Safari Day 5 (July 13, 2011)
Itinerary: 6:30am wake up call, morning safari, siesta, afternoon/evening safari
Animals spotted: Plover birds, secretary birds, cape buffalo, baboons, bradfield hornbill, fish eagle, white helmeted shrike (7 sisters), wildebeast, black back jackals, vultures, malibu storks, zebra, giraffes, eland, monitor lizard, red crested korhaan, hippos, lilac breasted roller, elephant, kudu, warthogs, koribustard, steenbuck, spring hare
After all the warnings of lions and elephants that could be outside our tent all night, we both slept very well and heard nothing. With our canvas flaps pulled down over the windows, the wind inside our tent was greatly reduced. The hot water bottles they placed in our bed were welcomed as well. Per instructions we did not “kill the water bottles” as was listed in the Don’ts column of our orientation.
At 6:30am one of the staff came by to wake us up for our scheduled 7:00am breakfast. It took a huge effort to leave the warm cocoon I made for myself in bed! Everything outside of the covers was freezing cold. I’m not sure what the actual temperature was, but just looking at my phone to see the time made my breath fog up the cold phone. Brrrr
They feed us very well on safari. We eat like babies, about every 2 hours. First was breakfast, then tea and cookies at 10am on our game drive, then lunch around noon, an afternoon tea and snacks at 3pm, then a snack on the game drive at 5p, then a 3-course dinner at 7:30pm. We are not worried about starving!!
The morning game drive was with the other guide who’s name is also Bryan. Once again it was just the 3 of us in the vehicle, Jennifer from Ohio, and us, plus the guide. We headed out towards the area we found the lions last night. I told Bryan that we’d be sure to give him directions since he wasn’t there last night. Hah! The roads here are all sand grooves with grass and trees on either side. Everything looks the same to us tourists.
We stopped to watch a herd of cape buffalo graze and meander through the grass. We spotted, first, the tail end of the herd, but after backing up and driving around we found the middle of the herd of hundreds. We learned several interesting tidbits about the buffalo including how to tell the males and females apart. The males have a much more pronounced headplate or boss as it’s called. The buffalo were happy to graze around us while we sat with the car engine off, but when we turned on the jeep to head out, they mooed in protest.
At a watering hole near another lodge in the park several black and white plover birds were dive-bombing a pair of large secretary birds. The secretary birds are related to the eagle, but walk along the ground to find food. They will eat the eggs of other birds, so we were assuming they were close to a plover nest the way the birds were acting. The decorative feathers with oval tips blew in the wind making the secretary birds look a little crazy.
Baboons and impala were enjoying the gorgeous sunny day at the watering hole. We learned that when the backside of a female baboon turns red, she is ready to mate. The baboons were lounging in the sun as I might have liked to do. The wind through the jeep safari vehicle kept us chilled with gloves, hats, and multiple layers on for comfort. In the sun, when the wind died down, it was pleasant out. This morning might be our first cloudless morning in Zimbabwe.
A fish eagle touched down in the distance and with binoculars and my long telephoto lens we could see the similarities to the American bald eagle right away.
With no sign of the lions from last night in the area, we decided to drive out to a large plain to find plains animals like zebra and giraffe. Through the forest we happened upon several elephants very close to our jeep. The forest looked as if a hurricane had come through, but we learned that the elephants topple trees as they move through an area. Though the area looks like a natural disaster, but this helps the smaller animals like the antelope reach the nutritious tops of the acacia trees once the trees are felled.
As soon as we entered the large clearing we found all kinds of sights. Ahead of us were the elusive herd of land rovers full of tourists checking out a carcass. To the right we found several wildebeest and farther ahead we saw a heard of wildebeest and zebras. The zebras and wildebeest graze together as a herd very easily as neither animal eats the same part of the grass. The zebras eat the upper grass and clear a space for the wildebeest to munch on the lower grass.
The wildebeest carcass was a kill from either last night or this morning. The general consensus was that lions had brought it down and abandoned it for some reason. The lions in this area are a bit skittish, so possibly human presence scared them off. This concerns me that humans are making a difference in the animal behavior, but the guide was not phased. Meanwhile, several jackals, vultures and malibu storks were feasting on the carcass.
We drove around to see the zebras and wildebeest and then had drinks and snacks by a waterhole with several giraffe. This group of giraffe was about 10 strong and included several babies even one as young as just a month old. With the jeep off, we got out and walked around while we took our tea break. The air was silent as the animals made absolutely no sound. There is something very peaceful and majestic about watching giraffe slowly walk. I could have sat here for hours watching them. However, in the distance we saw the herd of zebras, more giraffe, eland, and wildebeest take off running. We jumped in the jeep to find out what was causing all the commotion. We were all hoping the lions were coming back for their kill. But it looks like everyone just needed a run.
This was our first up and close contact with the eland. They are much bigger than I imagined they could be. The eland did an excellent job keeping the babies on the inside of the herd and several huge males patrolled the outsides.
On our drive out of the plains our guide found a huge about 5-foot long monitor lizard hanging upside-down on the trunk of a tree. Good spotting!! The lizard gave us a good long look while we snapped photos and were off again towards the hippo pond we visited yesterday.
To our delight, all the hippos but two were lounging on the ground soaking up the sun. The resembled walruses basking in the sun on the shore. The male hippo was once again in the pond nearly drowning a female to mate. We watched for several long minutes while a young hippo stood and walked around. He didn’t quite know what to do with himself as we were so close. I was hoping for a good yawn, but he just stood there. Eventually the rest of the female group stood and watched our vehicle. We lost the standoff and eventually left. I’m sure they all just laid back down to soak up more of this glorious sun warming up the day.
On the way back to camp for lunch, we stopped next to an elephant on the side of the road tearing apart a tree with his trunk. He was on my side of the vehicle and I felt as if he were close enough to reach his trunk out and steal my camera. We do feel quite safe in the land rover safari vehicles with our guide. I would never want to be this close without wheels underneath me.
During our game drive after lunch and siesta, we headed back out with the first Bryan guide. Our goal was to find lions. On the way, we found 2 giraffe drinking from the water hole at camp and learned that when giraffes drink, the blood rushes to their heads as they bend over. Therefore their capillaries constrict allowing them to stay conscious while taking drinks of water. Imagine the blood pressure shift from that great height down to the water. Too bad water doesn’t grow in trees.
We also found a group of female and young kudus on the side of the road. It is pretty rare to get as close as we did without them running away, so we enjoyed watching them eat the sand to supplement the minerals in their body.
Bryan was sure that when we found a group of 500+ buffalo the lions would be lured out of hiding since they were headed this way anyway. It was amazing to creep the land rover into the middle of the herd. We felt like just another animal grazing in the area. Across the way we could see a baby elephant playing with a buffalo even. We saw all ages of buffalo and looking through the zoom lens and binoculars we could see all the distinctive differences between each individual. They all look the same from a distance, but up close they really are very different. What an experience.
We scooted through the herd and combed the treeline looking for the lion that must be headed this way, but never found them. Instead we learned about several of the birds in the area, and watched a few jackals eating fruits fallen from a very properly named jackal tree. There is almost always a jackal under a jackal tree.
Still in search of lions we left the area, but only found more elephants as the sun started to set. The golden hour before sunset was magnificent as the already golden colored grass turned a deeper gold. The palm trees in the sunset reminded us of California, but the elephant in the distance reminded us we were in Africa.
We stopped and got out of the jeep for drinks and snacks while the sun set into the clouds again. I’m still waiting for that wonderful Africa savannah sunset. But not today. The sun still turned the sky into shades of lavenders and reds. The moon is about a day short of being full as well. With elephants grazing, jackals playing, and baboons chasing each other while we rest, it’s hard to ask for much more.
Once the sun goes down it turns very cold and we bundled up for the drive in the night looking for lion. No lions tonight. We drove around quite a bit, though. I’m very impressed that our guide can simultaneously drive through the night on sand roads, hold a red spotlight in one arm and sweep it from side to side, and watch for the shine of wildlife eyes.
Back at camp, the staff put on a little drum and dancing show for us before our marvelous dinner. Our armed escort to bed didn’t turn up anything big and we are down to sleep once again.
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