The Daily Dozen
Twelve carefully curated photos of Day 7 in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
When you have an exceptional lion experience in camp first thing in the morning, or stare them down at the outhouse, how do you continue with your day? What can possibly top that?
Well, maybe nothing, but you carry on anyway because cool experiences are everywhere, and you just never know.
How’s that for an image to illustrate the lions and after-lions split in the day? It’s not to say that the rest of the day was dead, however.
We’re seeing a bunch of trees like this, where half is dead, but then the tree sprouts a new section and carries on.
The Usual Suspects
Big cheers to the cape fox and four jackals that followed the lions—figuratively, in this case. The show must go on, and these unsung heroes, the minor actors in the African Safari show, didn’t miss a beat.
Two jackals yipped and watched a ridge intently. Two other jackals hung around nearby, seemingly uninvolved with the yipping jackals. Were the jackals yipping about a nearby kill, calling others, or warning them off, or trying unsuccessfully to act nonchalantly? We’ve seen that yipping-at-a-kill behavior before, but here we saw no predators, no kill, no eating, no vultures.
We drove up the road to the ridge—there happened to be a road here—as near to where the jackals seemed to be looking as we could get.
When we drove back down, all the jackals were curled up, little furballs on the plain, snoozing in the morning sun. Finished? Waiting? Go figure.
We moved on, but a bit later, a young jackal appeared with a couple of adults in the same area. Maybe the jackals had stashed a pup prior to hunting and were yipping to bring it to them. That’s all I’ve got; that’s my best guess.
Nope, these pictures didn’t make the cut. See what I mean about unsung heroes?
Not far from the jackals, a group of wildebeests and springbok grazed very near the road. We pulled over to hang out with them. So far, the wildebeests have been standoffish, and we hoped they’d ignore us and wander even closer.
Several grazed near the truck, some skirted around it in their wanderings, and some stopped and took a good, long look.
Time for wildebeest close-ups: horns, hooves, that wonderful mohawk, the weird gland below their eyes, neck stripes.
That convex profile.
Beyond the Wildebeests
While we’re hanging with the wildebeests and the sun is rising, Mike spots something shiny on the low ridge to the right. He points it out, and we all have a look, passing around binoculars, guessing what it might be, waiting for it to move (it never did), taking photos and zooming in on the results.
Our conclusion: a space helmet.
Boring, right? Well, as we watched and evaluated the space helmet, something moved nearby. Ah-HA! A bat-eared fox! It was too far away for great photos, so you don’t get any, but it was fun to see.
When Mike got tired of looking to the right, he looked to the left, to the ridge beyond the wildebeests and springbok, where he spots something digging, under a bush, behind clumps of tall grass. Really, all that’s visible at first is a bit of moving tail.
It’s a honey badger! (Tammy V., this one’s for you!)
We watched that thing trot around and dig-dig-dig all over that dune ridge, in and out of sight. That tail reminded me of warthog tails: it often stood up like a bike flag.
The lions were exciting, but dag nabbit, so are the space helmet, distant bat-eared fox, and distant honey badger, not to mention the wildebeest chewing cud within spitting distance, staring at me.
She’s Late, She’s Late for a Very Important Date?
Mike’s on fire, keyed in to all movement, near, far, and really far. He spots something way up ahead, trotting at a good clip down the narrow river valley, right toward the front of the truck and our multi-species herd. The antelope spot it, too. Some bolt out of potential harm’s way. Two wildebeests step even closer to the truck, opting to wait and see what the hasty interloper wants before expending energy.
It wants nothing here. It zips on by without slowing or looking around. Mike tracked it with his camera and managed to snap these shots, despite being on the “wrong” side of the vehicle:
Where is it going in such a determined hurry? The Kij Kij waterhole is down that way. Maybe it’s a mama who is making a quick jaunt for sustenance—or because the pups are driving her bonkers and she needs a break.
Or maybe it’s a boy.
Maybe I have an active imagination.
Looking back, I wish we had followed it, but we didn’t. We were having a good time sitting right there. Plus, we would have disturbed several wildebeests who were trusting us to be calm and cool.
Nature and wildlife stuff is happening all the time. We are all three nature noticers, but I don’t doubt we miss tons. This morning, in the barely light hour, this guy probably witnessed the lion scene as we did:
Initially, we believed this to be a young pygmy falcon because it looks downy, but our book informs us that adults commonly sit in bare branches of dead trees with feathers puffed out in the morning. Huh. So they do.
This is a hawk. We see heaps of hawks here, mostly a species called “pale chanting goshawk.” I’m lousy at identifying hawks—though I can identify the pale chanting goshawk, provided I have a decent view—so I generally fall back on “b-bop,” my own word for all such birds, meaning “black or brown bird-of-prey.”
This was simply a b-bop until birding friends in Botswana told us this is a young pale chanting goshawk. Well, I can identify the adults, anyway.
I call them pale enchanting goshawks, which my imagination loves.
Another Under-appreciated Bit Player in the African Safari Show
Whose favorite African animal—or we can even narrow it down to favorite African bird—is the ostrich?
Yeah. Not mine, either, but they are crazy interesting.
Those drumsticks in pink or blue tights. Those toes. Those tu-tus. Ostriches are spectacular birds.
We saw several today, including a pair with nineteen chicks! How is that possible?
Naturally, I looked it up. It’s the result of a communal nest. Those might have been the dominant male and female. Though I tend to divide ostriches into pairs, they live in groups. A dominant female will lay 8–10 eggs in the nest made by the dominant male, and subordinate females will lay eggs around the outer edge of the dominant female’s, to the tune of some 50 or 60 eggs in some cases.
We don’t have a shot of all the chicks, but we do have this, which I think is adorable:
Those chicks will grow about a foot a month.
Speaking of Adorable . . .
We discovered a meerkat (suricate) colony with several members hanging out around holes right by the road. At the last colony, we caught them during the digging hour. This was the grooming hour. We witnessed some social grooming, as well as meerkatly side-by-side grooming:
I think I’ll stop here and leave you with that image.
Except I can’t.
I mentioned in the lion post that when we returned to our campsite that evening, we had our eyes peeled for lions. Sure enough, they’re rule followers, too, and returned to camp just before curfew.
Remember this pic?
We needed to set up the tents, and it would be dark soon. The lions got drinks and laid down—not on the far side of the waterhole, but between us and the waterhole, some 30 or 40 feet away, maybe. Mama didn’t pay any attention to us, but the two young boys actively watched us, alert, maybe curious.
Mike figured we should carry on and set up tents while it was still light, better to do it while we could see them than when we couldn’t.
I had reservations. I had some faith in Mama, but the curious youngsters gave me pause.
Barb thought we should stay in the truck.
So . . . Mike got out, left his door open, and tested the youngsters. They watched, but didn’t budge. In time, I got out to help, leaving my door open, as well. Barb stayed in the truck and didn’t take her eyes off the lions. When Mike asked her to do something else, she and I both said, “NO!” She was already busy doing the single most important job.
The boys behaved very well. They moved once, probably a wee bit closer, if one were to measure, but it was just a getting-comfortable shift.
In the Wee Hours
In the early morning hours of what is technically Day 8 in KTP, I woke to shuffling and breathing sounds just outside our rooftop tents.
I woke Mike.
He was tempted to shine a light, but I discouraged it, and after his face-to-face not quite 24 hours earlier, I won. We just watched and listened.
As I’ve mentioned, seeing through the tent screens isn’t easy, but we could make out a lion shape at the base of Barb’s tent ladder. I could hear breathing and footsteps, too.
Through the side screen, I could see another lion shape lying six to eight feet in front of the truck. I guessed the boys were checking out the neighbors. I saw no signs of a third lion.
The lion at Barb’s ladder strolled to the front of the truck, and a bone-vibrating roar erupted.
Ohmygoodness, that was cooooool! That sound. So close! We didn’t just hear it; we felt the vibration of it.
Mike was a bit concerned, but, honestly, I was more thrilled. Setting up the tents under watchful lion eyes concerned me. This did not. I figured the roar was the result of brothers playing or one ticking off the other. I was convinced it had nothing to do with us. They were checking out this sleeping metal creature, and they were fine with it. It didn’t bother them, and they didn’t bother it.
All the same, no one was getting out of the tents at this point, so we laid back down to sleep for another hour or so. Mike worried he might snore, but I whispered that I didn’t think it was a problem: that sound is natural, like the tent flaps blowing in a breeze; it’s just the normal sound this big, white, metal animal makes.
I went back to sleep. When we woke up in the barely light morning, the lions appeared to be gone.