We arrived at the South Gate Camp in Moremi Game Reserve after re-stocking fuel and food at Maun. At the gate we learnt that our 1999 map was outdated! So we bought an updated one as a new area of the reserve, the Black Pools, Mogogelo area adjacent to the camp, had been opened to the public after our map was printed! This was good news as other known places looked quite far from us.
The campsite followed the same general lines of Nxai Pan with similar anti elephant fields in place. Fortunately the only stinkbugs present were those coming out of our car and unfolded gear that lived rather ephemeral lives, being rapidly consumed by the various birds that were attracted to them; clearly birds without taste!
The area around the camp was drying up but there were still a number of roads that we could not cross so there was a lot of turning around and/or looking for alternative routes. This was further complicated by differences between our new map and the reality of the drives that got us “lost” a few times with the result that some time was wasted finding the right way. Often when this was finally found, it was still blocked by the water and not fordable! This served as a reminder that this was a real safari and not a smoothly presented wildlife TV or video!
As water was still rather plentiful, the animals were scattered around the area, particularly the elephants. We did not see many predators although we heard lions and hyenas every night. We also found five hyenas on our way Khwai camp. An interesting find were the abundant Southern Lechwe (Kobus leche), the first ones we had seen since our days in Zambia in the early nineties. This is an interesting antelope that is found in marshes feeding on aquatic vegetation and seeking refuge from predators by going into rather deep-water areas. There they have an advantage as the skin of their legs is greasy and repels water. This fact gives them an advantage as it prevents them from getting water logged, which would slow them down in case of a needed exit.
Birds and mammals provided some amusement at the almost empty campsite and luckily, this time it did not smell. We did have the expected evening visits by spotted hyenas but they kept a polite distance from our tents. A Lesser Bush baby (Galago senegalensis), a tiny mammal of about 35 cm (tail included) and weighing about 150g was also seen every night. First we would hear its ‘louder than life’ screeching and, shining the torch in its general direction, we would spot its comparatively enormous eyes! Even so it was tricky to see it as it was busy jumping between trees, achieving almost impossible leaps for such a miniature animal and behaving more like a furry frog or perhaps a winged insect!
Redbilled woodhoopoes (Phoeniculus purpureus), White Helmetshrikes (Prionops retzii) and several Hornbills species also provided us with hours of entertainment. Both the Redbilled (Tockus erythrorhynchus) and Southern Yellowbilled (T. leucomelas) hornbills were present; the latter were particularly daring. These birds gained movie notoriety after Alan Root produced his documentary of the female raising her chicks while locked inside her nest, fed by her mate. A few of them hung around our camp and one, clearly a narcissist, spent a long time in front of the car window, trying to chase himself away in a prolonged and futile territorial dispute (with himself) that had no possible outcome, except possibly cracking the glass!
The hornbills kept landing at our table and trying to snatch morsels from us during meal times. However, just to show that they were not human-dependent, at some stage a Red-billed hornbill caught a rather large centipede that became a coveted prize among several contenders. Finally it became the property of a Yellow-billed that proceeded to batter it out of existence and to swallow it, not without difficulty.
Our record of this area of Moremi will not be complete without mentioning that we were fortunate enough to see a group of Wattled cranes (Grus carunculatus). The Sassol Birds of Southern Africa guide describes these birds as “enormous”, rare, resident and endangered. I hasten to add that they were also shy and solitary, keeping their distance from other inhabitants of the swamps.
The trip to Third Bridge did not offer anything special apart from two bridges (First and Second) made with trunks that enabled us to ford the various channels before arriving to the mythical Third Bridge. We also learnt that there is a Fourth bridge beyond the Third! There seems to be a bit of a lack of imagination in naming but there may be a reason -unknown to me- for this nomenclature. At some stage we were quietly watching a beautiful herd of Greater kudu when a car stopped next to ours and someone shouted “Hi, nice place but there are no ‘hanimals’!” And then as the now scared Kudu bolted he added, “Oh, there they were some!” We bit our tongues and did not tell him off as he deserved! Later on we found them buried in the sand, being helped by an angry tour operator who needed to extricate them in order to continue his own trip!
While game watching we kept bumping into someone in a pickup with a very impressive camera array. We saw him (or rather his cameras) while watching the tree Cheetahs and later on while he was, in his own words, “getting the definitive picture of a roller”! We ended up talking to him and exchanged cards. Then we learnt that his name was Paul Souders and that he was 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year! Allow me to recommend his web site if you wish to see wonderful photographs at http://www.worldfoto.com/ and http://photoboy.com/2013/10/15/hudson-bay-canada-2/ where his winner picture can be found.
On the second night, we were returning to our camp rather late and before crossing the Third bridge to get back to camp, we had to stop and queue as a group of about 10 painted dogs got there before us! As the water runs over most of the bridge, the dogs were hesitant to cross (we learnt later that there is a crocodile at the bridge).
After several minutes of goings and comings and not without a few jolts and recoils, one dared to take the first leap into the water. Soon all others followed and rapidly vanished into the dusky bush so fast that a car that came a minute after us did not see anything! Such as the nature of a real safari, a few minutes or even seconds can make a difference between a memorable sight or just MMBA (Miles and Miles of B… Africa)!
Note: All pictures by Julio A. de Castro