The Daily Dozen
Twelve carefully curated photos of Day 8 in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Day #8 Prequel: Dark Night #7
Last night, during a spell when we thought the lions may have moved off (they had not, but it wasn’t like we were wandering away from the truck based on that guess) we had a new eye shine down at the waterhole.
Imagine a pair of shining eyes on a black background bouncing across lyrics to a song as the song is being sung. That’s pretty much what we saw: shiny bouncing eyeballs. Can you guess what it was?
That’s part of why we thought the lions had gone; would a springhare risk a journey to the waterhole with lions so close? Apparently, yes. Maybe springhare, like humans, aren’t on the standard lion menu. Maybe they’re tough to catch.
We enjoyed our best-ever view of the crazy, hopping creature thanks to the tiny spotlight and binoculars. Sorry, no pics. We didn’t even try, what with the overwhelming complications of a fast, bouncing creature, tiny spotlight, inadequate camera equipment, and general ignorance about night photography.
While the springhare was springing about, two barn owls flew around the campsite, screeching.
Lions, springhare, owls . . . it was a good night!
Day 8 in KTP
Today’s wildlife drive takes us from Rooiputs up to Nossob and back. It’s a long drive.
A Family of Night Creatures
Just out of the campground, in the earth-warming sunrise light, we discovered a family of bat-eared foxes congregated outside their den: one adult and four kits.
The kits are old enough to play outside the den, but young enough to be wobbly and uncoordinated, falling over each other and themselves. They scurried between three holes, tumbling into one and popping out another. One sought a nuzzle from the adult and was lovingly indulged. They explored tufts of grass, shrubs, and mysterious things in the dirt. It all seemed new and interesting to them.
We Interfere in a Battle
Farther down the road, I caught a glimpse of movement: a b-bop, just off the ground, talons outstretched, grasping at a smaller bird.
“Are those goshawks attacking an owl?!” I stammered, a bit panicked, sensing more than seeing what was happening.
Mike backed up the truck. He agreed with my assessment of the scene.
Two pale chanting goshawks had a small wide-eyed owl surrounded on the ground. The owl’s unpacked wings drooped by its sides. Ready to fly? Ready to swat defensively? Injured?
One goshawk flew away the moment we stopped by the action. Now it was one-on-one. Had we leveled the playing field? The goshawk was still way bigger.
Clearly, we were interfering with nature. Most of the time, I don’t want to do that, but in this case, I did. I rationalize that I’m part of nature, too, and I was prepared to flap my own wings and make some noise or even throw a pebble to discourage the goshawks. It was their bad luck to hunt in the vicinity of me. They might be super hungry, but too bad, so sad; I was not in the mood to watch a wide-eyed owl die a vicious death.
The goshawk and owl are both hunters, i.e., killers of innocents. Why should I side with one over the other?
Well, look at those eyes.
I know I’m projecting and anthropomorphizing, but those enormous eyes look pleading to my human sensibilities. And I’m a softie for the underdog. I know I’m not alone.
The goshawk and the owl stood and stared at each other and at us. Mike marked the spot on the GPS, calling it “doomed owl.” Mike was convinced the smaller animal was a goner. I . . . hoped it wasn’t. Hopelessly hopeful, perhaps, but so it was.
Eventually, the more determined hawk gave up and flew to a nearby tree, joining its mate. Still, the owl seemed stunned, maybe injured, or otherwise in a bad way. We waited.
Wonder of wonders, the little owl shoved off the ground and winged it to a nearby shrubby tree with super-thick thorny branches, some sort of acacia. It disappeared into the protective cover, and we quietly cheered, glad to have interfered. Although, maybe the owl was fine defending itself. Maybe it was winning.
But I doubt it.
Now, remember this owl. It reappears in our story later.
Another Rare Sight
Wildebeest, springbok, jackals, and ostriches hung about the Kij Kij waterhole. Farther ahead, both Barb and Mike spotted something light-colored dart into another thick, thorny bush. With so many herbivores in need of nourishment, plants have to do something to protect themselves. Almost every plant, it seems, has thorns.
Naturally, we set about finding the hiding animal. We searched and searched. Though the bush was only a few feet away, I used binoculars to look “inside” it, changing the focal length to see cross sections.
Behind some thick grass and under a different nearby bush, a wild cat had a good laugh at outsmarting us.
We are nothing if not persistent, though.
This one was less striped than the others we’ve seen, and in some light, it was more buff than gray, which is also a bit different.
It did, however, wear the arm band.
Once spotted, it crossed the road in front of us and got comfy in an old, fallen tree trunk right beside the road. Even with its head exposed, the chances of anyone in a passing car seeing it were slim. It seemed like a nice shady place to spend a day.
The Dry Stretch
Cruising along the sand road, during a stretch with little wildlife, when we got accustomed to our slow, relaxing speed, and maybe got a little lazy, I called out, “owl.” We stopped and rolled back.
While enjoying the adult spotted eagle owl, we eventually noticed two fluffy juveniles, tucked away in thicker parts of the tree, well hidden. As often happens, stopping to look closer revealed more and more.
We also stopped for a Kalahari tent tortoise (aka Serrated tortoise) making his/her way to shade under a thick bush,
and a striped mouse. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: we are seeing a ton of tiny, not-the-usual-suspects animals here. Oodles of rodents. It’s remarkable, and so I’m remarking, and will probably do so again.
Note the fly sipping from the mouse’s eye. It makes my own eye twitch, and I want to flick it away. I remember constantly swinging my bandana headband back and forth across my face in Australia, warding off the flies that would land on my mouth, nose, and eyes the instant I stopped. I remember talking to Australian residents who had given up that fight, fellow campers that didn’t flinch at the flies walking along their lips and poking into their mouths.
It’s the same here in Africa, as lots of insects seek moisture and nourishment from liquids produced by other animals. It gets worse: caribou in Alaska wish they only had to deal with moisture-seeking insects rather than those plus ones that bore under their skin.
There’s a word for tear sipping: lachryphagy. I don’t know if it also applies to snot sipping and spit sipping, but I do know that insects do those things as well.
After our picnic lunch in Nossob, where we bought water and discovered a dead bat on the ground beneath a flag pole (had it flown into the pole?!), we started the long journey back. Not far from Nossob, we came upon a huge springbok herd, with a couple of female kudu and some gemsbok mixed in.
Where was this herd on our way north?
How do you hide a whole herd of antelope?
One of the gemsbok had a wonky horn.
I tend to like wonky horns, a nice reminder that nothing’s perfect, but I don’t like this one. It hugs the side of the gemsbok’s face like a microphone. When it was smaller, that was probably fine. Interesting, maybe even cute. Now, however, it’s a problem. It has grown beyond this fellow’s mouth so that it hits the ground before his mouth does, preventing him from grazing normally. Now, he has to turn his head to the side and crop grass with his side teeth. During the dry season, when grass is sparse, gemsbok browse, but they are primarily grazers.
This guy looks healthy, so he’s managing, but I can’t help but want to interfere again and saw off that wonky horn.
I didn’t, though.
White-faced Scops Owl, Part 2
Remember the wide-eyed owl that escaped the two goshawks early this morning? Remember that Mike marked the spot “doomed owl” on the GPS?
Well, on the way home, we stopped at the thick acacia tree where the owl had flown. Knock-knock, is there an owl here?
First of all, what are the chances the owl would still be there, 12 hours later? Second of all, good luck with that! Leaves and thorns wrapped the tree in a thick, protective coat.
As if that would stop us. Ha!
Barb was the first to see something feathery. She couldn’t make out what kind of feathers, though, whether they were head, tail, chest, or something-else feathers, and she couldn’t get more of the bird, but it gave me hope.
I zoomed in with the binoculars and slowly shifted the focus to see different cross sections of the tree. I’m a finder; it was a treasure hunt.
I found the base of a tail, but branches and leaves concealed the rest of the bird. I tried describing the location, “Do you see the branch with three fingers and a giant thorn between the two on the right?” Uhhhhh, no.
I tried taking a photo so I could point out precisely what I was seeing and where, but it’s terribly hard to get the digital camera to focus on something behind many layers of other things. It didn’t work.
Mike was bored and frying in the brutal sun.
But I couldn’t stop. I asked him to roll the truck forward a few feet.
“Eyes! I see eyes!”
Honestly, you’d think I’d just discovered the Grand Unified Theory.
Those huge, round, yellow, seemingly pleading eyes stared at me. I snapped a picture.
Lucky for us all, Mike finally did. Sitting along the same line as Barb, he was able to direct her to it, and he got a better picture.
Then I saw movement, down and to the right of the owl.
Criminey! A second, smaller, fluffy, sweet owlet perched beneath the adult. Ohmygoodness, I about exploded with glee. Had we saved a mama from the goshawks? Had the adult swooped in to save the young one, possibly sacrificing herself? If the mama hadn’t been spared, would the young one have died as well?
Of course, we’ll never know any of this, but it made my day to not only find the owl we may have helped out, but then to also discover more of its story, that it had a young one.
Mike, still sitting in the sun, was more liquid than solid at this point, and I was finally full-up with satisfaction, so we wished the owls well and headed home.
That would make a nice end to the day, but this is Africa, and Africa doesn’t stop.
As we approached the drive into the Rooiputs campground, we noticed a collection of cars parked all over the road just beyond the turn.
Well, what do you expect us to do?
We checked it out.
It took some looking, but I eventually found a spotted animal on the side of a ridge. I couldn’t tell immediately if it was a cheetah or a leopard, but the head was looking away, and it didn’t seem pea sized, so I hoped it might be a leopard. We have seen twice as many cheetahs as leopards in our lives now.
But it was a cheetah. Darn, right? Ha! Not just one cheetah, either, but a mama with three cubs, not teeny-tiny, but still fluffy.
It was relatively early yet, and the sun continued to rage. We’d already had a 12-hour game drive, and Mike was melted, looking forward to a cool shower. So we decided we’d pop back to camp and return to this spot around 7 PM. By then, everyone camped at Twee Rivieren—which would be almost everybody—would have to leave to make it back by curfew. Since we were camped nearby, we could spend that time watching the cheetahs sans the crowd, assuming, of course, the cheetahs stuck around. We might miss something exciting, but so be it. We’d take our chances.
When we went back to camp, two things happened.
First, we found a group of people setting up in our campsite, #5, the crappy campsite with the great waterhole. Turns out the reservation printout listed our second campsite before our third. The dates were correct, but the latter campsite was listed first. The first and fourth campsites we had in the park bookended the middle two as one would expect. Confused? Yeah, me, too! In other words, the printout listed our 4 campsites in this order: 1, 3, 2, 4. And I just now noticed.
Tonight, we were scheduled to be in campsite 3, not 5 with the waterhole and lions, brown hyena, and springhare.
Big-time bummer! When we first moved to site #5, we were disappointed to leave #3. Now we were disappointed to move back to #3. Some people just can’t be satisfied!
I went to explain my mistake to the new residents and apologize as Mike and Barb retrieved our chairs and stuff in the A-frame. The new folks didn’t mind at all, what with being normal, sociable people. Also, they were setting up in the flat area under the trees, rather than the uneven, sun-blasted soft sand around the A-frame, far from the ablutions. Our stuff wasn’t in their way.
I felt compelled to give them a heads up about the lions, and the news didn’t thrill them. They started looking around more, which was, of course, a good idea.
We moved to site #3, which had a lovely sunset view but was mostly lionless . . . and the whole place was covered with hand-sized cat tracks!
I said two things happened at camp.
Second, a jackal and a cape hare appeared in the center of the ring of campsites. They stared at each other briefly, and then the chase was on—right around and through campsite #3. This was real: full-speed, life-and-perhaps-death chasing. Quite thrilling, to be honest, though I didn’t know who to root for.
Jackal kept up with Hare, who didn’t do any sudden turning to throw the chaser off.
They disappeared over a little hill at the edge of our campsite, which suited me fine. The end was left to my imagination, and this is how I wrapped up the scene: Jackal enjoyed a nice meal, and Hare escaped. Hooray for both of them!
Return to the Cheetahs
As planned, we headed back out at 7 PM. We got lucky. The cheetahs were still there, and it was just us and two other cars to watch.
Mama crossed a ridge, actively hunting. She even ran a little. Not a full-on speediest-animal-on-earth run, just a getting-there run. The kittens followed at a distance. Mama looked back for them now and then, but her focus was ahead.
How do cubs know what to do? How do they know they need to follow but not get in the way? Will they step in and help at some point? How often do they ruin a hunt for Mama?
Every now and then, I thought I heard vocalizations, but I was never sure.
They all crossed the road in front of us, and at 7:25 (curfew’s at 7:30) disappeared over a ridge, out of our sight.
Time to return to camp. Six nights in the Rooiputs campground, and this is the only night we’re in the right campsite. Whoops.