Sunday, 1 January 2012

Seeing in the new year at Mopani

Happy New Year to everyone- I hope that your years will be filled with happiness, laughter and a good dose of travel. 

Mopani- so named for the Mopani Scrub that surrounds the camp and makes spotting game a little more challenging! In truth it’s not that bad, as a controlled fire may have been run through here relatively recently, and some areas are not thick at all! The Mopani worms are also slowly taking the toll on the vegetation, leaving some tree’s stripped completely bare. Each day I can notice the further leaf loss, they are quite a force of nature.

It appears that Black Bellied Bustard breeding season is now in full tilt- as I drive the gravel roads I spot Bustard after bustard. It seems as though they each have a display ground, which they use with great gusto, and don’t like to leave, and that the next bustard is just out of sight, preening himself and displaying as well. As I spot a black blob in the road ahead, I slow down. A small head peers at me, beady eyed.  It bends towards its rump, preening, pulling through the feathers there with a deliberate ease, plucking an errant feather here, or straightening one there. How they know which are ‘errant’ is beyond me, as there plumage looks beautiful. Each tail feather is ruffled outward, making them look bigger and far more impressive than usual. When they feel ready, they stare at me, and stretch their lithe necks heavenward, open they beaks and call. A long whistling kind of sound happens, then the neck is tucked toward the check and a strange ‘pop’ follows. Then the beady eye surveys the surrounding area, before coming again to rest on me, daring me to mimic it. I do frequently, but not with nearly as much beauty or grace. Many people call them the ‘Champagne bird’ as when they call, it sounds like a champagne cork being popped. 

Black Bellied Bustard calling

On the night of the 29th, shortly after arriving back at camp, the lions began to call. Their roars echoed around the camp, sounding alarming as though they were coming from the parking lot where I had left my car! Oh well… The whole night they were calling, and I could here them over the soft hum of my aircon cooling the chalet. In fact, they called until 4.30 am on the dot. It is uncanny the ability a lion has to know when guests are leaving the camp.  I had discussed with the gate guard where he imagined they were, and as I agreed, that’s the direction I took. I had been hoping for a call to orientate myself, but all there was, was silence, and the call of cicadas and the odd kingfisher. I even switched off the car and sat in the dark, but no such luck! I did however spot a leopard, not far out of the gate, just strolling along, belly full, muscles bunched. It walked silently past my window, turned, and strolled off into the Mopani scrub. What thrills me the most is that no matter how many leopards I see, each and every one gives me a small dose of adrenalin, and butterflies in my tummy. I hope that never stops! 

I am not sure whether it is just today, but the Mopani worms seem to be in full force, out on the roads, either fat bellies, or flat from car tyres as they cross in streams. Even if one is aware of them, and drives carefully, there are bound to be a few casualties. I photographed quite a few, but the looks I got started to make me worried about my sanity. People would pull up and ask, and not only was it not a bird (those people just shrug off), it was a worm!! A few people just laughed at my sheepish expression, but a good deal shook their heads as they drove off. It seems as though there are three colours they come in, lumo green, Yellow and brown or orange and brown. I will definitely check up on the reason behind this! I can only presume the green ones are juveniles, and the other two are adults of different sexes. The green ones have no spikes, and seem to rely on camouflage to avoid the sharp beaks of the hornbills who love them so. The other two both have sharp spikes and dagger like spines along their bodies. These are the ones that cross the road, presumably relying on their weapons for protection from all but man. 

'Tasty' Mopani worms

There were also quite a few chameleons trying to cross roads, and having seen too many flat ones, decided I would keep watch over them just in case. One in particular, who had turned a sandy brown colour, refused to move while I was near. I could see a car coming, so when they pulled up, I hopped out and moved him across the road. His toes gripped so strongly onto my hand, and being about 15cm long, his tail was able to get a very solid grip on my baby finger. When I put him on the bush towards which he was heading, it took me a while to get him to let go! Then the car pulled up next to me and say “Hi Laura!”.
What a small world, it was a family, a couple of which had been on a photographic safari with me in Mashatu in June… I must say, it was quite good to see a familiar face! 

The 31st of December dawned, and I was awake at 2.27am, and began to get ready. I had ‘heard’ my alarm clock in my sleep. Once I realized, I drifted off again, and woke at 4, full of excitement as I was off to the airport to pick up someone very cool to spend the next week with! I did a short loop before heading off, and found the animals responsible for the roaring a couple f nights ago. There were four relatively large and very fat male lions, and one lioness who was being mated with by the largest of the four. They could not have been more than five years old, but they looked a force to be reckoned with. 

On the trip to the airport, I also found an elephant herd that were behaving rather oddly, smelling the air, crowding and touching one another. They kept moving off the road, and back on again, and when they did finally clear off for good, there was a pink pile of afterbirth lying on the road. I had seen a tiny calf, but I am not sure if it was the newborn, as it seemed to have better control over legs and trunk than I would f expected. Either way, how lovely to know there is a new gentle giant on earth, born the last day of 2011. On that note, I should add that 2011 has been the best year of my life, full of incredible adventures and people. If 2012 can do even half as well, I will be well pleased!

Some quality camouflage

When I arrived at the airport, having beaten my GPS who again wanted to lead me via some town off the beaten track, I had a coffee and waited… I didn’t have to wait long before my Best friend walked off the plane, carrying the biggest present I have ever seen! I opened it straight away, and inside was a box labeled ‘Celestron Nexstar 4SE’. It was a telescope, with a keypad that you input the galaxy, star, constellation etc on to, and it finds it for you automatically! How very exciting, surely the most surprising and well though out gift ever! Now to enroll in the astronomy course through the English university I have been speaking of for so long.

Last night we braaied, a delicious Beef Espetada, some potato's and a bottle of Sparkling Wine as we listened to the frogs calling, enjoying the last night of an amazing year. 


  1. Happy new year!

    Well, I'vve had a series of "look what my niece can do" backgrounds for my computer. My latest is a wet bufalo nose:)

  2. may you have a prosperous 2012...and hey think of it like the bush...anything can happen.Glad to see you are still sane even if you are taking pics of grubbs.Father Xmas brought me a GoPro H2 and now I have been told "you must get to work"