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Hiding in the Bush House


pomkiwi
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Background

Somewhat unexpectedly after my trip in February I found myself heading back to South Africa at the end of May. The reason was a conference in Durban but it allowed me the option of a weekend at either end to escape to the bush. I did look at one or two of the reserves close to Durban but it actually proved more complicated to sort out with the need to connect to and from international flights at JNB. In the end I settled on a couple of days in the Madikwe at the start and two days self driving in the Kruger at the end.

 

Last year I had a fairly indifferent experience at a lodge in the Madikwe but thought it was worth another go and was able to get two days at the Bush House. The main attraction there was that it has an underground hide by the waterhole that can be accessed via a short tunnel 24 hours a day. The single supplement is OK at 30% and the only major drawback was that they can have up to 10 in a vehicle. I was advised that they thought they would be quite full and I arranged for a private vehicle which was a good move. I was happy with my choice and will cover the practicalities in the next post.

 

This was the view from the hide:

 

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An angle most of us will never get ... in wilderness :D!

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mtanenbaum

Very cool photo! I LOVED the elephant hide at Mashatu when I visited there a few years ago...not just the unique views but also the quiet.

 

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Hides are terrific for elephant close-ups. 

The lookup in the Ngamo sector of Hwange always delivers. The advantage there is that only one vehicle at a time is allowed in, so a maximum of about 6 people plus guide.

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Practicalities

I managed to get flights with British Airways from London to Johannesburg using airmiles, these were the later flights in both directions and the experience of immigration and security both enetering and leaving was so much easier than with flights arriving and departing a couple of hours earlier - something to remember for future trips I feel. I had a day at the cricket in London before I flew which meant a very early start to drop my car at the airport before taking the train into town (early starts were the norm for this trip).

 

After a good flight and painless entry I was met by the Federal Air rep. To answer @KiwiGran's question I used air transfers both ways to the Madikwe as it was quick and easy as well as not being much more expensive than hiring a car or road transfer (it would have been very different if I had not been on my own). The Federal Air flight was a little delayed and I got a message from Sjoe (Sue) the owner of the Bush House suggesting that she send a snack lunch with my guide and we start a prolonged game drive from the airstrip. A good idea and typical of the proactive approach the Bush House took.

 

I was met by Patrick who is not on the permanent staff but works on a casual basis for a number of lodges in the area - he was excellent and very easy to be with. I will share some experiences from the game drives later on but we had a good afternoon before arriving at the Bush House after dark to a welcoming committee at the water hole.

 

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The Bush House is slightly different from other lodges I have stayed in. It is essentially a large house with 6 bedrooms (all on the ground floor I think) and large communal areas. It has a small swimming pool and a lovely garden that slopes towards the waterhole (with a fence hidden in the dip). It was full when I was there but didn't feel crowded at any point.

 

The hide is reached by a short tunnel and is a sturdy concrete bunker sunk into the ground. Comfortable chairs and a small fridge stocked with cold drinks make it a good place to spend time in the shade. It was interesting to get a different perspective on buffalo although the lighting poses some challenges for post-processing.

 

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One of the buffalo was wearing a tracking collar (visible in the the first image above) which I've not seen before on buffalo but is used to research the movement of the herd.

One large and old bull made eye contact wth his one good eye:

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As @mtanenbaum commented the hide makes a very peaceful place to sit and I spent quite a lot of time there after dinner on both nights with complete silence and stillness. The only other nocturnal visitor I got to see was a jackal who came to drink.

 

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Edited by pomkiwi
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@Soukous I particularly like your final image. As I will show later daytime photography from the hide was made more challenging by the full sunlight we enjoyed but the experience was special in itself.

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Some time in the hide

If I stayed at the Bush House for several days I would probably elect to miss one afternoon drive to stay in the hide. As it was, with only two days I was only able to get to the hide after dark or during the middle of the day. The light was harsh (an understatement) as the sun was high and we were treated to cloudless days. The dynamic range needed to cope with this was beyond my eyes and hence significantly beyond what my camera would cope with. A degree of creativity was required:

 

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It was fun watching birds fly in and out for a drink and bath at the same time.

 

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Zebra came to drink

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As did warthog

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There were lots of elephant as well but they will demand a post (or two) of their own.

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Game drives - general

I will move away from the hide for a bit - not least because I have a lot of photos of elephants that need sorting, culling and processing. I'm not really a great fan of the Madikwe reserve from a scenic perspective. It seems very dry and ful of low scrub and bushes (both of my visits have lacked any exposure to a riverine area with larger trees and some greenery). You are likely to run up against the fence and a main road on the other side (we shared a good cheetah sighting with some families on the road) and the lights of Gaborone are seen at night.

However it does have some great animals!

Game drives are fairly typical leaving at 6.30 in the morning for 3 hours or so and then again at 3.30pm for 3 hours (winter timings). I had a private vehicle - an open sided land cruiser but with a canvas roof.

Early on I had a good view of a lilac breasted roller:

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The morning light was lovely for impala

 

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As well as for zebra

 

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Although I did like the sideways glance

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We spent a few minutes watching stallions sparring

 

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We had two sightings of a brown hyena. One was last thing in the evening:

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The other first thing the next morning

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There was a lovely sunset one evening

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The full moon was attractive

 

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@pomkiwi I definitely prefer the later flights, for the reasons you mention,  but also for sleep. I thought that Madikwe was a beautiful park, so I guess it depends on where your lodge is. I remember fencing around the airstrip, but nowhere else (we were in madikwe safari lodge) and no roads.

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Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos! I especially love the night photo of the jackal. So atmospheric....

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@pomkiwi I am thoroughly enjoying this trip report thanks. The underground hide looks great.

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Pretty Cats

Last time I was in the Madikwe regular readers will recall that I was frustrated by the guide's (unsuccessful) obsession with finding a specific leopard.  It was with some relief therefore that I heard that a leopard had been found and we headed off to join the queue.

 

It was nearly dark when we got there but spent a few minutes with a young male who had apparently recently separated from his mother.

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He was in lovely condition and had yet to tangle with any rivals to end up with scars

 

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The following morning there was great excitement in that a caracal had been seen. A cat I have never seen before and I was expecting a glimpse of a cat under some bush. 

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Instead we spent 15 minutes with a confident cat who strolled across and along the road, posing happily

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He or she moved on and did a convincing imitation of a domestic cat cleaning itself

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At this point the caracal moved across the front of a lodge and we excused ourselves - a lovely encounter.

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offshorebirder

Wow @pomkiwi!    A Brown Hyena (multiple sightings) and Caracal!    Not to mention Leopard.

 

You certainly made the most out of your short safari.

 

 

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michael-ibk

Agree, fantastic sightings!

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Barely worth going was it? :D

 

I am so very jealous about your caracal. 

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offshorebirder

I love the Mona Lisa smile on the second Brown Hyena's face!

 

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Amazing- Brown Hyena and Caracal!

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Brothers

Thank-you to all for your comments - definitely very fortunate with the sightings.

 

On one of the mornings we were lucky to find a pair of male cheetahs. These were the same pair that I had met last year and were in the same general location.

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We had nearly half an hour with them and followed them as they moved, marked territory and rested whilst covering about 4km.

 

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At times they moved in near perfect synchrony

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On other occasions they rested

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Or adopted that unmistakable pose of a cheetah on sentry duty

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It was good to see them looking so relaxed and healthy.

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kittykat23uk

Ooh lovely brown hyena and caracal.  Makes me want to visit! 

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Love the Leopard shots.

Brown hyena, cheetah and Caracal - not bad either :D. Awesome sightings.

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wow amazing sightings ! caracal, B Hyena ! those caracal pics are amongst the best ive seen recently 

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That daggaboy in post  number 5 is an absolute brute, he does not look happy !

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@bushbaby Thank-you for your comment. The caracal was very lucky - to have so long in plain sight with a lovely light was fortunate and even the out of focus grass in front of the cat seems to add to the images and not detract.

Edited by pomkiwi
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Peter Connan

I need to find a way to attach myself permanently to your luggage.

 

Man, you see everything!

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Rhino

There appear to be a good number of rhino in the Madikwe. No black rhino on this trip but some nice sightings of white.

A mother and fairly young calf posed for a while.

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A single rhino at a waterhole offered some nice views and the opportunity to play with reflections.

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This may have been a hint to leave him in peace

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At sundowner time three rhino walked within about 50m of us and seemed happy to add to the peaceful atmosphere

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The final sighting just before I left appeared more of a challenge

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Some really nice sightings of an animal that I'm finally beginning to warm to with repeated exposure :)

Edited by pomkiwi
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