HWANGE NATIONAL PARK - NEW YEAR 2015

by John and Jenny Brebner
(13.1.15)

What better way to see the old year out and the new one in with a few days in Hwange National Park? Since our previous visit which was during the game count when the park was looking so dry and arid, the transformation is just stunning and one wonders anew at the abundance of nature. We had the pleasure – and privilege – of spending four nights at Main Camp over New Year and had a very sloshy, splashy time getting around as there had been lovely rains – and it was still raining for most of the time we were there.

The veld is looking superb with pools of water lying everywhere. The myriad hues of green are spectacular with the lush grass and the trees all in full leaf. Many of the teak were in full bloom and the teak forest just past Guvelala was particularly stunning with its cloak of mauve mantling the dark green of the foliage like a colourful tea shower. Along the roadsides and in the vleis, the many and varied wild flowers are popping up everywhere, some all but hidden by the long grass but on closer inspection, the delicate, small flowers are truly beautiful. Flame lilies were not so abundant but always a delight to see and in places, there were great swathes of the common vlei crinum - the droopy pink and white vlei lilies. Small white bauhinias were out in ragged flower and along the White Hills road back towards Main Camp there were bushy patches covered in bright yellow bloom. Rhodesian pimpernel’s bright orange stuck out and there were puddles of stud thorn creeping along the road verges. Considering the awful thorns the plant produces, their pinky flowers are gorgeous!

It is certainly a bumper time of the year for those interested in birding with the many migrants all flocking around. There were clouds of amur falcons hunting the vleis wherever we went with many of them hovering before dropping straight down for morsels and when it was raining or later in the day, gathering in large numbers on the trees. Rollers – lilac breasted, purple, European and broad billed – were out in full breeding colour and raucous as ever. Carmine bee-eaters bejewelled stumps and anthills while the European and swallow tailed bee eaters adorned the bushes. We couldn’t believe that we didn’t have several barn swallows plastered against the radiator grill as everywhere we travelled, stacks of the tiny swallows flew kamakaze like, just inches off the ground, straight at the vehicle, veering off in the nick of time. Steppe eagles, tawny eagles, lesser spotted eagles, kites and steppe buzzards were about in numbers and near Kennedy Two we saw two pallid harriers quartering the vlei on the hunt. At Ngweshla and at Nyamandhlovu, several woolly necked storks and white storks plodding about, and one evening at Nyamandhlovu, seventeen marabou storks mustered, stalking along like an aged crowd of undertakers off to an unhappy event! We didn’t see as many waterbirds as we thought we might but the ponds and pans were littered with ducks, mostly red-billed teal, white faced duck and comb ducks, Egyptian and spurwinged geese, little grebes, blacksmith’s lapwings and small waders. At Mabuya Mabena we saw five open billed storks and a lone spoonbill along with a lone abdim stork were seen at Nyamandhlovu. Two coveys of crested francolin were seen with really tiny, fluffy chicks and all the helmeted guineafowl were paired off, some in trios, making a real din at times. A three banded courser with a young chick looked very dismal and damp near the K1 picnic site, trying to dry off at the side of the road.

Not expecting to see many animals due to the dense bush and all the foliage, we had amazing sightings of just about everything we expected. This time of the year is great for all the little things, as well as the big. The dung beetles were having a bit of a hard time finding enough dung now that the elephant herds have dispersed. We did, however, see quite a number of elephant during our drives, seeing two very large breeding herds as well as a couple of smaller groups, one with two tiny babies, and several large, solitary gents. A small mixed herd of sable was seen at Makwa and a very large herd of buffalo was spotted on the far side of the Kennedy vlei on the way to K2 one day. It was certainly the trip for zebras which we saw by the bucketful, and of course, this time of the year is a delight with all the impala and wildebeest babies dropping. Several small nurseries of impala fawns were evident with some of the mummies still looking like they might “hatch”. Tortoises plodded along the road, mostly meat pie sized but we did see one or two bigger ones. Tock tock beetles were scurrying back and forth, stopping to tock tock now and again; some being unceremoniously swooped upon and carried off by yellow billed, grey or Bradfields hornbills. A large, silvery green boomslang was curled in a blue bush near the road at Nyamandhlovu causing some excitement and curiosity as people weren’t sure what it was. Two roan were seen close to the Main Camp gate and several sounders of warthog had small piglets afoot. Cheetah were being seen regularly by others – not us! – and so were wild dog. We came across one pack at Nyamandhlovu, two of which had been finishing off some tasty morsel close to the road, attracting a lot of attention from the vultures and kites circling overhead. Unfortunately, we narrowly missed seeing some heart stopping action that same evening when the dogs chased a young kudu across the vlei. The poor frightened kudu unwisely chose to leap into the pan for refuge whereupon one of the large crocs zoomed straight in and while the two were having a struggle, apparently one of the enormous hippos torpedoed at great speed into the melee, snapping the poor unfortunate kudu’s neck and then left it floating in the pan. The pack of wild dogs circled the pan plaintively lamenting their loss but no doubt, the crocs dined off the victim later in the evening! Another pack of wild dog was being seen regularly near Kennedy One and coming back along that road, two of the dogs loped in front of our vehicle for several kilometres before spying a group of impala and heading off into the wet bush to try their luck. Although it took a couple of days, we eventually came across lion. Firstly seeing a group of four, rather distant and in the showery rain, at Makwa. The following day down at Ngweshla we had an extremely distant view of Cecil, the main manna lion down there, as he lay in the open before making off. Finally, on our last evening, we saw a collared male and his female consort at Nyamandhlovu lying mostly obscured in the blue bush – sleeping of course! Acting on a tip off from a friend, we went on the Balla Balla road to find two lionesses just lying in the road and closer to the pan there were two youngish male lions and a beautiful lioness with her two small cubs right out in the open obviously trying to dry out after the day’s rain. It was a fantastic way to end our trip, sitting watching the two curious and playful cubs having fun while a diligent mum kept a watchful eye on their shinanigans, giving out soft calls now and again.

For those of you not in the know, John has resigned his position on the WEZ committee as Hwange Water Project co-ordinator, but still assists in any way possible, “working” closely with Friends of Hwange (FOH) through Dave Dell. Although our reports may not hold as much detail about the waterpoints and park conditions, we still intend to send out these newsletters of our visits to the park to those who wish to read them. Once again, we would like to ask any of you who do NOT wish to receive these “reports” to please let us know so that we can delete your addresses from our records.

We should like to wish everyone a very happy 2015, please keep up the interest in our magnificent national parks by visiting as often as possible and we hope that it is a good year for everyone, including our amazing wildlife heritage.

Best wishes. John and Jenny Brebner

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