I have spent the weekend ‘glamping’. That’s camping in style. No pitching tents in the dark, losing tent pegs, tripping over guy ropes or fumbling around with a dodgy head torch.

And definitely NO threat of noisy fellow campers this time round!

We spent two nights at Kolkol – a lovely spot just outside Botriver about 6 kays on the Van der Stel pass road. The farm has two ‘luxury’ tents – beautifully done with wonderful features (such as a ball and claw bath & a travelling hot tub). Real necessities when camping, you understand!

The tents are both tucked away in different corners of the farm. Ours was the ‘upper’ tent – the most private of the two, with its own little stream that bubbled below constantly and with lush restios and riverine fynbos providing welcome shelter from the sun and a little haven for birds and dragonflies.

It was our second visit – this time without small person (and to celebrate our 10 year anniversary), so an opportunity to really just enjoy the peace and quiet and catch up with some great reading!

Other than the occasional sunbird, a few robins and some pretty little grassbirds and prinias, we did not see much in the way of wildlife…

So it was quite funny that once back in Noordhoek (bustling metropolis that it is), I went on to have three pretty awesome wild sightings! The first was within minutes of getting home. I heard the birds going ballistic in the tree just outside near our front stoep. Thinking snake or something we went out to investigate and a massive Black Sparrowhawk bombed out of the tree …obviously had his eye on some of our juicy docile rock pigeons!

I then headed out for a 2 hour run in the hills behind, and about 45 minutes into the run (on the Old Wagon trail), very nearly stepped on the tail of a rather long black snake. I did not manage to see his head, so could not ID him. But he was fast and very big! As if that was not enough, I then came within inches of stepping on a very plump, very beautiful Puffie….also moving remarkably fast (for a Puffadder anyway) into the fynbos on the side of a path on the Silvermine East side.

There is something very invigorating about being SO close to something so deadly and powerful! But it did make me feel just a little jittery in the last hour of my run and I found myself picking my way ever so gingerly over the rocks of the last narrow, rocky path I had to negotiate to get home.

Three wonderful sightings in one afternoon – and all on home turf.

A perfect end to a great weekend.

Kgalagadi – Act III: Red in tooth and claw

As mentioned in my first post about the Kgalagadi, nature is red in tooth and claw…you see life and death within seconds of each other. This rawness can be disturbing to some. When we excitedly mentioned our cheetah kill sighting to a chap in one of the camps, he said he no longer hangs around to watch them, saying that for him it is a bit like watching a car accident. Each to his own, I guess!

The scene below was wonderful to watch. It also had its moments…when we thought the poor little thing was stuck and wasn’t going to make it! Then what could we do? Absolutely nothing, of course. Yet again, we were just casual bystanders – powerless to intervene, but privileged to watch something so extraordinary and to share an incredible hour with this Sringbok mum.

As we drove by, we spotted her lying down and I noticed the birth sac protruding from her. She stood up and moved about and slowly two little feet emerged. She did not seem to be actively pushing – she would graze a little then maybe nose her behind a bit…but was not overly concerned about things.

At one point something spooked the small gathering of females and babies and they all bolted across the road -birthing mum included. As she ran, the sack burst and this seemed to speed things along. We then watched the little creature inch its way into the world – ears, nose, eyes.

The whole shiny bundle plopped out after a good 45 minutes. The mum spent a long time licking and eating the placenta and then this incredible little creature made its first attempt at getting up.

It struggled for ages, but could never quite make it. We had to leave the scene before we saw it totter up successfully, but were told by people who had seen this before that it can take quite a while. Our concern was that because her birth had seemed so prolonged, perhaps something had happened to the calf?

Again, like the cheetah and her kill – we will never know! And whatever happened, there would be no waste, if the little thing was damaged in some way. Someone would have benefited from this gift of life – hyena, jackal or vulture.

Kgalagadi – Act II: Killer instinct

About that cheetah kill I mentioned…

Sometime after midday on the Nossob River side of the park, we spotted a lone cheetah under a tree – well over a kilometre away from us. She was in the shade of a large acacia doing what these big cats do best – lounging about, full of feline disdain and attitude.

I scanned up and down the river bed with my bins (to check for hapless prey material, just in case) and lo and behold spotted three mature ostriches trotting south directly towards her (a male with two females in tow).

I made some comment about ostriches approaching the line of fire and how they were ‘lambs to the slaughter’ and all that…

My son – avid watcher of ‘Life’, ‘Nature’s Great Events’ and all programmes with the vaguest whiff of the genius of Attenborough piped up “She won’t go for them Mom, not on her own….noooo way!….Cheetah’s just don’t risk attacking ostriches without backup….too dangerous. Waaaaay too dangerous.”

The 7 ½ yr old had spoken! And given his astonishingly accurate assessment of so many other behavioural issues in the preceding days, we took his word for it and accepted that she would be wise and just watch them trot by.

She suddenly adopted that classic feline crouch, her head and ears flattened, shoulder blades up. The tension and electricity in our car was incredible as we realised it was all going to happen – and fast.

The large male ostrich trotted past and then VOOMP –she leapt. She was incredible…with precision and control and the most phenomenal speed, she bolted towards the middle bird from the side. The birds all panicked and it was knees up as they attempted to flee – tail feathers splayed and aloft.

We watched and tried to makes sense of the blur of her supremely athletic body, her stealth and missile-like focus. She veered right, then left, and then leapt up, grabbed one of the ostrich’s massive thighs with her paws and the neck with her jaws and after about 15 seconds the bird was down. There was an explosion of dust and a 30 second long struggle on the ground with dangerous thrashing legs, a flurry of wings and flaying neck.
We worried about those legs – one blow to the cat’s stomach or head could prove fatal

And then it was all over.

The dust settled and the dead ostrich was revealed – Titanic that she was. I would estimate a healthy 120 kg of flesh, bone, sinew and feathers. This bird had thighs that would make Usain Bolt whimper…

We then watched the cheetah drag the bird by the head for about a metre and then drop it. She walked back to the shade of the tree (no hint of injury or damage) and flopped down.

It was probably about 35 degrees at that point. She had just brought down (and dragged) an animal well over twice her weight and well over four times her height, and was no doubt shattered.

We waited for just under an hour – watching to see if she would start feeding, but she didn’t.

A day later we drove to the same spot and the only hint of the previous day’s carnage was a small pile of damp feathers and a few bones….whether she had eventually feasted on her prize (or possibly other scavengers in the night had enjoyed her winnings), we will never know!

When it was all over we all sat and looked at one another. I was shaking, Tim drained a 2 litre bottle of water and Warren just kept saying F#%ck.
A lot.
It was quite the most incredible thing to watch.

Here is the sequence. I apologise for the number of pictures, but I couldn’t resist.

(With big thanks to photographic maestro Warren for capturing it all between the expletives…bear in mind that this was well over a kay away and with a shimmery heat haze wobble going on so you have to really search for the cat, particularly in the first pic…)

And then some…

The third and final Papkuilsfontein instalment (dear subscriber…hold your breath for our imminent Kgalagadi trip!)

We were lucky enough to spot two Black Harrier adults in two separate locations. Later when I chatted to Rob Simmons of the Fitz Institute (Mr Black Harrier himself) he mentioned that he and a student had not managed to see a single Harrier in a trip up there 3 weeks before. Lucky, lucky us!

We also spotted a gazillion Rock kestrels. They are such wonderfully agile little raptors. This one (and his partner) was very agitated with us as we sat and had a snack on the edge of the canyon. There must have been a nest close by. They eyed us out constantly, leaving the rocky ledge frequently to hover and swear at us on the wing.

There were one or two other really big sighting highlights for us on this trip….an African Wild Cat leaping across the road (striped tail and all), a Freckled nightjar doing its bat-like flitting and calling outside our cottage just after dusk, a glorious little Bat-eared fox family (two babies) with Mum and Dad right on the side of the road and then a Cape Fox….very skittish and leaping away from us, across a field.

I left the Groot Karoo with the image of that little Bat-eared fox family in my mind, and I had to wonder how much of a struggle it is for these and all the other creatures to survive in this environment.

The odds are stacked against them, what with the traffic (we came across this very sad road kill casualty from the previous night – a large hare), fences at every turn, and, tragically…farmers with guns and traps.

(Being rather squeamish, I asked Warren to move this poor guy right off to the far side of the verge and off the road. This way it is less likely to cause more damage when another scavenger (four legged or winged) comes along to gobble it up and in doing so – gets hit. Possibly a good idea when/if you come across similar carnage on your travels.)

BUT, we saw so much and this means that creatures are incredibly resilient and (I live in hope on this one) that farmers are starting to come around to friendlier, more sustainable ways. Seeing so many raptors is always a very good indicator indeed.

A rarity in the rain…

As promised, some more on our little journey north to Papkuilsfontein…and the rare rain that followed us there!

As we drove into Clanwilliam it started spitting politely. By the time we hit Vanrhynsdorp, it was sheeting down… and large lakes (with waves) were forming in the main road. We looked at one another wide-eyed. We had thought we were coming to the parched Great Karoo, where it NEVER rains! The thought of being cooped up in a cottage for 4 days with a hyper 7 ½ year old was NOT good, so we screeched to a halt outside a modest little shop (one of about 2 in the town) that caters mainly for farmers and asked if they had any rain gear (we had packed nothing for wet weather).
We walked out happy, with three bright yellow rain suits (made for farm-workers) – ready for action.
(The guys in the shop were all looking quite delirious – the rain, although ridiculously unseasonal, is a Godsend to the farming fraternity in these parts…)

All kitted out in yellow the next day, on our first very soggy hike, we came across the most brilliant little creature. One which we feel completely blessed to have seen…and were able to watch for a good 10 minutes! By all accounts they are rarely encountered and certainly do not usually just hang about to be admired as this one did.

The Armadillo Lizard is quite an extraordinary reptile. When threatened, it curls up into a ball much like its namesake – the Armadillo!
Warren kicked himself for not having his camera on him (it was bucketing when we had set out)…but we have the memory of this little chap firmly planted in our minds. This is a photo I have borrowed from the ‘net just to show you how special he is.

This was just one of many other superb wildlife sightings on this farm…more of those tomorrow.

For a laugh, this is a pic of us getting completely stuck on Day 3….on our way to the start of one of the hikes. My poor little car just couldn’t quite pull off the 4×4 thing for this particularly soggy stretch. The farmer, Jaco, very kindly came down a couple of hours later to haul us out with his Toyota Landcruiser. He too got very impressively wedged in the mud for a good half an hour before he was able to get to us!!