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Dirty Doug's Disappearing (Reappearing) Dogs Safari


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Doug mentioned that Clyde Elgar and Leah have completed the shooting their documentary at Chitake for National Geographic . Apparently they are in discussions with NatGeo or BBC or similar about it now.

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Thanks all. I am really glad I bought that camcorder, thanks so much for your advice!!


Saturday 4th August Chitake Springs to Little Vundu

I was the first one to emerge from my tent once I heard the camp staff were up and about. So I waited down by the breakfast table. Just as the light started to appear, a lone hyena loped down the river in front of me, but again it was just a hyena-shaped impression that I got of this shadowy figure.


After breakfast we walked away from camp, reading the bush newspaper as we went. The hyena’s presence was confirmed by fresh tracks, and other night creatures revealed their presence with their sign. Honey Badger tracks showed where the animal foraged, as well as civets and genets on their midnight ramblings. Grey headed bush shrike and white Helmet Shrikes were skulking in the bushes as we made our way through some thick scrub coming back and around, away from the river behind the other campsite. A little Sparrowhawk posed patiently whist we took it’s photograph.




Then we carried on back to the viewpoint Doug had brought us to on our first night. Again, we hoped to time our visit to drinking buffalo, but again, only two came to drink. The Peregrine caused a commotion again amongst the flight doves.



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The areas numerous raptors provided interest, with vultures and tawny eagles in residence. An interesting pale form tawny could be seen perched at the top of a tree and the juvenile Gymnogene offered us a flypast. We rested for a while, admiring the view and then began our return walk back to our now dismantled camp. We said goodbye to Elijah and Nelson, who were going on to service another camp, but we would be reunited on our last two nights. As we sat waiting for Doug to coordinate the last remaining things, we watched the impala and gathering on the riverbed by the large baobab.



P8041402 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


The drive from Chitake to Little Vundu begins with a long straight section of road, with thick vegetation either side. We had to go fairly slowly because the road had already deteriorated significantly since Doug was last there. Wildlife en route was therefore difficult to spot to begin with. Another Martial Eagle exploded off the ground carrying what looked like a snake in its talons.


Banging on the roof of Doug’s cabin I brought the vehicle to a halt to observe a small flock of Crested Guineafowl, a new bird for me! I managed to get a few obscured pictures, admiring their afro hairdos before they moved into thicker cover.



On entering Mana Pools main area, the bush thinned out and we started to see more game. Of the birds, Chestnut-bellied Finch lark was a new one for me, and we also had Gabar Goshawk. Small herds of impala and Kudu became more frequent sightings along with our first small herd of plains (not Burchell’s ) zebra.



The subspecies of zebra here are listed as Burchells but Burchell’s is actually an extinct subspecies. These are actually “selousii”.



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We stopped to admire the view of the Zambezi and photographed elephants in such a beautiful setting. An African fish eagle was singing to song of Africa from a tall dead tree and then it took off to a flurry of camera shutters as  I aimed to get that perfect BIF! Hippos grunted in the water and a long way off we watched elephants crossing the water. Nearby, baboons fed in association with warthogs.





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We arrived at our rather nicely appointed camp, and after checking out the rather luxurious accommodations (proper beds and ensuite bucket showers and flush toilets!), we had a nice lunch and a relax in camp whilst Doug went off to take the roof of his cab. A party of White Helmet Shrikes made their way along the bushes near the bridge and groups of blue waxbills twittered at the base of tall trees. With the weather getting hot, we retired to our tents for a brief siesta.

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Rising in time for afternoon tea, I watched a Giant Kingfisher shoot down the channel as I crossed over the rather rickety bridge to where refreshments were served. A White-crowned Plover was scratching around in the river bed as I poured myself a drink. Then, lovely to see, a lone Dikdik arrived, dressed in a rather fetching pink shirt, his mate note feeling too well, she had decided to remain in camp. We sat around drinking tea and eating some rather tasty cake.


Soon enough, Doug arrived back with some rather disappointing news. The Vundu Pack had moved their den the day before we arrived and the researchers had not yet located it. Doug offered us a couple of options for the afternoon, try out a few of their former den sites with the hope that they had moved to one of those, or head down to Long Pool to see if we could locate the more mobile Long Pool Pack, which had been seen hunting there earlier in the day.



P8041457 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We opted to leave the tracking of the Vundu Pack to the next morning where, if necessary we could spend the whole day looking for them and so headed off towards Long Pool. With dogs in mind we all agreed that we wouldn’t stop for elephants or other sightings, so we drove straight towards Long Pool. In order to try and get there in the best light. Before we got there, we saw Stretch Ferrias and his group walking back from a dry river bed. Stopping to enquire what they had been to look at, Stretch informed us that there were four individuals from the large pride of lions that frequented the area, resting in the dry river bed. He didn’t have his rifle so they had not got too close, but he suggested that we might want to see how close we could get. As time was now getting on, we decided that we would make this our priority for the afternoon, but it would obviously mean not having a chance of finding the dogs.


So, we slowly made our way around to the back of the riverbed where we could have a clear view of the lions. Crouching down low, we crept as close as we dared, sitting approximately 15 or so metres away from the four magnificent cats. It was not the closest I have been to lions, but being on foot gives you a whole different experience compared to driving right up to their toes. The excitement of knowing that you are just a few bounding strides away from the top predator of the African bush is indescribable!




P8041468 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


There were two lionesses, an adult male and a sub-adult male. They treated us with disdained disinterest, raising their heads to look but quickly losing attention as they flopped on their backs and tried to snooze. The young male yawned languidly and then grimaced, tasting the air as he did so. We stayed with the lions until the sun was almost down at which point we carefully got up and, crouching, slowly made our way back to our vehicle.




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P8041481 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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Sunday 5th August Little Vundu



P8053350 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We were out early as we could be to look for the Vundu Pack’s new den site. We covered a lot of ground, firstly around Vundu up to Rukomechi and then we turned back, having found fresh tracks heading back towards Long Pool. There weren’t many, but it was the best we had to go on. We scoured the area, going as far up as Mana Airstrip but the dogs proved elusive.



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So, having spent a lot of time out in the drier areas of the park where the scrub is thick and the game sightings sparse, we returned, a little disheartened to the more game-rich areas of the waterfront and around Long Pool. Here, Impala and baboons were again abundant, and to a lesser extent waterbuck were present in good numbers. We had several good sightings of small groups of elephant. It seemed a common sighting to have matriarchal groups made up of a mother, a very young calf and a much older calf. We also had some fairly distant views of Eland. Zebra and warthogs were around, but in much smaller numbers.



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P8051582 adj by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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Just picking up on Sangeeta's musings on the other thread about the lack of predator action at Chitake.


Before we went on this trip I mentioned some time ago that I hadn't read a few of the trip reports on this site relating to Mana. The reason for that was sometimes it can give you unrealistically high expectations (when someone like former member has such incredible sightings). Of course, I did eventually read them before I left. When I then visited and didn't have such incredible experiences to begin with, I did start to feel short changed (possibly more so than the others, perhaps because for me this trip was an expensive one comparatively speaking- so I may have had higher expecations). With this trip, there were times when I was of course elated at what we saw and experienced. The night time visits of those elephants will be something that will stick in my mind from Chitake.


But certainly during the daytime I did feel that Chitake and to an extent the first few days at Little Vundu didn't quite live up to the hype. As Sangeeta says we were certainly hoping for more predator action and I personally didn't realise that I would miss the diversity and accessibility of birdlife that I saw in Botswana and to a degree the mammal life that I saw in Kruger. I thought I was prepared for that as a cost for getting the time with the dogs, but as this peaked late in the trip there were times when I got rather disheartend truth be told.


The trip was effectively for me, a game of two halves, as soon as the dogs started to appear, spirits were raised and we were back on track.I wish I could have had more days with the rest of the group, as I had to leave just as we had our most amazing experiences, But I'm getting ahead of myself...


Mana Pools has a subtle charm that gets under your skin and leaves you wanting more..

Edited by Tdgraves
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I guess what I was trying to express on that other thread was not so much disappointment at lack of predators, but amazement at the sounds and feel of Chitake. It is very true that I did not see what I had expected to see, but I saw and heard things that I had absolutely no expectation of seeing and hearing, so it all sorted itself out in my head quite nicely.


At the same time, if my trip had been shorter than it was, I may have felt just like you, Jo, so it's hard to get to an objective view.


I do remember you saying that it was early for Chitake. Yes, the timing of this safari was based on the full moon, dog denning times, and to a small extent, my lack of tolerance for intense heat. While the daytime sightings were not so predator heavy, it was fantastic walking weather and no sign of tsetses, a combo I enjoyed particularly. I am personally not sure that I can deal with the heat and drama of October, but lhgreenacres is headed to Chitake in a couple of days, and it will be interesting to hear how her experience differs from ours.

Edited by Tdgraves
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A few videos from the morning's sojurn.


Two warthogs, a regular sighting.



Up at the airstrip we had our one and only Nyala of the trip- a female in thick scrub:




P8051597 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



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We stopped at a pool where a few waterbirds were seen foraging, including, Sacred Ibis, Great White Egret, African Jacana, Green-backed heron and Egyptian Geese. In the drying up pools, Marabu storks fished for stranded catfish. Bohm’s Spinetails flocked overhead. Hornbills seemed superabundant in Mana Pools and we added Trumpeter and Crowned to the list. We arrived back in camp to find fresh lion tracks! Doug managed to spot her moving along the riverbank, but I just missed her.



The area around the pools was a bit better for birding, as you could get a bit closer to them.




Look at this heron, standing on the back of a submerged hippo!


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Nick, who owns Vundu camp and leads the Wild Dog project was there waiting for us, and we chatted with him over lunch about the work the researchers are doing on the dogs. He explained about the packs in the area, the Long Pool pack was the smaller of the two we were hoping to find, made of 8 individuals, including 3 of this year’s young now running with the pack. The Vundu Pack is much bigger, with over 30 individuals and young puppies not yet on the move. He suggested a few other areas for us to try in the afternoon, so we made this our priority. We Headed out that afternoon to an area of mopane where dogs had denned the previous year. We left the vehicle to start our search, but our first sighting was of a herd of around 100 or so buffalo. So they distracted us for a little while as we settled down to watch them.





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P8051711 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



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P8051738 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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But eager to see the dogs, we pressed on. Then we came across an elephant and her calf. Not wanting to get on the wrong side of an elephant mum, we gave them a wide berth. We checked two dens and a dried up pan with no luck. But a more elephants and a reprise with the buffalo herd made for an enjoyable walk back.


We enjoyed sundowners, and sat talking about politics before heading back to camp. We were almost back in camp as it was just getting dark, we first found another lagomorph and then "She who shall not be named" pointed something out close to camp. It was an African Civet!! What a find! It looked rather rotund and Doug mused that it might be pregnant. We had a very clear view of it in the headlights as it ambled across the open ground and into the bush. It was a fantastic end to a rather frustrating day and really helped to lift my spirits up.



P8051745 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Just as an aside, it is a shame that night drives and spotlighting are not allowed in the park as, judging by the variety of animal tracks we found, there seems to be a really good diversity of nocturnal mammals. I have already mentioned Honey Badger and Civet tracks, there are porcupines, pangolins and genets around, as well as a range of mongoose species.

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Monday 6th August Little Vundu


Over breakfast we watched hippos belly flopping into the water from where they had been out grazing on the bank. We started our safari trying to find some lions that we had heard near to camp during the night. We did not catch up with them immediately though. Our first sighting was a group of Kudu. Then Doug pointed out leopard tracks.



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P8061760 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Further on, in an area of mopane woodland, Doug got really excited about some most unusual tracks- of a pangolin. Doug was keen to follow the tracks, which weaved back and forth between the trees. We spend quite a while trying to trace the pangolin’s movements, and we could have spent a lot longer. Personally I felt that the chances of actually finding the animal out in the open were slim (with pangolins generally being more nocturnal in the dry season), so when Doug asked us if we wanted to keep going or move on, I was quite vocal in voting for the latter. The others didn’t seem fussed either way, but I did get a bit of light-hearted stick later on for calling off the hunt early!! A few birds were seen, including Black headed Oriole.



P8061762 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


As we were calling off tracking the pangolin, A friend of Doug’s named Spike arrived with his group of birders. They were on the hunt for Pel’s Fishing Owl. I asked Spike to let us know if they found one. Pel’s being highly sought after, was also high on my own want list! After the Pangolin tracking, we came across a party of ground hornbills, but they were very flighty and would not pose will for a photograph. Then Dikdik emerged from the bushes, in his pink shirt and bare feet. He had been for a wander whilst Mrs Dikdik relaxed back at camp, she was still not feeling too well sadly. As we were chatting to Bugs, we saw that another group walking through the bush. Bugs told us that the lions were somewhere in the bush where the people were heading to. We decided not to go in and spoil the seclusion of the other group’s sightings, so we carried on.


We passed two warthogs and found a nice herd of waterbuck in good light. We had a wonderful walk down by the riverfront, and stood watching all the goings on. The view was spectacular overlooking the Zambezi out to the Zambian escarpment. Impala, waterbuck, hippos and eland were all present in good numbers, as well as a fair selection of birds (although most were quite distant views in the latter case).

We began to head back to the vehicle, coming across some closer eland and baboons. As we walked we flushed a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. A stunning Scarlet-Chested Sunbird added a splash of colour to the top of one of the large mahogany trees, but was maddeningly too far away for a decent shot.




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P8061822 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Edited by kittykat23uk
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I'm really liking all the in-habitat, landscape and details photographs. The last one above is a beauty, but there are a number that stand out. I wonder if you would have shot so many from a vehicle? There are definitely advantages (well, I think so) in being forced to shoot from a distance.


I'm really enjoying this - it is fascinating and with three voices chiming in, I am really getting a clear picture of Mana Pools and the walking safaris there.

Edited by Tdgraves
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Love the pangolin tracks in the sand, really interesting. I would echo pault, love the environmental photos.

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Thanks Twaffle and PaulT. I think Mana is special in that regard, I can't think of anywhere else I have been in Africa where I have seen animals against such an impressive landscape. Certainly not in Kruger, Botswana or the Mara. It's the combination of that escaprment, wide expanses of water and those open parkland areas with their impressive mahogany trees that define Mana Pools as an incredible place for both wildlife and landscapes. Those birds by the way are a huge flock of Openbilled Storks.


There was a lot of dust and haze when we went, but can you imagine how much better these shots would be after a huge downpour of rain? :D I would like to see that!

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I agree. The Zambezi Valley is a very special place.

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P8061855 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P8061868 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


A group of elephants started walking towards us, including a mother and calf, so we backed quietly away to let them pass. After the cow and calf had made their way ahead of us, we slowly closed the distance on the bulls. One really stretched up to reach the tastiest leaves on the mature mahogany trees, but they were not high enough in the canopy for them to have to stand up on their hind feet, which is one of those iconic Mana Pools shots. After we had spent some time with them, we headed back to the jeep. On our way back to camp we came across a large flock of guineafowl. In a very picturesque area we spotted some kudu bulls. Just outside camp, another elephant was reaching up into the trees and on arrival in camp we watched a Goliath Heron fishing in the river.



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P8061932 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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Here's some vids to go along with the morning's report..


Hippos bathing- this one is 8 mins long..



Zoomy on a distant Eland- I am amazed at the zoom on this cam!!



Ele Stretching.


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What camera/lens where you using again? Olympus?

And also I am assuming that you are using a tri-pod for your videos, or is it a mono-pod?

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Yes I use an Olympus E-620 and the 50-200 Mk1 lens (Non SWD version). I also have a 1.4 converter. On previous trips the 1.4 has stayed pretty much glued to the camera. This time I used the camera without it a lot of the time. I was wanting to get a feel for whether it had any effect on the image quality. I think it's marginal if at all.. Of course whe the eles and dogs got close then there was no need to use the converter.. :) Be interested to know wat you think to the quality of the images I have been able to get out of my 4/3 system :)


Regarding the video. I bought a very light weight Velbon Ultra Maxi L tripod. http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-velbon-ultra-maxi-l-tripod/p1521810


It's so compact that it fits in a day sack but also has a great range of height from right low to the ground up to full size. Okay it is not ideal for video because the head is not a liquid pan head. So there is some vibration and of course panning with it is not too smooth. But, short of getting a full on pro rig which would be a nightmare to carry around I think it did the job admirably really, once it is set up it seems really stable as you hopefully can see from the videos. It's also compact enough to set up in the back of a jeep. The Twist and lock features of the legs take a bit of getting used to though and you have to be really carefull that everyting is locked before putting any weight on it.

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Vid of the ele having a mud bath:


We had arranged to meet Dikdik for lunch, and as he arrived, we were watching three elephants (Mum, Baby and Junior) taking a drink in the gully between camp and the boma. As we sat down to eat, the elephants decided to join us. Baby in particular was very inquisitive, coming right between us and the drinks table, walking around the dining table, as they browsed on the vegetation. We watched in hushed silence, excited to be so close to such impressive animals, but also not wanting to provoke any action from the mother. Eventually they began to make their way back towards the channel, where they stopped for a drink. They started to wander back along the channel where baby stopped for a bath. After which they strolled off into some bushes on the other side.




P8061947 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P8061948 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



Edited by kittykat23uk
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See the way the mother is swaying her front foot? This is a sign that she is a little unsure of the situation, with us being so close. She's being cautious, checking us out to see if we are a threat..



This is where they headed back down to the little channel:

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At this juncture, not realising what had occurred, one of our camp staff nonchalantly crossed the rickety bridge and got the fright of his life as Junior spotted him and charged after him! Well I have never seen someone run so fast! Thankfully for him, it was a mock charge and Junior soon pulled up. But then Junior seemed inclined to do it again! At which point Doug stood up, and sternly warned Junior to back off. Junior gave a half-hearted mock charge and, with that point made, trunk raised and keeping a wary eye on us, Junior slowly shuffled backwards until the bushes obscured our view.


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Screen grab of charging Junior!



08-06-2012_123404 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


At this point we all laughed nervously and I think, breathed a collective sigh of relief. Dikdik then went to fetch the delicious ice cream that he brought us for dessert and we got the lads to rustle us up some bowls and spoons. After that, a Giant Kingfisher dropped into one of the large trees overlooking the gulley. Later, we said goodbye to Dikdik and headed out on our afternoon game drive.



P8061985 adj2 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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The first sighting was another elephant making a good impression of Winston Churchill, chewing on a log like some massive cigar.

Later on we paused as a group of elephants crossed the track in front of us. Then a family of Arnot’s Chats flitted through the branches of a mopane tree. The male posed well, singing his fluty song, and then hopped off to join his mate and young one.



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P8062044 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We tried unsuccessfully to track the lions that Dikdik mentioned earlier. We did find a party of White Helmet Shrikes though as well as flushing a couple of double-banded coursers. Kudu and another group of elephants added interest to the drive after we gave up on the lions. Then we met up with Spike and his group. They had no luck with Pel’s but sent us in the direction of two lionesses, the old matriarch and her daughter who does most of the hunting for the pair of them now that the matriarch is getting on a bit.


We found them asleep under a fallen tree next to a beautiful waterside vista, with the Zambian escarpment in the background. With the lions doing not a lot, and with other people milling around, we left them sleeping, and went to see what activity was going on at the water’s edge. The wide Zambezi river with its sandbars on which moved herds of buffalo and elephants, others were dotted with birds and with hippos grunting in the water this made for a spectacular backdrop as the last few rays of sun were lost behind the Zambian escarpment.


We had hoped the lions might get restless before we lost the light, but the old female only just started to wake as it got too dark to see. It was time to head back to camp. We spotted a couple of lagomorphs in the headlights.



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Buffs in the haze:



Eles in landscape:


White-crowned Plover



P8063365 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Eles feeding on adrenaline grass:



Sleepy lionesses:


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So nice to have the elephants in camp. The "charge" video is neat - glad it was baby and not mother.


I like the buffalos in the haze video too - that and the elephants are such lovely and peaceful scenes.

Edited by pault
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