The Daily Dozen
Twelve photos from our third day in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Morning Ablutions and Tea
As I washed up and prepared my bottle of sun tea this morning, I drizzled some fresh water into a trough previous campers had made for birds that live in the campsite vicinity. We’ve seen these troughs at rest areas and other campsites, too: plastic water bottles cut in half lengthwise then weighted with rocks so a breeze can’t tip them over or carry them off.
Within seconds, violet-eared waxbills and sociable weavers swooped in for morning sips and their own washing up.
How’s that for a happy wake-up party?
We tend to call the purple birds “violet-cheeked” waxbills because those purple patches look more like cheeks than ears to us. I’m a fan of all purple animals.
The View from Here
Today, we left the Polentswa campground and moved south to the Rooiputs campground in the busier main section of the park. Rooiputs is another Botswana campground, so not fenced.
Here’s our map for you mappy folks who can make sense of these things. (No, Mike, I’m not counting it as part of the twelve as I did on Day 1. You are not being robbed today.)
Mike loves lines and shapes in a landscape. He sometimes sees things I don’t, but I saw these. Stripes are always fun.
Remember, this area was once two Gemsbok National Parks.
These guys can withstand the punishing sun, adapted so that their body temperatures can rise without frying their brains. But they appreciate shade, too, as does every creature in this baked environment. I wonder that there are green trees here at all. Clearly, there is water underground in these dry river beds.
And then there was this at a waterhole:
I think Barb noted it and pointed it out: a heron. We hadn’t seen one of those in the park yet.
And then we did a triple double take. A heron?!
We’re in the desert! This is a man-made waterhole!
If that heron was looking for fish and other aquatic prey, it was going to starve.
Thank goodness for books. We might have tried to capture it in a pillow case and relocate it to a river with actual water in it had our bird book not set us straight. It was a black-headed heron—of terrestrial habitats.
I had no idea they made terrestrial herons!
Apparently, their diet is mostly insects but includes beetles, scorpions, skinks, centipedes, mole-rats, vlei rats, laughing doves, and cattle egret chicks and eggs.
I guess it’s not lost, after all.
Red-billed Quelea Mob (or Murmuration, if you prefer)
I know I’ve heard the word before, but as yet it hasn’t stuck. I had to look it up again. Maybe it will stick this time.
The word is “murmuration,” but it’s all wrong, as you will see. It refers to a flock of birds that fly as one, somehow turning on a
dime a whole piggybank full of dimes, one dime after another, together, like a school of fish.
I’m guessing the word “murmuration” comes in part from the sound of thousands of wings beating, but this is where the word-maker-uppers went wrong. It should be “shoutshouteration” or, better, “thunthunderation.” The sound is only a murmur if you’re some distance away.
Look at this mob!
Now listen here or over on YouTube. (0:30)
These are red-billed quelea, small birds with (can you guess?) red bills. Huh. Imagine that. The males have red faces and heads, too.
You can see some red bills in there.
The swarm landed in trees around the waterhole, then smaller groups flocked back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, to the water for a split-second sip, then back to safety in the trees.
Wait. Safety? Safety from what?
Well . . . this:
The quelea mob was trailed by at least two of these falcons, possibly more, possibly other B-bops, as well.
B-bops = Black or Brown birds of prey. I often can’t distinguish the different B-bops. If you’re a bird, and you want to be identified, be colorful.
See just how dangerous the falcons are, or watch on YouTube. (0:48)
Feeling badly for the quelea, are you? What about that poor, hungry falcon? That still photo is of a young falcon. Maybe it’s nearly starved because it’s not a very good hunter yet. Maybe.
A mob of quelea can wreak havoc on a food supply, so they are often considered pests, but that all depends on whose side you’re on.
Here’s someone else who wouldn’t turn down a quelea snack. Of course, you can click over to YouTube to watch. (1:22)
We watched the quelea show for quite some time. The group flying is a natural wonder. How often do you think one bird bumps into another? How often does one die in a mid-air crash or from falling after breaking a wing? What is the brain mechanism or process that enables this flying behavior?
If you had asked me what one thing I hoped to see on this, our third, trip to Africa, I would have said “cheetah.” We did not see one on our first or second visits to the continent.
And I’m gonna tell you all about it next time.
For real. We’ve used up too many of our allotted 12 photos, so it’s going to have to wait.
However, I will say that we did not discover this group. Six or eight vehicles were already at the site when we came upon it. As we drove away much later, I said, “Now I want to find our own cheetah.” I’ve said it before: discovering wildlife for ourselves is a big part of the fun.
So, onward . . .
The first thing I noted was airborne dust. Afternoon dust devils are common, but a closer look revealed this to be something else. This dust was not stirred up by thermal action; rather, it was kicked up by hooves—racing springbok hooves, to be precise. Not just trotting or even running, but racing, in earnest.
I bolted upright, shoved my finger in the direction I was looking, and blurted out, “Racing springbok!”
We halted abruptly, and so did the springbok. It turned and searched back from where it had come, its nose flaring and twitching.
Satisfied that it wasn’t being pursued, it turned and trotted away, adding still more distance between it and whatever had given it a fright.
“Let’s go see what scared that springbok!”
We drove a little slower and looked a little harder, taking the tip from the springbok seriously.
Can you believe it?!
Africa delivers. Again.
Three cheetahs on a kill weren’t enough. I wanted to find one. A springbok gave us a sign; we followed the sign; we found the prize. Just a hop-skip-jump off the road, too, not in any hurry to go anywhere, and not another car the whole time we watched. Our cheetah. Ours, alone. Check another item off the Dream list.
The clock ticked toward the 7:30 driving curfew. We hate that curfew. But sunset is also prime cheetah hunting time, and our fellow began to perk up.
Turns out we didn’t have to drive off and leave him there. Instead, he yawned and stretched and hauled himself up. What a lovely view of that unique cheetah body: the tiny head, the long legs, the smooth curve from convex chest to concave stomach. One of our books calls it “the greyhound of the savanna,” an apt name.
He sniffed the air and zig-zagged up a small hill, becoming a silhouette on the horizon and then disappearing.