CKGR

Posted: 06/12/2018 in Uncategorized

Hi all

CKGR ? Well, it stands for Central Kalahari Game Reserve.   Simple huh.

This huge reserve was demarcated in the early 1960’s to allow space for the San (Bushmen) people to live out their lives in their traditional manner. It is 52800 square kilometres !!  That’s HUGE. In fact you could fit Swaziland AND Lesotho inside it at the same time. Yes, it is bigger than Switzerland !

In much more recent times it has been partially opened up, by special permit, to the public – so naturally that is where the Woods wanted to go – not so easy to do – it is very remote – there is no fuel – there is no water – there are very limited camping facilities – so we needed to be prepared – VERY prepared. To start with we would need three vehicles and finding willing participants was never going to that easy.   Getting quick agreement from AJS and GJW was simple but that still didn’t get us another vehicle. A second couple sadly had to pull out because of illness. So I honed my marketing skills and went searching. CS and RR, both veterinarians were quite an easy target and once they had found locums were now on board.  Months previously I had conned a couple into agreeing to be a standby team so a call and a short wait they realised to extent of this opportunity and acquiesced and PW and DW became the third vehicle. Yay !

We were on our way – AJS arrived on October 4th and we immediately started fitting the compressor he had so kindly brought with him.

When tackling sandy deserts a compressor is vital

On the 5th we were off to our first stop in Bulawayo where we were also to pick up GJW.  We spent the night in the very quirky and eccentric Nesbitt Castle.

Next morning we met up with the other parties and drove, now in convoy, for the Botswana border and on to Francistown.  Here there was a bit of urgent shopping to do before we were on the road again to Nata Lodge where we were to camp. didn’t stop us from relaxing ……

Sundowners before dinner at Nata Lodge

Day three saw us heading west towards Maun.  That is until I noticed we would be passing relatively closely to “Baines’ Baobabs”.  A roadside conference established eagerness from all parties so that is what we did. Thomas Baines immortalised these trees when he painted them in May of 1862 and they are still there and still look the same.

Driving in Nxai Pan – heavily loaded vehicle indeed

Baines’ Baobabs in Nxai Pan National Park

After that small five hour excursion we arrived at our Maun campsite in time to set up and then once again have sundowners and dinner.

Day four after much critical shopping for tyres, water and of course beer we were ready for the last leg to Rakops before heading to CKGR.

After shopping in Maun

 

 

Last fuel in the not so delightful Rakops

At Last ………..

….after four days we get to the turn off !

…. and we get to the main gate ……..

Matswere Gate

After check-in all eight very excited bunnies drove into the park to be absolutely blown away by the first vistas of Deception Valley

Deception Valley

We were staying at one of the Deception campsites for two nights so explored as much as we could.

Bat-eared Fox are delightful creatures

Deception Pan

During the rains this large Pan would be just a couple of inches deep in water.

Leopard Pan

The team gathered for sundowners at Leopard Pan

Left to right – CS, GJW, me, PW, DW, AJS, RR.    This was taken just after we had seen two Cheetah.

My GPS wasn’t much use

Then we were off again on the long drive south to Piper Pan.

Jan is a very happy lass at Piper Pan

There is a pumped waterhole at Piper and game was plentiful – in fact to see something – just look in the shade !

Springbok – in the shade

Wildebeest – in the shade

Kudu – in the shade

Gemsbuck – in the shade

It was here at Piper Pan that we saw our first Lion

Lion – oh look ! He is also in the shade

It was very early the next morning that a pair walked right through our camp, roaring and generally scaring the campers in their tiny nylon tents !

Piper is a lovely spot and on a return visit we would spend more time there.

Piper Waterhole

Sundown at Piper Pan

Any visit to CKGR will involve big distances being travelled.

Big distances on lousy roads

It is on these sandy roads that tyre pressures need to be lowered to improve both traction and ride comfort.

Thats why we needed to fit the compressor – remember the compressor?  It worked brilliantly.

Letting the tyres down

From Piper we drove to Lekubu where once again we had a Lion in camp !

Lion at Lekubu – standing to the right of frame

Next day off to Sunday Pan, where there is another pumped waterhole.

And more Lions – who walked right through our camp – again !! That’s three nights out of six !!

Jan’s shadow

This pic shows a shadow of Jan as she is trying to get a photo of the Lion spoor going down the road and directly past one of our tents.

….. and here they are !

One of our concerns about this trip was Scorpions.  There are a couple of species that can be fatal to man that live in these parts so we went prepared with UV torches and we found plenty.

Scorpion in UV light – they fluoresce

On our way out of the park we were delayed …….

….. a stroll of Lions ?

Well I think you will have an idea of the wonderfulness of this expedition by now.

So to close – a picture of an African Wildcat

It is in there …

Here is a closer one ….

Sweet ? Probably not !

 

Cheers for now

Tony

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Hi All

The Woods are once again off adventuring !!!

CKGR

 

Google it !

Cheers

Tony

A Tribute

Posted: 11/07/2018 in Uncategorized

To this lovely man !  John Neville sadly died last week.  A wonderful gentleman and a brilliant birder. John had a fantastic sense of humour, huge courage in the face of the many health difficulties than aflicted him but never stopped him from going off on yet another birding adventure.

Here he is handing over a significant donation to the Chairman of the Greystone Park Nature Preserve in Harare for the construction of an island in their dam.  So he was also a man of great generosity !

John resting on the banks of the Pungwe River in far eastern Zimbabwe.

He loved the forests in the Zambezi delta region of central Mocambique as these two pictures show very typical views of John simply absorbing his environment and ensuring that he remembers it all.

Rest in Peace John.  We will all miss you.

Hi all …..

A short message from my long time client and friend PR ..

“Are you available at short notice ?”

A simple affirmative reply and PR starts booking various things, like airline tickets, hotels etc and I start my research.  PR wants to take photographs of various species he has seen previously but did not, could not capture on camera.

He arrives and I have decided that his priority should be a Spotted Creeper.  Off we go into the Mukuvisi Woodlands right here in central Harare.  We worked hard but eventually ………

Success !

Creeper Spotted2_Mukuvisi

African Spotted Creeper – Salpornis spilonotus

Well done PR !!  Good one !!  Priority number one ticked but we cant relax now because next on the list is Zimbabwe’s near endemic, and very elusive, Boulder Chat so it is off to Christon Bank just north of Harare.

 

Chat Boulder_Christon Bank

Boulder Chat – Pinarornis plumosis

That was much easier than the Creeper and whilst we were there we chanced upon this chap.Cuckoo Common2 (hepatic)_Christon Bank

At first we thought we had found an hepatic Common Cuckoo but later decided that is is in fact a juvenile Red-chested Cuckoo – Cuculus solitarius.

The following day we packed the car and headed off to the Bvumba Mountains just outside Mutare on the border with Mocambique where our priority bird was Swynnerton’s Robin but we would also take whatever else decided to co-operate.

Turaco Livingstone's_Seldom Seen

One of the first was the stunning Livingstone’s Turaco – Turaco livingstonii

We then went hunting the Robin !  Found a nice confiding one in the forest at that birding Mecca, Seldomseen, but the light was far from conducive for photography so the hunt continued ………….

…..again…… Success !!

Swynnerton2

What a stunning little bird – Swynnertonia swynnertoni

Robin Swynnerton's2_Seldom Seen

Can’t post just one can I ??

We had a fantastic week and PR left for home a very happy man.

Cheers for now …

Tony

The Twitching Continues

Posted: 18/10/2017 in Uncategorized

Well folks I am back again.

A few days ago I was peacefully reading a book at home, not annoying anyone, not doing anything dodgy or illegal, not doing chores – just minding my own business and quietly turning the pages of my book.  Very relaxed fits the description.

THEN …….

… my cell phone buzzes and pings !!!

Mildly irritated, I lower my book and glance at that infernal nuisance called a mobile phone.

A message.  From someone I have never met but I am vaguely aware of his existence.

A very polite request for assistance in identifying a bird from some pretty crabby photos and a vague mention of a Gull-billed Tern.  Knowing this to be nigh on impossible I glance briefly at the picture.

GBTernAsher

My eyes widen and I come out of my previous state of mind numbing detective stories and look at the photograph again. That looks pretty good as a possible Gull-billed Tern !!

I text him back – Leg colour ?  Facial markings ? Bill colour ? and various other ramblings.

I get his reply with pretty much all the correct answers !!

By now I am no longer comfortably seated on the verandah under a cooling fan.

I am on my mobile phone (of which I have become suddenly very fond) and I am starting to irritate and annoy people.  It doesn’t take very long to get James to agree to go driving about the countryside.  Roger (of photography fame in a previous post) has to attend a meeting – a terribly sorry but I can’t get out of it – sort of meeting !

“What bird did you say ?  A Gull-billed Tern ?!!  Hold on a mo’ ……….. OK I have cancelled the meeting – come and pick me up !”  I do like a man who can make decisions !

Yay !  Game on !  We are off to Joyce Mine near Beatrice, about 70 km south of Harare.

We get there and meet up with Asher who originally alerted me to this birds presence and within minutes we are in contact with a large Tern flying over the dam.  What do we need ?

  1. Black legs and feet.  Yes I saw those.
  2. Short, stout black bill. Yes I saw that.
  3. Smudge behind the eye. James saw that.
  4. Strange sort of alternate light and dark primaries.  Roger says he can see that on the back of his camera !
  5. A grey rump.  None of us saw that !! Chase the bird to the other dam ……

…and Boom !

Gbtzw7

Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica

Everyone can see the grey rump !  And the smudge behind the eye ! And the stout bill !

GBtzw8

And the strange alternate appearance of the primaries !

Gbternzw1

And the black feet & legs !

Ladies and gentlemen – there you have it – Zimbabwe’s 8th ever Gull-billed Tern !!

The other seven sightings of this species are very spread out. The 1st (Campbell & Manson) was way back in 1969 and the 2nd (Hancock) in 1972. The 3rd (Pollard) only appeared in 1991 as did the 4th (Tree). Numbers 5,6 & 7 (all F & T Couto) were spread over 1993 and ’94 . So this bird of ours hasn’t been seen in Zimbabwe for something like 22 years !!  That’s why we are super chuffed !!

And Asher ?  Remember Asher ?  He is relatively new to birding and this was his first Tern of any kind – now that’s the way to start !!

One for the road …………

Gbtzw2

A huge thanks to Roger McDonald (and Asher) for the free use of the pictures.

Cheers all

Tony

Oh what a massive Twitch !!

Posted: 06/03/2017 in Birding

Well folk a few weeks ago I went off adventuring with some mates and what an adventure it turned out to be !!!   Amazing !!

I will let Jono tell the story …………….

Pied Wheatear – Victoria Falls Airport – February 2017

What a Twitch, What a Twitch, What a mighty, mighty big Twitch!!

jf1

Pied Wheatear  Oenanthe pleschanka

On Thursday 23rd February 2017 the following message was posted on the Zimbabwean Special Species Sighting whatsapp group:

23/2/2017, 2:38:02 PM: Hilton: Just through from Trevor Hardaker on RSA rare bird net. Pied Wheatear in parking area of Victoria Falls airport

A picture of the bird had been sent to Trevor Hardaker of the Rare Birds Committee in South Africa for verification and on confirmation the excitement began to mount!

First and foremost, we must acknowledge well renowned Professional Guides, Gavin Ford and Dave Carsons who were the first to spot the bird and make the call on its ID.  Below is Dave’s description of the initial encounter:

25/2/2017, 11:35:21 AM: Dave Carsons: You cannot believe the absolute chance encounter of it all… Having Gavin F with me helped as he spotted it…. I just picked up Gavin and we were driving out of the airport and Gavin said, “hey there is a wheatear”.  At that point we were not sure of which one (at least I was not).  We hauled anchors…. stopped, ID it and got very very excited. Gavin got some great pics and then we called the cavalry.

Dave and Gavins excitement was well justified as the Pied wheatear has very few confirmed records for Southern Africa, in fact, according the Roberts, there have only been two sightings prior to our very exciting Vic Falls Record.

Rare Bird Data (Roberts VII Multimedia, Birds of Southern Africa)

1984/01/23-27 2831DD KZ-Natal Mtunzini, Twin Streams Farm I. Garland, I Sinclair, C. Mowat

2000/12/12-20 1823CD Botswana Third Bridge, just N or M. Tripp, P. Whittington et al.

 

So as the buzz and hype began to increase over all the social media channels, so too did my itch for a twitch!! At 4:17 on Thursday afternoon, the question was posed on The Chirpers Chat whatsapp group “Anyone keen for a twitch if the Pied hangs around?”.   From that moment on the phones were hot.  Darryl, who lives in Vic Falls, confirmed that the bird was still around on Friday morning. Sadly, there were not as many genuine twitchers out there as we had hoped. So, began the task of trying to establish the most cost effective means of making this twitch happen within the shortest possible timeframe (given that the bird could take advantage of the next available weather front and head on out of there at any moment) and trying to convince others to sign up for this totally spontaneous and awesome adventure.  On Friday afternoon, after rushing around for most of the day trying to pull everything together, Tony Wood and I made the call “screw it, let’s do it”! The plan was to drive to Vic Falls on Saturday, twitch the Wheatear, camp the night in the National Park and head back to Harare on Sunday.  As there were no other takers for the twitch, my wife and 4-month-old baby were fortunate enough to be invited to join the expedition! After a quick SOS call to Gwanny and Gwampa our two older children were taken care of and we were packed and ready for our crack of dawn departure the next day.

Tony arrived promptly at 4:30am on Saturday 25th in his very smart Landcruiser Station wagon & we set off on our epic adventure.  We had been promised an update on the bird’s presence by Darryl but as we were in and out of signal on our journey, the messages weren’t coming in very frequently.  Just before 8am, my wife got signal on her phone and made that apprehensive call to Darryl.  We all held our breaths while we waited for the response…..the bird was still around and feeding happily at the airport….phew! Despite this news, Tony managed to maintain an even keel and we soldiered on avoiding any speeding fines.  As we passed through Gweru, we received a message from Steve Edwards of Musango Camp (Kariba) asking how far we were and if he could join us from Bulawayo.  The timing was perfect and we found him on the side of the road just before the toll gate leading out of Bulawayo with a duffle bag slung over his shoulder!  He piled in with us and we were on our way again barely noticing the excitingly swollen rivers and delicately blooming teak trees along the way as we anxiously headed towards Vic Falls.   We were all so nervous that the bird would have disappeared, or simply flitted over the roof of the terminal building and into the restricted area at the airport before we arrived.

My stomach was churning and my palms were sweaty as we approach the airport turn off.  At 15:05, with overwhelming support from all the members of The Chirpers Chat group on whatsapp, we turned into the Vic Falls International Airport parking lot. My mouth was dry and my breathing laboured as I scanned the parking lot for any sign of fellow birders.  Tony, who had driven like a champ for a full 10.5 hours remained composed (I think…. his driving wasn’t at the forefront of my focus at that point in time) as we drove toward the drop and go section.  Then, to my relief I noticed one person with a mega camera lens on a tripod right in front of the terminal entrance.  Not wanting to disturb the bird, we stopped just short of the camera man and as we came to a stop, Steve said “there it is…I got it first!!”.  Sure enough, there was the Pied Wheatear perched on the terminal building behind the flag poles.  A wave of euphoria and jubilation swept over us as we all clambered out of the car to get better visuals, leaving Tony to find a suitable parking. It had taken us less than a minute from entering the carpark to getting a visual of this little beauty.  WHAT JOY!!!  Over the course of the next 15 minutes we revelled in our sighting, amazed at how accommodating this little chap was, in the presence of our gradually increasing crowd of twitchers.

He was an absolute beauty even in his non-breeding plumage.   His dark dusky face was slowly transitioning into the soot black breeding colour which was accentuated by his pale buff belly.  He spent much of the time preening each feather affording the odd view of that striking white tail with the broad dark tail tip.  Electrifying, to say the least!  He would then see a poor unsuspecting moth below and take a plunge to rid himself of that hot African hunger…. after all he had flown a very long way.  The dark face, dark back and stunning white tail flash reminded me of the Forktails in Asia which are like our wagtails just a lot more striking!  He was very contented and ate a mountain of moths right in front of us. The Northern Grey-headed sparrows would flush insects from the grass and he would capitalise on this opportunity to indulge.  He was joined by a Spotted flycatcher who seemed equally thrilled with this manna from heaven.

It was exceptionally hot and our euphoria meters were running at one hundred percent as was Tony’s car equipped with an Engel fridge brimming with bitterly cold beers.  The combination of the Wheatear and the hops and barley was absolutely staggering…. Elation beyond belief!

jf5jf6

After a couple of cold ones in the car park and some shared photos and conversation with the fellow twitchers, we headed into town to see if we could pick up a Schalow’s Turaco which my wife still needs.  Steve made some calls and we popped in to one of his friends’ houses where they have been seen on the odd occasion.  Sadly, we did not find a Turaco, but we did meet the loveliest and most hospitable Vic Falls locals who joined our excitement and opened their homes and their bar fridges to us.  After being invited to stay at the beautiful, well located, well equipped, comfortable, upmarket and very reasonably priced Lorries B&B and now, under no pressure to get into the park and set up camp before the Park closed, we headed to the boat club for sundowners on the banks of the Mighty Zambezi.  It was most important that I washed my face in the Zambezi…. you can’t be that close to the river and not touch it!

We tucked into a delicious dinner at the Boat Club then headed to our B&B for an early night.  In the early hours of Sunday morning we were woken by rolling thunder, followed by a deluge.  The heavens opened and it bucketed down.  We were very grateful for the hospitality of Lorrie and Clive and even more grateful that we were not having to break camp in the rain.  After a quick cup of coffee, we left Lorries B&B and headed out for one last failed attempt at getting the Schalows turaco before we were back on the road again, homeward bound.

The weather was still very grey and wet as we approached the airport.  We decided to do one last drive by, hoping to get a final glimpse of the little beauty but he was nowhere to be seen and the security guard on site said that he had not made an appearance that morning yet.  We headed on, relieved that we had secured such a fantastic sighting the day before.

jf4

There was still a lot of buzz about the bird on social media as we picked up signal along our way and we passed fellow birders heading to the Falls in the hope of catching a glimpse, but their quest did not bear the same fruits as ours.  We managed to get a great sighting of two bull eles crossing the road just in front of us and we also got a glimpse of a rufous morph of a Steppe Buzzard which was a first for us.

jf7

We dropped off Steve in Bulawayo and stopped a couple of times to try in vain for the Barred-wren warbler and Melodious lark.  The weather system was still all around us with ominous black clouds whichever way we looked. We arrived home safe and sound at around 6:30 only to learn that today’s twitchers, which included many South Africans who had flown up especially for the twitch had had a dismally unsuccessful day and the Wheatear had not been seen at all that day.  We breathed a sigh of relief that we had made the call to strike while the iron was hot and had been blessed with such crippling views of the bird.

Today, less than 48 hours after our sighting, an announcement has been posted on social media that “The Bird Has Flown”!  This news has made our merry team of twitchers even more elated that we had such a successful twitch and little did we know how close we had been to missing this fickle little feathered friend.

Thanks must go out to all those who made this twitch such a great one.

Gavin Ford for spotting the bird and making a call on its ID & Dave Carsons for getting the information out to the public

Tony Wood who drove like a legend on such a long journey

Steve Edwards who provided some great entertainment on the road trip and introduced us to his very special friends from The Falls

Lorrie and Clive from Lorries B&B who took us in and made us so comfortable and at home in their lovely establishment

My wife, Jen (Sausages) and my Baby Leo who accompanied me and held the reigns when the celebrations began

Jan Wood who was our number one supporter on The Chirpers Chat Whatsapp group throughout the journey

Darryl Tiran for keeping us updated of the whereabouts of the bird

All those who sent messages and shared our excitement remotely as our road trip progressed.

________________________________________________________________

Thank you Jono.  Well written

Cheers all

Tony

Hi All

Zimbabwe had a bad drought in 2016 with dams very low and the underground water table taking a beating.

Also there were no Blogs from me !!

In January the beautiful Jan and I celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary !!   Where oh where have all those wonderful years gone ?

I had a number of excellent trips with clients last year and Jan and I did two of own. Firstly we joined a whole bunch of mates at Rifa Education Camp on the Zambezi River near Chirundu – wonderful birding but distressingly little game around.

braai

There have to be worse places to have a Braai.

camp1

The Rifa Camp dining area

fig

There is a giant Fig tree in the camp which attracts thousands of birds.

The next trip was the BirdLife Zim AGM which this year was held at Lake Muturikwi outside Masvingo.  Great camp sites, Chalets and Lodges and a very good AGM with me not in the chair for a change.

Then I was off to Cape Town !!!

There is a little bird that breeds in southern Europe – the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin – and then migrates to the Sahel zone to avoid the Eurasian winter.  Then a “lost” bird turned up in Cape Town to be discovered by Peter Steyn.  It was seen reliably for several weeks and I desperately wished to see it.  Eventually Jan said “Just go !”  So I did.

rtsr

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (Erythropygia galactotes 

This photo is ©Tinus Lamprecht.    Well I was successful and also caught up with some old buddies I hadn’t seen for nearly ten years.

Then – big surprise – Jan was effectively summonsed to an Alzheimer’s conference in Nigeria.  Greatly excited to meet the King of Ibadan and of course to see a bit of another country.

Roll on to September and we were off again, this time to Malawi  with our dearest friend (who has featured many times in these Blogs) AJS. Whilst not specifically a birding trip something new was bound to crop up. We drove all the way via Lusaka in Zambia, through Chipata and on to Kasungu National Park where we stayed in Lifupa Lodge.

lifupasign

Kasungu Sign

It is a vast park and we saw some antelope species, heard Lion roaring very close to camp and saw loads of Elephants

kasunguview

Fantastic view of the park from Black Rock

kasunguele

Plenty of quite relaxed elephant about

From Kasungu we drove north to the Nyika Plateau, which I covered in a previous post “Above the Tree Line”, and stayed in the very impressive Chelinda Lodge.

chelinda2

Fantastic reception Room at Chelinda Lodge

chelinda1

Gorgeous chalets over looking the moorland

I had a couple of hours of forest birding and saw a raft of new, to me, species. Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Bar-tailed Trogon, Denham’s Bustard, Olive Woodpecker, Olive-breasted Mountain Greenbul, Red-rumped and Angola Swallows,Fulleborn’s Black Boubou and we heard a Mountain Nightjar.

Next stop was on the other side of this tiny country at Ngala Beach Lodge on the shores of Lake Malawi.

ngala2

Ngala Beach Lodge is delightful

lake1

The lake is gentle, tide free and very blue

ngala1

Very peaceful and relaxing surrounds 

After three nights of mega relaxing we were off again, southwards this time, to the bottom end of the lake with Nkopola Lodge as our destination.  Jan and I had last been to Nkoplola Lodge way back in 1975 !!  This was a great romantic reminder of simpler times.

nkopola1

Lovely gardens

The hotel has, naturally, changed over the decades and is now much larger and very much more commercial.  Not altogether a bad thing.  We did take an afternoon out to visit the very bohemian village of Cape McClear where AJS and Jan went snorkeling to see some of the colourful Cichlids for which the Lake is so famous.

capemc

Relaxing at Cape McClear

After a few days it was time to return home and, due to the problems in central Moçambique, we had to again go all the way across Malawi into Zambia and use the same route home. All in all a fantastic holiday.  Thank you AJS.

Cheers for now

Tony