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Tswalu Kalahari and Phinda: August/September 2015


Alexander33

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twaffle

What a superb collection of rhino photos.

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Atravelynn

Pops, Mom and calf were out in force for you!. The modeling session went well. "The African wild cat looks very similar to our domesticated house cat." I'm always struck by how unexotic this elusive creature looks. Early departure was the key to your excellent series of meerkats (note to self!) and other little rodenty type characters. All I could think of is ouch ouch for the meerkat in the acacia.

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Great rhino pictures - and very cute meerkat pictures - a good job you stayed!

I reallylike the mongoose - and your description of its behaviour. They do have very unusual eyes.

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Peter Connan

This trip report is rapidly becoming legendary!

 

The rhino series is stunning, the yellow mongoose spectacular and the "jump-rabbits" (literal translation) and wildcat are excellent under the circumstances.

by the way do you know that another differentiator between the two species of Rhino is that in the white, the mother leads the calf, while in the black it's the other way around?

 

But the star of the show for me is the first pic of the un-habituated Meerkat sentry so obviously uncomfortable in it's thorny eyrie!

 

Thank you.

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hannahcat

I love the meerkat and yellow mongoose pictures! Particularly that second meerkat picture with the one meerkat looking right at you, and the one with the meerkat yawning. Very nice bokeh in the foreground and background of that one.

 

I would absolutely love to see the African wild cat and springhare -- in fact, I think I'd put them above the pangolin on my personal list. What can I say? I go for cute.

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Great meerkat and rhino photos.

Very curious to see what the Phinda rhino incident was!

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Alexander33

by the way do you know that another differentiator between the two species of Rhino is that in the white, the mother leads the calf, while in the black it's the other way around?

 

@@Peter Connan

 

I most certainly did not know that. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing that information and for your kind words and interest.

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Alexander33

Sadly, it was now our last afternoon at Tswalu. I wanted another shot at both the wild dogs and the lions, but as our time at the Reserve the next morning would have to be abbreviated (our plane to Johannesburg would depart at 10:20), unfortunately we would have to choose between the two. Trying to be rational about the situation, I concluded that we had a much better chance with lions at our next destination, Phinda, than we would with wild dogs, and so we chose the dogs. I wanted another chance to see those puppies, hopefully in better conditions than we had encountered on the afternoon that we previously had seen them.

 

There had also been reports of a leopard, which is quite scarce at Tswalu. But we had been fortunate enough to have multiple quality sightings of leopards on our previous safari. In addition, although Phinda isnt known for leopards, its not unusual to find them there, though not in the quantities or in as relaxed a state as they often are at Timbavati and Sabi Sand. So we opted to stick to our original plan to pursue the dogs.

 

The day was beautiful, but the winds were gusty. I knew from our last safari that high winds will make many animals skittish, as it can affect their sense of smell. But I had also been told that predators, like wild dogs, often will use that as an advantage in their hunting techniques. So I held out a secret hope that we would find the dogs and that theyd be on the move for dinner, as there had not been a report on them in the last 36 hours, not to mention a report of a kill. What I did not expect was what we encountered.

 

The high winds in the Kalahari had an effect that had not occurred to me: they easily shifted those famous red sands. And shifting sands cover up tracks. If we were to find the dogs, we would have to find their tracks and they would have to be very fresh tracks. The immense size of Tswalu would make this a significant challenge.

 

Kalie and James diligently worked seemingly every square inch of the general area where the dogs had last been reported, but as the hours ticked by, it increasingly became apparent that we werent going to have sufficient quality time to spend with the dogs in that beautiful golden light of the late afternoon that is my favorite time of day. And then it became increasingly apparent that we werent going to find them at all.

 

Kalie and James were quiet. They seemed deflated. Im sure the last thing they wanted was for us to turn up empty-handed on our last full drive. (I wonder how many times thoughtless guests have shorted their tips on account of just such a let-down?)

 

They kept at it until I told them that we could go ahead and stop for our sundowners. Sure, we were disappointed. On each and every drive other than this one, we had found exactly what we set out to find. Sometimes the conditions and setting were perfect; other times they were less than perfect. But this was the first time we had failed to find our target at all.

 

And then a curious feeling came over me. A sense of peace, really. It was okay. We were in the midst of a starkly beautiful wilderness, just us, and the vast sky, the wind, the swaying grasses, the hills in the foreground turning various shades of red and purple in the soft waning glow of the sun. After driving around for so long, it was nice to just stop and rest. And, looking ahead of me, I saw something.

 

"Kalie, whats that?"

 

His mind had drifted. "What?" he asked, puzzled.

 

"That, there in the tree, right in front of us."

Edited by Alexander33
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Alexander33

It was a pearl-spotted owlet, perched on a low branch, surveying the area for its next meal and staring at us with unblinking yellow eyes the rest of the time.

 

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Will you believe me if I tell you that this was a pivotal moment for me? Indeed, it was, for it transported me all the way back to a very special afternoon almost two years before. We were at Ngala Tented Camp in Timbavati, the first stop on our first safari, walking to the main lodge to meet our guide for our very first safari drive ever, completely oblivious to the fact that what we would experience in the next few hours would have a profound and lasting effect on our lives. Just before we reached the lodge, I spotted a small owl high in the recesses of a tall tree: a pearl-spotted owlet. It was our very first wildlife discovery in Africa.

 

Unfortunately, we hadn’t been able to manage a photograph of the owlet because of the deep shadows cast by the tree’s many branches, and I had always regretted that because, for us, that little owl was the start of something big. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity this time around. No, this wasn’t quite the pack of wild dogs we had been after, but, for us, it was something unexpected and, perhaps, more meaningful in a unique way.

 

To me, this sequence of events sums up the essence of our experience at Tswalu. You never know what you are going to get. Sometimes you will be rewarded. Sometimes you will go without. And sometimes the desert will offer up something you weren’t looking for and didn’t even know you wanted.

 

It was this newfound peace of mind and perspective that I would bring with me into our final morning at Tswalu

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Alexander33

For some reason (operator error, undoubtedly), in post 84 the font is different and the apostrophes in my contractions are all missing. Sorry about that!

Edited by Alexander33
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michael-ibk

That was just beautifully narrated, Peter. :)

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hannahcat

That was just lovely. And a great owlet. And isn't it odd that that particular owlet found you? In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones,

 

"You can't always get what you want

But if you try sometime you find

You get what you need"

 

Glad you found peace out there.

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That's a beautiful story about getting the owlet in lieu of the dogs, and the unexpected reward you described feeling. You never know what nature will give you. Great photos, too, with good light - I'd never have known it was sundowner time.

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Alexander33

@@michael-ibk

@@xelas

@@hannahcat

@@Marks

 

Thank you for your supportive commentary. I hesitated before making that post, as I thought it might come across as overly-sentimental or contrived rather than as the simple realization I experienced that I was just this rather insignificant spot in a magnificent world that deserved a closer look.

 

@@Marks, in regard to the light, you are very intuitive. At that point, we actually hadn't yet stopped for sundowners. Rather, we had stopped at a water hole because we had exhausted the area in which we were searching for the dogs, and there was just nowhere else to go. This water hole is a well-known meeting place, and we were there to reconnect with James, who had gone off into the brush on foot earlier to see if he could locate any tracks. (The trackers there work incredibly hard).

 

Kalie was stumped as to where to go next, and I had said that it was okay, don't worry about it, let's just proceed on to sundowners. And then I saw the owlet. So, you are correct. I think it was about 5:30 at that point, the sun was starting to cast long shadows, but it certainly wasn't yet dusk (actual sundowner time). That said, once the sun starts going down there, it goes down fast! Another 30 minutes, and that would have been it.

 

Anyway, you nailed me in employing a bit of poetic license in an effort to omit those kind of involved details and to try to keep a long post as brief as possible (for me), and now I've gone on too long again! Thanks for your keen observation.

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@@Alexander33 That makes sense! Thanks for the explanation, though your photos are still just as impressive. Sorry to inadvertently spoil your poetic license! :P

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Alexander33

@@Marks

 

Nope. Keep me honest. That will give me the opportunity to drone on even more than I usually do!

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Atravelynn

The Pearl Spotted Owl story is lovely. So is the photo.

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Alexander33

Speaking of taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves (and speaking of birds), one pleasant surprise at Tswalu was the wide variety of birdlife we encountered. From the ostrich we saw on our initial drive in to the pygmy falcons we saw on our way out, there were always birds for us to focus on when everything else was slow – and most of them were new and interesting to us, even if some of them were totally common.

 

I took to the habit of walking around the grounds of the lodge for a few minutes every day after lunch to photograph birds, and Kalie also was only too happy to stop if we saw something interesting. He was quite the birder himself, and once he knew we were open to spending time with them, he sheepishly pulled out his own camera and would photograph them alongside us. At one point, we skidded to a stop, and there, looking directly at us almost at eye level from a small tree not 10 feet away, was an enormous Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. It spooked just as I raised my camera. We simply were too close to its “personal space.” But, boy, what a shot that would have been!

 

 

Crimson-breasted Shrike (I could never get as close as I wanted.)

 

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African Red-eyed Bulbul

 

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Yellow Canary

 

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Double-banded Sandgrouse

 

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Cape Glossy Starling

 

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Short-toed Rock-thrush (Birds with "toes." Interesting concept, not to mention the notion that this one's are "short." And you know I had to Google "Long-toed Rock-thrush" just to see if such a thing exists. It does not. I think this guy got a raw deal, personally.)

 

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Common Scimitarbill

 

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Yellow-billed Hornbill

 

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Dusky Sunbird

 

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Fork-tailed Drongo

 

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Cardinal Woodpecker

 

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Pygmy Falcons raiding Scaly-feathered Finch nests (Kalie said they were in search of insects -- don't know about chick predation.)

 

Male

 

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Females (or are these juveniles?)

 

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And, finally, a mystery bird. Can anyone assist with an ID?

 

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If anyone can help with the questions I posed on those last two, or if I’ve misidentified any of these, please chime in.

 

 

 

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Alexander33

Before I continue on to our final morning, let me also take the opportunity to talk about some of the mammals we saw that just haven't otherwise fit into my narrative up to this point.

 

When I look back on our time at Tswalu, what I will remember almost immediately is the abundance of oryx. Although it is a ubiquitous species of antelope at Tswalu, I never lost the sense of marvel at how beautiful and graceful they are.

 

post-48302-0-51701000-1447991706_thumb.jpg

 

 

As the oryx has adapted in a way that allows it to go for long periods of time without the need for water, it is an animal particularly well-suited for the Kalahari. Unlike most other antelope species, the oryx thrives during the dry winter season. It has a keen sense of smell, which it uses to detect roots and tubers that not only sustain it with food, but also provide it with sufficient liquid to see it through times of drought.

 

During the first week of September, when we were there, we saw a few oryx calves. We were told that the oryx begins to give birth at the end of winter, before the rains come, timing things so that the calves are almost weaned by the time the first green shoots of spring appear. The oryx reportedly is the only antelope where the horns of the female are longer than those of the males, allowing the female to use her horns as weapons in defense of her offspring against predators.

 

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Sables were fairly plentiful at Tswalu. We were told that, due to decimation from hunting during the last century, they are still a very expensive animal to stock, and Tswalu’s conservation efforts are funded in large part by the sale of sables raised on the Reserve.

 

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Although roan was one of the first animals we encountered, to my memory it were relatively scarce overall, although J. remembers its being more common than I recall.

 

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On the other hand, I have never seen so many warthogs. They seemingly were everywhere.

 

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michael-ibk

Oryx, Sable & Roan - just wonderful, they are such impressive animals. Are Sable & Roan kept in the predator-free part of the reserve?

 

I think your mystery bird is a White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver. I´ve never seen Pygmy Falcons (high on my wishlist), but I think those are females which have the chestnut back and white underparts. Juveniles have a "dull brown back and buff-washed underparts" according to my birdbook.

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Alexander33

@@michael-ibk

 

Actually, I'd call it the "lion-free" part of the Reserve, because, technically, there are predators in both areas. We saw both the wild dogs and the cheetahs in the same part of the Reserve as the sables, but, yes, you are correct in that the sables (and wild dogs, at least for now) are kept apart from from the lions. I suspect that's true also of the roan, as I don't recall seeing roan on the morning we spent with the lions, but I am not positive about that.

 

I asked if they thought the fences would ever come down, and was told, no, not likely, as the sale of sables is actually a more lucrative enterprise to support the Reserve's conservation efforts than tourism is.

 

Thank you for the bird ID and confirmation that, indeed, those were female adult Pygmy Falcons. If you want to see Pygmy Falcons, Tswalu is a good place for them. While we were there, we came across a team of researchers who are living on the Reserve studying them.

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Peter Connan

Stunning bird photos @@Alexander33!

 

You managed to get very close to a number of interesting species!

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