Tau Pan, April 2018

TAU PAN - DMessom.Mammals.African Wildcat

The Tau Pan pride were seen very regularly, and often extremely close to the camp. At one stage the whole pride of ten (five males, two females and three cubs) took up residence next to the Tau Pan workshop, making the servicing of our vehicles a little tricky. The cubs were unfazed and played around the area, but thankfully after a couple of hours they moved off towards the camp waterhole so the mechanic could get back on with his work.

During the month, the pride appeared to be hunting successfully and were seen full-bellied. Guests really enjoyed seeing how tolerant the big males were of the smaller cubs playing with them. One of the females with her two sub-adult cubs split away from the main pride from time to time and they managed to kill a giraffe calf at the camp waterhole. Jackals and vultures descended on the area in large numbers, looking for an opportunity to scavenge. This kill kept the three lions busy for a couple of days before they reunited with the rest of the pride.

A different pride of lions was seen at the Passarge Valley waterhole, resting under a thorn tree.

We enjoyed a wonderful sighting of an African wild cat at Phukwi Pan who boldly came out of the bushes during the morning coffee break and lay on its back, entertaining the guests. It was a remarkable sighting of a species that is usually quite shy.

A lovely relaxed family of four bat-eared foxes were resident at Tau Pan and they could be observed foraging for insects and rodents. Black-backed jackals were often seen.

The day trips to Deception Valley often yielded interesting sightings, including a male leopard near to Letia Hau. A female leopard was also seen at the start of the month nearer to Tau Pan.

A herd of red hartebeest comprising ten adults and three calves were seen at the Tau Pan area as well as an unusual sighting of a single eland. This is not a species that we see often in the Central Kalahari, but it seemed very comfortable grazing alongside some oryx. At Passarge Valley springbok and oryx were plentiful and we saw a female cheetah with two cubs there looking full-bellied after having killed and eaten a springbok.

The Kalahari raptors are beautiful and we saw many different species on a daily basis. A highlight was a lovely sighting in April of two bateleur eagles enjoying the remains of an oryx carcass.

 

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, Mar 2018

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During March there were plenty of wildebeest, springbok, red hartebeest and oryx in the Tau Pan and Passarge Valley areas enjoying the green grasses that emerged following good rains. Guests were able to enjoy seeing them galloping and jumping in the morning breeze before the temperatures started to rise. Giraffe and kudu could also be seen drinking from the camp watering hole.

The most unusual sighting of the month at Tau Pan was a leopard trying to kill an aardwolf. Both animals are elusive at the best of times so it was a special privilege to witness this remarkable interaction. Luckily the aardwolf managed to dash into a burrow and escape to the relief of everyone watching. A female leopard was also seen behind the Tau Pan staff village. Although initially she was walking through long grass we eventually were able to get a better view and spent about an hour with her. Another time two different female leopards were seen on the same morning, one posing beautifully on top of a camelthorn tree before coming down, pausing whilst guests took some lovely photographs, and eventually making her way east.

Another pleasant surprise was locating a pack of 12 wild dogs during a day trip to Deception Valley, a species not often seen in the Central Kalahari. On the same day we also came across plenty of elephant tracks and an impressively full-bellied brown hyena by San Pan.

The Tau Pan pride of lions were seen very regularly throughout the month, sometimes roaring through the night near the rooms to the delight of the guests, and occasionally walking through camp itself. The pride spent a lot of time at the camp watering hole, sometimes all five impressive male lions together accompanied by three females and their three cubs. The cubs were at a very playful age, chasing each other around even when the adults were lying sleeping. A different pride were seen in varying sized groups near to Letitia Hau.

Cheetah were seen regularly. We watched the resident female trying her luck on a steenbok not far from Tau Pan; she pursued for a while but was not successful. The resident male was seen watching and stalking the springbok in the Tau Pan area. A mother cheetah and her two sub-adult cubs, were seen from time to time between Passarge Valley and Deception Valley; but these three females are notably more shy than the animals resident closer to camp, so our guides are patiently trying to habituate them to the vehicles.

A large family of 15 bat-eared foxes, including four puppies were seen regularly near to Tau Pan where they particularly enjoyed relaxing under some shady umbrella-thorn trees. We discovered a group of seven back-backed jackal, two males, three females and two pups catching and eating slender mongoose by the pan. Honey badgers were seen close to Deception Valley

An African python was spotted near to San Pan. Another memorable reptile sighting was a lovely group of seven leopard tortoises, including some babies, feeding on flowers

An unusual sighting for the Tau Pan watering hole was two African painted snipe, these uncommon birds are usually more associated with marsh and wetland regions than the semi-arid Kalahari. An immature martial eagle, the largest raptor found in the area, was seen at camp where it was perched on a camel thorn tree eyeing up some helmeted guineafowl who was scratching at the ground beneath him. Pale chanting goshawks are a common bird species at Tau Pan; some guests managed to take excellent photos of this elegant grey raptor eating a gerbil. The goshawks were also seen following honey badgers as they were seen digging for insects and rodents, hoping for a chance to make an opportunistic kill for themselves. Guests were able to get some lovely images of a bateleur eagle bathing in the camp watering hole. Other species seen regularly were ostrich, kori bustard, secretary bird and northern black korhaan.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, Feb 2018

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Lions were seen on the majority of the days during February and guests were often serenaded at night by the sound of nearby roars as the Tau Pan pride made contact with each other. As is often the case at Tau Pan, we came across the cats in groups of varying sizes, including a sizable pride of twelve lions which was seen regularly towards Letia Hau, comprising 3 males, 2 lionesses and seven young. One of the times that pride was feasting on a wildebeest kill. The camp watering hole was frequented by the lions very regularly including a female with a cub and the impressive black-maned resident males.

A brown hyena continued to be seen at the watering hole, especially at dawn and dusk. However another individual was less fortunate and we found its carcass nearby, possibly killed as a result of conflict with lions.

An African wild cat was seen a few times hunting mice around the Tau Pan areas and lucky guests were able to capture some photographs of this elusive mammal. Honey badgers were also seen digging for rodents in the same area. Pale Chanting Goshawks were seen keeping a close eye on the honey badgers, hoping to steal some food, but their reactions were too slow to be successful. Black backed jackal, ground squirrels and bat-eared foxes were seen most days, however some more unusual sightings of a Cape fox and the elusive aardwolf were great to have. Cheetah were located at Passarge Valley.

In a very unusual encounter, we came across elephants in Deception Valley – a female and calf. Elephants haven’t been seen in that area by us for many years. They were resting in the shade – although the day was cloudy it was extremely hot.

Following heavy rains towards the end of February plains game species such as oryx, springbok and wildebeest moved into the Tau Pan area to take advantage of the new green shoots of grass. The springbok herds were estimated to be as large as 300 animals and made a spectacular sight as they ran and pronked at sunset. Steenbok were seen regularly and there was a small herd of red hartebeest at Phokoje Pan. A journey of eleven giraffe were seen regularly.

Birdlife continued to be excellent at Tau Pan, especially for the raptors. Species seen included pallid harrier, gabar goshawk, tawny eagle, black-chested snake eagle, brown snake eagle and yellow-billed kite. A pair of bateleur eagles are building a nest near to camp. Kori bustards and secretary birds could be seen stalking across the pans looking for food. We had a remarkable sighting of 45 ostrich chicks in one flock, being looked after by two sets of parents.

The northern black korhaans and red crested korhaans could be seen displaying. In the case of the latter, the male flies straight up and then dramatically tumbles towards the ground as though shot.

Although the first half of the month was fairly dry for the time of year, the clouds were building up each afternoon making for some spectacular sunset shots. Once the rains came the bush sprang to life and was beautiful and green.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, Jan 2018

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The Tau Pan pride was seen regularly as they spent a lot of time moving between the camp watering hole and their nearby den. The five impressive males were often baby-sitting the youngsters – presumably whilst the lionesses were out looking for food. Two of the lionesses often joined the pride, but halfway through the month the third lioness went missing and the guides though that perhaps she had gone to give birth. Different prides were seen at Passarge Valley and Deception Valley during full day trips.

A brown hyena was visiting the camp watering hole from time to time, usually at dawn or dusk. It was a really special treat to see this usually nocturnal animal in good natural light.

The resident female cheetah was seen hunting springbok at Tau Pan, but the antelopes’ strategy of staying in the middle of the wide-open pan helped them to spot the cat in enough time to thwart her attempts. A male cheetah was having good success in Tau Pan and was seen feasting on a wildebeest calf. A family of three cheetahs were located at Letitia Hau.

General game at Tau Pan included springbok, oryx, kudu and wildebeest. This particular herd of wildebeest are always resident in the area, although they move quite considerable distances within the vicinity to find the best grazing, according to where the most rain has fallen. We saw a big herd of 30 oryx, including 10 calves feeding alongside two male red hartebeest at Makgoa Pan. Guests enjoyed seeing large journeys of giraffes with their young calves browsing on the acacia trees and drinking from the camp watering hole.

Bat-eared foxes, honey badgers and black-backed jackals were all smaller mammals seen frequently around the edges of Tau Pan.

As the dry weather continued, massive flocks of red-billed queleas in their thousands came to drink at the watering hole, their combined weight breaking branches of the nearby trees. The bushes in the area seemed to be made of feathers rather than leaves as the little birds huddled together. Raptors including lanner falcons, steppe buzzards, yellow-billed kites, Gabar goshawks and pale chanting-goshawk swooped in and out of the flocks of quelea, snatching their prey. Guests enjoyed seeing secretary birds and kori bustards stride out across the open grasslands as they searched for food.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, Dec 2017

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The watering hole in front of Tau Pan always attracts a good deal of game and we were thrilled to get an early Christmas present in the form of an elusive brown hyena drinking right in front of camp.

As always, there was lots of lion action at the watering hole too. One day, three of the resident males were resting there together with a female and her three cubs. Whilst they were there, two nomadic lions to the area came to drink but were aggressively driven away. A few days later, this drama was repeated, this time they were chased by all five males of the Tau Pan pride. This pattern continued for the rest of the month, with the intruders continuing to try and gain access to the watering hole despite opposition from the formidable resident coalition. All of these exciting events could be clearly viewed from the camp’s main deck.

We saw a number of different cheetah individuals during December, but the most commonly sighted was a female cheetah and two sub-adults who were great condition. Their mother is a very successful hunter who changes areas frequently in order to find food. Towards the end of the month these three cheetahs had moved to Tau Pan where often seen hunting and feeding on springbok lambs. Once they were seen trying to separate wildebeest calves from their mothers, but these bigger antelope were too clever at defending their young.

A large male leopard was located with an oryx kill up on a tree branch. He was skittish when he saw our vehicle during the day, but returned to the carcass and finished everything apart from the antelope’s head.

Numbers of general game were increasing during December. There were plentiful herds of springbok with lambs at Tau Pan. At Passarge Valley we found oryx and red hartebeest with calves. A herd of six kudu were regularly visiting the watering hole, keenly keeping an eye out for predators. On one remarkable occasion we came across a large herd of wildebeest herding into Tau Pan, when all of a sudden two males started to fight for dominance. This fierce battle lasted about 30 minutes during which time the young calves started to run around behind the herd, seemingly confused as to what was happening.

One day the guides spotted a honey badger devouring a puff adder. In a remarkable interaction between the species, a tawny eagle bravely tried to steal the dead snake from the formidable honey badger, but he was not successful. A few days later two honey badgers were seen trying to hunt down jackal puppies, but they were not successful. Another time we found the jackals trying to take something away from the honey badger, but the honey badger was aggressively defending himself and a fight between the two predators ensued.

Both jackals and bat-eared foxes have dens in the area, and their small pups have delighted guests with their antics.

Red-billed queleas have been flocking in their tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands around the camp watering hole and camp itself. The density of these small finch-like birds was so great that the branches of the surrounding trees were breaking under their weight – despite the fact that each little bird only accounted for about 20 grams. The huge flocks attracted birds of prey such as yellow-billed kites, red-necked falcons and harriers who swooped back and forth feasting on the bounty.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, Nov 2017

Safari at Kwara

During November the Tau Pan pride were seen very regularly in the area near to camp, and made a magnificent sight when found together; the five black-maned males together with two females and their three cubs. Once there was a lovely sighting of the impressive males lying together bonding through grooming each other, showing their softer side. Their more aggressive nature came to the fore when a female came to the watering hole with two cubs. One of the males spotted the cub and chased after it, the other four in hot pursuit. The cub managed to dash for cover and disappeared – a very lucky escape for the little one who would very possibly have been killed in an act of infanticide. Other prides were located at Deception Valley and Sunday Pan. At the start of the month as the dry season came to an end they were looking lean and hungry, but after the first rain showers the antelope started to drop their young and food was suddenly easy to come by again.

The antelope species seen during November included oryx, kudu and springbok.  The guests really enjoyed the lambing of the springbok. We were sometimes able to see the antelope giving birth and watched the youngsters wobbling to their feet to take their first steps. Within a few days they were chasing each other around and pronking. This was a time of easy pickings for the predators and we saw the resident male cheetah on springbok kills on successive days.

A few elephants were seen in the Tau Pan area, relishing the last of the Tsamma Melons. It was an indication of how good last years rains were that there were still many of these melons left at the end of the dry season, they would usually have mostly been consumed by now.

Leopard were not seen often, but were heard mating right inside camp, so we hope that a family will be produced in the months to come.

Bat-eared foxes were often seen foraging around Tau Pan. They were denning and had small cubs of about three months old who kept us entertained with their games of chase. The black-backed jackal also had young puppies; we saw them trying to pounce on ground squirrels. An African wildcat was seen on the western side of the pan hunting for birds, but didn’t succeed as the wide-open area didn’t have enough cover from which it the cat could launch its ambush.

Two honey badgers were seen digging for mice, but with no success.  In an example of commensalism, Pale Chanting Goshawks were perched nearby hoping for the opportunity to snatch a lizard or rodent flushed from the ground by the honey badgers.

November was a very productive month for birding. Up to twelve secretary birds have been visiting the camp watering hole every lunchtime as well as yellow-billed kites, bateleur and tawny eagles.

During the first part of the month guests and guides saw the Central Kalahari at its most brutally harsh. Although there had been some small showers, they just seemed to increase the humidity. Temperatures rocketed as high as 42 degrees and although game drive sightings were still good, animals were quick to hide in the shade as the sun rose. Then, in the third week of November the heavens opened and heavy rains arrived to quench the thirsty earth, bringing a respite from the heat.  There were currently plenty of plants in bloom including the umbrella thorn acacia and trumpet thorn giving guests the chance to experience the fragrant scents of the springtime bush.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, October 2017 Sightings

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October is the hottest and driest month for the Central Kalahari region with scorching winds and extreme midday temperatures. The intensity of the conditions was building ahead of the forthcoming rainy season which will bring welcome relief to the desert animals.

The coalition of six magnificent black-maned male lions were seen often at the camp watering hole and more than once they serenaded our guests with impressive roaring performances during the night.  As the dry season progressed, predators’ home ranges increased in size as the animals have to travel further and further to find food. This meant that we started to see some new individuals to the area who are not part of the Tau Pan pride. A nomadic lioness and cub were seen drinking at the watering hole. They were markedly less familiar with the safari vehicle than our resident lions, growling and snarling quite aggressively. Another new lioness and two young males were spotted on our northern fire break and also towards the airstrip.

Piper’s Pan is a stunning stretch of perfectly flat grass a few kilometres across.  This area is difficult to access when it is wet, but very productive in the dry season. In October we located two male cheetah located resting under a bush, plus another female cheetah at San Pan. There were plenty of wildebeest, red hartebeest, oryx and a different pride of lions at Piper’s Pan.

As always, the desert provided a good chance to see some of the smaller predators. Honey badgers were seen being more aggressive than usual, perhaps because there is less availability of food. Bat-eared foxes were seen often as well as the much rarer Cape Fox.

The landscape around Tau Pan was verdant and green following the huge fire earlier in the year. The acacia trees were in flower and other plants were starting to bloom including the pink flowers of the Devil’s Claw, Botswana’s National flower.

Cape cobras were seen at Phukwe Pan and also at San Pan.  Both times these large golden snakes were seen hunting, looking for prey species such as mice, lizards and ground squirrels.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, September 2017 Sightings

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At the start of October the fire in the Tau Pan area was still raging, sweeping westwards in a wave some thirty kilometres across and leaving behind a very changed landscape. Tall golden grasses were replaced with scorched earth. However, by the middle of the month the new green shoots had come through and were these were much relished by the antelope species.

One morning we were conducting a bushman walk when we saw a small pride of 2 adults and a cub drinking at the camp watering hole. The camp was quickly radioed to bring a vehicle so that the guests could get some close-up photographs of the lions. We were surprised to see that the animals were not part of our regular Tau Pan pride as it is fairly unusual to see intruders in the area. The next day our resident pride was back to drink, this time two lionesses with three cubs. As if keen to reclaim their place at the heart of our operations they then spend the following day hanging out by Room 2. We found the five impressive black-maned lions resting nearby.

Cheetah were seen hunting springbok, but without much success. Jackals, bat-eared foxes were often seen foraging for insects around the Tau Pan area. On one lucky occasion we also saw two honey badgers snuffling around. General game was good including big herds of oryx and springbok.

In the afternoons, vultures and eagles were seen coming to the watering hole to drink.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, August 2017 Sightings

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August was an interesting time in the Central Kalahari, with some dramatic changes to the landscape at the end of the month. As usual the Tau Pan pride of lions were often seen near to the lodge and increasingly at the waterhole since the natural pans were long dried up. More than once, two of the male lions spent the whole day by the watering hole sleeping off a big feast from the night before. The impressive black-maned male lions often called during the night and that helped us to locate them the next day. After they had been particularly vocal one night the guests and guides were amused to observe in the morning that without exception all the antelopes had migrated off to the opposite side of Tau Pan to avoid the lions or perhaps to get a more relaxing night’s rest. One of the resident lionesses was seen feeding with her cubs on an oryx calf. Her growing cubs were getting used to the safari vehicles; she also introduced them to the camp watering hole, so we hope we will see much more of them in the future.

Different cheetah and leopard individuals were located during the month. We watched a sub-adult female leopard trying her luck at Deception Valley, but she missed on that occasion. A coalition of cheetah brothers was spotted during a day trip. Initially they were hunting, but as the temperature rose they decided to rest in the shade. Some very patient guiding was rewarded when guests managed to get good photos of a male cheetah who is known to be particularly skittish. With time, the guides hope to can build his confidence and encourage him to be less camera-shy.

There were a good number of springbok herds around Tau Pan area and as in previous recent months they have developed a habit of pronking during the sunset hour making for spectacular images. Blue wildebeest were seen in large herds and oryx appear to be increasing in number. Red hartebeest were encountered at Phukwe Pan and also Tau Pan where they were close to the road enabling great memories for some very happy guests who were seeing these antelope for the first time despite having been on safari many times. Ostrich, bat-eared foxes and caracal were also seen in the Tau Pan area.

At the start of August, the vegetation was still dense and whilst the long golden waving grasses made for a stark and beautiful landscape, there were some occasions when we lost sight of animals as they went into the undergrowth. All that was about to change in a very dramatic way. Towards the end of the month a huge bush fire, some 20-30 kilometres across, swept through the area. Over the course of 6 days our team watched the glow on the horizon of the night sky getting ever closer. At the face of the fire the flames were 2-3 metres high, with whole trees burning like torches. As our staff were bravely ensuring that the fire did not threaten the camp itself, they noted the animal behaviour. These types of burns are very normal phenomenon in the Central Kalahari so it is by no means an unusual situation for the creatures who live here. The oryx stayed remarkably calm, wandering very close to the fire and sedately walking out of its way. The springbok kept themselves on the shorter grass of the pans. True to their nature, only the wildebeest seemed in the slightest bit distressed and spent some time galloping around. Even as the fire was raging, Tawny Eagles and Pale Chanting Goshawks stayed ahead of the flames, opportunistically snatching rodents who were fleeing. As soon as the fire had consumed its fuel and passed on by, black-backed jackals were quickly on the scene, picking through the ashes hoping to find some tasty toasted rodents.

Within days the pioneer grass was starting to push through new green shoots, much appreciated by the grazers who seemed to prefer the palatable young stems to the less nutritious dry stalks that the fire destroyed. We were fortunate that the area directly in front of the lodge did not burn, so the view was as beautiful as ever. Whilst the new growth was coming through we enjoyed a concentration of game in the Tau Pan area which was unaffected by the fire.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, July 2017

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Tau Pan was closed for its annual maintenance during July, so we didn’t have the usual game drive reports, but that didn’t stop the animals from visiting. The Tau Pan pride, currently comprising five impressive black-maned male lions and two females, were often found near to the camp. The elevated position of the lodge gives a superb vantage point for the lions to look for game. More than once the they walked straight past our maintenance team as they crossed the ridge to visit the watering hole. One particular day, two of the male lions decided to take a long siesta in the exact spot where our maintenance manager needed to take some measurements. Needless to say, that particular job had to wait for another time.

From their tracks, we could see that leopard and jackal also passed through camp during the closed period.

We opened camp a couple of days before the end of the month and the highlights for those guests were sightings of cheetah and honey badger, as well as some lions close to camp.

Every morning there was a progression of birds flocking to the camp watering hole, first hundreds of doves, then dozens of guinea fowl and finally large numbers of sandgrouse flying in mesmerising formation. The camp is home to many passerine bird species such as crimson-breasted shrike, red-eyed bulbuls, groundscraper thrush and long-billed crombec. Out at the airstrip we saw double-banded coursers, fawn-coloured larks and blacksmith lapwings.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)