Hover

There are about 6000 species of hoverfly. They disguise themselves as wasps but they’re harmless little buggers and they do a great deal of good pollinating and eating pests like aphids. They love flowers and nectar so they hang around lovely perfume-smelling things:

A rose by any other name on the deck at Mogotlho Lodge

My cellphone pics and videos of the Khwai River hoverfly weren’t great so I didn’t post this until my ex-Saffer-turned-Kiwi, now in Aussie, mate Stephen Charles Reed sent a better picture of a Brisbane hoverfly.

Steve’s pic you can see the wings
Stunning Hoverflies

They are amazing hoverers! They can hold dead still in mid-air and then flick to another spot in any direction, zip! just like that. They can do anything mid-air:

. . . even get it on! If that’s the female below, she’s like Ginger Rogers, who could do everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in high heels!

All this made me go looking and I found a new hero. Fredrik Sjöberg lives on Runmarö Island in Sweden and looks for hoverflies, butterflies, beetles and anything that else that might flit by. He wrote a wonderful book on hoverflies, life the universe and everything which his publishers thought might sell 1600 copies in five years. Well, he sold 30 000 and has since published it in numerous other countries! Then – I told you he’s my hero – he won the IgNobel Prize for Literature in 2016!!

IgNobel LITERATURE PRIZE [SWEDEN] — Fredrik Sjöberg, for his three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead. REFERENCE: The Fly Trap is the first volume of Fredrik Sjöberg’s autobiographical trilogy, En flugsamlares väg (“The Path of a Fly Collector”), and the first to be published in English. Pantheon Books, 2015, ISBN 978-1101870150.

Learn more and see some beautiful pics here.

We humans finally started to learn how to hover in 1907 when the French brothers Breguet flew the Gyroplane No.1 quadcopter about 0.61 m above ground for a minute. Hoverflies all around the world laughed at us.

——-ooo000ooo——-

Years before I had been fascinated by proboscis flies.

Oddballs, Then and Now

Its gone wimpish! Actually Oddballs is still a wonderful, more affordable way to see the Okavango Delta and this post must be taken with a pinch of salt; My tongue is in my cheek;

This is classic “The Good Old Days was better” bulldust.

When WE went ca. 1990 we had to take our own food! But because there’s a 10kg limit on the Cessna 206’s and because one has to take binoculars, a telescope, a tripod, a sleeping bag and books:

Jess Zululand Course Books

I exaggerate, these were Jessie’s books for her field guide course last year, but still: weight. So we took very little food. At Oddballs we bought their last potatoes and onions and then we pitched our tent. Not like these wimpish days when the tent is pitched for you on a wooden deck with shower en-suite!! We were like this:

OddballsOkavango (14 small)
Good Old Oddballs

Communal showers:

Yes, actually, Oddballs IS a luxury lodge!

Nowadays New Oddballs is soft and squishy:

New Oddballs
New Oddballs

Here’s Aitch in the Old Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge – and the wimpish new arrangement!

 

Luckily, the rest is still the same! You head out on a mekoro with a guide who really knows his patch:

OddballsOkavango makoro

You pitch your own tent on an island without anyone else in sight:

OddballsOkavango Squirrel Camp

And you enjoy true wilderness. When you get back, Oddball really does seem like a Palm Island Luxury Lodge:

Oddballs (5)

There’s a bar, there’s ice and cold beer, gin and tonic. You can order a meal! And – NOWADAYS! – a double bed is made up for you, ya bleedin’ wimps!

Go there (or here) NOW!!

The Under-rated Metropolis of Maun

With all due respect to Moremi, Chobe and Makgadikgadi, the birds you can see in and around Maun rival them all. In fact, pound-for-pound or especially dollar-per-bird, Maun wins hands-down. Especially  when you’re staying in your little sis’ house, eating her food and driving her car!

So here’s a good recipe for Best Botswana Birding: Don’t just land in Maun and buzz off elsewhere! Rather stay in this lovely home:

Janet's Maun Home.jpg

Drive this superb 4X4. With 400 000km of all-Botswana roads experience on the clock, it didn’t even need much steering:

Janet's 1989 Toyota Hilux 4Y.jpg

and bird the immediate vicinity:

2018-03-027.jpg

Here are some of the birds seen in and around Janet’s home and along the Thamalakane where she walks her dogs. Forty one shown, but there were more.

Temp birds-001.jpg

Added bonus: Visit the spots like The French Connection, Miguel’s Place, Tshilli Cafe, Lodges along the river – and Ann’s CinemaMultiPlex for breakfast. Wonderful food and they all serve alcohol! What more could you want?

But the best and best-value meals are found here: Janet’s cottage in the salubrious Tsanakona suburb and Bev’s cottage in the salubrious Disaneng suburb. Neither had vegetarian-only or no-alcohol policies. Um, actually quite the contrary!

On a drive out towards the Boro River Janet and I stopped at a flooded grassland and watched a bird party frolicking on three little acacia trees, dropping down to drink clear water in some tyre tracks. Here’s the spot: Most of the action was in that small acacia dead-centre.

Maun Boro Trip (9).jpg

Twenty three species within half an hour! It got quite “Shu’ Up! Another One?” Here are fourteen of them (Lee Ouzman pics mostly).

Temp Bots Birds.jpg

These two black birds were mingling with the unsuspecting colourful hosts that they parasitise!

Temp Bots Birds-001.jpg
Longtailed Paradise Whydah / Green-backed Pytilia; Purple Indigobird / Jameson’s Firefinch.

The Indigobird was a LIFER for me! Long time since I nailed a lifer.

Here’s some other stuff as we searched for the Boro – and there’s the lily to prove that we found it.

Maun Trip Boro River.jpg

Yet another advantage to having a little sis who’s a nineteen year Maun veteran is she can sweet-talk curmudgeons into showing you their patch. So we ended up one morning walking the Tamalakhane flood plains in Disaneng guided by an old bullet with a long lens after drinking free coffee here:

20180321_Lee's Home Disaneng Maun.jpg

Imagine if he got a wife how she’d make him smarten up that stoep, ne!

We saw three of these birds plus a bat hawk flying. These are his pics, but from his website. His lovebirds he shot in Namibia, but we saw a few in his garden that morning! Escapees? Or had they followed him home?

Janet Home Maun

Read about the history of Maun here where Lee Ouzman has more old photos like the one on top of Maun ca1985.

From Maun we ventured North-east to Mgotlhong and south-west to Khumaga.

Makgadikgadi Pans, Khumaga Gate

The Tamalakhane River runs south-west out of Maun and when it turns east it’s called the Boteti. After a while it runs southward forming the western boundary of the huge Makgadikgadi-Nxai Pans National Park.

At Kumagha village there’s a gate into the park. When the river has water in it a ferryman carries you across, one vehicle at a time.

20180321_Khumaga Gate Tiaan's Camp (23)

We were guests at Tiaan’s Camp as Tiaan is looking for someone to help him start a new admin system and Janet’s just the person to do that. I got lucky as they decided she needed to visit him to check out the camp and discuss how Janet’s consultancy could run the project for him. Tiaan is a character. He was once a diplomat although you would never guess that in a game of Twenty Questions. Nor in game of One Hundred and Twenty Questions.

Map Makgadigadi Park.JPG

Tiaan has run mobile safaris in Zambia, Botswana and Zululand among many other places. He has been involved in lodges on the Delta panhandle and has now settled in Khumaga in a camp he built himself with comfy chalets, lovely campsites, a crystal-clear swimming pool and a huge central building housing an open dining area, an open raised deck overlooking the Boteti where 22 elephants came to bathe the afternoon we arrived. And a cool bar run on the honour system. You know, gooi and skryf.

Makgadigadi Pans view from Tiaans.jpg

He has a delightful accent, a mischievous laugh, speaks three languages fluently and has an amazing store of tales from brain surgery to government service to building in Botswana and Jakobsbaai on the Cape West Coast, to safaris, interesting guests, religion, Land Rovers (he’s afflicted with six of them), philosophy and fascinating animal stories. Maybe he does have a diplomatic side, but he keeps it well-camouflaged.

He took us on a game drive in one of his Land Rovers and we didn’t even break down, so he could show us his knowledge of and love for his patch, the very southern end of the great Okavango Delta, just before the waters from Angola sink into the Kalahari sand for the very last time at Lake Xau.

Makgadigadi Pans Kumagha Gate

20180321_Khumaga Gate Tiaan's Camp (30).jpg

The next day Janet and I took the old Toyota into the park along the green Boteti river valley. We found plenty of interesting little things to photograph.

2018-03-28.jpg

In between all this there were the gin n tonics, whiskies and Tiaan’s home-made absinthe, generously dispensed.

Interesting birds included Double-banded Sandgrouse, Acacia Pied Barbet, Hoopoe, Crimson-breasted Boubou, a young Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Pin-tailed and Shaft-tailed Whydahs, Red-faced Mousebird, Bateleur, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Blue-cheeked, European and Little Bee-eaters, Meyers Parrot, Goliath Heron and a Grey-backed Camerotera who clacked at me fourteen times. Here are some Lee pics from his website:

Makgadigadi Pans Kumagha Gate-001 (2)

Before this leg of the trip we had been to Mogotlhong.

Do It Now

doitnow

=========ooo000ooo=========

Straight after posting this I got a gotcha! email from Janet in Maun: Ha! Now I’ve got you! Stop procrastinating and VISIT!

So I have booked to go to Botswana in March after years of procrastinating. That is, Janet’s friend Bronwyn arranged a great price and booked. The 14th of March.

YES! Can’t wait!

——-ooo000ooo——-

Later: And what a trip it was! See here and here and here.

On Safari with a Bushman – 3. Cook’s Tour

Cook’s Tour:

Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique via Botswana. We only had a month, so not as leisurely as we would have liked. Can hardly believe it was fourteen years ago! The kids are now 19 and 15!

Mostly we drove at a leisurely pace and didn’t do great distances. We did put in a long day of driving on four stretches, which allowed us to chill most other days: Lusaka to Chipata in Zambia; Blantyre in Malawi to Tete in Mocambique; Tete to Vilanculos in Mocambique, and lastly Zavora to Nelspruit back in South Africa were all long-hauls. On those days we left early with the kids strapped in and sleeping. We’d drive for hours before breakfast. Aitch always had food or entertainment for them.

LuangwaWithKids (1) Tom

For the rest our days were unhurried. Slowly with the windows usually down, as we didn’t use the aircon. Anyway, speeding and potholes are not a good combination. At places we liked we’d stay up to three nights. Each of our five three-night stays felt like a complete holiday on its own. The Bushman off-road trailer proved its worth at every stop.

Waterberg, South Africa

Zambia

On through Botswana and to the Zambian border at Kasane where a ferry carries you over the Zambesi. One of the ferries had dropped a big truck overboard and got damaged, so only one was in operation, which slowed things down. Took about four hours and we were safely across the Zambezi river in Zambia. Tommy took to the “fewwy” in a big way and called all boats fewwies for a while. The battered and half-drowned second ferry and truck and trailer were visible looking sad at the side of the river. The border post was pleasant enough. They charged us more for our “minibus” and tut-tutted sympathetically at my exaggerated protests that this was not a fee-earning taxi, but just our vehicle! Laughingly insisted “Well, sir, it’s the rules”. Had a good chuckle and they wished us well in their country.

In Livingstone we camped on the grounds of the Maramba River Lodge. It was full, so we squeezed in near the gate – not the best site, but quite OK. Lovely pool again. Drove to the falls at daybreak where a vervet monkey snatched Jess’ breakfast apple out of her hand. Our first sight of the falls from the Zambian side. Spectacular even though low.

Drove to Taita Lodge on the very lip of the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls overlooking where we had rafted years before. A warm welcome and a great lunch on the deck hanging over the river. Ice-cold beer, great sarmies. Looked for Taita Falcons, saw Verreaux’s (Black) eagles soaring below. Tom & Jess banging on the dinner drum and xylophone was un-musical, but no other guests around, so no one minded – in fact the staff loved the brats and spoilt them with attention. I thought I’d better step up and perform as Aitch had been doing all the lessons and homework, so I taught them Cheers! Salut! and Prost!

Whoa!

On the way out of Livingstone we hit the best section of road we saw on the whole trip – brand new wide black tar with centre white stripe and side yellow lines! Amazing!

BUT: Just as we hit the smooth, the ole kombi died. Stat. Not a shudder or a hiccup first. Just suddenly nothing. That much-dreaded “CAR TROUBLE” thing! Well, after 197 000km I spose it’s OK. Unpacked the back and lifted the lid to stare at the engine. That’s my mechanical trick: I stare at engines.

Some school kids walked up and said ‘Don’t worry, they know a mechanic at the nearby village’, and the toothy one on the battered bicycle offered to go and call him. Sure, I said, not hopefully. “JP” from Gauteng, on his way to service some big crane, stopped his rented car and kindly offered his assistance. Soon he was joined (I was amazed) by Carl the mechanic, who arrived with a metal toolbox on his shoulder, and between the two of them they peered, prodded, unscrewed – and broke the distributor cap! Using mostly my tools and swallowing the ice-cold drinks I passed them, they eventually gave up. ‘Must be something computerised in one of these little black boxes’ was their verdict. Right!

‘There’s a VW agent in Lusaka’ says Carl cheerfully. Right! 200km away. As they’re about to leave, Carl spots a loose wire under near the sump. Finds another loose end of a wire and joins the two. VROOOM!! Apparently the wire was from a cutout switch to a heat sensor in the block. The kombi roared to life to tremendous applause! Well, four of us cheered. JP said ‘My pleasure’, Carl said ‘R200’, I said ‘Bargain’, Trish and the kids said ‘Thank you!’ and we were on the road again!

Next stop Lochinvar National Park at the south end of the Kafue National Park. We’d never heard of it but saw it on the map. Quite a bumpy road got us to the gate after dark. ‘Sorry, but you can’t go in’, said the soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but I have to’, said me. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man’. Back he came – ‘Sorry. The main man says the gate is closed’.  ‘You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough’ I said – ‘Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping in the sticks’. Off he went and back he came. ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside’. ‘You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!’ we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar. No animals, but some nightjars. A primitive camp, so we rigged up our own shower. Nice big trees.

It has beautiful flood plain lakes in the middle of dry surroundings.

South Luangwa National Park in Zambia was my main destination – I had read about it for decades. It was everything and more I imagined. Flatdogs Camp just outside the park was a blast, too. Big shady trees, a hearty meal available if you didn’t want to cook, and a swimming pool with a slide. Jess loved it so much she wore a big hole right through the bumular zone of her cozzie.

Flatdogs pool. Jessica heaven. Wore a hole thru her cozzie!
Flatdogs pool. Jessica heaven. Wore a hole thru her cozzie bum!

We met an American Mom with three kids. She’d married a Zambian man in the USA and had shipped over a converted school bus to tour around Zambia.

Jess and the three ZambiYanks and their Schoolbus
Jess and the three ZambiYanks and their Schoolbus

Then into the park – a long-awaited dream. It was terrific. Saw puku antelope for the first time.

Sausage tree huge-er!
That huge tall Thornicroft’s giraffe suddenly looked small

To get there we had to drive from Chipata town – that dreaded road we’d been warned against! Well, the grader had been a few days ahead of us and it turned out to be one of the smoothest stretches of the whole trip!

Luangwa Road small_cr

On to Malawi

Chembe village on the shores of Lake Malawi, and freshwater snorkelling off Mumbo island in Lake Malawi, cichlid fishes, and bats and swifts in a water cave.

 

MalawiWithKids (5)
Chembe village beach fig tree, Lake Malawi

We stayed at Emmanuel’s. Fair-minded people will agree with my assessment of it as ‘luxury’ but Aitch veto’d that and stuck it firmly under ‘basic with roof’, even though the shower was almost en-suite.

Outside the room, Aitch was in heaven:

Mocambique

Leaving Malawi we crossed the wide Zambesi at Tete, where we stayed in a motel on the right bank as we wanted to head straight off the next morning. Probably Aitch’s least favourite lodgings of the trip – mozzies and an empty swimming pool. Leaving town two garages had no petrol. They said the word was that the town on the far bank had, so we crossed back over the Zambesi, filled up and crossed back again. The kombi liked that!

The mighty Zambesi at Tete

Our biggest luxury was three nights at Vilanculos Beach Lodge. Sea, sand, a bar, lovely food, huge soft beds, friendly staff. Especially João, who spoiled the kids rotten, writing up cooldrinks to our room number! They thought he was a wizard.

We took a boat to Bazaruto Island and then on to Two Mile reef offshore in the big Indian Ocean. Lake Malawi and Bazaruto were Aitch’s main snorkeling destinations and she LOVED them both! Two-Mile reef really is ‘like an over-stocked aquarium’.

Two-Mile reef

Two Mile Reef Bazaruto
Two Mile Reef, two miles east of Bazaruto Island off Vilanculos, Mocambique

Zavora Bay near Inharrime. Stunning lakes and a wi-ide bay; A reef at the point, so you can walk in and snorkel in sheltered water for a kilometre; Lovely cottages – houses, really, on top of the dunes overlooking the bay. Our best find in Mocambique. We hadn’t heard about it before and we fell in love with it. We agreed: “We MUST come back here one day!”

MocamWithKids (13)
Ponta Zavora, Mocambique

Zavora beach
One Child, One Beach

Here’s where the kids got sick. We tested them – high positive readings for malaria. Luckily the lodge owner gave us Co-Artem pills which we fed them and then set off early next morning for South Africa.

When we got to Nelspruit hospital they tested all clear! The Co-Artem had done its job perfectly!

Two Memory Highlights: The rivers – stunning! The Chobe, Zambezi, Kafue, Luangwa, Shire, the Zambezi again (at Tete it’s wi-i-ide and beautiful), the Save and the Limpopo rivers were all magnificent and welcome and we stopped and stared. South Africa has some lovely rivers, but these were wider, swifter-flowing and clearer.

The friendly people. Everywhere we went we were helped and fussed over and we heard laughter and “No Problem!”, and quite often: “Are these your children?”

Accommodation: We camped 14 nights; Basic shelter with roof 6 nights; Comfy lodgings 7 nights; Spoiled ourselves with luxury 5 nights;

Duration: Five 3-night stays; Three 2-night stays; Eleven 1-night stands;

================OOOOOO==================

Cook’s Tour: Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) was an English businessman best known for founding the travel industry. In 1855 he took two groups on a ‘grand circular tour’ of Belgium, Germany and France, ending in Paris for the Exhibition. The expression ‘A Cook’s Tour’ was humorously used for any rapid or cursory guided tour: “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium”.

 

Lloyd’s Camp, Savuti

We flew on from Oddballs east out of the green delta across the dry Kalahari to Savuti:

We flew on to Savuti

The flight was a bit bumpy in the hot clear air and Aitch started to go green about the gills but we landed before she resorted to any lumpy laughter. At the strip we were met by pink-cheeked Emma the Pom in an open game drive vehicle. She was the camp chef – and the airstrip fetcher that day. She drove us right up an ele’s bum at a waterhole en route.

Just three of us in the vehicle. The last time I had been to Savuti was in 1985 when I’d arrived in a crowded old Land Rover full of Kiwis, Aussies, a Pom and a Yank on a budget overlander. We pitched our tiny tents in the public camping area and the eles bust the water tank.

Sixteen years later, luxury! Emma took us on to camp and fed us overlooking the famed Savuti channel. After Oddball’s roughing it: YUM!!

Jenny and Lionel Song hosted us. She was a honey, he was lion-obsessed. And we had Texans with us, so we did a lot of lion-chasing. ‘Myomi’s pride’ was the focus. Gotta see lions, lions gotta have names.

So first thing in the morning we’d hare off to where the lions had last been seen and at last light (its a national park, so you can’t be out after dark) we’d hare back to camp. Once on the way we saw two ratels (honey badgers) skoffeling around and at least we did slow down to watch them awhile.

In Lionel’s defence he was doing his job, the Americans were repeat guests who worked for Southwest Airlines based in Dallas – world’s biggest carrier at the time. They were delighted when he gunned the Cruiser after a lioness as she started sprinting at a giraffe. She and five others brought down the giraffe and that was it, we spent the rest of the day watching lion lunch.

The good thing is a vehicle is a great hide so I could scan around for birds too. While doing so I saw two ears above the grass some 100m off. A cub watching and waiting. It stayed right there till the pride leader looked up and made a funny high-pitched bark and they – turned out there were three of them – came running straight onto the carcase and started making a nuisance of themselves. When we left they were all fat as ticks, but had hardly made a dent in the huge female giraffe.

Next morning we drove straight back at first light and all that was left was a blood stain on the grass, a chewed head nearby  and scattered bones! Two males had arrived and they were lying there the size of dirigibles. Eight round lions and three bloated cubs. They looked like the animals from Rollin’ Safari:

Roolin Safari
Botswana Oddballs Savuti (7)
Savuti Botswana (1)

In camp Lionel, teasing, said to a guest who asked about the Lloyd of Lloyd’s Camp: ‘You should meet Lloyd, pity he’s not here. He’s 6ft 4in tall with long black hair tied back in a ponytail”. Yeah, right! Lloyd Wilmot’s a legend in deeds, but not in stature.

I love the one guest comment in the camp guestbook after yet another exciting Wilmot Safari: “While Lloyd is my shepherd I Wilmot fear…”

It was 2001 and the Savute channel was dry, so the only waterholes were supplied by boreholes. The Savute flows with water from the Linyanti river. It apparently flowed in Livingstone’s time, around 1845, then was dry in 1880 and remained dry for over 70 years. It flooded again in 1957, dried up again in 1982, flowed again in 2008 and the marsh flooded fully in 2010. This was documented by Dereck and Beverley Joubert in their films Stolen River and Journey to the Forgotten River. Mike Myers tells how the whole dynamic of the region changes depending on what’s happening with the water. I heard in Maun how Lloyd Wilmot had found a crocodile high up in the rocky hills above the marsh around 1982 after the channel ceased to flow.

=============================

skoffeling – rummaging; being a badger; badgering?

Some history from Lee Ouzman’s Jacana Enterprises site:

The Wilmot family first came to Botswana in the early 1900’s. Grandfather Cronje Wilmot’s son Bobby Wilmot was part of the group that were involved in the early exploration and opening up of the Okavango Delta at a time when it was virtually unknown and unexplored. Bobby’s son Lloyd, once a hunter, now a conservationist, is a veritable mine of information. You name it – he’s done it. Swimming with elephants, tracking lion, leopard or cheetah on foot, building hides to view game at remote waterholes, following the amazing African migrations and more. His famous Lloyds Camp in Savuti was a legendary place of wonder and excitement and not surprisingly probably more credited in wildlife documentaries than any other camp in Botswana. It was here that Lloyd developed his special affinity for lions. It is not surprising that one delighted guest wrote of Lloyd. “While Lloyd is my shepherd I Wilmot fear…”

Lloyd and June Wilmot at Savuti: