January 15, 2013

CAMP DISPATCH: KARONGWE IS ON SONG!



If one looks at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 at our wilderness camp in the Karongwe Reserve, the next 12 months is going to be hot!

Instructor Dale Geldenhuys managed to send through these pictures when the students on a 55 day FGASA Level One course encountered this cheetah, ON FOOT, feeding on a baby impala.  



And then Dale Hes, describes their group’s adventure at the end of last year when they attended a birding course, also at Karongwe.

“The birding course at Karongwe provided plenty of excellent sightings, both feathered and furry.
Getting within ten metres of two fully grown wild cheetahs on foot is an experience that not many people will ever get to encounter. But this is exactly what eight awestruck participants of a birding course at Karongwe were privileged enough to witness.

The students, all city slickers from Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Germany, departed from the camp just a few hours after their arrival and never expected their first game drive to yield the treasures that it did.

After spotting the usual suspects (giraffe, zebra, impala, wildebeest and kudu) the crackling radio of the game viewer relayed news to instructor Johann Jurgens that two cheetahs had been spotted close by. After arriving at the location where they were last seen, the students all climbed off the vehicle to search for the magnificent cats on foot.

The cheetahs were found resting under a tree and for the next ten minutes the lucky students watched as the cats groomed each other and rolled around on the ground, completely relaxed in the presence of humans.
Everyone departed from the sighting smiling from ear to ear and after ten minutes of driving stumbled across a small pride of lions, doing what lions do for up to 20 hours a day: sleeping.

After arriving back at camp and excitedly reliving the first drive over dinner, the satisfied group headed for their tents, falling asleep to the grunting of a hippo in the river and the haunting cries of a hyena close to camp.

The next morning’s drive yielded a great sighting of the rare African wildcat as well as elephant, but, being a birding course, the main emphasis was on avian species. The birding proved to be a steep learning curve for the students, most of whom had spent little time in the bush and even less time focusing on birds.
Johann’s knowledge proved to be indispensable as he identified a number of birds, pointing out their distinguishing characteristics and calls. Over 60 species were notched up for the day, including the beautiful white fronted bee eater, the duet-singing black-collared barbet and the lovely emerald spotted wood dove.

Mid-morning lectures conducted by Johan highlighted many interesting facts about our feathered friends, with the students absorbing as much knowledge as possible in preparation for the theoretical and practical assessments which would take place at the end of the course.

Slowly the students picked up the nuances of birding and a passion for birds was ignited in all of them. Unfortunately the cloudy weather that prevailed for most of the week meant the birds were not as active as usual, but over 100 species were still spotted, a testament to the incredible biodiversity of Karongwe.  
Some memorable sightings for the trip included broad billed roller, pygmy kingfisher, Jacobin cuckoo, lizard buzzard and African hawk eagle.

Walks and drives turned out to be very successful on the mammal and reptile front too, with crocodiles, hippos and rhinos all encountered on foot and leopard tortoise, nyala, water monitor, duiker, waterbuck, genet and bush baby spotted on drives.  

The highlight of the trip (apart from the cheetahs) was undoubtedly a fleeting sighting of leopard on foot, followed by an exciting search for the elusive cat, giving its distinctive rasping call as it glided through the bush.  

Johann and his assistant, Mark, kept spirits high with humorous anecdotes and unwavering positivity, and uniquely African games such as ‘bokdrol spoeg’ provided plenty of laughter.

Time flew by far too quickly for the students, who left Karongwe with a new found respect for the African wild, some unforgettable memories, stunning photographs and a desire to return again as soon as possible.

I’m glad to say that everyone passed their assessments with flying (excuse the pun…) colours, and I’m sure they will all be walking around with binoculars around their necks searching for birds in their suburban gardens.”


(Thank you both Dales for the updates and photos, also Agnes van der Heijde for the beautiful scenic pics!)

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