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Dirty Doug's Disappearing (Reappearing) Dogs Safari


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Tuesday 31st July 2012 UK to Harare


My flight out was with Ethiopian Airways. The first 7 1/2 hr leg was in a small Boeing 757, which I initially felt was a bit small for such a long journey. However, there were certain benefits, such as the service being quicker with less passengers on board and the first meal I had was a tasty beef tagine style stew.


Arriving in Addis Ababa this airport was small but seemed to be a good spot for a little birding whilst waiting for the flight. There was a beautiful male Tacazze Sunbird, frequenting the trees just outside the terminal, Pied Crows and various doves were also seen. A group of Speckled Mousebirds made their way along a hedge at the back of the lot and unidentified martins and swallows fluttered overhead.


Soon it was time to board the flight to Harare and this was a more modern Boeing 777. A shame because the flight was shorter. Also the chicken curry was not as nice as the beef tagine. Arriving at Harare, and I was stuck in a queue for immigration for nearly two hours. At the time there seemed to be only one booth where visa payments were accepted, but as the queue went down I noticed that people were also using a different booth. I took my chance and was through! Doug was there to meet me with a warm welcome and we were soon on our way to the Bronte Garden Hotel.


I had the rest of the afternoon to relax so I had a quick wander around the beautiful grounds to see what birdlife I could find. A hammerkop was patrolling the swimming pools and pond, Heuglin’s Robins whistled melodiously under bushes and Kurrichane Thrushes foraged on the lawn. Noisy parties of Arrow-marked Babblers skulked in thickets and Dark-capped Bulbuls sang from high perches. Red-faced Mousebirds offered fleeting glimpses as they moved between the more mature trees.


As the light faded I had a bath and a lie down before meeting "She who shall not be named" and Sangeeta who arrived off a later flight. With Doug, his wife and Chris, a photographer who provided us with endless tips, we had a lovely evening meal as we excitedly mused about what we might see on our trip. Would we get lucky with the dogs? Only time would tell....

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Let's see some photos of Dirty Doug...

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Wednesday 1st August Harare to Chitake Spring.




I awoke early, keen to get going, and so took a wander around the grounds, stopping to photograph Variable Sunbird. We had breakfast and stopped on the way out of Harare to pick up some beans for our beanbags. Then we were off on our way. Doug had gone on ahead to sort out logistics so we had a leisurely drive up to Chitake. The area is known for its great fishing and we were amazed to see so many stands offering worms. Competition must be fierce as hawkers vie for trade, various worms were offered, including “special worms”, and “anaconda worms”, goodness knows what those look like!




P8010668 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




We stopped at a cafe set in some extensive grounds where birdlife was in abundance. Mousebirds flitted in the tops of trees, Blue waxbills flocked around us, and on the drive we also spotted Black shouldered kite. On the drive in we had our first mammal sightings, Chacma Baboons. Then, soon after we passed through Makuti, a huge Martial Eagle swept down in hot pursuit of a young baboon! The eagle was unsuccessful and flapped its massive wings, regained altitude as we left it behind us.




We drove over the escarpment and headed down into the valley below towards Chitake, where Doug awaited us in his safari vehicle. We transferred over at the entry gate and drove on towards camp. We caught a few glimpses of the odd Kudu here and there as we travelled. The scrub was very thick but we began to see an abundance of hornbills, which was to be a defining feature of the trip. As we reached a dried up river bed, we encountered a lone elephant digging for underground water. He had to go deep, his trunk was completely obscured as he sucked down the cooling liquid.





P8010669 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr





As we approached camp, impala became more prevalent, but they were skittish, acrobatically bounding away as we approached them in our vehicle. We arrived at Chitake 1 campsite, a prime location right on the riverfront with the spring flowing in front of us. At camp, we watched birds for a while and relaxed. A variegated gecko scuttled up a tree.




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Then later when the weather had cooled we went for s short walk to a viewpoint overlooking the spring. A small group of buffalo had come to drink, lit beautifully in the afternoon light, their shiny coats reflecting turquoise of the sky.




P8010708 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr









As the buffalo left, a lone baboon appeared, some others were playing in a distant tree. Then a flock of Helmeted Guinea fowl also came down to quench their thirst, but soon retired to the cover of the bush. Finally, as the last rays of the sun dipped below the horizon, the Double-banded Sandgrouse began to arrive. We watched the full moon grow fat and then began our short walk back under moonlight.




We took turns in the bucket shower as we sat by the fire waiting for dinner to be served. Nelson did a fine job of catering for our trip and we wanted for nothing (well "She who shall not be named" might disagree as I know she needed her “herb” fix- but even this was sorted out).




Things really got going after dark in Chitake. From right across the river two amorous leopards set the bush alive with their commotion. This then set off the lions who seemed none too impressed by the leopards’ hanky-panky in their territory. We scanned with binoculars, straining to see in the moonlight, but drew a blank. As we ate, a herd of elephants arrived to drink from the spring.



This safari is not the place for a light sleeper such as myself to get any rest. Lions roaring off and on all night and elephants crashing around just outside my tent kept me on a night-long high of expectation! Baboons barking in the early hours, with a chorus of night insects, and pearl spotted Owlets made me abandon any further thoughts of snatching a few minute’s sleep as dawn fast approached.

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Thursday 2nd August Chitake Springs


Early in the morning we set out on foot to track the lions that were making all the racket the night before. We crossed the riverbed and found a handsome male on the camp side of the river shining in the early morning light. He watched us intently from his vantage point for some time until a lioness joined him and they slinked off to get some privacy.



P8020743 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



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On our way back we stopped to film a flock of Lillian’s Lovebirds that had settled in a tree. The spring itself attracts flocks of Emerald-spotted Wood Doves, Laughing Doves and Cape Turtle Doves, whilst Drongos and White-fronted Bee-eaters make sorties, hawking for insects from their perches.


We took off our shoes and socks and walked barefoot through the cooling spring water. As we got close to camp, herds of impala and parties of baboon were already beginning to gather. The impala are most confident when they are with the baboons, when they are alone they become nervous of drinking at the spring for fear of stalking lions.




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As we had lunch and into the afternoon, we spent the hours watching the comings and goings at the spring. Baboons played, fought ad drank and Impala pranced around. A few warthogs also came down to pray. A Bateleur landed and began to drink, but then a warthog trotted up to it, and the Bateleur shuffled away, not sure that it appreciated the company. It did not go far, and after the warthog had moved on, it started performing gymnastics, stretching it’s wings and bobbing up and down, craning it’s neck as it did so.




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In the late afternoon we took a drive away from the spring to search the surrounding area for signs of dogs. Sadly we didn’t have any luck in locating them, so all we saw were a few birds and impala. We ended with a short stroll and watched the sunset whilst having sundowners.


Back at camp, a blood moon rose over Chitake Springs and a lone elephant came to drink. Then, the lions began to roar close to camp. Elijah rushed to the riverbed, with us close behind. He managed to spot a big male lion walking away from us towards the other camp. He handed me his binoculars and I could make him out quite clearly in the moonlight as he crossed to our side of the river and carried on around the bend, out of sight of us. It was exhilarating to think that this big cat was stalking so close to our camps!



Then, the excitement continued as a breeding herd of elephants came down to drink, right in front of where we were stood, literally only three metres away! We watched in awe, just making out enough of their silhouettes as the shimmering moonlight reflected off the water. We listened to the sloshing, huffing and puffing as they paddled and drank in the shallow water. We could hear and feel their rumbling contact calls which seemed to reverberate throughout our bodies.



Later on, Doug went to take a shower whilst we all sat around the campfire. While he was away, a small group of elephants emerged from the bushes just to the right where we were sat with the intention of heading down to the riverbed. We quietly got up and moved back to let them through and watched with delight as they passed only yards from where we were stood. We soon retired to bed and the night passed relatively peacefully in comparison to the previous evening.

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Some vids from this day:




A few more shots:



P8020857 adj by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P8020856 adj by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P8020854 adj by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Edited by kittykat23uk
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What a lovely way for me to start the day. Love the walking through the stream video.

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The male lion video is amazing. And to think you guys were on FOOT :blink: How far away from the lions were you?

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Thanks for the fantastic start of your TR for me to have my morning coffee with :)

The great thing abouth this TR is that we are going to get to read it 3 times from 3 different perspectives B)

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Great stuff...... vids are really nice for getting a "picture" in this case.


What's this about former member's "herb fix"? I didn't know she was a Rastafarian! Doug was okay with "the sharing of the sacrament", then? And videos? :P

Edited by Tdgraves
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Thanks for the fantastic start of your TR for me to have my morning coffee with :)

The great thing abouth this TR is that we are going to get to read it 3 times from 3 different perspectives B)

Or is it 4 TRs? I'm a little lost :)


PS: In the last video in post #7, what is the oversized bicycle bell that one of you is carrying??

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Good going.


Aaah... Chitake and the parrots. I wish that we had an extra night for Chitake. It seems the lions get a kick out of making a noise at night. It echoes through the channel there. It must be a huge welcome to the bush for the first night.


We didn't get to see the love birds. Lucky you.

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Are you referring to "She who shall not be named's" "Paddle pod," sorry "skimmer pod"? :D

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Ahhh... is that what it is? :D

Seems like a lot of gear to lug around!

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Indeed! She managed it though!! Will post more tonight..

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On 8/21/2012 at 7:52 AM, ZaminOz said:

Ahhh... is that what it is? :D

Seems like a lot of gear to lug around!


You ain't seen nothing yet, ZO :lol: This young lady was more than impressive crabwalking and crawling right in front of me through the thickest mopane you can imagine with more than 30 lbs of gear attached to various parts of her body!! She's strictly forbidden me from posting pictures of Sherpa former member, but I can tell you this, most guys I know would've been left in the dust! She's got some truly terrific photos to show for it though - hope she starts posting them soon.


Jo, absolutely loved the moonlight video and the spring walk video. What a great start to the report!

Edited by Tdgraves
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Hi folks, The lions were on the other side of the river bed from us quite high up. That video was shot at the full 48x intelligent zoom. With my 50-200 (400 mm equivalent lens) o my E620, the closest I got weas this shot:



P8020758 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


So they were a long way off really. We got a lot closer to four lions later in the trip...


Here is the vid of the Bateleur and the warthog;

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Chitake full moon:


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Friday 3rd August Chitake Springs




We went out for a walk first thing in the morning in the hope of seeing a bigger herd of buffalo coming to drink from the spring. Unfortunately the buffalo were uncooperative and we didn’t see hide nor hair of the large herd that morning. So we just enjoyed the peace and quiet, watching the doves flocking down to drink. Their movements were like the ebb and flow of a tide, as flocks settled, drank and then left. But occasionally sharp alarm calls would be sounded and the birds would explode into flight scattering in all directions as an African Hawk Eagle or Peregrine Falcon dived out of the sky intent on taking one for a meal.



little Sparrowhawk by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




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Eventually, a pair of buffalo finally arrived to drink, taking the opportunity to have a cooling roll in the mud. We walked down to the riverbed where Doug pointed out the geology of the area. The majority of the area’s grasslands are pretty desolate. We found the reason for this was harvester termites which had been actively working to strip the whole area bare. We filmed them at work bringing what little remaining vegetation they could find to their burrows.







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Back at camp and it wasn’t long before the large herds of Impala started to arrive. This time the baboons seemed to have abandoned them and they were far more wary of their surroundings. A juvenile African Harrier Hawk was seen patrolling the area as did many vultures and Bateleurs. A Little Sparrowhawk worried smaller birds as it made the occasional aerial sortie.





P8031231 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




P8031268 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Not that I recall, but we talked about so many things and the only thing my memory is good for is the names of birds! Just ask JohnR if you don't believe me! I totally failed to recognise them when they stopped by at the bird fair.

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Some videos from the morning.


Doves flocking to drink:


Buff mudbath


Watch the Oxpecker worrying this buff...he's pecking at an open sore...


The reason for the desolation in Chitake is revealed to be harvester termites:


Big herd of Impala coming to drink:

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In the afternoon Doug drove us to the other side of the river. He practically leapt out of his vehicle ushering us to follow swiftly as the buffalo were down having a drink. We moved cautiously to where we had sat in the morning. We arrived in time to see the nervous herd start to melt back into the bush. Then as we tried to position ourselves for a better angle they caught wind or sight of us, the remaining buffalos lost their nerve and stampeded back up the other side of the riverbank away from us. Doug was disappointed for us that we hadn’t managed to witness the entire spectacle of the herd coming to drink, saying it was unfortunate that they had already been there for long enough to quench their thirst before we arrived.



P8031292 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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P8031310 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


I filmed some White-fronted Bee-eaters and later on Doug took us to a beautiful spot where there grew some great baobabs overlooking a ridge, beautifully lit in the late afternoon sun. We filmed Mopane Squirrels and Grey-headed parrots and then we tried to locate the big buffalo herd with no success. We stopped to photograph the sunset and have out requisite sundowners before heading back to camp.

7831973844_8207f4fc82_b.jpgP8033322 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


7831976818_de59f0c88b_b.jpgP8033327 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


7831979016_2b61f59522_b.jpgP8033330 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


7831969912_085a15b19a_b.jpgP8031343 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P8033336 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Only a couple of elephants came to drink that evening. We had some new neighbours who shone their high powered torches out over the riverbed. This concerned us at one point as it seemed to unsettle the elephants, so much so that we were concerned that one of them was going to break and run through our camp, thankfully he turned away. They did however, light up a lone hyena briefly, though we only got a fleeting view of it.

Edited by kittykat23uk
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More video:




Meyer's Parrot


Dwarf Mongoose

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Welcome back Jo. Enjoying the report so far and good to see the camcorder get a work-out.

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