Saturday, 5 January 2008

Moremi - Day 9

View of Sua Pan
We were up relatively early and it was basically breakfast, shower, pack up what little there was out and head to the Nata Bird Sanctuary.  Breakfast was good- sliced kebab on provitas with cheese spread.  As close to a cooked breakfast as you can get without cooking it.  Pierre arrived during the making of it, and wanted to know all about Australia.  Dru was like a tour guide promoting down under ;)

We left at about 9.30 and saw a couple of bull elephants along the way – probably better we hadn’t seen them the night before ;)  We got into Nata and stopped to refuel before heading past the Nata Lodge to the bird sanctuary.  Dru went in to do the admin and came back with the news that there isn’t a lot of game here to see, only a couple of springbok and not many flamingos.  Apparently there is a hyena but he’s extremely shy, so we probably won’t see him – though it makes a change from the very bold guy at 3rd Bridge!

We drove to check out the campsites quickly, which seemed quite nice, then went to check out the area.  Of course, they didn’t have a map for us, but it’s a small enough place not to get lost.  As we were driving, we passed another car – the same family that we had met in Tuli – I think he works for the British government in Gaborone, but they do a lot of touring – they had just done Chobe, Caprivi and Linyati and had stopped over the night before at the sanctuary before heading back to Gabs.  Small world yet again ;)

They warned us there is virtually nothing here, not even birds ;) And the roads are very, very wet – just what we need – more water! Their advice was to get out and check how deep the water is before attempting any crossings.

With that in mind, we slowly took a drive along one of the main roads, until we got to the water. Don’t think that it was as deep as what we had been through, but it was a very long stretch and being on our own, we weren’t going to take the chance so headed off in another direction.  Came to a huge pool of water yet again (after all – we were on the pans in the wet) so changed course down another path.  This one we could take all the way to the Sua pan – and what a sight!  Just this absolutely massive expanse of water that looks like a sea.

We finally saw flamingos, a few stragglers on one of the small pans, and then a huge colony of hundreds in the Sua Pan.  Unfortunately they were too far away to see up close and we couldn’t get near them, but it was still great to see that they’re around in the pans.

Had a lunch of tuna on Provitas on the platform that overlooks the pan, before taking photos of the area – nice one of a pelican all on his own, but a bit far away.  It’s absolutely peaceful there; no noise except for the droning of the dragonflies and now and then the noise in the distance from the flamingos.

Stalking the avocets
Started slowly heading back after watching the clouds, there seemed to be 4 big rainclouds all heading to converge into one, and were worried about being on the pans if it hit.  We were squeezing past the bodies of water along the sides, but a lot of rain in a short time would fill that  up and the ground underneath was like clay – slippery – not something you want to get caught in.  We passed the smaller pan where we had seen the first flock of flamingos, when Dru spotted some avocets at the water’s edge – small birds with bills that are upturned making them look a little bit strange.  He decided to try and get some closer shots and spent about 15 minutes ‘stalking’ them – in true form they moved off just before he was able to get a really good shot ;)

Got out of the central parts of the pan and stopped on a big part on the outskirts; pulled out the chairs and sat and had a drink while watching the gathering of the clouds, which had turned pretty dark and nasty by this time.  Well, the sitting out there lasted all of 2 minutes until it started to rain and Dru decided that was enough.

Surprisingly the rain didn’t hit us too hard, with most of the storm moving away from us.  We were just heading towards the camp in relatively dry conditions when we came across 3 cranes – the crested cranes – Dru almost fell out of his seat.  He was very excited to see these birds, and to be able to photograph them just hanging about on the road at a puddle.  For him as a keen birder, this is one of those birds that you hope to see in the wild, but don’t expect to – and there they were in the Nata sanctuary – a serious highlight.
Clouds building up over Nata sanctuary
We spent some time with them, then the rain started a bit more seriously, so began the drive back to camp.  We saw a small herd of springbok standing in the rain, all facing the same way except for one lonely rebel with his face to the rain.  We were driving along when we saw what I thought were unusual tree stalks at first.  Turns out they were ostriches… five of them, all sitting on the ground with just their necks and heads sticking out of the grass – a very strange sight ;)

We did a bit of driving along some of the roads that we had already done in the morning, but there was just too much rain, and what little animals were out there, weren’t going to be in the downpour, so to the campsites to pick our spot.

We picked a campsite that we aren’t sure is actually a campsite.  It’s across the road from the other sites, all on its own, but overlooking the whole plain under a tree.  An absolutely awesome spot – so we figured we’d claim it before anyone else saw it, and hopefully no official would tell us to move.  By this time the rain had eased a bit, so we took out the chairs and erected our temporary shelter ;) – the same one we had used to drink our coffee in Moremi.  We had the ground sheet tied between the tree and the car and put the chairs underneath it.  Worked pretty well, but then again, by the time we had got the shelter up, it was hardly raining ;)

Grey crested cranes
There had been virtually nothing to see from an animal point of view the whole day, except for the springbok.  What we had seen along 2 of the roads though, were big holes.  We suspected that they were porcupines, or some other creature and as we are always after the lesser seen creatures as well, decided to hang around camp for a while and then take a drive just before sunset and see if any of the burrows were active yet.

There wasn’t much to do at camp, seeing as how nothing had to be set up – the joys of the roof tent! As we had a couple of hours to kill – very rare on the whole trip – we started marking off the birds that we’d seen that we hadn’t marked off yet.  And once that was done, hauled out the animal book and started marking where we’d seen the various animals from all our trips previously.  Nice to see ‘Moremi’ featured prominently, especially in the lesser seen birds and animals.  You can see an impala anywhere basically, but the Tsessebee and Reedbuck have only been seen on this trip.

At 5, we set out to check out the holes – no luck for us, but there were definitely a couple of active burrows.  Wanted to catch the small flock of flamingos that we had seen earlier in the small pan, so went back through the roads we had been trying to get away from before the storm.  The rain had stopped completely by now and the big menacing storm seemed to be dissipating, giving us hope that we’d get a nice sunset.

Water on the pans
Passed two 4x4s on the way to the pan, they had stopped and were checking out the area that they had been driving by foot.  We were wondering if they knew something that we didn’t about the road conditions, but since we had already been down the path, decided to have a go at it.  Still, not very comforting when one of the guys makes a slitting throat gesture – the roads couldn’t be that bad… could they?  Turned out “No”… and we left the convoy of 2 looking on in amazement as we headed through – ok, so they didn’t know that we had tackled much worse than this in the last week ;)

Stopped at the pan, and sat on the roof having a beer and photographing the flamingos in the water.  Such graceful birds but so amusing to watch.  They shuffle their feet in the mud while sticking their head in the water to get all the food that’s been churned up, so all you see is a body, with 3 sticks, 2 of which are moving furiously - very comical to watch ;) We finally saw our second animal – the black backed jackal of course – slinking across the pan.  Serious respect to those guys – they really can survive anywhere.

We didn’t want to attempt the roads back in the dark so sunset at the water was not an option, so headed back just before the sun went down to be able to capture if from our campsite.  The sunset may not have been the best that the wild has to offer, but it made up by the location – flat as the eye could see with nothing around, and the sky slowly turning orange, then red, then finally black… a fitting end to our last night in the wild…
Sunset over the pans
Quick showers at the ablutions, luckily for me – hot water although no light, unluckily for Dru – no light and cold water – apparently the sanctuary thinks that guys are tougher and can handle the cold showers ;)  T-bone steaks from Maun and smash for dinner.  We were hoping to have a few night time visitors of the smaller variety, but nothing but insects in the beginning because of the light.   And that brought the frogs – quite a few, but none as spectacular as the one we saw in the Delta. 

We saw a couple of mice scurrying around too, and figured that would lead to the snakes coming out.  And we did see one – Dru saw it when he went to throw rubbish in the bin – luckily slithering away in the opposite direction.  When you’re in an area like Moremi, where the larger predators like cats and hyenas are around, you tend to concentrate on them and forget about the ones you can’t see, but they are always there in the shadows, and a place like Nata Sanctuary really drives that home. 

Ended the evening with a glass of Amarula and watching the stars on the open plain, toasting the beauty of nothingness…

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