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Category: Nxai Pan

Nxai Pan, May 2014

Nxai Pan

A little quieter this month in terms of guests but still plenty of sightings for those that do visit us in Nxai Pan!

The large zebra herds have moved off, and the shorter grass allows good visibility for us to see the smaller animals that move across the pans. Jackals abound everywhere, with the beige and silver coats blending in well as the grass dries. Bat eared foxes flatten their ears and camouflage into the dusky surrounds. A slight movement and their ears spring up like radar antennas, searching for the rustling sounds of potential prey.

Great sightings of general game, with oryx, small zebra herds, spring bok, impalas, and plenty of giraffes. Kori bustards stalk the ground, and hundreds of guinea fowl chirp along towards the waterhole. The cooler days and nights meant that the summer migratory birds have left, but we still have the resident raptors and larks. The queleas are building up in numbers, and in a few months it will be time to put the net on the pool again to stop them dive-bombing and drowing.

The predators still around the area, with one male lion found along Baobab loop, walking along and calling for the rest of the pride that he had become temporarily separated from. A wonderful arrival of a female cheetah with three young cubs spotted at the main waterhole. They were seen several times in the following days, with the cubs bounding along and following their mother, interrupting occasionally to play-fight amongst themselves. They even interrupted our early breakfast at camp one morning as they strolled over the plain in front of camp to the waterhole, so that mother could drink. Luckily it was still too early in the day for the elephants to be hogging the waterhole, and they were able to drink in peace.

The best news this month though, was the discovery on the 18th May at the main waterhole, the lioness with cubs. Last month we had not seen the female with cubs, and feared the worst, but it seems all is well, and the male lions looked after the cubs well enough, just waiting for the female to return!

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Nxai Pan April 2014

 

The lion pride was seen around Middle Road on the first day of the month, with the female moving her cubs to a new den site and the rest of the pride relaxing at the waterhole. A few days later the lioness was seen again moving the three cubs in the direction of Baines

The next day, two lionesses were seen at the camp waterhole, and then spent the whole day in the shade of bush near the waterhole. Another time, lying up at the main waterhole, two lionesses seemed to be snoozing whilst a large male giraffe approached the waterhole to drink. Suddenly alert to this new arrival, the lionesses crouched down, and went into hunting mode. Luckily, the giraffe spotted them just in time, before he dipped down to drink, but the lioness still made an attempt and chased the giraffe off, as he ran ungainly away.

A morning drive out and we found two male lions. Stopping the car to watch them, the lions continued on their way, and suddenly we found ourselves with one big male in front of the car, and one behind! Completely unconcerned by our presence, they moved on in their own time. A great sighting! We continued on a little further and found another male at the waterhole ‘baby sitting’ three cubs, whilst the rest of the pride were presumably out on a hunt.

Lion cubs were not the only cub we saw this month – a lovely leopard was found feeding on a zebra she had killed, and feeding with her was her little cub!

The main waterhole can get a little sticky at times, as one honey badger found out when he went to drink. The mud in the surrounding area was a little thick for his short fat legs, and it took him quite a time to get out of his sticky predicament. A better day for another honey badger, when we watched one hunting and catching a small feast. Although we couldn’t make out exactly what he had caught, it appeared to be quite an enjoyable meal!

Now the majority of the zebras have left – with the normal herds that reside here all year round remaining, another migration appears to have moved in. Wherever you look, there are giraffe. In amongst the trees, standing in the middle of the flat open plains, approaching the waterholes. Game drives are seeing 80-100 individuals on a morning drive – an unusual number, and where they have appeared from is anyone’s guess!

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Nxai Pan March 2014

 

The national animal of Botswana – the zebra – still abound in Nxai Pan. Every where you look, every which way you turn, the herds are there. Towards the end of the month, they began moving off, but there were such large numbers this year, that it will take some time for the majority to leave the area. In the meant time, they are providing a plentiful food supply to the lions in the area.

Early in the month, and the lions and their three cubs – now around 3.5 months old – were seen every other day. The cubs would always provide plenty of entertainment, chasing each other around, and when bored with that, chasing their mother’s tail. One morning, we came across the whole pride, feeding on a zebra they had killed during the night. One male was mating with one of the lionesses. The cubs continued to play on and the other male, obviously sick of all the fuss, chose to drag the heavy zebra carcass off under the shade of a bush, where he could feed more peacefully.

Lions sightings continued to be excellent throughout the month, with them being sighted for 24 days out of 31. The males continued to hunt for zebra – not always successful in spite of the large number of them. Vultures watched their every move, in the hope that they will be successful and provide a second hand meal for them as well.

Another wonderful visit by the uncommon predator – three wild dogs made an appearance on the 20th March. We found them near West road, chasing springboks out in the open. Unfortunately for them, they did not manage to catch one, and so they moved off across the plains.

A special trip to KgamaKgama – some distance from the main area of the park – was rewarded with a herd of eland – around 40 individuals. Very rare to see in Nxai Pan, it was with this specific intent that the car had set off to KgamaKgama, so wonderful that it all paid off.

With so many lions around, the cheetahs were needing to be careful, so we did not see as many this month as hoped for. However, we did find a female that was stalking through the bushes, in the hope of catching her dinner.

Still great general game around, with lots of the smaller predators – the jackals that trot around the open areas constantly, and the wonderful bat eared foxes that hunker down under the shade of low bushes, and come out to play in the early morning or late afternoon.

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Nxai Pan February 2014

 

We drove off from the camp to see what the day would bring – hoping to see a predator somewhere amongst the large number of preys species that are in the area at the moment. As we were driving on the western edge of the pan, we saw one cheetah that was hunting. We drove closer to see what it was stalking. The cheetah trotted slowly towards a group of three impalas when something spooked the antelope and they bolted away, raising clouds of dust. When the dust settled, we saw that there were now two cats in front of impala. The cheetahs wheeled around, running into the path of the impala. One of the cheetah picked his target and at full speed launched himself at the running animal, and with his right claws hooked into the shoulder. He struck its rump whit his other paw to try to bring it down, but the impala was not about to give up. The other cheetah now attacked it from behind, using both front paws on the impala’s rump in an effort to overpower it’s prey. Wrested to the ground, the finally managed to kill the impala by throttling it for about ten to fifteen minutes.

Tails, however, were literally turned on another morning drive, when we came upon a chase happening across the Middle Road Loop – a large male lion was chasing a cheetah! With little hope of actually catching the cheetah, the lion was probably just hoping to chase him out of the immediate area, as he is viewed as a competitor for the same prey species.

The peak of the zebra migration in February, and they are surely exceeding the 10,000 mark. Far outnumbering the usually more prolific springbok, the zebras are at almost every corner you turn, moving too and fro from the open plains to the shelter of the trees, and the many watering holes that are collecting the rain water. Soon, it will be time for them to move on, with still several hundred choosing to ‘winter-over’ in Nxai Pan, the vast majority moving closer to the Delta, or down into the Makgadigadi region.

If you have ever felt the need to get near enough to a some raptors to tell the difference between a Steppe buzzard and a yellow billed kite, this is the time of year! The yellow-billed kites, in their hundreds, far out number the buzzards, and both species are sharing the feast of insects and frogs with the Abdims storks. The kites again and again swoop close to the termite mounds to snatch a meal on the wing as the termites fly out of their homes on a once a year flight to try and find mates. The kites target a termite, make a few quick adjustments of ‘flaps and rudders’, seize the prey in its talons and the passes it to its beak. At these times, you hear only the occasional chirp of a cicada, and the constant swishing of wing beats through the air. Now and then there is a louder swish as two kites go for the same termite and their wings touch – but never a collision.

We also had a surprise visit at the end of the month, with three wild dogs being seen along Middle Road, chasing springbok. We were able to watch them for some time, but they did not make a kill, and eventually moved away.

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Nxai Pan January 2014

 

The second day of the month looked dark and stormy, but we headed out on drive that morning anyway, to see what we could find. Soon we came upon a male cheetah, that was very relaxed, and patrolled around the pan. That morning we also saw three lioness with three young, and lots of general game, including some of the hundreds of zebras that have moved into the Nxai area, bringing their young with them.

The very next day, we were lucky enough to see two cheetahs mating – quite a rare event to behold. After mating, the male tried to leap out of the way of the snarling female, but was not quite fast enough and received a cut to the nose as she slashed her paw across his face!

January is definitely all about zebra – as they come in Nxai Pan for the fresh green grass that is growing. This provides sufficient nutrition – and plentiful water – to ensure the health of their young, before moving into other areas as it starts to dry out in a few months. It’s a little it and miss – we never know when they are going to arrive, and how many, as it is totally dependent on the rain fall. But this year, they came en masse, and were prolific in January. Hundreds and hundreds, more likely several thousand, have made their way to Nxai this year, with zebra roaming on every plain, and resting under each shady tree. After the rains, there are several natural waterholes with enough available for them to drink, without having to rely on the two pumped pans in the park. But with so many zebra, all watering places have a steady stream of animals moving in and out to drink. Each herd clears out of the way quickly should a dusty grey elephant arrive, as they are liable to throw their weight around in a rather rough manner when it comes to water access …

And its not just the antelope and zebra that are having babies – a lioness was seen walking from tree island to tree island, calling to her little cubs, and moving them from one location to another, after finding a safer hiding place. And when you are a lion, everyone is looking at you – not just the tourists. Another lioness was found lying down trying to relax, but totally surrounded by zebras, wildebeest, springboks and impalas, who were all alarm calling and trying to get her to move out of the area for their own safety!

Cheetahs were also seen several times this month, often around the water hole, stalking the many antelope that are still coming there to drink. Lions were also resting in the area nearby, so the waterhole is still a focus of action in spite of the several pans having water. The cheetah did manage to bring down a springbok, although we did not see the actual kill, we found the cheetah feeding. We were lucky enough to see leopard on the same day.

 

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Nxai Pan December 2013

 

The first day of the month started with an early morning game drive. Heading to the main waterhole, we saw a cloud of dust ahead of us, along the flat grasslands of the pan. As we approached, we saw a black breasted snake eagle with a big snake. We watched to see if the eagle will kill the snake and eat it. The bird lunged and grabbed the fat puff adder, holding the head in its beak, and then whipping the snake from side to side for about twenty minutes! Eventually, the eagle held the snake limply, and it appeared to be dead. The eagle then stretched it’s neck, and slowly started ingesting the snake. It took about five minutes till the entire reptile disappeared, and the bird began to preen.

The rains, although falling in other parts of the country, did not appear in Nxai Pan until the 12th December, when they appeared not in buckets, but more in the style of a fire hydrant: 70mm fell in 24 hours and the pan and all roads turned into a mirrored lake. Mokoros would not have been out of place. Sadly, a few scrub hares and small mongoose could not make it to a high spot in time, and were found having drowned. Although it meant the end of life for some individuals, it was exactly what most of the animals in Nxai Pan were waiting for… a few days later, the first shoots of grass started showing, and the springbok hastily hoovered them up. Heavily pregnant, the female springbok need an abundance of fresh grass to be able to provide enough milk for their babies. And so it was on the 18th December that the springbok lambs began arriving . almost all will be born within the same week.

Lions were found on most days we did drives this month, and all looked in prime condition. Once the rains had begun, the day time temperature cooled slightly, and this kept the lions more active than they would otherwise be. Many of the sightings were of them strolling along the roads, or toward the waterholes, looking for suitable prey to attack!

One lovely sighting of two lionesses strolling past our vehicle was followed not long after by a sighting in the late afternoon of a cheetah relaxing under a tree. Waiting patiently, in less than ten minutes, the cheetah stood up, stretched, and then moved towards our vehicle, repeating the moves of the lionesses – a great way for the guests to see such super predators up close and comfortable with the car.

Everyone woke on Christmas Day to the sounds of a young lion walking through the camp and roaring, calling out to meet up to the other members of the pride. What a lovely way to wake up! It was, however, later that day, rather tricky to attempt to refuel the cars in camp, as the lion had opted to promote energy conservation, and spent some time lounging next to the petrol pump.

With the rains, the zebras are slowly starting to move in to the area, small herds at a time. These numbers will continue to build through January, with the bulk of them being in the park in February, if all goes well! With the rains, however, elephants have that short period of absolute delight in availability of water and food anywhere in northern Botswana, and make sojourns into areas (such as the Kalahari) that they would not normally spend much time in. As a result, they are not as reliant on the two waterholes in Nxai Pan, and so it becomes harder for us to see them. Only the solitary males remain, and they silently drift past the camp at odd times of day, unusually quiet in their demeanour.

It’s always good to read through guest’s comments in the visitors book, and from feedback, to see what they have enjoyed, and what was the highlight of their stay. Usually, it’s the big predators, huge elephants, and beautiful birds that score the most remarks for most memorable experiences. One guest, however, had an experience with a slightly smaller creature that they happily then listed as their most memorable experience of their safari: “When the baboon spider ran over my foot!”. Baboon spiders are Africa’s answer to the tarantula, but are not normally as big as their South American counterparts. Now, before everyone starts cancelling their trips to our beautiful country for fear of seeing one of these critters, let me put it into perspective for you. Remember the brown hyena that had been so ardently looked for over the last 15 years, and was happily discovered to be real after all in October last year? Well, add those 15 years to the 18 years of mobile guide/researcher/camp manager experience of my other half and that adds up to 33 years of NEVER having seen a baboon spider. And that includes one month of trying to coax one out of its hole every day with a confirmed spider fanatic. Nxai Pan camp does – or at least did before the heavy rains – know the location of one hole where they had the good luck to see one out of her den – presumably to the delight of the above guest – but viewing was entirely optional. I remain blissfully unaware of the existence of such creatures, and anyone visiting Botswana (and indeed Nxai Pan) is welcome to join me in my happily ignorant state, without fear of reality jeopardising the view.

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Nxai Pan November 2013

 

Dusk and dawn in Africa are intoxicating times of day, with light that changes from soft and delicate to vibrant shades of red, yellow and pink. It was even more magical one morning at Nxai, when a dense mist covered short grass plains. Through the mist, two zebra foals were gambolling about, seemingly for the sheer joy of it – one tiring, and then the other encouraging more play. Not far from them, a female cheetah appeared out of the mists, focused more on the waterhole in front of camp than the gallivanting zebras. She slunk down to the pan to have a drink, and then moved off into the bushes as the mist lifted, and the heat of the day began.  

The first of November was a busy day in Nxai, not just the cheetah above, but a large number of ostriches were near the camp waterhole, as well as the normal elephants. Further afield in the Nxai Pan itself, bat eared foxes, jackals, and hundreds of springboks moved around the plain. A herd of over forty wildebeest, and a similar number of elephants kept a watchful eye on the six lions that were resting not far from the waterhole.

A few days later, dark clouds promising of an afternoon thunderstorm moved in, but rain failed to appear. Instead, two big male lions that seemed new to the Nxai Pan area, moved towards the waterhole and then began roaring. In the far distance a faint rumble was heard – difficult to tell whether it was answering lions or distant thunder!

Without rainfall, animals have to toss up between a desperate thirst, and the risk of attack when approaching the waterholes. Thirst normally wins out, and so it was the case when a hundred impalas and springboks were queuing at the waterhole on the 10th. They all seemed oblivious to the two lions that were waiting on the western side. Or perhaps, realizing the lions were too busy mating, they would not be interested in taking a break for a light meal!

However, mating lions is one thing, but four lionesses are a completely different story. Resting in the shade after a drink, the lionesses watched the antelope approach the waterhole to have a drink as well. Soon, the lionesses switched to alert, and began stalking the antelope. A slight change in breeze, and the prey realized what was happening, and bounded safely away, having to wait for another time when there were not such focused predators around! 

Wild dogs made an appearance again this month, and this time, they brought four puppies with them… They went through the area in front of the camp, to try and drink, but the elephants had made the edge of the water too deep for them to get to safely, so they waited in the shade patiently. After a while, they moved off, and were seen in the area around the main gate camp site a few days later.

 

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Nxai Pan October 2013

 

October was obviously a month for unusual sightings, and Nxai Pan was not going to be left out of these statistics. Buffalos are not normally seen in Nxai Pan, but sure enough, four of them arrived at the water hole in front of the camp on the 19th of October, desperate for a drink of water. With no rain as yet, there is very little grazing anywhere in Northern Botswana, so these buffalo have obviously travelled far and wide in search of anything to last them till the rains. They were seen for a few days near the camp, but the presence of lions forced them to move off.

Lions were seen regularly this month, one of the animals that can survive without too much hardship when there is minimal water. All herbivores have been affected by the dry conditions, with very little food available. Animals that normally only graze, change tactics and try to browse a little. The browsers have a little relief in October as some of the acacias come into bloom, and a few trees start to unfurl new leaves, in anticipation of the rains. Lions, on the other hand, can relax near a waterhole, quenching their thirst when they need, and catching a weakened antelope that approaches.

Amongst the lions that were seen this month, were a pride of six adults – two of whom were seen mating on several occasions, and a female with two cubs that frequented the area around the camp. The pride also killed a young kudu close to the camp, and were seen feeding on this. Three days later, two males killed a buffalo – perhaps one of the four that had previously been seen – on the main road to the waterhole.

Elephants are obviously still coming in to the camp to drink from the waterhole, and they are needing the water in large quantities to make up for the lack of moisture in the vegetation that they are currently eating. The odd cloudy day helps all the animals relax a little, but the promise of rain is so tantalizing. Impala, giraffe, springbok, kudu, and a few zebra all scrabble for what they can get.

And to finish of an unusual month for sightings, who else should make an appearance this month but four wild dogs, at Baobab Loop!

 

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Nxai Pan September 2013

 

An early September morning, we set off at around 630am and coming across fresh lion tracks soon after leaving camp. Whilst we were discussing the tracks, a lion began roaring nearby. Heading in the direction of the roaring, we came across three females close to the road. One of the lionesses had very swollen teats – a sure sign that she had young cubs hidden away somewhere. Another two lions were spotted a little further along from the females.

Also that day we saw a good number of zebras, wildebeest, springbok, impalas, and a cheetah.

Another day out on drive we saw two big male lions relaxing on the Baobab loop road, and then came across another cheetah which we were able to witness killing a female impala.

It’s not just the mammals that provide us with excellent sightings, but the birds too. A black chested eagle landed at one of the waterholes, and walked up and down the edge of the water before beginning to drink. After a display of opening and closing it’s wings, it walked into the water and soaked its belly. Having drunk and bathed, the raptor flew to a dead camel thorn tree nearby the waterhole, and began to preen. Before long, a fork-tailed drongo appeared and the feisty little bird began to dive bomb the eagle, in the hope of making it leave.

Otherwise, it was business as usual at the camp waterhole, with a constant supply of elephants bustling in for a drink. The hotter it gets, the more frayed tempers become, and a few tussles broke out between the males, with trumpeting sound effects carrying far. There should also be some scientific study of how elephants approach waterholes, as they seem to double or triple their speed of approach the closer they get to the waterhole, before applying the brakes just as they reach the edge!

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Nxai Pan August 2013

 

Waking up the morning of the 3rd of August, the ground was covered with some very strange speckles on the ground, as though millions of tiny antlions had suddenly dug in. A closer inspection revealed something even more surprising: during the night, it had rained! This may be pretty normal in most parts of the world, but in northern Botswana in August, it happens as frequently as a total solar eclipse. The skies are normally perfectly empty of clouds for roughly six months, but the previous day had light grey clouds almost totally covering the sky. The drops were too well spread out to do more than evaporate on impact, so its still a long few months till the rains are expected again. They mysterious clouds disappeared that afternoon, replaced by the normal blue sky.

On the 5th of August, a leopard was spotted running from east to west along the West Road – very shy and skittish. We soon also came upon two lions at the main waterhole, who we thought would be disadvantaged by the lack of cover at the waterhole, and were unable to sneak up on unsuspecting prey. For some strange reason, the many springbok, impala, and wildebeest that were also there did not seem to notice the stalking lions, and it was only when an alert kudu made an alarm call, that everyone noticed the approaching lions.

Looking for the lions the next day, we were barely out of camp when four of them found us. The large male lion, in his prime, was trying to drive the sub adult male lion away from the female, and they ran off in the direction of the camp, but disappeared into the bush north east of the camp. Just after watching them, we came across fresh tracks of a leopard, and as the tracker and guide were examining the track, an eagle-eyed guest saw the leopard a little further along the road.

The very next day, the action was all at the camp waterhole, with early morning breakfast disrupted by the lions… the female was drinking at the waterhole, but the older male and the sub-adult were fighting in clouds of dust, as the older male tried again to deter the young male from the females presence. A spectacular sighting!

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