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by John and Judy Brebner

We have just been up to the Park to participate in part of the African Waterfowl Count which is conducted Africa-wide during January and again in July.

The road up from Bulawayo is stunning right now, with most areas having had some rain and even some of the mealie patches are looking decent this year. The grass along the side of the road is lush and green and beginning to head with a myriad of wild flowers popping their delicate heads above the waving grass. There were amazing patches of wild bohemia cascading creamy frothy bloom everywhere and the flame lilies were out in all their gloriosa superba, particularly as we drove along the rim of the Gwaai Valley. Most of the teak were out in bloom so covered with a lilacy pink fuzz.

The park, for the most part, was looking at its most glorious best – so lush and green – although it is evident that the rain has been very patchy and there was certainly not nearly as much water lying around as we had hoped. Some of the more reliable pans are desperately short on water and we can only hope that there will be some more general rain soon.

Our first night was spent at Main Camp and we managed to get down as far as Ngweshla, to be greeted by a stunning pastoral scene of several waterbuck, zebra, impala and warthog grazing contentedly by the main pan, quite unconcerned by our presence. On our way back past Kennedy Two (which, incidentally, was holding more water than we had expected), we came across a herd of at least 200 buffalo. Lion could be heard vocalizing most of the night quite close to Main Camp.

We then went up to Masuma where we were camping for four nights to do the waterfowl count in the Sinamatella and Robins area. On the way up, we stopped in at most of the pans along the main route. We were pleased to find that the Guvalala Platform ablutions were in working order and reasonably clean, with a reasonable amount of water in the pan. Whitehills was not holding much water and Danga was almost dry which was extremely worrying. However, Shapi’s trough was full and overflowing into the pan and the pan was looking great. Having had reports of Common Myna birds being seen there, we, too, picked up one bird flitting around near the windmill.

While at Masuma we noticed that the resident hippos were continually flicking their tails and it became fairly evident that they were being harassed by flies and were splashing water up onto their backs to chase off the hordes. During our first evening at Masuma, two herds of elephant arrived to drink hurriedly at the pan while a small herd of zebra and seventeen male impala kept each other company. Lion could be heard fairly close by several times during the night along with the whoops of spotted hyena and the odd piercing yodel from black backed jackal. During our four night stay, the thunderheads built up to enormous and beautiful proportions and we were quite certain we were going to be in the midst of a storm on several occasions. We remained dry! We had one clear night of stunning star gazing – just truly magnificent.

The birding was fantastic and we managed to pick up 184 species during our time in the park. We had an extremely hot and busy time counting at Salt Pan in the Robins area but came away well satisfied with the results. We were distressed to see how little water remained in the Deteema Dam with only two small muddy puddles. However, we were very pleased to find water available for the ablutions at the Mike Edwards hide and even more pleased to see that the old picnic site huts had been rethatched and a good clean up has been done there. Unfortunately, we found three carcasses of elephant in the ravine below the old picnic site so not very pleasant when the wind blew the wrong way! Mandavu was almost a whole day’s excursion and great to see the dam so full.
All in all, a very enjoyable time was had by us all.

On behalf of WEZ Matabeleland, I should like to extend thanks to Lauren St John who is currently making her one book “Rainbow’s End” available for purchase with funds going to WEZ Matabeleland. Lauren has also written several children’s books which are well worth a read. I should also like to thank her sister, Lisa, who has consistently donated towards the Hwange Water project.

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