Mabuasahube - The Pecking Order

Posted in Travel / The Honey Badger Diaries

Mabuasahube - The Pecking Order

At last we were ready to enjoy ten days of doing absolutely nothing. That's what dreams are made of... a real holiday. The wonder of Mabuasahube. All we do is wonder what’s next. Shrug. Shake your head.  Nothing. We just wait and see. No expectations. But, there is always the promise of a surprise. Small things or large, in nature, we are always enthralled.

Being informed about what we saw makes game drives more interesting and in our basket we always have the following books:  Scatalog - a Quick ID Guide to southern African animal droppings by Kevin Murray, Stuarts' Field Guide to The Larger Mammals of Africa by Chris & Mathilde Stuart and Chamberlain's LBJ's by Faansie Peacock. On our smart devices we have Sasol Birds and Robert's Birds.  I also love my copy of Alan Levine's Serendipity of Collective Nouns and my Trees of Southern Africa.   Using the book we were able to identify Leopard droppings in our campsite too.

This was Sue’s second trip to the Kalahari. I was worried. What if she didn’t enjoy it, what if, she’s bored, what if, we had no exciting sightings, what if what if. So while we were sitting in our Director’s chairs fully focused on our crocheting I spoke my mind. Every day would sort itself out and something surprising would pop out of the woodwork.

We’d been on a game drive. Our tick list was largely blank, we’d seen a few birds, one or two gemsbok and not much else. It was winter in the Kalahari, although rains had fallen a few months previously and grasses were still standing knee high and stalks were bent over with heavy seed pods there was no water. The pans were dry. Far in the distance we spotted the wildebeest lying down, which was very unusual. There were no lion spoor in the road and there were no “tip offs” (when there’s some action in the park vehicles collect in a flash. These pods of 4x4’s were what we referred to as tip offs).

My experience has always been that every day was unique and something special would mark each day. So we waited for that something special. We cast our sights to our immediate surroundings and noticed the little ground squirrels digging and working ferociously near us. Two of them. Skirrel (Neil my grandson calls them skirrels) and Ramapoza (always busy but not achieving much someone clever said). I managed to capture a few close up photographs of them digging, eating, playing and even having a tussle. If you’re not there you can’t capture it. So on day one I had them on my list.

One night, shortly after switching off my reading light, I heard a lion call, far away but getting ever closer. Slipping off to sleep during the quiet spells but sitting bolt upright as the growls became almighty roars. The pride was getting louder and closer. There was no mistaking it. We could count the huh-huh’s as he exhaled. He was calling his pride.

Next morning we nervously opened our doors and put our noses to the ground. They had been right there, all around our vehicles. In the road we identified the places where they’d lain down, clearly visible the swish of their tails and paw prints. Huge ones too. The pride of 5 left our campsite and marched off across the pan to find shade for the day. There would be a dark moon that night, which is excellent for hunting.

We watched transfixed at a weaver relentlessly chipped away at the vehicles mirror  for 7 days. His onslaught started as the sun peeped over the horizon and didn’t stop until sunset. He was having none of this new invader, who looked like him, pecked like him and who was as determined to have his way. Covering the mirrors with bags only made him more determined as he then found his nemesis in the silver strip along the bonnet! I am sure he must’ve had concussion from all the pecking!

On a few occasions we’d drive out to campsites with a tap to fill up our water tanks and on one such occasion we saw how previous campers had inserted shallow pans into the earth as bird baths. There were literally hundreds of small LBJ’s who’d flock to the water. We decided to give it a try too and I spent hours enjoying the birds, their social interactions, hierarchies and the pecking order. We noticed how certain birds would spook easily while others became quite accustomed to conditions and wouldn’t budge at all.

Early one morning Butch and I went off to see what was around. Out of the blue Butch spotted a cheetah, later we realised there were three, a female and two young ‘uns. They were returning from their nocturnal wanderings and looking for a comfortable spot to sleep it off for the day. Glorious they were. Beautiful, lithe and super relaxed with us around them. At sunset, when cats ready themselves for the evenings gallivanting we’d return with Percy and Sue to watch from the roof of the truck as they groomed, stretched, sharpened their claws, playfully bonding and when they were good and ready head off for the night. A delightful show at sunset.

Even the disappearance of the lavatory paper in its container caused a stir.  The half chewed up container was later discovered a few meters from the long drop, the paper left a trail into the scrub.  The infamous Hyena had come calling during the night.  A stark reminder that we must be vigilant during the night and not leave without our headlamps on. Preferably chaperoned.

A picnic is always a highlight and on a few occasions we’d pack up and head off to a waterhole or a spot with a good vantage point overlooking the pan. There we’d take out chairs and set up to enjoy our brunch. We’d never be disappointed even if our only visitors were the local Meerkat or ground squirrel,  Everyone was welcome as we enjoyed them all. Being able to observe animals in their natural environment is a rare treat.

Ostrich, Springbok or even a lone Oryx is a thing of beauty when game is scarce as it is in a dry region, they are so vulnerable, always skittish and all their senses are trained on an impending attack from a predator. I love watching the antics of two bachelor boys sparring, how one male in a herd is the antagonist and seldom let’s up in his bullying.

The Honey Badger is a  temperamental girl with needs and she demands attention. On a few occasions Butch was flat on his back under her checking water pipes, pumps and changing flat tyres. Not to be outdone his Tyre Pressure monitor beeped incessantly. He couldn’t reset it no matter what. Technology a necessary evil.

There is never any pressure to do anything and I did enjoy the moments I did not have to rush to get ready, I love being in pyjamas. My favourite routine. Bed, book, mug of coffee, my headphones, music and my crochet work. I could literally spend the day doing that.

Unfortunately I had to be Nurse Betty as everyone went down with a cold. First the sniffles, then serious bouts of sneezing followed by sore throats, headaches and a full on head cold. I am not a nurse. I find it incredibly frustrating being all molly-coddly at the best of times. So I’d dole out whatever we had at hand and at night before bed I’d make a Ginger, brandy and lemon hot toddy. God forbid the patient didn’t appreciate my ministering because that would be the end of any future nursing. My patients were good as gold and utterances were few.

On one of my pyjamas mornings I was coaxed into a game drive and breakfast on a nearby pan. With promises that it would be ok to appear in my flannels my arm was twisted. My mother would have an apoplexy but, I threw caution to the wind. There were no busses ready to flatten me as my mother might’ve warned… clean underwear and all. That day my Yeti (thermos coffee mug) and I didn’t get on at all, I dropped it, spilt coffee all over myself and stained my already grotty pyjamas bottoms.

All went swimmingly until we saw a pick of vultures at the waterhole. We stopped to watch them and eventually one or two took to the skies searching for the thermals to float on as they set their eyes on a kill. They circled to the east just as Sue and Percy stopped to tell us they’d spotted a tip-off.

Jumping to conclusions 1+1=2 we set off. There must be a kill and the vultures are off to scavenge. We were in the right place at the right time. Off we scooted. From a distance we saw a laager of three vehicles. On closer inspection we noticed a distinctive Land Cruiser registered CW13! We knew immediately who that was. A party of Worcesterites, all known to us, having a picnic lunch under a thorn tree. As one does we were all smiles and overjoyed to see them. It wasn’t long before we were invited sit as drinks were poured. I did my best to put my best foot forward in my stained pyjamas.

The African Wild dog experience (read a previous blog Who Let The Dogs Out for more) certainly was a highlight but we had no expectations we were there to enjoy the wildness, the peace and quiet, accepting that whatever else we experienced was a bonus.

Our meals were gourmet affairs and we’d make the most of them enjoying the sit fire we’d light as the sun set, we’d look out for the black backed jackal who tentatively made an appearance at night zigzagging up the road pretending not to notice us. Bed times were called by the night jar, our signal to turn in. The distant whistle of the owl before he went hunting made us strain our ears for distinctive notes to identify him. Before bed I’d pin up my latest Instax picture, a cool reminder of our wonderful time.

All too soon our 10 day breakaway came to an end. It was time to return home. Reluctantly we packed up and set off on our three day trip home. Not yet.  My heart wasn’t in it.