Saturday, 20 July 2013

Days 6-7: North Gate, Moremi Game Reserve

After a few hours drive through more sandy tracks, with swampy and damp woodland lining the route we arrived at our final destination of the Moremi section of our trip, North Gate. The campsite was again lovely, close to the Khwai River and literally behind the exit point of the north of the reserve, with Khwai village just a couple of kilometres away. We had a another huge pitch and located on the edge of the riverine forest, with a gorgeous view looking out to small open plains. From here we watched Zebra and elephant meandering back from the river as we knocked up a quick bite to eat.

We embarked on a pleasant drive in the afternoon, meandering around dry desolate vegetation and huge areas long ago foraged by elephants. The area was also home to a beautiful marshy area, where swamp met dry land, inviting a number of species such as Elephant Hippo, Red Lechwe, Impala and Zebra. All congregating in within a beautiful landscape.

The following morning we awoke feeling a tad jaded, after what can only be described as a long, painful sleep deprived night! We were 'treated' to incessant drums playing in the village from 11pm to 5am!! As cool as this initially seemed the novelty soon wore out after an hour or so!

We cruised around the marsh area once more hoping for an early morning glimpse of a Leopard or the morning roar of a lion, but all was quiet. We had around an hour or so before we shoud think of heading off on the long journey to Savuti so game viewed a little more in a different area.

Stopped in our tracks around 500m away we spotted a vehicle and saw a herd of incredibly alert zebra. Initially assuming while lifting the binoculars that it would be lion perhaps. However, did we ever think that through the binoculars we would see Lion AND wild dog!! Yep, that's exactly what we were looking at! We were so excited, the feelings were beyond comprehension initially. All of our christmas's had suddenly come at once! We had always wanted to see wild dog, and yet after countless travels across many African countries and a handful of "you should have been here yesterday's" we had finally done it!

The sighting revealed a pack of 8 wild dog, trying to steal a kill from a solitary lioness. It was such a distance away to make out really what was happening but she appeared to remain defiant. She disappeared into the bushes where the dogs excitedly followed, taunting her. It appeared she was winning the fight as none of the dogs seemed to be able to advance close enough. A small herd of Zebra watched the scene, facing forward in full defence posture. At this point having overcome the initial feeling of 'OMG Wild Dog' our attentions then draw to the frustration of how far away these amazing dogs were, so close and yet too far to get any good images. Just as we were wishing for closer action the wild dog tired of the lioness in the bushes and with full coordination in a matter of seconds turned their attentions to the Zebra, they had 'transformed' into hunting mode and the dogs were off!

We were so lucky to be witnessing such an array of behaviours, it was quite astonishing to watch them all in full hunting mode. A small herd of wildebeest scattered in the chaos and we had expected at this point to lose the dogs as they charged after the Zebra. However, after initially fleeing the Zebra turned and amazingly stood their ground, forming a defence around one young foal. The dogs ran around after various individuals as the Zebra faced them off. All of them running around in circles, with the dogs unable to penetrate the zebra herd. It was somewhat hard to try and keep up with the chaos that ensued. However, the Zebras were seemingly winning the fight and after just a few minutes the dogs gave up, not willing to risk a potential deadly kick from the increasingly aggressive Zebra. With this the dogs retreated, the Zebra trotted off and the dogs ran off into a direction where we were unable to follow, disappearing into thick vegatation. We knew the distance these fearsome predators could cover and suspected our time with them had come to an end. However, we drove around hoping they may reappear further up the track, Yet there was simply no sign of them at all. We decided to return back to where we had seen them across the plains, we had to leave this morning for the long trek to Savuti and so we decided this was as good as place as any to stop and 'regroup'! As we started to pack away our photography kit and return the inside of the Landrover to some kind of organised normality (in the chaos Sarah had managed to lose a lens cap, become somewhat dishevelled and sat on a chocolate bar!!)

However, you guessed whats coming next! We suddenly detected movement in the small forest that lined one of the tracks, this time much closer than before. We drove up and sure enough in the small wooodland we saw the dogs bounding along, and they were bounding our way! Just as we had managed to reorganise ourselves it all went crazy in our vehicle again, lens caps flying everywhere and Sarah scrambling into the back seat again poised for hopefully another photographic opportunity.

We stopped the vehicle and sat patiently, hoping the dogs would continue to advance our way and they did! They were completely unpeturbed by our presence and trotted up the track towards us, and we mean right toward us!!! Andy frantically took shots as they advanced, they circled our vehicle, sniffing around the tyres and at one point one of them putting their front paws up on the bull bar at the front of the vehicle, while another was fascinated by the braai grill on the back wheel, no doubt smelling last nights burgers! It was practically impossible to capture this with stills with Andy frantically complaining 'I have too much glass'! (In other words meaning he had too big a lens fitted at that point). Not a problem you encounter very often but when you do its a real frustration, it was not something we had expected to encounter and therefore why Andy had one of the big lenses on. Cest la vie! However, having said that we knew we must have surely captured some nice shots, even though we also missed a few opportunities in the chaos! They stayed around for 10 -15 minutes, a few of them sitting down nearby. Although rarely did any of them seem to keep still for more than a nano second!! After a short time the Alpha male and female suddenly rallied the group and with a split second they all turned and trotted off back into the forest, following their illustrious leaders and out of sight.

At this point it was time to draw our morning to a close, we should have left for Savuti over an hour before yet who in their right mind could have left at a point in time when wild dog were in the area! It was time to regroup once again and this time head off without looking back! What an unbelievable morning, the wild dog were just utterly fascinating and we were so lucky that our first sighting of them in the wild had allowed us to see so many interesting behaviours.

As we exited through the northern point of the Moremi reserve we bid a fond farewell to what had been an incredible few days in this beautiful game reserve. Now it was time to travel onto our next part of our trip and embark upon the long 5 hours journey over the infamous Magwikhwe sandridge and onto Savuti.

En route to North Gate, elephant tracks on the left.

Road block courtesy of elephants

En route to North Gate

Amazing termite mount structures en route

North Gate campsite

Wild Dog!




Thursday, 18 July 2013

Days 5-6: Xakanaxa, Moremi Game Reserve

It was a relatively short journey from Third Bridge to Xakanaxa. On a few occasions we had the dilemma of which track to take, and as always you question if you took the best route. However, that not always such an issue when its such a lovely landscape and with no stress over time we ambled our way in a North East direction. Picking up the odd sign that affirmed we were going in the right direction and with the trusty GPS for a bit of back up! We continued to encounter sandy tracks and large wet areas as we tracked close to the Delta. However, the terrain varied from that which we encountered around Third Bridge once we came within a few KM of Xakanaxa. Dry open pans open had been replaced with larger Marshy areas and small forests with denser vegetation along the road side. We were truly in the heart of the Delta here and the opening to a huge water world. Plenty of game such as Impala, Elephant and Kudu were all seen along our way and on that drive only one other vehicle! As we arrived within 1.5km of the campsite we spotted Lion tracks and when your with 'The Skinners' that means only one thing! You gotta find 'em! Anyway before Lion antics could start we wanted to check out the camp and settle for a bit in the shade.

The campsite was again unfenced and positioned just off the main track and in woodland, opposite a Marsh, just a few KM for the airstrip and gate. It was a gorgeous setting as per the last two campsites. Once again we had a fire pit and a braai grill. This designated pitch was a little closer to the ablutions than previous pitches, around 100ft away. However, we faced the back of the block, the camp was quiet, pitches spread out so that really not an issue and turned out to be rather useful!! It was a really nice pitch with great views all around.

We had been around camp for a little while before Andy starts cooking pancakes whilst I sort a few bits out, charging cameras and all that boring stuff. Until I heard a crash in the bushes behind me, around 200 feet away. Stomping out come three big bull elephants. I warned Andy as they are on a bit of a mission to the vehicle and being in their way did not quite feel right! I initially got in the car until Andy says no, lets go to the ablutions block that was just behind us. Andy managed to clear a bit of stuff up away from the elephants but they were there rather rapidly. The elephants had little interest in us and more in what was going on in camp. Standing by the block, out of harms way we watched them circle the vehicle, no aggression or signs of stress shown at all as they casually investigated the vehicle with their trunks. It did not take long until they reached the camp table and there we suddenly saw a plate, bottle of cooking oil and a big bag of sugar left there. Needless to say one of the bulls immediately starts picking up the plate and playing with it, then sniffing the table until then it found the holy grail! The bag of sugar! It disappeared into its mouth within seconds! Unbelievable! We felt terrible that we had not had a chance to put it away, we don't condone feeding elephants but this was not intended we promise! Next to go for the trunk investigation was the cooking oil but that was not to the liking of the elephants as they casually discarded without consuming fortunately. We watched in amazement as the three elephants just sauntered right against the vehicle, on a couple of occasions you could see the Land Rover gently rock slightly as they rubbed against it softly. Thank goodness not causing any damage! The most annoying thing is that the cameras were in the flipping car! This would have made the most amazing video or photo so I am afraid you are just going to have to trust us that this happened!

The elephants eventually ambled off and browsed the trees in the camp, one moving onto the Marsh, another onto the nearby track and the third biggest bull wandering off through other pitches along the way, someone was about to have an elephant with a sugar rush in their camp!

We cleared up the dribble from the table and retrieved the plate and cooking oil, amazingly we saw the pancake mix still left on the bonnet and untouched in the bowl, despite them looking at it! What does that say about Andy's pancakes! Now we faced cooking pancakes again, but to be quite honest they tasted pretty vile with lemon juice and no sugar!

It was around 3:15pm and we had decided to do a boat trip in the Delta, we had found some local operators earlier before we went into our campsite and has booked a private boat at 4pm to take us right into the Xakanaxa Lagoon in the Delta. As were getting ready for the boat I turned to see that the biggest bull that had visited us before was back. This time on a mission to the camp pitch behind us that shaded under Marula trees. A family of mum, dad and two kids were in the camp reading and doing chores. Like us though they were soon stopped in their actions as the elephant marched up to the vehicle. Mum and the kids jumped in the car, whilst dad stayed outside.

The elephant seemed totally at ease with the human occupants in camp, he stood under one of the Marula trees and shook it with his tusks, causing many fruits to fall onto the cars roof and on the ground. He stood with a veritable feast in front of him as he hoovered up the fruits and continued to shake the tree again. He then moved right to the vehicle and putting his trunk into the open boot of the car in camp, with the dad stood just at the front bonnet!! The elephant starts trying to drag various things from the car, pulling a childs seat from the back and then treading on it , amazingly without breaking it ! He played with various items and fiddled with boxes for absolutely ages before then deciding to come and visit us again!

We moved away from the car, just again under the ablution block so we could watch him properly and in safety of course! This time we grabbed the little camera and took photos as the lone bull ate a few fruits from the top of our vehicle that had fallen earlier in the day. He sifted through our firewood and played a little with the roof tent, before moving off again, toward the ablution block where he fed on the bushes, very relaxed and stayed for another 15 minutes or so.

It was just the most amazing experience to again encounter elephants that so confidently come into the camp and yet so relaxed with human inhabitants, to watch them feed so close was incredible to watch and look at the detail of these amazing animals. Although I would never want to suggest being this close this is always safe! This chap was fine and we allowed him to go about uninterrupted but even so it got the adrenalin going!

After all that excitement we made it to the boat and had the most gorgeous ride into the Delta. The water was totally still, beautiful flowering lilies dotted the surface, with the occasional bubbles to reveal the submerged Hippos. We saw a phenomenal number of African Darters and a good number of Fish Eagles, their awesome calls being heard all across the area. It was nice to get out of the vehicle and spend some time on the water, an area so tranquil and so untouched. It was stunning and fantastic way to spend the afternoon and we watched the most beautiful sunset from the boat before making our way back to the banks of the delta and dry land. Having seen elephant and Red Lechwe on one of the islands on the way back.

Night in camp was as pleasant as every night before, hearing a couple of lions roar quite some distance away and wandering if they were the 'owners' if the tracks we had seen earlier. We still wanted to find them!

In the morning we packed up, collected the night cameras (that had captured Impala and Hyena in our camp) and headed off just before first light. We sat and listened but had not heard any roars this morning. However, went on the search of fresh tracks as we headed toward the area where we had heard roars in the night. We failed to find any fresh tracks other than that of a Leopard, that was nowhere to be seen.

We moved slowly scanning all around and by now around 5km from camp and roughly where we had taken a 'reading' from the roars the night prior. As we entered an area that felt like prime lion habitat we scanned hard and wide. We had only been in that area for around 15 minutes when we finally caught sight of two lions, as the tracked out of the reeds and into the forest. With totally full stomachs a sub adult male (around 2years old) with an older female moved a couple of hundred feet before slumping into the grass in a dry area. We sat with them for sometime, there was little expectation for any activity from these two full lions but it was still lovely to sit with them and watch them sleep for a while and occasionally groom themselves. As always happy to be finding lions!

After spending around 45 minutes or so with the lions we left them in peace and now it was time to start tracking in the direction of our next campsite, around 2-3 hours away in the Northern part of the reserve and where would stay one night before leaving the Moremi reserve and onto Savuti.

En route to Xakanaxa

Xakanaxa campsite
Curious Bull elephant visits our 'neighbours'
Then visits our pitch!
Boat trip into the Okavanga Delta
African Darter
African Fish Eagle
Impala caught on night cam


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Days 2 - 5: Third Bridge Campsite, Moremi Game Reserve

A couple of hours later after leaving the South Gate area we arrived at our next destination, Third Bridge campsite. The tracks along the way once again consisting of deep sand. We passed through the reserve, with vast tracks of land unhindered by human settlement, passing just two vehicles in the journey. Many pans had long ago lost their water and signs of elephant damage continued to dominate the vegatation.

Third Bridge campsite is positioned on the edge of the Okavango Delta, its setting in a beautiful area. On one side a passage way of water lined with lucious reeds and pampas grass and the gateway to the Okavango Delta. On the other dry desert liked pans and in contrast beautiful lagoons and teeming with amazing bird life.

Our campsite was lovely, a huge shaded area with a Sausage tree in the middle, together with a braai and fire pit. Again we had only a short walk to hot and cold showers which was a welcomed facility. We were now much deeper in the bush, and again our campsite fully open with no fences, just how we like it! I am not sure what excited us more, the game drives or what may visit us in camp at night! Our pitch was number 7 and each pitch (total of 11) was really spacious and so a great location for three nights (although on the third night another group of four were also booked on our pitch which was a slight suprise!)

We didn't have to wait until nightfall for our wild visitors, not long after we arrived a curious young male elephant strolled into camp and decided to make himself comfortable in and around our camp for several hours. He wandered quite happily in and around many pitches, displaying an air of curiosity as well as enjoying a browse along the way!

The first afternoon we had a quiet drive around some of the waterholes and trying to gain a sense of direction, the area is stunningly beautiful a mixture of stunning lagoons, several seasonal pans, as well as a plentiful supply of Savannah and Mopane woodland.

Arriving back to camp we had a slight road block! We had wait a little time until we could actually drive into our pitch given that the elephant was still there in camp! Not wanting to block its exit route we waited until he moved off. That night we cooked up a tasty feast over the fire and listened to the night time sounds. Once again Spotted Hyena came right into camp. Strolling in bold as brass, followed by a Hippo who also paid us a visit once we had retreated to our roof tent. He very obligingly walked past our night camera we had set up as did a Jackal. Later that night a male Lion on its territorial rounds roared loudly just a few hundred metres away from our camp. We lay awake listening to him bellow as he moved away. Our plan for the morning was sorted, we wanted to find this fella!

Leaving at first light we found his tracks as expected in the area the roars had originated from and tracked them for some time, but sadly soon lost sight of them into an area with no road tracks, Nevertheless anticipating where he may be headed we continued our search but given the vegetation and the lack of any alarm calls it was now becoming unlikely we would find him given many hours had now passed. Not too long after we lost his tracks we them came across really fresh tracks from two Lioness and what looked to be two different aged cubs. We surmised the tracks could not have been any more than two hours old and felt as if we were hot on their heels although in two hours they could have still moved a considerable distance. Our optimism started to fade again though as we also lost these tracks, where they tracked off the road and into the dry but thick vegetation. We continued to search as much as we could around where they tracked off the road, knowing they could be visible still, until we came across a large breeding herd of Elephants very nearby. At this point we knew continuing the search around this area was entering a fruitless task. With several young calves in the herd it was highly unlikely that they would have tolerated the presence of the Lions, at the same time it was also unlikely that the Lionesses would wish to expose their young cubs to these mighty pachyderms. We made the decision to head off and continued on a pleasant drive seeing herbivores such as Zebra, Impala and Wildebeest along the way.

Later that afternoon we decided to head to a nearby waterhole, the variety of bird species was incredible and although a quiet afternoon drive it was nevertheless a pleasant one.

Our second evening in camp failed to disappoint on the wildlife front, The first visit coming from several different Spotted Hyena, with one particular female getting rather close for comfort behind me (just 6 feet away!) and needless to say we gave her a stern telling off and shoed her away rather rapidly! Mmm, never let your guard down!

The next visit came from the same male Hippo as the prior evening who grazed around the outskirts of the camp and seemed totally unperturbed by us clanging pans and making noise as we cooked Boerwoers on the fire. A troop of baboons had taken their night time refuge in a nearby tree and it was not long until they started barking in alarm, followed by the rasp of a Leopard less than 50 metres away.

At around 5am, just 30 mins or so before we would get up we heard the sound of two male Lions, not particularly close by, perhaps 2 or 3km away. Despite it being pitch black still we could not lay in bed any longer and got up to break camp etc and to sit and listen to the morning chorus as they continued to roar while tracking East. As we made drinks we heard the Leopard rasping again nearby, he could likely see us but remained out of sight despite scanning with the torch in the hope of seeing it.

We headed off on the search to track the two male Lions, we stopped every now and again to listen to them roaring intermittently, with no tracks in sight we had to rely on them vocalising. We knew we were getting closer and closer until around the corner we found them, around 3km from camp and approaching us along the road. Two stunning boys in a hazy morning light. They were around 7-8 years of age, certainly brothers and right in their prime, with quite interesting looking manes. We tracked them for some 30 minutes as they proceeded on a mission somewhere, panting heavily as they strolled near our vehicle with their eyes fixed on only their journey ahead. We soon lost them as their route took them into dense pampas grasses and right into the waters edge of the delta channels.

Our time in Moremi continued with a couple more lovely drives around the lagoons and soaking up this beautiful area of the reserve. We had enjoyed the game viewing and stunning scenery. However, as with anything all good things have to come to an end and so the next day it would be onto somewhere new and exciting again. The Xakanana area of Moremi Game Reserve.


En route from South Gate to Third Bridge

Third Bridge Campsite

Game Viewing around Moremi

Night time in camp