spirit of sharing newly-found knowledge with readers who, like me, are novices, we learned facts about rhino of which I was previously unaware and that I think bear repeating here.


I knew that, between black rhino and white, there is a difference in the shapes of their mouths and in the shapes and sizes of their ears. But I confess I had no idea that their food is another point of difference. The white rhino feeds on grass, whereas the black rhino browses on bushes and shrubs. They reportedly do not compete against one another at all (although one might not conclude that after an experience we were to have later in our trip at Phinda – more on that curious incident later in the report).

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Our third morning at Tswalu dawned bright and sunny, and so back to one of the meerkat colonies we went. We arrived at around 7:00 and all was quiet. The sun still had a ways to go before it fully illuminated the mounds, and, thus, we waited.


In the chill air of early spring, the meerkats had decided to sleep in. By 8:00, Kalie was getting restless. But I heard another guide, who had arrived with his guests after us and had proceeded to comfortably plant them on the ground directly in front of the mounds, state assuredly that they would indeed surface, and I told Kalie not to even think about our leaving. After our miss that one evening, we were staying put.


And soon enough, we saw a little head tentatively pop out of one of the holes. And then another. And another.


















These critters appear to have so much individual personality that it’s hard not to anthropomorphize them.


“Oh, dear, um…..has anyone seen my pants?"





“Nope, not me….”





“Can’t I have just 10 more minutes? Please?”





“Junior! Git back here an’ finish yur breakfast!!!”





Once the meerkats had fully awakened and taken a good look around them, they dispersed. We opted to not pursue them, although, in retrospect, I now wish we had in order to have the opportunity to further observe their behavioral traits.


I should note that when I keep saying we had not, until now, seen “the meerkats,” I mean the habituated meerkats. While there are several colonies of habituated meerkats that are a regular stop for those visiting the Reserve, there actually are many other meerkat colonies at Tswalu. For example, we had seen a few non-habituated colonies in the days before, and we noticed that one meerkat would always climb to the top of a shrub or bush and serve as the sentry for the rest of them. If the sentry perceived any threat from the height of its perch, it would signal an alarm call for the rest of the colony to seek cover.









(Sorry for the quality of those last three photos. "Unhabituated" means we couldn't get very close to them.)

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Meerkats weren’t the only furry little things that populate Tswalu. I came across this yellow mongoose in camp our first afternoon.





He stared at me intently, creeping out from behind a rock. I took his picture, and then lowered myself toward the ground for a better perspective. When I squatted down on my knees, he sat down on his haunches. When I returned to my feet, he stood up on all fours. I’d go back down; he’d go back down. Satisfied that I posed no danger, he soon lost all curiosity in me and scampered away.


South African ground squirrels were also a fairly common sighting, but I have surprisingly few photographs of them, as, evidently, my mind was consumed with the newness of everything around me and there were so many other factors competing for my attention.





I ruminated on these smaller creatures, anything really, trying to ignore the fact that we were now down to our last afternoon at Tswalu.




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Not that was a great batch of Posts!


A magnificent Black Rhino sighting, you were really close to them, and they seemed very relaxed. The Meerkats doing what Meerkats do best - adorably cute stuff. And that´s a magnificent photo of the Yellow Mongoose. You´re being far too hard on yourself - super Springhare pics. Getting fast moving tiny animals on a night drive is no mean feat.


Have you just promised us a Black/White Rhino Celebrity Deathmatch in Phinda? :)

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