Guides Training 2019, Hwange

Guides Training 2019, Hwange

Gavin was recently in Zimbabwe, Hwange running his annual guides training. Hosted by Wilderness Safaris this is always an exciting week for the guides.
Gavin’s vast experience takes the guides through an intense week of practical training such as walking in the bush, tracking, identification and even camp/table etiquette and some of the more domestic aspects of the job.

Gavin takes a broad encompassing look at Africa as a continent, birds, mammals, biomes and reasons for vegetation diversity as many guests have traveled to Africa previously, particularly East Africa.

Here are some of the highlights of the week.  We had a fantastic turnout with guides from Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia all training.

Another sunrise, another day. We spent the first 3 to 4 hours of each morning out walking and driving to find elephant and lion primarily. We would find spoor, stop and discuss the spoor, then either track the animals or move on again to find better spoor.

 

Brilliant flower of Striga asiatica. A peculiarity of the Striga genus is their hemi-parasitic lifestyle! Their roots invade their hosts roots system very successfully, and draw some nutrients directly from them.

 

Data on African Savanna elephant . A short lecture was given to us by an elephant researcher who has been working on elephant dynamics in the park.

 

Dave Carson, briefing students on requirements for Proficiency Tests. Dave is a fellow professional guide, who actively participates in training guides in Zimbabwe, and is also one of the nominated ZPHGA examiners at the bi-annual Proficiency Tests held in conjunction with National Parks.

Discussing a Camel Thorn Tree. Sstudents would be selected to lead walks in the morning, discussing whatever subjects took their fancy on the walk, as a way of developing their ability to talk sensibly with guests, to exchange information with their colleagues AND as a means of gauging their knowledge for the Professional Guide supervising the walk.

Discussing the material used in Red billed buffalo weavers nests!
Despite living with these birds for years none of the students had ever held a twig from a nest or given them more than a cursory interest! This is a typical conundrum with guides all over Zimbabwe, and probably other countries too!

Douglas trying to catch a catfish or barbel, as the fish disperse from the main pan (out of frame) across the flooded grassland to colonize new areas.

Students gather for an early …5.30am..breakfast before starting the day.

Early morning at Backpans…female hippo and young calf a large female hippo re-enters the pan with a very young calf, and a two to three year calf as well.

Elephant dung riddled with coprophagus ‘mushrooms’.
This is a common sight only during the rainy season, when conditions are good for the fungi to germinate and produce ‘mushrooms’.

Flooded plains of Ngamo. The recent heavy rains here have created these temporary flooded grasslands which benefit a large number of amphibians here, and of course give the grass a boost to grow. Being deep sandy soils, these conditions will not last long and the water will be lost to the below-ground water regime.

13. Gray crowned crane. These beautiful birds are not common here, and normally are seen in pairs or threesomes, including the most recent chick. Subject to some local movement, it is thought that the Zimbabwean western population move between central Botswana and western Zimbabwe, seasonally.

14. Great stormy sky. Some ferocious storms were daily occurrences either on the camp or in the immediate vicinity.

African foxglove. (Ceratotheca triloba). These lovely annuals are scattered throughout the grasslands and scrub, adding some contrast colour to the yellows and mauves of Hibiscus, merremia and Wild sesame plants.

17. It’s 5am and time to wake up. The summer sky lightens quickly, and sleeping in a waterproof tent with open sides ensures no one sleeps too late.

18. ‘Jewel beetles’. Mating bugs, creating another bundle of ‘gems’ to delight us! These iridescent insects abound in some areas of the bush, and make fine macro-photographic subjects.

19. On a walk…walking safely and informatively is a key part of a Field Guides’ skills. We practiced this daily.

21. Stingless bee entrance. This tiny waxen tube is all that indicates that a nest of stingless bees is here…often prized by local hunters for the extremely strong and dark honey they produce, although in tiny quantities.

22. ‘Stud’ or ‘Devil thorn’ flower. The seed pod has two short dorsal spines which embed themselves into boot soles, lending this plant the name,’ Stud thorn’. The flower is very attractive, and being a prostrate plant spreads these lovely blooms along lengthy lines in the grasslands.

23. Taking a break. This happy mix of student guides are from Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and enjoyed the cross culture interaction both socially and professionally.

Fungi are particularly active in the wet season, and a wide variety of fruiting bodies were found, from this ‘brown gilled’ variety to Boletes and bracket fungi too. This gilled specimen was on the elephant dung….and the guide was careful to wash his hands thoroughly after this photo, to avoid being poisoned by any spores on his hand that might inadvertently be transferred to his mouth!

25. There are a huge selection of Ipomea species. In fact many look similar to Merremia species!

26. Trying to estimate the age of a Leopard tortoise. We found a surprising number of these reptiles, and they always raised interesting discussions on whether they should be picked up or not…(NOT) aging them by counting ridges (approximately), and their general ecology.

27. We saw 3 different prides of lion. It is always exciting finding lions on foot, as the guides track them to contact. Sometimes they are very demonstrative, and other times all one hears is a low growl and the lions run away into a thicket….not a place to follow them. It is nice to find them from the vehicle, and just enjoy them without any angst on both sides.

11. End of course, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambian student guides. At the end of the nine days, the students all dispersed to their respective safari camps in Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Embued with an enthusiasm and knowledge for their roles as guides, they were a very happy and vocal crew! Kudos to Wilderness Safaris, in those three countries for agreeing to send their guides away for the week for this collective training session. A very positive action.

Charging hippo before tea….what more, I asked myself.

The morning started with a spectacular sunrise over the lagoon…..hot oats porridge with amarula, a hot mocha-choca and the sound of a lion roaring somewhere in the distance, way away in the mopane. I stood watching the starlings as they flew over the lagoon, the wisps of smoke from the fire was heaven in my nostrils, and I absorbed every nuance of the moment. This was why I lived….to have these moments in my life.

The baboons were up to their usual antics of strife and screams, and a few impala were out collecting the few leaves drifting down from the jackal berry trees, a result of the baboons chasing each other around the fruiting trees. The vehicle followed the hyena spoor down the deep sandy track, and the cold wind bit into our faces and made our eyes weep. The radio warbled a bit, guides checking in for the mornings drive, and we snuggled into our seats, wrapped in blanket-lined ponchos. Giraffe and zebra, impala, leopard and hyena pups (cubs, kits?) we enjoyed them all, We tracked a lion for much of the morning…even following his roars until the mopane became too thick for comfort…..and we left the spoor of a whole female pride and cubs heading east on a mission. We gave up. Tea time is always fun…….normally both vehicles together. The chat and banter of competition between the cars was witty and rapier swift……..on some mornings anyway.

Tranquil moments

Tranquil moments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other vehicle was away from us when we decided to stop at a lonely pan deep in the mopane. The stark back of a lone hippo lay unmoving at the far end. Bohdy asked if he could go around there to see if it was still alive…’NO..’.I growled. ‘Under no circumstances…..they can outrun you.’ He looked skeptical…as young boys do when challenged by something that looks harmless. The guide, Ona and I climbed out, stretched our legs, and stared at the hippo’s form. The assistant started putting the tea things on the wire fold-out table, part of the vehicle front screen. The hippo woke up and the eyes and ears appeared, stared at us briefly. It started moving towards us, the dark water swirling a little behind it. I watched it as it moved, ears forward, eyes fixed and intent. My ‘warning lights’ came on. It was still far away. ‘Bohdy, please get in the car. Now.’ He paused in play, and looked at the hippo…..and climbed into the back. The assistant had the thermos flask in his hand, looked at the approaching hippo, put the flask down, walked to the other side of the car. Amy (still in the truck) and I took pictures of the hippo moving towards us. Ona and I stood side by side watching.

The hippo charged.

Hippo charge 1

Hippo charge 1

Hippo charge.2

Hippo charge.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

A series of bounding leaps, starting about 50 yards away, with water foaming about his neck as he came through deep, and then progressively shallow water. I took pictures at each stage.

 

Closer and still coming!

Closer and still coming!

 

Committed!

Committed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On he came. I took pictures….and then realized he was not going to stop. In fact Ona and I realized this at the same time, and went to my door…we both tried to open my door……but I was standing on the side rail! Ona took off around the car, and I stepped back, opened the door, stepped in and closed it and moved onto the centre console, in case the hippo bit the door! The hippo came thundering out of the water straight towards the car, and swerved…..a stride from the vehicle side, and carried on past us, circled around the tree next to us and went back into the water. He paused at the edge of the water to look at us once more, before disappearing into the pan.  A close run thing.

Amy was shaking….everybody was talking…….and so we changed venues for tea, and joined the other vehicle.

We joined the other vehicle for tea...somewhere safer!

We joined the other vehicle for tea…somewhere safer!

 

 

 

 

 

Another First from Greenville!

“After two nights in Jo’burg, we managed a major culture shock, when we sat in a open vehicle watching a pride of lions from a scant 25 yards!” or so the journal entry said. My ‘Family’ had never been to Africa before, bar the Matriarch, and I sat watching the awe and wonder on their fresh faces as they absorbed the presence of the lions. It is a great privilege to take folk on their first ever safari! I never tire of it.   The one very large and scarred lioness sat up, yawned prodigiously which evoked a rapid-fire of camera shutters and then stalked over to pee casually just behind our vehicle. Under my seat, in fact. Large eyes all round.  This was before we were even halfway to camp!

Afternoon lions.

Afternoon lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The afternoon drive produced another treat…..a leopardess with two 3month old cubs!   Not only that, but she allowed the cubs to suckle within 30 feet of our vehicle, watchful but at ease with our presence. We watched as she played with the little spotted things, batting them so gently as they ran at her on unsure legs and squinty eyes. They would stalk her white-tipped tail and roll over it hugging it with their front paws, biting at the furry length, until she would snarl quietly and gently bite them with her whiskered jaws agape. Once they took fright at something and bolted for a small slit in the base of an old lead wood tree  into which they squirmed and hid for a few moments before peeking out, and seeing their mother relaxed, they reappeared.

She allowed the cubs to chase and catch her tail.

She allowed the cubs to chase and catch her tail.

 

Contentment

Contentment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset that evening was a first for the Family, and as the last light deepened into burnt reds we packed up and headed back to camp.  Dinner was on the verandah, and the frogs (very few at this time due to low winter temperatures) squeaked and chirped in the reed bed along the edge of the lagoon.

Early night, for an early start and a whole new day!

 

 

 

Next stop….Ongava Tented Camp

Our flight east across the rock and tree covered hills took us to a ridge line of dolomite along the southern boundary of Etosha National Park. The bush here is mopane and Combretum scrub and small trees, interrupted sporadically by dense stands of White trumpet thorn and more congenial open grassland.

The tented camp is located in a stand of mopane (steadily diminishing under the attention of 5 elephant bulls now in the property), with a well-used waterhole just 25yards from the dining verandah! This waterhole is very popular with all manner of wildlife and we sat enthralled during our meals watching oryx, kudu, black faced impala, zebra (and mountain zebra), waterbuck, giraffe and even lion coming to drink. Day and night there would be some activity here.

Tent view

Tent view

25 yards from edge of the verandah, guests have the closest view of wildlife possible outside of a vehicle.

25 yards from edge of the verandah, guests have the closest view of wildlife possible outside of a vehicle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a walk one day we visited possibly the biggest moringa tree in the country, perched on the rocky edge of a dolomite ridge, looking from a distance rather similar to a baobab tree.  Walking through the bush was a sensory highlight as we found abundant sign of big game and with the recent entry of elephant from Etosha (they broke the fence) we kept a good look out for them.  Several prides of lion are also active now, and there were three sub-groups wandering around the hills.  The open grassy patches were used by zebra, red hartebeest and small herds of brindled gnu. Lilac breasted rollers exploited the margins of the open areas, hawking insects from convenient perches. We watched several rollers and drongos catching emerging ‘Sausage flies’ or correctly, male driver ants in the middle of an afternoon. Needless to say, our efforts at photographing flying rollers was not that successful.

 

This tree is exceptional in size, and unusually located on rock.

This tree is exceptional in size, and unusually located on rock.

An awkwardly elegant antelope, with distinctive horns. Dry-adapted, so it does well here.

An awkwardly elegant antelope, with distinctive horns. Dry-adapted, so it does well here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ventured for a memorable morning into the national park, to see the great pan itself..and the wildlife, but the wind defeated us soundly. The drive to Okaukujeo was bearable, but the rest of it was way beyond enjoyable, so we headed home as soon as we could with a great visual memory of the ‘place of dryness’! That afternoon we stayed nearer ‘home’ and found some lionesses with small cubs. Much better.  We found two lionesses near a distant waterhole late one morning, and watched an unsuccessful ambush of three warthogs, and again a herd of impala.

The mopane trees around the camp were favorite food for a population of hyrax, which would descend from the rocky hills into camp, and then climb the trees to feed on the leaves. If disturbed they would either leap out of the tree and gallop away on rubber feet or freeze if they were high up, and hope you would pass by ‘unseeing’. Bare cheeked babblers, a species of Namibian endemic were regular visitors and gave me great pleasure with their close proximity. A Monteiro’s hornbill also paused one morning next to me, foraging in the leaf litter near the dining room.

A Namibian endemic, a flock regularly visit the lodge area.

A Namibian endemic, a flock regularly visit the lodge area.

Another Namibia endemic. Monteiro's hornbill.

Another Namibia endemic. Monteiro’s hornbill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our time eventually came to an end, and we took away that lasting view of the lion cubs which had bewitched us in the afternoon.

Zebra always look good lined up together.

Zebra always look good lined up together.

 

 

 

The endless plains..in search of wildlife….

We drove for 12 hours today…Stephen, our driver/guide did, that is. We set off east to the distant escarpment, then turned north to the Kenya border, then west by south.  We disturbed a male Black backed jackal not far from camp with the remains of a young common duiker.  he trotted off with his trophy looking very pleased with himself. Along the ‘way’ we found a male cheetah just resting under a thorn tree, quite content, his long clubbed tail made wide sweeps over his spotted form reaching his cheek, effectively chasing the small flies that bothered him. We left him after a few minutes to his solitude.

Several herds of elephants and a goodly herd of buffalo were added to the ‘list’ before we came upon a significant herd of wildebeest. Possibly three thousand animals in all, a generous estimate but at least it was something representing the species as there was nothing else to be seen of the migration! We watched the animals doing what they have always done and then moved on towards the hills. Although we drove over many lovely plains and low rolling ridges, not a single wildebeest showed itself. Read more…

Sarara; Mathews Range

The “Singing Wells”. Part 2. Witnessed!

The men sing to their livestock.

Each herd of cows, camels, sheep and goats, and donkeys too of course recognise their ‘Masters’ Voice’. They wait patiently for their herdsman to select who is going to go first to drink. When the herdsman hears it is his turn he selects twelve or so animals and lets them go.  They go straight to their ‘home’ well. They don’t wander around and get in the way of other herds also being summoned, but follow the voice they know means ‘water’. When that group is finished they will return to their herd and others will go.

The ‘voice’ comes from the man at the top of the well, who is taking the bucket that has come from the man or men below him, scooped and filled from way down, and carefully but speedily passed up the human chain to the surface, where in a sing-song, lilting but strong voice it is poured into the wooden trough.  The cattle jostle and drink. The herdsman sings to his animals. He tells them he loves them, they are his special beasts, they will bring him great fortune, babies and perhaps another wife to share his burden, they have fine skins, beautiful colours that outshine his neighbours animals, they don’t get sick and have proud horns and he will protect them from lions and hyenas! He looks at each animal, watches it drink as he pours the water into the trough, and notes how much each drinks, and more importantly any animal that is missing or taking too much water as well. They are his charges and he knows them all.

Each cohort of cows and smaller beasts are watered like this every second day, so a man will split his herds so that they all drink but not at the same time or the same day. The burden is huge on a small Samburu family, so they share to survive.

No photography is allowed at this special place, but the story from our visit is not yet over.

Sometimes when the water is not so low, a few of the old elephant bulls, the ‘old’ bulls who have witnessed many years of drought and plenty will come to the wells at this time as well.  They just appear amidst the clouds of pale dust, their ivory giving then away amongst the melee, they move like ghostly ships, slow and ponderous, and determined.  They will approach a well where the water is a few feet down, still within reach of their trunks and with a flick of their powerful trunks, remove the protective branches and drink deep from the waters. They will choose a well without a person in it, but frequently right amongst the stock and tribesmen, and each respects the other. No fuss is made or expected. Water is the currency of life. The bulls drink their fill and move off just as quietly, the tribesmen watch with solemn eyes, their beaded head dresses and arm bands bright against their dark skins, the younger ones smiling and talking quietly…even they marvel at this amazing and unique spectacle of an age long trust. The cattle and other livestock are not afraid, but jostle and push with undiminished fervour.

How much we miss out by just turning a tap. How much do our children take for granted, when they run the shower!!

Catch up tomorrow again….! Gavin

 

 

Greater Kruger Safari

On our first day out we had some amazing sightings and these few images are just ones that caught my eye. The weather was a bit grizzly and so this certainly limited movement of a lot of the birds and other wildlife. Read more…

Mana Pools: One of Zimbabwe’s gems.

Mana Pools National Park is a World Heritage Site, located on the Zambezi river, opposite the Lower Zambezi National Park, in Zambia.  This wonderful park is one of the only national parks where casual visitors are allowed to walk about in the park at their own risk. Read more…