Ultimate Africa: To Walk with Lions – a photographic safari in Botswana and Zimbabwe // Day 7: Mombo Lodge

Saturday 02 August 2008

 

It was cold outside the bed this morning and when the alarm went off at 5:30 we weren’t so keen on pulling back the duvet. After tea and a couple of cereal bars we were on our way into Hwange National Park. This time our driver was Nathan and he was an excellent guide. Mel and Nick were also in our jeep. On the way to the park we saw roan antelope, they are the second largest antelope next to eland. We also saw baboons and one of them had an arm missing. Though you might not think it, baboons are predators; they eat small antelope and would even eat a small lion cub. There were also a lot of zebra about and Nathan explained how to tell the difference between male and female zebra. If you look at a zebra in profile view and examine the stripes on their back, you will see that the stripes meet in the middle in a v-shape. Female zebra have a very gentle v-shape, whereas the males have a much sharper v and the stripes on their rumps are also straighter (more horizontal).

Just inside the park gate we saw a stomach that had obviously been dragged across the road. On the other side was it’s owner – a Kudu, which had most of it’s insides eaten away. It was probably killed by a leopard, after knocking itself out on the fence post whilst running away, which is why the kill had happened so close to the gate.

Further in the park we saw a Martial eagle, they are the biggest brown eagle. This one must have been a young adult because we could see that it still had downy feathers. We also saw kudu, impala, giraffe and zebra. Giraffe eat the leaves from acacia trees ‘pruning’ them into their well-known umbrella shape; they wrap their 45cm tongue around the thorns and pull off the leaves. We saw a male and female ostrich with a lot of chicks, it was quite hard to see the chicks because they were so small and they blended into the grass.

Nathan spotted cheetah spoor (footprint), which had probably been from the previous morning as leaves had blown over it, we also saw hyena spoor from last night. It is quite easy to tell the difference between a feline spoor and a canine spoor. The back part of a feline spoor is divided into three parts whereas the back part of a canine spoor is divided in two. In one of the waterholes there was a hippo submerged with only nostrils showing. We also saw crocodiles, a lizard buzzard, and the remains of a giraffe.

We watched white-backed vultures circling overhead and we saw them come to land by some elephant bones as we were on our way out of the park. We also saw black-backed jackal, and a lappet-faced vulture too. Nathan explained the differences between male and female giraffe horns and male and female buffalo horns. In giraffe, the males have very thick horns whereas females have smaller horns that are covered in black hair. Male giraffes tend to loose the hair on their horns when they fight. For buffalo, both male and female have horns that meet, males have very thick horns with a thick boss where the horns meet. Females, on the other hand, have a smaller boss; this gives the impression that their horns don’t meet.

We had brunch when we returned to the lodge and then had time for showers. At 2pm Kaleel shared a selection of his photos with everyone and we critiqued them as a group to help improve our photography. Kaleel had an excellent collection of photos and it was great to see the way he had taken photos of the same subject we’d also photographed. Chris gave us plenty of tips too. At 3pm, we set off on our afternoon game drive, this time Marco was our driver and we shared the jeep with Mel and Nick again. Marco was quite funny, when we saw some giraffes he told us that they are like humans – the males go bald and the females keep their hair! This reminded us of Nathan’s comment this morning when he said that male zebras have thick necks and the females have big bums.

After stopping initially for some birds we pretty much went directly to one of the waterholes where there was a look out platform. We saw several crocodiles that were still there from this morning and we saw a black backed jackal wonder fairly close to the water but still quite a distance from where we were. In the distance we saw three more jackals but they stayed quite far away. It seemed to be quiet at the waterhole so we decided to move on and came across an elephant and her six month old calf. Not far behind was the male elephant. We watched and followed for a little while and it looked like the elephants wanted to cross the road. All of the sudden our driver sped off, turned round and returned to the same spot only facing in the other direction because he expected the calf to cross on the far side. He was wrong though and we were also still driving when the elephants crossed so we completely missed the opportunity unfortunately.

We drove back in the direction we had come from and found a larger herd of elephants, who only moments before had not been in sight! Unfortunately, our driver was too fast and braked quickly causing them to divide on both sides of the road, some of them crossed while we waited. Our driver wanted to reach the park gate before the park closed so unfortunately he was quite eager to leave. We didn’t have much time and were trying to photograph the elephants crossing while the vehicle was in motion. We rushed back and our driver stopped at another waterhole where we could see the nostrils of a submerged hippo. We also stopped for some zebra, giraffe and warthogs. And then our driver turned back around and took us to his favourite spot for the sunset and we watched the sun set behind a dead tree with spindly branches. We headed off again as soon as the sun was low, and on the way out we saw the three buffalo we had probably seen in the morning, and a little further on we stopped for a small herd of buffalo. So that was a lot of stopping in the low light, if only our driver had been more patient with the elephants!

When we went for dinner later Chris said that they’d spoken to all of the drivers to make sure they followed our directions so if this speedy driving happens again, we should speak up.

There were roast potatoes for dinner – yum! And pork and apple sauce, it was like being back in the UK for a moment. Denis called Heiko “Heineken” by mistake tonight, and then straight after that he said he kept getting “Colleen’s” name wrong too – only he meant Kaleel – I couldn’t stop laughing. I had tears in my eyes!

After dinner Chris showed us how to clean the camera sensor; he showed us a battery-operated brush, which when turned on starts the brush spinning – this charges the bristles. Once the bristles are charged, you turn it off and wipe the sensor back and forth. It’s called a Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly – must get one! They come in different sizes specific to the sensor size. When you clean the sensor you’re not actually touching the sensor, you’re touching the protective screen covering it. If this special brush doesn’t remove a stubborn dust particle, then you would use the swab brush and on the lenses just use a rocket blower. Dust on the filter is not too much of a problem but dust on the back of the lens should be removed as it could show up in your photo.

The plan for tomorrow is to leave here at 5:45 so we can be at the park gate for when it opens, then we have a 50-60km drive to get to a good place for animal sightings. We’ll have to dress up really really warm!!

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