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All creatures small and beautiful - Tswalu-Cape of Good Hope NP


Kitsafari
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Atravelynn

Thanks for the resident and freelance guide info.

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What I immediately miss in Tswalu are the usual sounds of the deep bush – the roars of the lions, the whoops of the hyenas, the cries of the fish eagle and the grunts of the hippos. There is none of that at the Motse lodge.

 

There is only Silence of the Dunes. That is until they are broken by wailings that takes place every dawn and every dusk. I've heard black backed jackals cry and yelp in other destinations before but I am surprised by the prolonged wails that jackal families emit when the sun sets and when it rises. It is a rather haunting sound to hear in the big expanse of Tswalu. But given a lack of major predators like hyenas and lions (in this western section at least), it would not be out of place for the next group of predators - the jackals - to announce their territories. It is a haunting new sound of the Kalahari for me.

 

I don't see that many jackals and those that I do are shy and run off fast, often in the twilight of the day.

 

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My guide had said to me with a look that brooks no argument - we meet early and I want us to be the first to leave the camp. no problem with that. Travelling on my own, it's easier to manage my time and in fact on the first morning, I am up at 3am and when Adrian calls at 5.30am to wake me up, I say I am all ready. He has to rush out as we bring our departure 15mins forward. Adrian stays at the private guide facilities, and he gets picked up by tracker Aril and then comes to Motse to organise the packed meals. And yes, we are always the first out of the doors. In fact, on the first morning, at 6.15am, I wonder aloud where the other guests and guides are and Adrian says they all leave at 7am. Oh.
I will do a day to day report as it is most expedient and convenient for me.

The first morning, the chill air hits my face as I adjust my thermal beanie, put on my long distance glasses, zip up my down coat and thrust my hands into fleece gloves. It's a milky grey sky but the antelopes are already out and about. the sables make their way around the bushes, we surprise a female kudu and we are going to wind our way into the eastern section through a northwards route that will lead us to the big cats. Big cats? They aren't on my TOP list. But you can't go to Tswalu without seeing the Kalahari black-maned male felines.

 

En route, Adrian times it perfectly as we crest a ridge. The sun is about to rise and I am going to see my first sunrise in Kalahari.

 

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aaaand one last image

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Edited by Kitsafari
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We cross into the eastern section through a locked gate and Adrian and aril starts tracking the north pride. A couple of times they get off the vehicle to track on foot and I take the chance to shoot some birds.

 

Massive nests rest on tree branches, created and woven by the very busy sociable weavers. Sometimes the nests are so enormous and heavy, they break the branches and gradually drowns the tree under the nests.

 

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you wouldnt think this little sociable weaver has the power to literally weigh down the tree.

 

 

We stop to admire plains zebra and then a small herd of elands on the hill slope. Elands run each time they see us or hear the vehicles.

 

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My first springbok! curiously watching us.

 

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can you see the trail of elands?

 

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after checking a lot of blocks for tracks, the trail runs cold after a couple of hours and I start to fear my bad karma in India has shadowed me to Tswalu.

 

Another guide has however tracked the second pride and off we go to break this bad karma of mine. (It does.)

 

We go off road into a thick bush area, and sure enough the sub adults of the south pride are lounging on their own, without the adult lionesses and no sight of the two pride males.

 

Notice how high and thick the bushes are - it's a good reason for not being able to spot the tawny cats hiding in the thick of it.

 

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a young female

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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A few more birds and antelopes along the way back to the lodge for lunch.

 

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red eyed doves

 

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fawn coloured lark - loads of them around the reserve

 

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the wind messing up its coiffure

 

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arcacia pied barbet - a little fact that you all probably already know but which i learned... pied refers to black and white. ahem.

 

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a red hartebeest - looks tailless.

 

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ubiquitious impalas but in Tswalu springboks are more common

 

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finding safety with a male kudu

 

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... and an ant eating chat

 

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wild meerkats (vs habituated ones)

 

 

 

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all serene in the plains just before Motse

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I have my lunch on the deck fronting my room to enjoy the views. When I arrived, the staff had told me there was a family of meerkats living around my room. So when I walk through the door, I am excited to make out a small creature standing on its two feet. There was a twinge of disappointment when I realise it is a ground squirrel but the family of squirrels provide huge entertainment, as does an array of creatures that passes relaxed by my room. All in, during that 1.5 hour, I counted at least 6 species browsing and feeding on the grounds - squirrels, impalas, warthogs, springbok, kudu and sparrow weavers. The fascinating thing was how they proceeded past the room - first the impalas, then they leave as the springboks come through. the warthogs wandered briefly through while the kudu stag stays at the fringe, apparently slightly spooked by my dark silhoutte in the deck.

 

I may be anchored on the ground but my safari continues at the deck, while I tuck into my yummy lunch.

 

This is a safari of discovering small creatures - so just a little digression on the Cape Ground Squirrel. Unlike the smaller tree squirrels I saw in Suth Luangwa, these squirrels are far more relaxed and don't scurry away each time they see a human species. I wonder if it's because they have fewer predators around the lodge and hence more chilled? the cape ground squirrels are restricted mainly to Southern Africa, found mainly in arid or semi-arid areas, and described in ICUN as "diurnal, gregarious and colonial" and "a seasonal breeder, having up to three litters of as many as three young annually". That white stripe across its sides distinguishes it.

 

 

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a video of the cute and entertaining threesome of young squirrels, followed by another video on the procession of browsers and grazers

 

 

 

 

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@@Kitsafari

What a great place to have your lunch. A real opportunity to watch the smaller creatures - and those ground squirrels are fascinating (and entertaining!) in their behaviour.

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I don't think I've read a trip report on SafariTalk yet that I didn't enjoy, but I have to say, I get an extra measure of excitement when I see you've written one. I just love how you include all those details -- the animal noises you did and didn't hear, the lunch on the porch watching ground squirrels -- that make your readers feel like they're right next to you and along for the ride. Those are the kinds of details it can be difficult to remember once you get back -- or maybe you remember them, but you forget to write them up -- so I especially appreciate you including them here.

 

Terrible news about the wild dogs. Fingers and toes crossed that the distemper has been contained.

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@@TonyQ @@hannahcat thank you! the squirrels were really hilarious especially the young ones dashing up and down with those thick bushy tails curling up over their bodies. they disappeared into the burrows when they sensed the antelopes coming into the area.

 

Often times, we remember the enigmatic and charismatic animals like the big cats and the elephants or the rhinos, or the wild dogs, and rightly so since they are endangered and being able to see them is such a huge privilege.
I wanted to focus on the small ones in Tswalu because, there aren't that numerous charismatic animals and it was much easier to see the small ones which were more relaxed in this reserve.

 

@@hannahcat - Im so pleased you are by my side as I re-live my trip.

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we are out at just after 3pm. Tea isn't even ready but after a full lunch, I'm just too full to partake of afternoon tea.

 

It’s a fairly sedate afternoon. I’m out in the bush and that is all that matters. But that doesn’t mean I have a quick quiet chat with Kalahari - please show me your jewels. And it does – more sables, kudus, a warthog, a leopard tortoise trying hard to flee from us, a cute scrub hare (which is fantastic – the only other times I saw the hare was a flash of its ears and their shadows on the ground as the hares ran from us in South Luangwa. Such incredibly huge eyes. So scrub hares do not live in burrows, unlike rabbits, and they run on their powerful hind legs. The species is endemic to southern Africa (I didn't know that), according to Wikipedia. and of course they have a part to play in the ecosystem - "The scrub hare has many roles in the ecosystem. They are responsible for a small amount of soil aeration, which helps redistribute the soil when they are creating their indentations and their forms.[1] An indentation or form is when the hare burrows itself into the ground so that an ‘indent’ forms where it perfectly molds to their body. They also are prey for other animals." - wikipedia

 

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"resident sables"

 

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a kudu watches from the top of the hill as we leave Motse

 

 

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an ancient gorgeous little creature. I quickly snap the pix and then leave it as it just wanted to get away from us.

 

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a steenbok stops to sniff us in the winds

 

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michael-ibk

Very sorry to hear the bad Wild Dog news, that must have been a serious downer for you at the start of this safari. But I´m sure Tswalu made you feel better soon, it looks so beautiful and serene, and I´m curious how you fared with the "specials" there. As always, I enjoy your detailed storytelling which makes it so easy to imagine how it must be there. Lovely pictures of the surroundings and the antelopes (a very dark-faced Kudu there!). I do not think it´s just the lodge which makes the Ground Squirrel so bold - they were very approachable in KTP and CKGR as well. Especially liked the song of the Ant-Eating Chat video!

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Safaridude

@@Kitsafari

 

Love the first photo in #28. So surreal.

 

And the squirrel video too. They can be so entertaining.

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Terrible news about the dogs. I was prepared to ask whether they had been vaccinated, but your link already answered that question. Hopefully a more effective vaccine can be developed and administered in the future. As it also affects big cats, it seems like this will be an ongoing problem. From nonprofit work I've done at home, I know it can be next to impossible to get people to vaccinate their dogs even when they have convenient, affordable access to vaccines. Not that that's the only source of it in this case, but combating the spread of distemper must be immeasurably challenging.

 

Beautiful sable and kudu, and a gorgeous Kalahari sunrise.

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@@Kitsafari Oh, I am firmly in the imaginary vehicle, admiring the imaginary landscape, gesturing excitedly at the imaginary sightings, and enjoying the imaginary company very much. ?

 

Great pictures of the scrub hare! And thanks for the details of their lives. Who knew they were so important to the ecosystem?

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SafariChick

@@Kitsafari the twin lying down sables is a great photo! I don't think I've ever seen sable relaxed enough that they were lying down - beautiful!

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@@Marks I can sympathise with people's reluctance to vaccinate their dogs. there have been cases where the dogs react adversely to the vaccinations, some with skin problems that never go away and others more seriously affected. But i've learned the hard way when a dog is NOT vaccinated, and all my dogs are vaccinated until they reach an older age, then they are vaccinated once in 2-3 years. my dogs don't really socialise with external dogs, so they are safer than those who do.

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@michael-ibk @Marks@Safaridude@SafariChick thank you for dropping by! will continue as soon as I can.

 

:)

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Alexander33

@@Kitsafari

 

Ah, how you do bring back memories. I recall sitting on our back deck each afternoon after lunch and, even in the heat of the day, there was activity. Did you also sit out there at night and gaze at the amazing starscapes?

 

We missed both the tortoise and the hare :). Funny that you saw them together, so to speak. Both beautiful and under-appreciated.

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@@Alexander33 that is brilliant. how did I miss that connection! Lol.

 

I was so tired that I would go to bed at 9 almost every night after dinner. So I missed those night skies.

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@@Marks I can sympathise with people's reluctance to vaccinate their dogs. there have been cases where the dogs react adversely to the vaccinations, some with skin problems that never go away and others more seriously affected. But i've learned the hard way when a dog is NOT vaccinated, and all my dogs are vaccinated until they reach an older age, then they are vaccinated once in 2-3 years. my dogs don't really socialise with external dogs, so they are safer than those who do.

 

Good points! I know some of my coworkers would check the titers annually rather than give potentially redundant/unnecessary boosters every year, which sounds similar.

 

Looking forward to more!

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We stop by a pan and a host of ungulates is flowing through. A herd of springboks had walked off to reveal a herd of oryx, some kudus led by a handsome stag. The oryx are licking a salt block, placed by the reserve to supplement the animals’ minerals in times of drought. The salt blocks are placed in a few pans around the reserve. The minerals draw in numerous animals as red hartebeests and plains zebras breeze in as the oryx begin to leave. It is completely relaxing just sitting and admiring the antelopes against red dry sands of the pan, but we have to move on as the sun begins to sink. We have an important appointment to keep.

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a ground squirrel against wildflowers
and some birds at the area
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a Kalahari scrub robin - really stretched my limited zoom
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and cropped
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crowned lapwings
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fawn coloured lark
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Edited by Kitsafari
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Meerkats.

 

I’ve watched these adorable creatures on TV, with the adults standing straight up and the young vainly trying to emulate the older ones but failing as their eyes droop and they keen towards the side. The Meerkat Manor made the suricats famous as their daily forays cross dangers from predators and rival gangs. They are part of the mongoose family but surely they are the most gregarious of them, given the ease to habituate them. They are ruled by an alpha pair but like wild dogs, all the adults babysit the pups and female adults even feed them milk.

 

There are two groups that are well habituated by the researchers. Adrian brings me to a group that is fairly close to the lodge. When we reach the area, the sun is quite low and the meerkat family is close to its burrows. Various members are still foraging, with a young one running towards, its head low on the ground. They are so small – far smaller than what I had imagined them to be. The guides say it is a common comment from guests. I think it is their eyes that make them larger than life. Those big round eyes help give them a wide angle view, but also has a sparkle that appeals to humans. All you want to do is cuddle them and protect them. And, no I don't, just in case you wonder.

 

As the sun dips below the horizon, the meerkats run in a single file into the burrows with an adult keeping watch as they vanish into their homes.

 

Is there such a thing as too many photos of meerkats popping against the red sands and golden and fuzzy and warm against the setting sun? and this is just round 1.

 

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this young urn comes barrelling towards me with its nose stuck to the ground. It is literally at my feet as I take this shot.

 

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Although the meerkats are comfortable and relaxed with us around, we have to be careful not to let our shadows fall on them as they unnerve the lil creatures. the alpha male though is nervous of Adrian and chirrups at him non-stop until another young meerkat goes to comfort him.

 

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The all-important sentry

 

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bear with me please, just a few more...

 

 

a portrait of a meerkat (uncropped)

 

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the moon peeks out

 

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as she judges the onset of the night

 

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as they bounce into their burrow, it is time to take leave. a pair of jackals see us off along the way.

 

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