Friday 21 July: Sylvia
It was quite sad to wake this morning knowing it was to be our last (at least this visit) at Mombo Trails. Doc was as excited and positive as ever this morning as we headed out. Despite having seen several small groups of female kudu we hadn’t seen any of the magnificently horned males so it was great to come across six of them not far from camp.
We headed North up towards the Moremi Hippo Pool, passing numerous groups of animals along the way. One tiny baby elephant was particularly cute, as was a massive bull elephant who posed beautifully. We drove through large swathes of turpentine grass, taller than the car and eventually reached the waterways leading to the pool. Large groups of red lechwe and numerous water birds created a peaceful scene. We enjoyed another morning tea with the hippos while a couple of large crocs baked in the sun at the far end of the pool and then headed back to the airstrip in time for our 11am pick up and transfer to Vumbura Plains.
Two Robinson 44 helicopters arrived and we piled in, our bags would come later. It was fantastic to fly over the delta and get a real sense of the waterways. Of course we could also see some animals from the air. At one point we flew quite low – about 30m up and it seemed like we were skimming across the tops of the reeds. We headed to a small island and landed near a herd of red lechwe. The pilots surprised us all with glasses of champagne on an island that it is likely no human has ever stood on before. We then hopped back on board for the final five minute flight to Vumbura Plains South.
After lunch – there is so much food here – and the obligatory safety briefing we decided to wander to our rooms and then go for a walk along the boardwalk to the north camp where we had stayed a few years ago. Sometimes though nature has other plans as we experienced an elephant road block between Debbie and Dave’s room and ours. One elephant had broken a pipe on their plunge pool but we all sat out on their deck and enjoyed the experience while we waited for the path to clear enough for us to walk past. Eventually the main path cleared and Joanna and Leonie could go to their tent but the elephants were still around ours. A few minutes later they came back and said the elephants here seemed relaxed enough and we could come to our tent. We arrived and were surrounded – elephants grazing on the bushes all around our tent. One had knocked over our hot water heater but hopefully it will still work. We sat outside on the deck enjoying being so close to such magnificent beasts.
Luckily the elephants had moved away by 3:30pm when it was time to head back to the main area for high tea before heading out for our afternoon drive. The landscape is very different here with the Okavango floodwaters very evident and lots of small, wooded islands. It wasn’t long before we spotted a couple of water buck – very distinctive with the white circles on their butts looking like they have just sat on a freshly painted toilet seat.
Not too much further on we came across five African wild dogs, sleeping in the shade, probably resting up before their evening hunt. Apparently they have pups nearby – we could see that the alpha female was nursing. We decided not to wait for the hunt – there was so much more to see.
We carried on, at times driving through moderately deep water and were completely bemused to see two lionesses up a tree. One was lying almost leopard like and looking quite comfortable. The other looked incredibly klutzy and uncomfortable sort of sitting on a forked branch with her hind legs dangling balancing herself on her front legs. We wondered how she would get down. We could see though that they had a great vantage point for surveying the surrounding area. Eventually the klutzy looking one manoeuvred herself, actually quite gracefully, down from the tree. After a few minutes she climbed back up again and found a much more comfortable looking spot. A troop of baboons came through the area and started their barking warning calls, looking quite agitated. Some even broke small branches off the tree they were sitting in in protest. A bit later the other one climbed down. I had heard about these lionesses the last time I was here but hadn’t seen them climbing. It was certainly an unusual and amusing sight.
After driving through a few more large pools of water we came upon a small female leopard eating the remains of a baby red lechwe. It was starting to smell a little having been out in the sun since she killed it sometime early this morning or yesterday evening. After she had eaten enough she ripped up some of the nearby grass and covered the smelliest bits of the carcass with it to hide the scent from hyenas – it was amazing how much this reduced the smell.
We headed back towards camp with another incredible African sunset setting the sky on fire. As it got darker Ron, our guide here, pulled out a spotlight and started using it to scan the area as we drove through. Other than numerous red lechwe, reedbuck, impala and the odd elephant, we saw a crocodile hunting frogs along the banks of one of the waterways and a porcupine scuttling between some trees.
Back in camp we enjoyed drinks around the fire under a clear, starlit sky while the painted reed frogs tinkled merrily in the reeds (one of the sounds I associate so clearly with this place) and the hippos grunted and grumbled while meandering along the edge of the water grazing.
Saturday 22 July 2017: Roger
We head out at seven am. Not far down the track we come across the wild dogs we had seen last night. Four of them are out hunting, it looks like the alpha female must have stayed with the cubs. We follow them back and forth through the scrub as they look for prey. Suddenly it’s all on, an impala the target. Ron, our guide, accelerates the landrover bouncing us at speed across the rough ground. A young bull elephant in musth we had spotted earler with, as Ron put it, “his fifth leg extended” gets a fright and charges alongside us. It’s all over pretty quick as the impala gets away.
We leave the dogs and head north into an area covered in mopane trees, which the elephants keep short by deliberately eating the tops, allowing a good supply of low level feed for their young.
First we spot a lion in waiting as his brother has the on-heat female in his company a few meters away. With a bit of luck the brother will doze off and the female will sneak away to give this guy a turn.
A large flock of vultures in the distance reveals the remains of a young giraffe, which must have died of natural causes as it had not been ripped apart by hyenas.
We drove on stopping by a pond for a brew as a few wildebeest graze near by. On the grassy plains nearby we spotted a heard of sable. Now nearly extinct, the hair from these was, for many years, used for making paint brushes. They were also hunted for their magnificent horns. These are another animal where both sexes grow horns.
A herd of elephants wandered past on their way to a watering hole. We drove over watching them refill. As they moved off a young female stomped her foot several times in the soft ground creating a mud bath. She proceeded to suck up and spray mud over herself until a larger one shoved her out of the way. This went on with even a young one having a go, spraying most of the mud around rather than on herself.
A couple of young warthogs looked on as we drove on.
We saw several more stunning birds
Lilac breasted roller
Heading back to camp we were ambushed by a Burbery bush lunch. We sat overlooking the wetlands while dining and drinking champagne.
Arriving back at the camp with its amazing views over the marshes, we were again barred from returning to our tents, this time by a bull elephant who made a false charge at Deb and Dave as they walked down the boardwalk to their tent. We withdrew to the dining area until he moved on.
At four we headed out again coming across a heard of some 600 buffalo grazing as they moved through the vegetation. Big bulls eyed us up as we looked on. Calves that become weak and linger at the back of the mob become lion tucker. Ox-peckers feed on the ticks and other insects that hitch a ride. Thousands of kilometres of buffalo fences have been built across Botswana to keep them away from farmed livestock as they carry both foot and mouth disease and anthrax.
We arrived at some wetlands and boarded mekoros to be poled through the still waters as the sun set.
Driving back to the camp in the dark Ron flashed his spotlight around looking for the red eyes of nocturnal predators.
Sunday 23 July: Sylvia
There was much excitement in camp this morning with all the guests sharing stories of the wonderful noises they had heard during the night. Apparently two bull hippos had a major altercation right near the camp and the male lions we had seen the other day were doing their usual nocturnal jaunt, roaring and marking their territory. I am not sure whether it was the hot sun, the long days catching up on me or the two G&T’s Roger plied me with (on top of champagne at lunch) but I slept soundly through it all.
We bundled up and headed out into the cool morning air and almost immediately came across a lone hippo walking down the road heading back to the water. They spend the nights grazing on land but are usually back in the water by the time we head out so it was great to see him ambling along.
It was definitely cooler this morning and we appreciated the wonderful hot water bottles we’ve had every morning to warm us on the drive even more than usual. The animals must have been feeling the cold too and been hiding in the bushes for warmth as there were very few about at first. The wild dogs were huddled in a heap acting as hot water bottles for each other. We did pass a few small, solitary steenbok hiding in the bushes.
Suddenly we spotted a familiar shape, reflected in a water hole – a maned, male lion, this one particularly blonde, raising his head to scan the surrounding area. Not too far away a male and a female were busy mating. He was waiting for the male to get tired so he could take over. Lion mating is quite a process. They mate over a period of several days at first every few minutes with the intervals between drawing out as they tire. Every now and then there may be a fight as another male from the pride comes in to take over. The actual mating itself lasts only a few seconds accompanied by a few grunts and a fair bit of the male biting the female on the shoulder. We were all well entertained by Roger’s running commentary! After one session the female rolled over with a roar and gave the male a good swat – “Jesus Christ! don’t get any ideas Sylvia”. There was at least a little tenderness between sessions as the male licked the female gently on the back a few times. At one point Dave declared “Roger James – relationship expert” based on the continuing amusing commentary.
This was more than could be said for the baboons we saw later in the morning. The troop were crossing a bridge and leaping through the shallow water to find a new spot to spend the day. One female had stopped at the end of the bridge and the male walked straight up to her, did his business with a fair bit of grunting and left. Again much hilarity and interesting commentary on board our vehicle.
We also found the small female leopard we had seen the other night with a kill, this time resting quite comfortably up a tall tree, and the large herd of buffalo we saw yesterday.
During our tea break Ron whipped out some maps, stuck them to the side of the vehicle and proceeded to explain the geography of the area to us. This delta is incredible with the water taking some six months to arrive here from Angola, eventually draining away into the Kalahari sand.
It was nice to get back into camp a bit earlier today, arriving about midday. Time for lunch, a quick walk down to North camp and back to stretch the legs and still time for a nice rest before the afternoon activities. Every other time I have been here this has been standard but is the first time all trip we’ve managed a really good midday siesta.
This afternoon things really went to the dogs – the wild ones that is. Very shortly after leaving camp we came across the pack of four on a hunt. The alpha female must have stayed behind with the pups. We bounced and twisted as we chased them through the bush, sometimes even sloshing through water. They travelled quite a long way but we eventually lost them in some thick bush.
We made our way slowly back to camp passing several elephants and a number of birds. As we got to the den area we saw the alpha female keeping watch and then had a real treat as the four very cute pups, now about 2 months old, came out to play. The mother kept chasing them back to the den, even nipping them a couple of times but every time she turned her back and headed out to keep watch they followed after her, running straight back to the den whenever she turned her head – just like naughty children everywhere.
We had arranged with Ron to have an earlier dinner and then head out for a night drive as this would be our last night here. We bounced along through the cold and dark and saw a few nocturnal animals like spring hares (a kangaroo-like rodent hopping along), an african wild cat, a civet, a scops owlet and a side-striped jackal. We also saw reedbuck, steenbok, elephants etc. as we got closer to camp we smelled the distinctive odour of buffalo and saw numerous green eyes glowing they way they do in the movies as we passed through the middle of the large herd we had seen earlier in the day.
Back in camp we were greeted with a cacophony of groans, moans and all manner of resonating sounds from a couple of mating hippos. Unlike the and lions we had seen mating earlier in the day where it was all over in seconds, this went on for at least 30 minutes. It must have been mating day in the bush.
Monday 24 July: Sylvia
We packed our bags and headed out for our last game drive. It was fairly quiet at first as we made our way through the cold, revisiting the buffalo and sable we had seen previously. Then as we were heading towards the airstrip we came across a female leopard and her two cubs. The cubs, about 6 months old, had been spotted up a tree and on closer inspection the mother was found with a kill – most likely a reed buck – hidden deep within a nearby bush. We were entertained by their antics for some time before heading for the airstrip for our flight first to Maun and then on the Johannesburg. From there some continued on to NZ, Leonie headed to Tanzania, Roger headed off to meet up with a mate, Louie, who has a farm about three hours north and I headed back to Singapore for work.