Leaving Harare early morning for Hwange, we were lucky enough to catch the final glory of the Msasa trees (Brachystegia Spiciformis) splendidly adorned in delicate red, amber and bronze. Further along Zambezi teak trees (Baikaea Plurijuga) in shades of orange and gold interspersed with the misty lilac blossom of the Kalahari Lancepod (Philenoptera Nelsii), more Msasas, vibrant yellow Sjambokpods (Cassia Abbreviata) and pale green Ordeal trees (Erythrophleum africanum) were a spectacular sight. Closer to Main Camp, Camelthorns (Acacia Erioloba) bore masses of small yellow pom poms, promise of a bountiful crop of nutritious pods to come. There was a police presence on the roads, but the general attitude was friendly.
Livingi Pan on the way in was as pretty as a picture and full of water with a herd of ellies and nine buffalo 'Dagga Boys' enjoying a drink and a splashy wallow. The buffs number is down from fourteen as they are slowly being picked off by the twenty-two strong Main Camp lion pride. A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes were gathering nesting material in the marshy grass, some Spur- winged Geese paddled serenely on the pan and a cluster of Yellow Billed Storks perched in a nearby tree.
We were greeted in Main Camp by a family of noisy Red-billed Spurfowl and a Shikra sitting motionless on a branch searching for his lunch. The midday heat was breathless, so we had a rest before heading out towards Nyamandhlovu Platform. The water there and at Dom was plentiful - always a relief at these very popular drinking points. We found a group of wildebeest grazing near the platform mingling with a dazzle of zebra, and a herd of graceful impala, ears constantly swiveling, eyed us inquisitively with dark, liquid eyes.
The pod of resident hippos splayed out in the mud has a new baby and three enormous crocs, mouths propped open, soaked up the afternoon sun on the bank - situation normal at Nyam!
We left Main Camp early next day on route to Robins Camp. Boss Long One held a little water in a rather muddy pool and we spied an Amethyst Sunbird darting around in a glorious Woodland Gardenia (Gardenia Volkensii) feasting on the nectar of its
creamy pale-yellow blooms, like a flashing jewel in the early morning sun. On to Guvalala which we have never before seen so full of water, all the more
gratifying when remembering past challenges. The water birds
there were amazing and included numerous Red-billed Teal,
Three-banded and Kittlitz's plovers, Wood Sandpipers, Ruffs, Black-winged Stilts, Egyptian Geese, a family group of Little Grebes and a striking Pied Avocet foraging in the shallows. Overhead, Yellow-billed Kites swooped through the air displaying marvelous aerobatic skills, their plaintive cries carried away on the wind. Numerous Bradfield's Hornbills busily pecked through mounds of elephant dung gleaning undigested seeds and grubs, and a group of kudu cows with a young male stood alongside several giraffe cautiously approaching the pan to drink.
Shapi was full to the brim, surveyed by a hunched Grey Heron, and while a huge male warthog made off quickly at our approach a small string of Zebra in single file drew near to drink in strict order of rank. We lingered there to relish an ice-cold drink before heading to Shumba where the hide provided a lovely view of a stately elephant bull drinking his fill before swishing himself with water to keep cool. Glossy and Sacred Ibis were feeding across the pan and a flock of attractive Common Waxbills and their cute Blue cousins flitted to and fro through the scrubby brush.
Approaching Masuma, the Shaving brush bush willows (Combretum Mossambicense) were an absolute sight to behold, their graceful arches of pretty white blossom suspended in the air like clouds of confetti. We always listen for the musical whistles and warbles of Red-winged Starlings in the camp at Masuma along with Red-billed Hornbills and Lesser blue-eared (Meves's) Starlings.
We paused for a while in the cool hide watching comical turtles hitch a ride on the backs of some Hippos floating in the shallows, and Impala, Waterbuck, and Warthogs keeping a wary eye open for resident crocs.
We had heard great things of the newly refurbished Robins Camp, and eagerly looked forward to seeing it for ourselves. The upgrade is quite remarkable and a real example of what can be achieved with considerable investment, imagination and skillful design. The main complex is not quite complete but looking ahead a couple of years down the track, rolling green lawns, water wise gardens, evergreen trees, friendly, efficient staff and tastefully appointed lodges all with shiny new en suite facilities will make this place balm for the soul. We
relished a refreshing swim in the new swimming pool, deliciously cool after our long, hot drive. The camp ground has two brand new ablutions with piping hot showers, its own separate pool is in progress and each camp site has a plug point. The electric fence around the whole camp makes this an ideal, safe destination for families with children. Hats off to the Robins team for their vision and hard work, we wish them every success.
An evening game drive rewarded us with sightings of Reedbuck, rare Tsessebe and a huge herd of a thousand
or more buffalo in the vlei shortly before reaching Little Toms. The dry grass was very tall, and the dust stirred up by the herd made for a wonderful scene.
Further along at Big Toms we found the water level very high for the time of year. A family of smart Black Crakes peeped out from a clump of reeds, and numerous plump sandgrouse came in to snatch a quick drink in the late afternoon, their distinctive aw aw calls punctuating the air. Just as we were about to head back to camp, the barking alarm call of impala alerted us to lurking danger, and a lone lioness emerged from the bush for a drink. She
was in prime condition, beautifully lit up by the golden evening light - a thrilling end to a long day.
We ventured out early next morning encountering a large herd of roan antelope close to camp and were pleased to note several pairs of endangered White- backed Vultures dotted around nesting in tall trees. We were awed by the enormous stretch of water in Salt pan hosting hundreds of busy waders and a variety of waterfowl.
Several serene giraffes were browsing some way off as was a breeding herd of ellies and some kudu bulls. Crocodile Pools for a delicious brunch fry-up in the newly refurbished hide was a delight and alive with teeming birdlife. A pair each of Pied and Giant Kingfishers were fishing for their breakfast, we spied two Black-crowned Night Herons in a clump of sticks on the river bank, some Pied Wagtails flitted about, and a lone Hamerkop stood scooping up frogs. Two busy Cinnamon-breasted Buntings
hopped around on the rocks below, and the grunting of Hippos and noisy chattering of hosts of White-browed Sparrow-weavers together with the haunting cries of a pair of African Fish Eagles added to the magic. The Deka River held impressive water, and debris lodged quite high in the trees along the road on the way in was testament to severe flooding earlier this year.
We had planned two nights at Mandavu Dam and stopped off at Deteema Picnic site en route. Deteema Dam was nearly full. Some shy African Spoonbills were wading through the water sweeping their 'spoons' from side to side, occasionally swallowing prey with a sharp backwards head-jerk. Common House-Martins swooped overhead in a flock, feeding on the wing and a handsome White- headed Vulture sat perched in a dead tree nearby, its bill bright red as if dipped in blood!
At Mandavu we made friends with a delightful couple of intrepid fellow campers from Cape Town, and with much fun and laughter shared an impromptu three course dinner all cooked over the coals. Mandavu holds so much water that the islands have shrunk quite drastically, but we were pleased to note three pairs of African Skimmers aggressively dive-bombing a Goliath Heron that landed too near their nests.
Special too were the gentle rock hyraxes clustered in family groups, sunning themselves to warm up. While enjoying a sundowner that evening, relishing the calm before nightfall, a huge herd of buffalo crested the opposite ridge and surged over it to the water below. Spread out along the bank, we estimated more than fifteen hundred animals, one of the great sightings in Hwange and a privilege to behold.
Mandavu came with other excitements too. Asides from regular nocturnal visits from some bold, marauding hyaenas, and an altercation with a dense column of fierce Matabele ants that wished to settle under our ground sheet, a persistent rustle in the grass near our braai area that evening revealed, on close inspection with a light, an enormous, deadly African Puff Adder about a meter long and as thick as a man's forearm. Keeping a safe distance, we watched it calmly 'walking' on its ribs - as puffies do - almost in slow motion. With
the aid of a long metal pole, we managed to manoeuvre the snake away from the camp unharmed much to the disappointment of camp attendants Elizabeth and Beauty who next day asked us hopefully 'Is it now dead ' Camping in Hwange is clearly not for the feint hearted. The drive to Kennedy 1 Picnic site next day was hot, but shortly before reaching Masuma we chanced upon a leopard, that most shy and elusive of cats.
Like an ethereal ghost, she flirted with the shadows of the trees, before melting away, her camouflaged coat perfectly suited to concealment. Two lionesses at Shumba provided entertainment by hiding in the Mopane scrub to stalk a small herd of impala that were drinking at the pan, but those wily antelope were far too alert and fleet of foot for the lazy cats who gave up the hunt and flopped down in the shade to doze.
To be continued......
by Paula Dell
Trustees: D.C. Dell; B. Edwards; B. Wolhuter; D. St Quintin; Dr. K. Jenkins; G. J. Brebner
Website: www.friendsofhwange.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org