31 May 2016

Sunrises And Sunsets


I often find myself wishing that I could experience more sunrises and sunsets in my daily routine. Living a busy life in a large city makes it difficult, but there are times when it becomes a little bit easier. For example, during the winter months the sun rises later and sets earlier, making it much easier to overlap with my daily routine.

A friendly Bearded Scrub Robin (Baardwipstert - Cercotrichas quadrivirgata)

Maybe the most common way we all appreciate sunsets, in particular, is while we are away on holiday. I was fortunate enough to be away from April-May and got to see some great sunrises and sunsets.

I really enjoyed the trip and will try to share some of the experiences in this post. I'm not a very good photographer and when I'm in nature I tend to prefer taking "for the record" photographs instead of "for the album", so please don't expect too much. :)

Large unspoiled sceneries like this are becoming a rare thing on this planet

The trip was a form of "volunteer tourism" and I wasn't sure what to expect. It was mostly focused around tagging along with a wildlife monitor as he goes about his daily routine, to keep an eye on the nature reserve's Wild Dog pack(s). The dogs tend to get into all sorts of trouble with snares, etc. and monitoring them contributes to their survival. With only a few hundred left in the country (and a much smaller number if you count in terms of breeding packs, not individuals) any conservation effort going towards them is valuable.

One of my favorite African mammals, the Wild Dog (Wildehond - Lycaon pictus)

I won't go into much details about the "monitoring" or "volunteer" part of the trip, but in short it is a form of tourism aimed at generating income. The money is then, for the most part, used to fund the radio collars, veterinary services, relocations, etc. of the dogs. Its not a perfect system, but seems to strike a decent enough balance. I must admit that I was expecting more "scientific" or "working" activities to be part of the trip, but it soon became clear that it was basically a special kind of "safari" holiday aimed at overseas tourist and not "honorary ranger" type of work. Regardless it was still a lot of fun and a great experience.

Wild Dogs being dogs

In recent years I've started to record every mammal sighting I see when visiting a nature reserve. This trip was no exception. Below is a summary of what I saw during my 2 weeks at the reserve.

Trip sighting count

I managed to see 29 mammal species. I usually have good luck with Leopards, but during this trip they eluded me. I heard a male calling one night in our camp, but I didn't manage to see it so it didn't make the list. I would have liked to end on a nice round 30, but the Suni also eluded me.

Kudu (Koedoe - Tragelaphus strepsiceros) might not be super flashy, but they do have a certain charm

I don't know why I enjoy to record all the sightings, I just do. Maybe part of it is to compare the results of each trip should I ever visit the park again. I also like to record the GPS location of each sighting to get an idea on which roads the animals were seen. Below is a heat map of all sightings. The two red dots are the camp and a nice bird hide situated next to a waterhole.

Each day we would crisscross the reserve on the trail of the Wild Dogs

Some of the highlights for me where the frequent Wild Dog sightings, a couple of new "life list" species (Thick Tailed Greater Bushbaby, Natal Red Duiker, Side-Striped Jackal) and the Reedbuck herd at the dam.

This herd of Reedbuck (Rietbok - Redunca arundinum) was a pleasant surprise

I found it frustrating at times to be in the back of a "safari vehicle", because I'm used to driving myself when visiting game reserves. I would have loved to stop at more of the smal things. The monitor was usually willing to stop when asked, but I feel bad asking to stop at each small thing, especially when there are other people in the car. The positive side of all the driving was that we followed the dogs all over the park and got to see lots of unique landscapes and corners of the park which would otherwise be hidden to normal visitors that have to stick to the main tourist roads.

Beautiful Fever Tree (Koorsboom - Vachellia xanthophloea) forest

Getting to see the Wild Dogs from up close was amazing. They are such amazing animals. It baffles my mind how, even today, they remain a fairly "unpopular" species.

They all have huge ears, black noses and white tails, but the body color differs

On our first morning we found the pack just as they spotted a herd of Wildebeest. The dogs ran closer, but the herd stood it's ground. The dogs lost interest fairly quickly and some started playing with the branches in the area. The rest of the pack trotted off to the left and soon after made a kill. I'm not sure what they ended up killing since it happened some distance away from the vehicle.

Video: Wild Dog pack harassing a Blue Wildebeest herd

Some of my favorite moments where seeing the dogs play, or just to watch them do "dog things".

Dogs jumping and chasing each other in the long grass

Below are some video clips (put together) of the dogs interacting and playing. The clips at the end of the video are my favorite. It was amazing seeing the adolescent dogs play in the long grass (after they had their breakfast).

Video: Wild Dogs playing

Before I wrap things up, below are a few more photographs from the trip.

Lappet-Faced Vulture (Swartaasvoƫl - Torgos tracheliotus), I always enjoy seeing vultures

Cheetah (Jagluiperd - Acinonyx jubatus) doing cat things
Njala (Njala - Tragelaphus angasii) keeping an eye and ear on me

Blue Wildebeest (Blouwildebees - Connochaetes taurinus) drinking at the bird hide

Plains Zebra (Bontsebra - Equus quagga) also drinking at the bird hide
More landscapes

Most of us are familiar with the standard variety of Guineafowl, but these Crested Guineafowl (Kuifkoptarentaal - Guttera pucherani) look much more fancy
These strange Giant Stapelia (Stapelia gigantea) plants grew in the camp

What lizard? Seriously, where?
Another landscape in the late afternoon

Baby Elephant (Olifant - Loxodonta africana) enjoying the water

Too cool for school
I enjoyed my visit, but I must admit, it felt good to be back home. Nothing beats having a dog curled up under each arm.
When I got back I dusted off my camera traps and got them out into the field again. So hopefully there will be some good photos to share soon.

and Sunsets