Tau Pan, Feb 2018

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Lions were seen on the majority of the days during February and guests were often serenaded at night by the sound of nearby roars as the Tau Pan pride made contact with each other. As is often the case at Tau Pan, we came across the cats in groups of varying sizes, including a sizable pride of twelve lions which was seen regularly towards Letia Hau, comprising 3 males, 2 lionesses and seven young. One of the times that pride was feasting on a wildebeest kill. The camp watering hole was frequented by the lions very regularly including a female with a cub and the impressive black-maned resident males.

A brown hyena continued to be seen at the watering hole, especially at dawn and dusk. However another individual was less fortunate and we found its carcass nearby, possibly killed as a result of conflict with lions.

An African wild cat was seen a few times hunting mice around the Tau Pan areas and lucky guests were able to capture some photographs of this elusive mammal. Honey badgers were also seen digging for rodents in the same area. Pale Chanting Goshawks were seen keeping a close eye on the honey badgers, hoping to steal some food, but their reactions were too slow to be successful. Black backed jackal, ground squirrels and bat-eared foxes were seen most days, however some more unusual sightings of a Cape fox and the elusive aardwolf were great to have. Cheetah were located at Passarge Valley.

In a very unusual encounter, we came across elephants in Deception Valley – a female and calf. Elephants haven’t been seen in that area by us for many years. They were resting in the shade – although the day was cloudy it was extremely hot.

Following heavy rains towards the end of February plains game species such as oryx, springbok and wildebeest moved into the Tau Pan area to take advantage of the new green shoots of grass. The springbok herds were estimated to be as large as 300 animals and made a spectacular sight as they ran and pronked at sunset. Steenbok were seen regularly and there was a small herd of red hartebeest at Phokoje Pan. A journey of eleven giraffe were seen regularly.

Birdlife continued to be excellent at Tau Pan, especially for the raptors. Species seen included pallid harrier, gabar goshawk, tawny eagle, black-chested snake eagle, brown snake eagle and yellow-billed kite. A pair of bateleur eagles are building a nest near to camp. Kori bustards and secretary birds could be seen stalking across the pans looking for food. We had a remarkable sighting of 45 ostrich chicks in one flock, being looked after by two sets of parents.

The northern black korhaans and red crested korhaans could be seen displaying. In the case of the latter, the male flies straight up and then dramatically tumbles towards the ground as though shot.

Although the first half of the month was fairly dry for the time of year, the clouds were building up each afternoon making for some spectacular sunset shots. Once the rains came the bush sprang to life and was beautiful and green.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, Jan 2018

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The Tau Pan pride was seen regularly as they spent a lot of time moving between the camp watering hole and their nearby den. The five impressive males were often baby-sitting the youngsters – presumably whilst the lionesses were out looking for food. Two of the lionesses often joined the pride, but halfway through the month the third lioness went missing and the guides though that perhaps she had gone to give birth. Different prides were seen at Passarge Valley and Deception Valley during full day trips.

A brown hyena was visiting the camp watering hole from time to time, usually at dawn or dusk. It was a really special treat to see this usually nocturnal animal in good natural light.

The resident female cheetah was seen hunting springbok at Tau Pan, but the antelopes’ strategy of staying in the middle of the wide-open pan helped them to spot the cat in enough time to thwart her attempts. A male cheetah was having good success in Tau Pan and was seen feasting on a wildebeest calf. A family of three cheetahs were located at Letitia Hau.

General game at Tau Pan included springbok, oryx, kudu and wildebeest. This particular herd of wildebeest are always resident in the area, although they move quite considerable distances within the vicinity to find the best grazing, according to where the most rain has fallen. We saw a big herd of 30 oryx, including 10 calves feeding alongside two male red hartebeest at Makgoa Pan. Guests enjoyed seeing large journeys of giraffes with their young calves browsing on the acacia trees and drinking from the camp watering hole.

Bat-eared foxes, honey badgers and black-backed jackals were all smaller mammals seen frequently around the edges of Tau Pan.

As the dry weather continued, massive flocks of red-billed queleas in their thousands came to drink at the watering hole, their combined weight breaking branches of the nearby trees. The bushes in the area seemed to be made of feathers rather than leaves as the little birds huddled together. Raptors including lanner falcons, steppe buzzards, yellow-billed kites, Gabar goshawks and pale chanting-goshawk swooped in and out of the flocks of quelea, snatching their prey. Guests enjoyed seeing secretary birds and kori bustards stride out across the open grasslands as they searched for food.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, Dec 2017

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The watering hole in front of Tau Pan always attracts a good deal of game and we were thrilled to get an early Christmas present in the form of an elusive brown hyena drinking right in front of camp.

As always, there was lots of lion action at the watering hole too. One day, three of the resident males were resting there together with a female and her three cubs. Whilst they were there, two nomadic lions to the area came to drink but were aggressively driven away. A few days later, this drama was repeated, this time they were chased by all five males of the Tau Pan pride. This pattern continued for the rest of the month, with the intruders continuing to try and gain access to the watering hole despite opposition from the formidable resident coalition. All of these exciting events could be clearly viewed from the camp’s main deck.

We saw a number of different cheetah individuals during December, but the most commonly sighted was a female cheetah and two sub-adults who were great condition. Their mother is a very successful hunter who changes areas frequently in order to find food. Towards the end of the month these three cheetahs had moved to Tau Pan where often seen hunting and feeding on springbok lambs. Once they were seen trying to separate wildebeest calves from their mothers, but these bigger antelope were too clever at defending their young.

A large male leopard was located with an oryx kill up on a tree branch. He was skittish when he saw our vehicle during the day, but returned to the carcass and finished everything apart from the antelope’s head.

Numbers of general game were increasing during December. There were plentiful herds of springbok with lambs at Tau Pan. At Passarge Valley we found oryx and red hartebeest with calves. A herd of six kudu were regularly visiting the watering hole, keenly keeping an eye out for predators. On one remarkable occasion we came across a large herd of wildebeest herding into Tau Pan, when all of a sudden two males started to fight for dominance. This fierce battle lasted about 30 minutes during which time the young calves started to run around behind the herd, seemingly confused as to what was happening.

One day the guides spotted a honey badger devouring a puff adder. In a remarkable interaction between the species, a tawny eagle bravely tried to steal the dead snake from the formidable honey badger, but he was not successful. A few days later two honey badgers were seen trying to hunt down jackal puppies, but they were not successful. Another time we found the jackals trying to take something away from the honey badger, but the honey badger was aggressively defending himself and a fight between the two predators ensued.

Both jackals and bat-eared foxes have dens in the area, and their small pups have delighted guests with their antics.

Red-billed queleas have been flocking in their tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands around the camp watering hole and camp itself. The density of these small finch-like birds was so great that the branches of the surrounding trees were breaking under their weight – despite the fact that each little bird only accounted for about 20 grams. The huge flocks attracted birds of prey such as yellow-billed kites, red-necked falcons and harriers who swooped back and forth feasting on the bounty.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, Nov 2017

Safari at Kwara

During November the Tau Pan pride were seen very regularly in the area near to camp, and made a magnificent sight when found together; the five black-maned males together with two females and their three cubs. Once there was a lovely sighting of the impressive males lying together bonding through grooming each other, showing their softer side. Their more aggressive nature came to the fore when a female came to the watering hole with two cubs. One of the males spotted the cub and chased after it, the other four in hot pursuit. The cub managed to dash for cover and disappeared – a very lucky escape for the little one who would very possibly have been killed in an act of infanticide. Other prides were located at Deception Valley and Sunday Pan. At the start of the month as the dry season came to an end they were looking lean and hungry, but after the first rain showers the antelope started to drop their young and food was suddenly easy to come by again.

The antelope species seen during November included oryx, kudu and springbok.  The guests really enjoyed the lambing of the springbok. We were sometimes able to see the antelope giving birth and watched the youngsters wobbling to their feet to take their first steps. Within a few days they were chasing each other around and pronking. This was a time of easy pickings for the predators and we saw the resident male cheetah on springbok kills on successive days.

A few elephants were seen in the Tau Pan area, relishing the last of the Tsamma Melons. It was an indication of how good last years rains were that there were still many of these melons left at the end of the dry season, they would usually have mostly been consumed by now.

Leopard were not seen often, but were heard mating right inside camp, so we hope that a family will be produced in the months to come.

Bat-eared foxes were often seen foraging around Tau Pan. They were denning and had small cubs of about three months old who kept us entertained with their games of chase. The black-backed jackal also had young puppies; we saw them trying to pounce on ground squirrels. An African wildcat was seen on the western side of the pan hunting for birds, but didn’t succeed as the wide-open area didn’t have enough cover from which it the cat could launch its ambush.

Two honey badgers were seen digging for mice, but with no success.  In an example of commensalism, Pale Chanting Goshawks were perched nearby hoping for the opportunity to snatch a lizard or rodent flushed from the ground by the honey badgers.

November was a very productive month for birding. Up to twelve secretary birds have been visiting the camp watering hole every lunchtime as well as yellow-billed kites, bateleur and tawny eagles.

During the first part of the month guests and guides saw the Central Kalahari at its most brutally harsh. Although there had been some small showers, they just seemed to increase the humidity. Temperatures rocketed as high as 42 degrees and although game drive sightings were still good, animals were quick to hide in the shade as the sun rose. Then, in the third week of November the heavens opened and heavy rains arrived to quench the thirsty earth, bringing a respite from the heat.  There were currently plenty of plants in bloom including the umbrella thorn acacia and trumpet thorn giving guests the chance to experience the fragrant scents of the springtime bush.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, October 2017 Sightings

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October is the hottest and driest month for the Central Kalahari region with scorching winds and extreme midday temperatures. The intensity of the conditions was building ahead of the forthcoming rainy season which will bring welcome relief to the desert animals.

The coalition of six magnificent black-maned male lions were seen often at the camp watering hole and more than once they serenaded our guests with impressive roaring performances during the night.  As the dry season progressed, predators’ home ranges increased in size as the animals have to travel further and further to find food. This meant that we started to see some new individuals to the area who are not part of the Tau Pan pride. A nomadic lioness and cub were seen drinking at the watering hole. They were markedly less familiar with the safari vehicle than our resident lions, growling and snarling quite aggressively. Another new lioness and two young males were spotted on our northern fire break and also towards the airstrip.

Piper’s Pan is a stunning stretch of perfectly flat grass a few kilometres across.  This area is difficult to access when it is wet, but very productive in the dry season. In October we located two male cheetah located resting under a bush, plus another female cheetah at San Pan. There were plenty of wildebeest, red hartebeest, oryx and a different pride of lions at Piper’s Pan.

As always, the desert provided a good chance to see some of the smaller predators. Honey badgers were seen being more aggressive than usual, perhaps because there is less availability of food. Bat-eared foxes were seen often as well as the much rarer Cape Fox.

The landscape around Tau Pan was verdant and green following the huge fire earlier in the year. The acacia trees were in flower and other plants were starting to bloom including the pink flowers of the Devil’s Claw, Botswana’s National flower.

Cape cobras were seen at Phukwe Pan and also at San Pan.  Both times these large golden snakes were seen hunting, looking for prey species such as mice, lizards and ground squirrels.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, September 2017 Sightings

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At the start of October the fire in the Tau Pan area was still raging, sweeping westwards in a wave some thirty kilometres across and leaving behind a very changed landscape. Tall golden grasses were replaced with scorched earth. However, by the middle of the month the new green shoots had come through and were these were much relished by the antelope species.

One morning we were conducting a bushman walk when we saw a small pride of 2 adults and a cub drinking at the camp watering hole. The camp was quickly radioed to bring a vehicle so that the guests could get some close-up photographs of the lions. We were surprised to see that the animals were not part of our regular Tau Pan pride as it is fairly unusual to see intruders in the area. The next day our resident pride was back to drink, this time two lionesses with three cubs. As if keen to reclaim their place at the heart of our operations they then spend the following day hanging out by Room 2. We found the five impressive black-maned lions resting nearby.

Cheetah were seen hunting springbok, but without much success. Jackals, bat-eared foxes were often seen foraging for insects around the Tau Pan area. On one lucky occasion we also saw two honey badgers snuffling around. General game was good including big herds of oryx and springbok.

In the afternoons, vultures and eagles were seen coming to the watering hole to drink.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, August 2017 Sightings

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August was an interesting time in the Central Kalahari, with some dramatic changes to the landscape at the end of the month. As usual the Tau Pan pride of lions were often seen near to the lodge and increasingly at the waterhole since the natural pans were long dried up. More than once, two of the male lions spent the whole day by the watering hole sleeping off a big feast from the night before. The impressive black-maned male lions often called during the night and that helped us to locate them the next day. After they had been particularly vocal one night the guests and guides were amused to observe in the morning that without exception all the antelopes had migrated off to the opposite side of Tau Pan to avoid the lions or perhaps to get a more relaxing night’s rest. One of the resident lionesses was seen feeding with her cubs on an oryx calf. Her growing cubs were getting used to the safari vehicles; she also introduced them to the camp watering hole, so we hope we will see much more of them in the future.

Different cheetah and leopard individuals were located during the month. We watched a sub-adult female leopard trying her luck at Deception Valley, but she missed on that occasion. A coalition of cheetah brothers was spotted during a day trip. Initially they were hunting, but as the temperature rose they decided to rest in the shade. Some very patient guiding was rewarded when guests managed to get good photos of a male cheetah who is known to be particularly skittish. With time, the guides hope to can build his confidence and encourage him to be less camera-shy.

There were a good number of springbok herds around Tau Pan area and as in previous recent months they have developed a habit of pronking during the sunset hour making for spectacular images. Blue wildebeest were seen in large herds and oryx appear to be increasing in number. Red hartebeest were encountered at Phukwe Pan and also Tau Pan where they were close to the road enabling great memories for some very happy guests who were seeing these antelope for the first time despite having been on safari many times. Ostrich, bat-eared foxes and caracal were also seen in the Tau Pan area.

At the start of August, the vegetation was still dense and whilst the long golden waving grasses made for a stark and beautiful landscape, there were some occasions when we lost sight of animals as they went into the undergrowth. All that was about to change in a very dramatic way. Towards the end of the month a huge bush fire, some 20-30 kilometres across, swept through the area. Over the course of 6 days our team watched the glow on the horizon of the night sky getting ever closer. At the face of the fire the flames were 2-3 metres high, with whole trees burning like torches. As our staff were bravely ensuring that the fire did not threaten the camp itself, they noted the animal behaviour. These types of burns are very normal phenomenon in the Central Kalahari so it is by no means an unusual situation for the creatures who live here. The oryx stayed remarkably calm, wandering very close to the fire and sedately walking out of its way. The springbok kept themselves on the shorter grass of the pans. True to their nature, only the wildebeest seemed in the slightest bit distressed and spent some time galloping around. Even as the fire was raging, Tawny Eagles and Pale Chanting Goshawks stayed ahead of the flames, opportunistically snatching rodents who were fleeing. As soon as the fire had consumed its fuel and passed on by, black-backed jackals were quickly on the scene, picking through the ashes hoping to find some tasty toasted rodents.

Within days the pioneer grass was starting to push through new green shoots, much appreciated by the grazers who seemed to prefer the palatable young stems to the less nutritious dry stalks that the fire destroyed. We were fortunate that the area directly in front of the lodge did not burn, so the view was as beautiful as ever. Whilst the new growth was coming through we enjoyed a concentration of game in the Tau Pan area which was unaffected by the fire.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, July 2017

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Tau Pan was closed for its annual maintenance during July, so we didn’t have the usual game drive reports, but that didn’t stop the animals from visiting. The Tau Pan pride, currently comprising five impressive black-maned male lions and two females, were often found near to the camp. The elevated position of the lodge gives a superb vantage point for the lions to look for game. More than once the they walked straight past our maintenance team as they crossed the ridge to visit the watering hole. One particular day, two of the male lions decided to take a long siesta in the exact spot where our maintenance manager needed to take some measurements. Needless to say, that particular job had to wait for another time.

From their tracks, we could see that leopard and jackal also passed through camp during the closed period.

We opened camp a couple of days before the end of the month and the highlights for those guests were sightings of cheetah and honey badger, as well as some lions close to camp.

Every morning there was a progression of birds flocking to the camp watering hole, first hundreds of doves, then dozens of guinea fowl and finally large numbers of sandgrouse flying in mesmerising formation. The camp is home to many passerine bird species such as crimson-breasted shrike, red-eyed bulbuls, groundscraper thrush and long-billed crombec. Out at the airstrip we saw double-banded coursers, fawn-coloured larks and blacksmith lapwings.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, June 2017

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Winter in the Kalahari has arrived and towards the end of the month the overnight temperature dipped below zero degrees Celsius for the first time this year. The verdant greens of the rainy season have now mellowed into a palette of golds, yellows and greys, creating the starkly beautiful landscape that the Kalahari is famed for.

The Tau Pan pride of 5 males and 2 females were looking healthy and well-fed. Oryx seemed to be the lions’ menu of choice during June and they were often seen stalking these desert antelope. In fact, the pride was seemingly so well-fed that on two occasions antelope were seen grazing fearlessly right next to the cats as they rested. It was quite a remarkable sight to see hunter and prey so relaxed in each other’s company. The lions were mainly to be found in the Tau Pan area and often in and around the camp where the slightly elevated terrain gave them a great view of the surrounding area as they scanned the wide horizon for their next likely meal.

The bushman walk conducted from the lodge is primarily aimed to demonstrate the hunter gatherer traditions of the San people. It is also an opportunity to take a closer look at smaller species of insects and plants. However, one walk last month gave a more adrenaline-fuelled experience when a male and female lion were spotted at the same time approaching from different directions. The female seemed to be heading towards the watering hole but waited when she saw the walkers. The guide sensibly decided to go back to camp and took the guests by vehicle to enjoy the lioness drinking at the watering hole. On another walk the guests were lucky enough to see a Cape Fox which was an unusual sighting to see on foot.

Leopards were seen a few times, mainly the resident female who was seen at the camp watering hole and on the road towards the airstrip. A male and female were heard calling each other in the Tau Pan area.

The cheetah female with her two sub-adult cubs still appeared to be healthy, though when we did see them hunting her youngsters lacked patience and startled the game, spoiling their hunt. The single resident male was also seen, but he tends to keep a low profile in order to avoid the other predators, notably the lions, in the area. A coalition of two male cheetah were also located in Deception Valley.

The drive to Deception Valley shows a change in geology and vegetation, with bigger trees becoming more common. Giraffe were seen browsing on the acacias and guests were able to observe how they moved upwind as they ate. This is because the acacia trees have remarkably evolved to release pheromones in to the air to ‘warn’ the other trees of danger causing them to release unpalatable tannins. In the valley itself guests enjoyed plentiful springbok, oryx and black-backed jackal.

There was also good general game in the Tau Pan area including herds of oryx, springbok and a group of 8 red hartebeest. In addition to jackals, different small families of bat-eared foxes were seen foraging for insects. Caracal, honey badger and the elusive aardwolf were amongst the smaller predators enjoyed by guests during June.
Tau Pan’s vast expanse makes it a great place to spot birds.

Sightings this month included the Pale Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk and Black-chested Snake-eagle. Flocks of ostrich were commonly seen. There were lots of wild cucumbers and Tsamma melons on the edge of the pans, a vital source of nutrition and moisture for the desert animals during the arid winter months.

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

Tau Pan, May 2017

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During May Tau Pan underwent a dramatic transformation; the lush green vegetation which had been a feature of the rainy season started to dry and take on autumnal hues of yellows and browns. The Tsamma melons started to ripen and could be seen dotting the landscape like surreal alien soccer balls. These fruits are a forbearer of the domesticated watermelon and provide a vital source of sustenance for a wide variety of desert birds and animals during the dry winter months including oryx, brown hyena and porcupine.

Large herds of oryx and springboks were still resident in the Tau Pan area, making the most of the nutritious grazing. Guests enjoyed watching the evening migration of antelope back into the centre of Tau Pan each evening where the wide-open spaces give a better chance of protection against predators. Regularly the springbok calves started pronking just before sunset, their beautiful colouration enhanced by the evening light. The behaviour of the oryx and springbok started to change with the arrival of breeding season and we saw males of both species fighting for dominancy.

Regular sightings of cheetah were enjoyed, particularly of a female with two sub-adult young. A different female with three younger cubs was around but very skittish as she desperately tried to keep her cubs hidden from the other predators, notably lions, in the area. Two male cheetah were found on a springbok kill near Leopard Pan and a routine visit by out mechanic to our camp watering hole turned out to be anything but boring when a different male cheetah burst into action, hunting a steenbok. Some lucky guests found a cheetah on the airstrip as they were waiting for their flight out of Tau Pan, showing that it pays to stay alert until the very minute that you leave.

Phukwi Pan was home to significant numbers of giraffe. Six adult bat-eared foxes were also seen in the area, competing aggressively for food with some jackal who were nearby.

Leopard were also seen drinking at the camp watering hole and these cats were seen frequently during May, including a female with two cubs.

The Tau Pan pride comprising five males and two females were seen often, including on a kill of a large kudu bull on which the pride feasted for three days. One of the females was initially not interested in being courted, however soon afterwards she came into oestrus and attracted the attention of three of the male lions. Eventually she was seen mating with one of them. Another two lionesses, visitors to the area from the Deception valley pride, killed a sub-adult Gemsbok.

Huge flocks of guinea fowl, doves and other seed-eaters descended upon the camp watering hole in the early mornings and late afternoons. Kori Bustards were seen striding across the pans. Other resident raptors included Pale Chanting Goshawks, Tawny Eagles and White-backed Vultures.

Interesting sightings of smaller mammals during May included African Wild Cat, Bat-eared foxes, duiker and Honey Badger.
As usual, the sunsets at Tau Pan were amazing and there is surely no better feeling than watching the sun going down in a vast expanse whilst enjoying a glass of wine. Perhaps the Big 5 should be renamed Big 6 to include the incomparable African sunset?

(Note: Accompanying picture is from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)