The Night Critters

Catching on camera, the shy creatures of the night is extremely difficult, not only in the technical sense, all the low lighting and camera shake that makes the task a tricky one.  But also the fact that you need to be dedicated and forfeit some shut eye in order to catch them out and about.  A way round this is a camera trap set up on a frequented water hole or path.  The national parks don’t allow you out after dark so this is the perfect way to catch those critters that appear after the sun has gone down.

We came across a lion kill that had been left for whatever reason, and decided to put up the camera trap for the night and see what came down to feed on the buffalo.  The night time visitors included Spotted Hyenas, Side Striped Jackels, African Civets and surprisingly a Ground Hornbill early in the morning.

Whereas the Hyena and Jackels are often see during the day, the African Civet is a very rare sight before dark.  These creatures are similar to the raccoon although are slightly larger, with a black robbers mask on a pale head.  The body colours vary from buff to grey, with black stripes and spots.  These creatures are omnivorous, scavenging around for anything they consider delicious, and are loners, males keeping a well marked out territory.

Another common nocturnal creature is the Large Spotted Genet pictured at the top of the page.  These beautifully marked creatures bring to mind the stoat, but being a bit larger.  They, too are omnivorous, but are a lot more agile that the Africa Civet and can be seen pouncing on mice in the long grass and chasing potential dinner up into the boughs of trees.

Chameleons

Zimbabwe is home to the Flapnecked Chameleon (pictured above) which has the queer ability to change colour before your eyes.  Research shows that this is due, in part, to two layers of skin containing nanocrystals which can be tensed or relaxed and thus reflect/absorb different wavelengths of light.  So when the chameleon is relaxed the cells are close together reflecting short wavelengths which are blue, together with the yellow pigment of its skin, it appears green.  When stressed the layer of skin contracts moving the crystals further apart and reflecting the longer wavelengths which are the reds and oranges, making it seem darker.  Generally research has found that males tend to be able to change colour more dramatically than females to enable them to seem more dangerous when fighting other males.  The females and juveniles tend to be more mellow colours allowing them to stay camouflaged better.

DSC_0652

Their other incredible feature is their really long tongue, which shoots out of their mouth accelerating from 0 to 6m per second!!  They use it to grab unsuspecting insects in the little sucker cup on the end, retracting the muscle back into the mouth along with dinner.  From slow mo video footage it has been estimated that the chameleon’s tongue is almost twice the length of its body!

In fact this whole creature is queer, from its zygodactylous feet (meaning two toes facing forward and two toes facing backwards), its seemingly uncoordinated eye balls, its horned brows and snout and the wavering, juddering gait it employs as it makes it slow and painful way along the branch.

Chameleons are surrounded by superstition in the African culture and are not best liked, being associated with the devil and being able to deceive mankind with its changing colours and its ever rolling eyes!

Travel Africa Magazine – Self driving through Zimbabwe

A great article appearing in the latest Travel Africa Magazine this month – have a read and see if this is the kind of holiday you might like to take?  Zimbabwe offers so much to see and do that if it is not on your bucket list, you are missing out!  Click on the link below to see the article.

https://travelafricamag.com/the-wheels-deal/utm_content=buffer1a484&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer 

 

 

Grey Crowned Crane

The Crowed Crane (Balearica regulorum) are a special sight on the open grasslands of Hwange standing about 104cm (3 ft) and weighing in at about 3.5kgs.  These majestic birds with their stiff golden feathers that sick up all over its head are one of the bigger birds that strut their stuff in the gently waving grass.  Being omnivores, they can be seen hunting for frogs and snails amoung marshy areas in the rainy season, or they are also keen on snakes and mice if they can catch them.   They stamp their feet while walking to flush out anything that may be hiding in the vegetation, they are also opportunists and can be seen in amongst the grazers in the hope of catching anything that is disturbed by these hooved creatures.   Wetland conservation is very important for these birds as they nest in large reed/grass constructed nests in the wetter areas, with the overgrazing or drainage of these types of areas, their habitat is diminishing at an alarming rate.

The crane can have between 2 to 3 eggs per clutch, and chicks are precocial meaning that they are up and running as soon as they hatch, no hanging about for these little guys.  Though they are not migratory, they do move with the food and as one area dries out they will move off to a more suitable area.

The Graceful Giraffe of Hwange

What a glorious sight that these awkward and seemly disproportioned creatures make as they saunter across the swaying grasslands, covering huge distances with their long legs.   Their strange rocking gait creating an almost hypnotic scene on the open plains of Hwange National Park, as herds of these mottled Southern African Giraffes (Giraffa giraffe) make their way across the horizon.

Their strangely patterned coats creating the perfect camouflage under the dappled shade of the Acacia trees, their long tongues seemingly like an arm reaching out to the upper most branches of the acacia to pluck the tender leaves from between the thorns!  And who wouldn’t be jealous of their stunning eyelashes!!

 

Hwange in the Green Season

Many visitors don’t enjoy coming to do safaris in the green season as the ‘big game’ is harder to see in the lush emerald green bush.  But for those that do venture out it is a whole new and exciting world.  So different to the dusty brown landscape of dry grass and sizzling heat, the weary animals searching for water and food in the constant battle of life.   All creatures seem to enjoy life more in this wet and green landscape, there is a relief in the air that the rains have arrived and that food and water is plentiful again.   Many creatures have babies at this time of the year so the grasslands are dotted with bouncing and bucking impala babies, chasing each other or just running for the sake of running.  The loping giraffes with ‘mini mes’ following obediently behind or the dour looking wildebeests with tiny spindly little calves darting in amongst the herds playing, what seems to be tag, with each other.

9W0A2920

The Green Season is all about the other things that occupy the bush along with the usual elephants, lions and buffalo.  It’s the amazing bird life that can be seen chitterling and chattering among the leafy branches, celebrating the plentiful food and life giving rains.  Some of the feathered creatures develop their breeding plumage and go from non descript LJBs to striking black and red birds with long tails.  Like the Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, who develops a long thick feathered tail and a beautiful burgundy chest to attract his mate, flitting about showing off his elegant plumage to encourage the ladies to get to know him better.

It’s the bugs that make their sometimes, slow trundling way across your path, busy with the collection of food or finding of a mate.  Or the quick flitting of the colourful butterflies like little fireworks bouncing around the puddles and flowers, seeking a drink or nectar, or sometimes seeming to just be dancing in happieness.

The wild flowers and vegetation is a celebration of life, dazzling us with the many varied hues of green and the joyful explosion of flowers on the savannah.  It is such a beautiful and happy time of the year in the bush.

9W0A3356

Wild dog in the rain

After driving around in the rain through the dripping grasslands in Hwange, the patient guests and I were rewarded with a pack of wild dog on the side of the road.  They were looking rather soaked and unhappy with the wet but while we watched them, the sun came out for a bit and we snapped some gorgeous photos.

Painted dog - Hwange 2017