During the “big” trips I keep a diary for the entire group – what we did, what we saw, the jokes, the things that went wrong, the things that went right. I refuse to pretend that everything always goes smoothly on all of my trips, but we always learn and we always have a good time. Skim through this synopsis – blemishes and all – it isn’t sanitized but I think it will give you a flavor of my trips and the wonderful people who go on them.
The Great Sandbox Trip
With Michael, Rosta, Corna, Jonathan and Callie
Wednesday, November 5.
Happy as we can be most of us are celebrating an historic election in US history. We board our planes in very high spirits!! The SFO folks to Dulles and then hook up with John, Leslie and Marsha for our very long flight (15 hrs) into the next day.
Thursday, November 6.
Arrive right on time in Joberg, no forms to fill out and luggage there and then the shuttle over to our lodging – Southern Sun International. Pat and Jeff show up and now the group is complete. We meet at 630 for dinner and a brief orientation before collapsing into bed… what time is it??
Friday, November 7.
Early wake up for our shuttle to the airport around 530. Counter 39, we are there early but it does not matter. The plane is very late in taking off. Did not make it yesterday to Windhoek and turned around and came back because the radio did not work. Took all night to fix it. There is a very happy and loud group heading to Namibia. We finally take off at 920 for our 2 hour flight. Rain and lightening. Cloudy all the way to Namibia. It is delightful to talk with every African about the election of Obama; they feel such kinship with Americans now. That a man of African descent can rise to become the most powerful leader in the world is amazing to many of us. There is such hope now.
Pat’s bag does not make it but she does not cry = yet. We are met by Rosta and Corna and our two large Land rovers. 5700’ here. 27 = 78. To Windhoek passing the Auas Mountains and the second highest peak at 2500 meters. There is rain all around us; it has been a wet year. When we return to Windhoek it will be the same weather. Namibia is called Africa for Beginners. Windhoek is cleanest African city. Very modern with many well stocked stores. Stop at the Wilderness Safaris office for a brief time and then off heading south and then west. Tarred road for awhile and then we leave it for a very long day of travel. Corna et al stop at the Kupferberg (copper rock) Pass and wait for Rosta to catch up with our lunches. Jacquie not feeling too well… Steppe buzzard, little swifts, hoopoe. Acacia erioloba – in water courses, very common, roots to 120’ into permanent water. You know it as Camel Thorn Acacia. There is a shrub in full bloom with large white flowers – Trumpet Thorn or Catophractes alexandri (Bignonaceae). Grewia or Raisin Bush with yellow flowers. Sociable weavers with huge nests, pale chanting goshawk. Stop at Spreetshoogte pass. View of the Great Escarpment; a dramatic remnant of the separation between Africa and South America. We drop down 1000’ to 4k’ elevation. Getting drier as we head this way. Next stop is Solitaire (good name for it) for gas at 5 pm. Southern masked weavers. Still warm. Heading right at the Naukluft (deep gorge) Mountains. The light is great, shadows, fossil dunes in the far distance to the west. We are heading toward them. 10% white folks here in Namibia.
Namib means huge deserted place in the Nama tongue. Kudus, springbok, ostriches. Arrive at Kulala Lodge just as the sun is setting. Dinner at 830 and Rosta gives us another orientation. Barking geckos outside. The males call from their burrows to attract mates. I look in vain for the little buggers. Some of us elect to sleep on our roofs tonight. Venus and Jupiter in the west and the moon is waxing – over half full – here near the Tropic of Capricorn.
Saturday, November 8.
Whoa up early. Magellanic clouds, Southern Cross, Alpha and Beta Centauri. Early quick breakfast and a pickup at 540 for our “balloon” ride. In 20” we are at the site. We crawl into the basket as it is lying on the ground sideways. To no avail; the ride is cancelled due to strong winds. Good call!! Sunrise is 610. We have a little geology lesson about the source of this nice red sand in our shoes and the dune formation. To Plan B, let us go wake up our guides!!! On the return to the lodge – Black backed jackal, Namaqua sand grouse, and Ruppells korhaan. Pale winged starlings, rock martins, mountain chat with pale plumage here.
So off again at 725 heading toward the private entrance gate just used by this camp. It saves 1 ½ hours of driving (3 hours total). We see our first oryx –totally desert adapted antelope. There is not enough vegetation to support Kudus. 2k’ here. We are driving between the dunes; the dunes are number 1 to 45. Red iron oxide from the Kalahari far far away. The highest dune is ahead at 375 meters. Great light, photos ops, the wind really blowing from the east now. The sand ripping off the dune slope. WOW! Gorgeous, just like all the photos I have seen for years about this place. Yin yang look. Curves make us feel good. Angle of repose is 32 – 34. Star dunes are due to wind from all directions. Longitudinal and Barchan dunes we shall also see.
To the end of the 2 x road. Here many vehicles stop and people are taken on by shuttles. Many rented RVs from the Maui Company. Self drive is very common. We continue to the parking lot for Dead Vlei. Swallow tailed bee eater, Cape sparrow, dune larks. Our walk is only 800 meters there, but it feels like more than that to many of us. Chestnut vented titbabbler. Another mt chat female, fly catching. Our first herp – the shoveled snouted lizard (just like the Mojave fringe toed lizard), gerbil tracks (look like kangaroo rats tracks with dragging tail), striped mouse tracks.
We see our first Toktokkie beetle; there are many different species and we shall see a few of them. Here is a brief description from a biologist.
On this mist, the first in three weeks, these insects’ survival depends, for here in Africa’s coastal Namib Desert, fog is a critical source of life-giving water. These glistening insects have emerged from the chill lower slip face, the downwind slope, where they had waited for a fog long in coming. They have staggered, numb with cold, up the steep sands, where they perch near the dune crests to catch the densest, wettest fog. Balanced head downward on their legs, they pirouette to hold their backs to the wet breeze. The blowing fog strikes their backs; water collects and trickles down to their mouths. Thus the head-stander beetles drink and survive.
Many many tourists on this path. Narra plant with fruits; we will learn about this later. Dune ants everywhere, walking around with large, fuzzy butts. To the dead lake with skeleton trees. Group shot taken by Jeff. Then free time for 20 minutes to wander around and be quiet. Back to the LRs; we are drinking plenty of water, it is getting hot. 97 on the way back. We circle the end of the road at the Sossus Vlei. It occasionally fills with water here and makes the headlines in the paper and everyone comes to see it. Last time it flowed all the way to the ocean was 120K years ago. The dunes block all the rivers from reaching the sea. Then back to the lodge – flocks of dune larks, small flock of Burchell’s coursers.
BT Afrikaner Borrowed words: aardvark, apartheid (separateness), commando, scoff (eat voraciously), slim (small or inferior), springbok (a type of antelope), trek (journey by wagon), wildebeest
Back at 12 lunch at 1230. The pool is cold. Lisa stays cool by swimming, many naps – catching up on the jet lag. There is a good breeze. Pat’s bag is now in Windhoek! Hurray getting closer; she has Jeff’s underwear on! At 430 we go off in one vehicle as several of us stay back to recoup. Go back out the private gate and now turn right and go upstream. We see fairy circles; another mystery. May be termites, radioactivity or actually where fairies dance in circles under the full moon. The golden brown annual grasses we see are new; they are the result of a series of wet years. Normally it would be a landscape of just pebbles no vegetation.
We leave the park and turn right to Sesriem Canyon. Down we go into the canyon amid the conglomerate rocks to a little pool of permanent water. Barn owl startled and flies over our heads. Many droppings from the Red eyed doves in here. White throated canaries come down for a drink at the little pool of fetid water here. We see fossil sand dunes with deposited river rocks on top and then due to the last ice age when sea level dropped about 300’ an increased gradient resulted in a rapid down cutting of the river beds hence this gorge.
Up and back to VC for pit stop. 4 species of doves – Red eyed, cape turtle, laughing, and Namaqua. Cape ground squirrels fighting and loving in the road. Marsha says “don’t you have squirrels in California?” Yes we do, but not Namibian ground squirrels. Stop at fairy circles. Back for sundowners after sunset. Up on the roof with the scope on Jupiter with its four Galilean moons and our moon getting larger. A little star gazing… then to dinner. The staff dances for us afterward.
Tired and to bed…. whew this was a long day. Gecko on Bob’s leg at dinner. Up on your roof?? Everyone sleeps up there or begins to. After the moon sets the stars are absolutely incredible, bright as can be…
Sunday, November 8.
Wake up call at 6 PM but we do not have to leave until 730 for our drive to Swakopmund. Road killed bat eared fox. Stop for Camp Agama – photo opportunity for me. While we retrace our road C- 14 to Solitaire. We stop for gas there again and get some good bird looks – red headed finch, pale winged starling, southern masked weavers, laughing dove etc. and then head north on a new road C-19. 240 K to Swap. We shall get there at 1230 says the confident Rosta. HAH! I think.
We find two groups of Hartman’s Mountain Zebras. Great to see these magnificent animals, later Jeff will eat one for dinner – good though. Down through the Gaub River through the mica-schist glistening in the light and Precambrian granite. Getting drier and less vegetation as we move north. Commiphora trees (small bushes) show up; relative of Myrrh and Frankincense and the gumbo limbo trees of the Caribbean. Then we watch a pale chanting goshawk eat a still living Namaqua sand grouse… hmmm Sushi Bob says. The winning bird is gorgeous, especially through the scope. We continue with Rosta driving like a bat out of hell – Jacquie swears to never get in his car again. Why slow down on curves??? We are with the bouncing CZECH!
We stop up on an overview of the Kuiseb River, where north of here the Great Sand Sea of the Namib stops. The periodic flooding of the river keeps the sand from continuing north. There are now clouds in the sky. I give a brief description of a desert and we continue on at midday to the Quiver Tree stop among the mica schist and perfectly rectangular blocks of? Basalt? Desert varnish seen well here.
Desert Varnish On Rocks And Boulders
One of the most remarkable biogeochemical phenomena in arid desert regions of the world is desert varnish. Although it may be only a hundredth of a millimeter in thickness, desert varnish often colors entire desert mountain ranges black or reddish brown. Desert varnish is a thin coating (patina) of manganese, iron and clays on the surface of sun-baked boulders. According to Ronald I. Dorn and Theodore M. Oberlander (Science Volume 213, 1981), desert varnish is formed by colonies of microscopic bacteria living on the rock surface for thousands of years. The bacteria absorb trace amounts of manganese and iron from the atmosphere and precipitate it as a black layer of manganese oxide or reddish iron oxide on the rock surfaces. This thin layer also includes cemented clay particles which help to shield the bacteria against desiccation, extreme heat and intense solar radiation.
Several genera of bacteria are known to produce desert varnish, including Metallogenium and Pedomicrobium. They consist of minute spherical, rod- shaped or pear-shaped cells only 0.4 to 2 micrometers long, with peculiar cellular extensions. In fact, the individual cells are smaller than human red blood cells which are about 7.5 micrometers in diameter. Because of the radiating filaments from individual cells and colonies, they are called appendaged bacteria. All living systems require the vital energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in order to function. In our cells ATP is constantly produced within minute bodies called mitochondria. As electrons flow along the membranes of our mitochondria, molecules of ATP are generated. The electrons come from the breakdown (oxidation) of glucose from our diet. Although varnish bacteria do not have mitochondria, they do have a similar inner membrane structure through which electrons flow to generate ATP. However, in varnish bacteria the electrons come from the oxidation of manganese and iron rather than glucose. Herein lies the marvelous adaptive advantage for producing a layer of black and red varnish on desert boulders.
Varnish bacteria thrive on smooth rock surfaces in arid climates. According to Ronald Dorn, perhaps 10,000 years are required for a complete varnish coating to form in the deserts of the southwestern United States. In fact, dating of varnished surfaces is of enormous importance to the study of desert landforms and to the study of early humans in America, since many artifacts lying on the ground become coated with desert varnish. Boulders of the Anza-Borrego Desert region are covered with a reddish-brown iron oxide, while boulders in parts of Owens Valley are blackened by a manganese oxide varnish.
We can feel the coastal air now- cooler but still the landscape is very dry and devoid of much plant life. This area is the furthest north the quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma) is found. Cool tree lilies.
Finally we turn right on B-2 and go 30k parallel to a longitudinal dune that is 8k wide and goes all the way to the sea. Dune boarding, sky diving, and quad biking. Very few plants on this wide open road. The desert express train tracks are right between us and the dunes. Turn left next to a large water pipe that goes to the largest open pit uranium mine in the world. Finally get to Swakopmund at 215. Our reserved lunch spot is now closed so we go to the Ocean Basket for a late but very good fishy lunch.
To our hotel Stiltz right on the mouth of the river surrounded by reeds. Whoops, Pat’s bag still has not arrived – she is not a happy camper but promises not to cry until tomorrow. After check in most rest or nap. Carolyn, Lisa, John and I are in the Villa – a bit over the top but with a good view of the marsh. Weaver nests below. Bob and I head out to walk along the beach and look in the lagoon for birds – Hartlaubs, gulls, little or Artic or common or Damara tern, great crested tern, three banded and Kittliz and Black smith plovers, red knobbed coots nesting, dabchick, cape teals, Cape cormorants, common sandpiper, common moorhen, purple gallinule, prinia, grey plover, ruddy turnstone, Cape wagtail. Meanwhile the bag finally arrives… Hurray! Afternoon scenic plane ride is cancelled because of fog to the south of us.
We meet at 715 er 730 for our short trip into town to The Hansa – a very fancy hotel and restaurant. Violin and piano playing for us. We were supposed to stay here and I am glad we did not. Many other guests are dressed up and then there is Jeff. We are not really hungry but manage to eat anyway. It is raining in Windhoek which apparently makes for a very fine day along the coast – weather wise. This is one quiet town on Sunday and a very very clean place. I notice that the blacks are still in positions of servitude and there does not seem to be a very prominent black middle class.
Monday, November 9.
Wake up to overcast day – looking exactly like the Bay area. Cool temperature, the Benguela current keeps it pleasant here. We leave at 8ish for a 45” drive to Walvis (whale) Bay for our Dolphin Cruise.
Driving along the coastal road to the west of the large sand dunes that we were east of yesterday coming in. We pass by Longstrand where Angelina Jolie had her baby and came first with Billy Bob and later with Brad. I cannot believe that I know this s****! We get to Mola Mola and pay our fifty bucks for the pleasure of Captain Billy and the Clipper. A small cozy boat that just fits our 11 folks. Pat opted to stay back. There are some Himba women painted bright red with ochre, breasts exposed, making money on the tourists photographing them. We shall see them later at the Skeleton Coast. I begin a short lecture on seabirds while we wait our turn to board. Then we are off. Billy is delightful and a joy to be with. He clearly enjoys his life. A former bookkeeper. An avid fisherman he is full of good and accurate natural history not to mention jokes about the 84 year old man.
Birds and the fur seals were fed by Billy. This human activity is one that I disagree with but happens in many places now where ecotourism has become popular. It gives us a chance to see animals up close but treats them as primarily for our entertainment – not unlike circuses. That being said, we all enjoyed the close proximity of the Cape Fur seals which hopped on our boat (many known with individual stories to boot).
South African Fur Seal Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus
This is one of the two subspecies of Arctocephalus pusillus, that are currently recognized. The other is A.c. doriferus. A common name that is frequently used for this species instead of South African fur seal is Cape fur seal.
The males measure about 230-235 cm and weigh about 360 kg, although weights upto 700 kg have been mentioned. Females are about 180 cm and weigh 120 kg. Pups measure 60-80 cm and weigh 6 kg at birth. The fur of the males is dark grey on the dorsal side and lighter ventrally. Females have a brownish grey dorsal and a light brown ventral. Pups are black at birth.
This species can be found along the coasts of South Africa and Southwest Africa (Namibia). There is no migration.
The South African fur seal forages of pelagic shoaling fish and cephalopods. Among the fish maasbanders (Trachurus) and pichards are the most common, but also anchovies and hakes are eaten. Among the cephalopods Loligois the most common. Stomachs that were examined contained 70% fish, 20% cephalopods and 2% crustaceans; the other 8% was made up of miscellaneous matter. They consume an estimated 270 kg of fish per animal per year, which means a total consumption of over 170,000 metric tons of fish per year for the whole population. While feeding, the seals dive on average 2.1 minutes, with a maximum of 7.5 minutes. The dives usually go to less than 50m. The deepest recorded dive was to 204m (Kooyman and Gentry, 1986).
Population dynamics and life history
Females become mature at the age of 3. The age at maturity for males is unknown. The pregnancy rate is 74%. Gestation lasts about 1 year, which includes a delay of implantation of about 4 months. Lactation can last upto 12 months, but usually is 9-11 months. The breeding season lasts from November through December (David and Rand, 1986). There are no data available on longevity or natural mortality.
The fur seal competes for food with dolphins and porpoises and several bird species, such as cape gannetts, jackass penguins and cormorants. Increases in the fur seal population have caused displacement of several bird colonies. The fur seal are predated upon by sharks and killer whales. Pups are taken by the black-backed jackal.
There is a high degree of interference with commercial fisheries, especially in the purse seine fisheries for pilchard and anchovy and the trawler fisheries for hake. They have been seen taking fish from the nets, or even from the ship and chasing the fish out of the net. Occasionally some seals will get entangled in the nets and drown. Fur seals also get entangled in lost gear, such as nets and fishing lines. In a survey 0.12% of the population was in some way entangled in lost gear (Shaughnessy, 1985).
Using aerial photography and tag recapture techniques the population has been estimate at a total of 850,000 (Shaughnessy, 1979&1982). The annual pup production is around 211,000. The number of breeding bulls is 13,000 (the average harem size is 28 animals, range: 7-66). The pup production for 1976 was between 188,500 and 249,100 (Cressie and Shaughnessy, 1987).
Every year between 60,000 and 80,000 pups, aged 6-10 (after the first moult) are taken for furs. Also about 2,000 males are killed each year. The average pup kill for 1970-1979 was 73,400 per year (Cressie and Shaughnessy, 1987). The harvest seems to be at MSY level, which is 35% of the female pups and 40% of the male pups born annually. Apart from the hunting, the fur seal population is exploited as a major tourist attraction. The South African fur seal is managed under the Sea Birds and Seal Protection Act and a quota system is inforced.
Threats to the population
None. The problem of entanglement in lost fishing gear should be looked into. This is an unnecessary increase in mortality and is non-specific: other species of marine mammals will be affected by it as well.
The breeding season for both subspecies of A. pusillus begins in the middle of October. At this time males haul out on shore at the breeding grounds, or rookeries, to establish territories by displays, sparring, or actual battle. They do not eat again until they mate in November or December.
Females come ashore slightly later and also fight amongst each other for smaller territories in which to give birth. Female territories are always within male territories and females who are located on a certain male’s territory become part of his harem. While harem sizes of both subspecies can reach as many as 50 females, or cows, the average size of the South African fur seal harem is 28 cows, the Australian fur seal harem averages 10 cows (Schliemann, 1990). Breeding occurs between the male and each of his harem members. While copulation occurs about 6 days after cows give birth to a single pup there is a delay in implantation of the blastocyst. In South African fur seals this delay is approximately 4 months while in Australian fur seals it is about 3 months (Riedman, 1990). Gestation in both subspecies averages 11.75 months (Riedman, 1990).
Walvis Bay is the major harbor for all of Namibia- controlled by the British for years. There is a large oil platform from Nigeria being worked on. IT is huge! An abandoned Russian fishing vessel is now a nesting place for hundreds of Cape cormorants. It is to be sold soon for scrap metal.
BIRD LIST: Cape and white breasted cormorants, eastern African white pelicans, Kelp or lesser black backed gulls, Hartlaubs gulls, terns (unided), sooty shearwaters, dabchicks (in flight which is unusual to see), Pomerine jaeger (skua), greater crested tern.
MAMMAL LIST: Cape fur seals (Arctocephelus pursillus), Bottle nosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and Benguela (Heaviside) Dolphins.
Billy feeds the pelicans and Kelp gulls which gives us fine photographic opportunities. We pass the blue drums floating which are the oyster growing sites. The Pacific Oyster. An influx of fresh water from the river killed millions of oysters this past year. The scallops that were being cultivated were also killed. There are some older platforms made out of wood that were the earlier oyster beds but wood is hard to come by here in the Namib Desert (DUH!!) Sea temp here is 14 can vary 12-16. Tidal flux max is 1.8 meters, 1.6 is average.
The overcast sky breaks up as we head to the mouth of the Harbor. The sand is being deposited along the spit at 17 meters per year eventually will block off the mouth. The lighthouse was at the end 30 years ago!! We see both bottlenose and elusive looks at the restricted Benguela dolphins. At Marsha’s suggestion we have some nice quiet time while watching and listening to the fur seal colony
We enjoy our light lunch of seafood platter watch those oysters warns Billy. Back to the dock about 1245 back to the town for a very quick overview and then we are on our own to rest or explore. Carolyn, Leslie and I go to the Krystal Gallery.
And at 4 PM five of us go on the 2 ½ scenic air flight. Simply put it was incredible but I shall not go on and on about it. But it was a highlight for all of us.
At 730 we head over to a German restaurant called Eric’s. Good food and good company. Corna talks about the time of apartheid in Namibia, I give a little overview of pinnipeds etc.
Tuesday, November 10.
Wake up to overcast sky looks just like coastal northern California! We have been very lucky with the sunny beautiful weather during our 1 ½ days here! Lucky us……. Bags ready at 7 we are off at 740 for a 400 k drive north and then northeast to a place even hotter than Sossusvlei!! We travel north past a two month old shipwreck and can see where the sea crossed the road during the recent big storms.
Then we turn right on C 35, the town of Uis is 116 K away. Still in the fog we see black chested snake eagles, a family of meerkats and we reward ourselves with some See’s Candy that Jacquie brought. Carolyn has been put in charge of the candy – a mistake! Some springboks and ostriches.
Photo stop for Brandberg (means burnt mountain due to red granite color). At 2573 meters the highest point in Namibia. The fog ends and the plants get more numerous. At 10 am we are at 2600’ and there are some actual trees, goats, donkeys, cows and people living in shacks now. Euphorbia damarana is now here. To Uis – a former tin mine town – for gas and pit stop. Cardinal woodpecker making cavity nest outside of women’s toilet. Corna misses the left turn and we see a pair of Nubian vultures. Back on the right road for a donkey cart with two people that we stop and photograph. Give them some water and some fruit. Another photo op for mountain, star flower (looks like Mormon tea), and ant tracks. We get to the mopane woodland and healthy looking cows in the river course. A small troop of chacma baboons. They are very dark.
To our gloomy, foreboding lodge on top of dark, ominous granite hill. Designed by Rhinos says John. Very black but quite nice inside. R and R until 430. Jeff goes swimming in the cold pool, very chlorinated. I give a little talk on the Benguela Current and a geologic overview of Namibia (finally).
Then we are off on a walk to the Sandstone Ridge. Yellow mongoose and ground squirrel burrows. Toothbrush tree (Salvadora persica), termite signs, mopane trees, ostrich salad, smelly Shepard’s trees, Ellie poop. We clamber up the ridge for sundowners. Elaine and the Canadian guy are there with the drinks and table. We have a moment of silence as the sun sets behind the mesa at around 715. The temp is dropping fast. And the light is fading so down we go and back on the Lrs to the lodge for dinner at 8.
Wednesday, November 11.
1500’ here. Wake up call 545 and eagle owl? calling. Horses and ostriches out grazing below. Very cool this am. We will try to remember this later when we are very very hot. Off at 720 looking for the elephants that live in this region – there are three groups of them. Desert adapted but not a separate subspecies.
Birds in the am: Auger buzzard, ruppells bustard, white backed mousebirds, probable pririt batis, Ludwig bustard, fiscal shrike, red headed finches, African hawk eagle (pair sitting in the shade of a tree), gray Lorrie (aka go away bird), common or rock kestrel, fork tailed Drongo, gray hornbill, yellow billed hornbill. We go up a river bed looking for the ellies. We find a couple of rock hyraxes sunning themselves. Nice granite boulders everywhere. Also a different kind of dune here = shrub koppies. Mounds of sand with trees and shrubs growing in them. Mopane is the dominant tree here and throughout Namibia.
There seems to be little game in the area. Rosta says because this is granite and does not hold water very well. North and south of here is basalt and many more animals. Hmmm so why are we here??
By 10 am we have arrived at the only World Heritage Site in Namibia –Twyfelfontein. This means doubtful spring because of the tendency of the water in the spring to disappear. Annalise is our local Damara guide who shares with us here information about the place. We walk for about 2 hours and have some quiet time among the rocks and petroglyphs. A baby puff adder, very friendly Dassie Rats among the rocks and trees. Back to the VC which John says was designed by a very well known American architect who specializes in “green” buildings. We all agree that this is a perfect design for this site. Rock agamas – male and female.
Rosta hears that Rosie’s elephant family ahs been sighted recently in the Huab river bed so we take a chance and head there to look for them. Lady luck is with us and after driving through some very soft sand in the river bed, we find the group of about 8-10 animals with 4 young. One of the youngsters was born very recently. Unfortunately a self drive tourist recently made the mistake of getting out of his car and approaching the herd too close and was stomped. He is now recovering in the hospital.
Corna cannot turn her land rover in the soft sand – not very inspiring!! The herd is often stressed by the tourists here but in spite of that news we get out of the lrs and walk up on the opposite side of the river to see them closer. This makes many of us nervous and others delighted. It sure is a different feeling to be on foot among these massive animals. Getting hot as promised so we head back to the lodge for a late 2 PM lunch. I give you the news that we will visit the Cheetah Conservation Fund Research area tomorrow but Laurie is in the USA so we will not meet her tomorrow. Everyone is delighted with this news especially our Zoo ladies. Good work Rosta.
We rest and thoroughly enjoy this lodge. The roof is discovered. Dinner at 730; it is crowded here with 20 rooms. And all seem occupied. The staff sings some songs for us and then we go outside and have a brief little moon talk. The moon is very close to full right now.
Thursday, November 13.
There is dew on the steps and temp is about 60. Chilly. We are packed and off at 715. First stop is martial eagle on the left side of the road and a female Steenbok. We pass by some fake Victorian dressed manikins; later this day we will see a real lady in her finest garb posing for pictures. We are at the Petrified Forest by 755 but it does not open until 8. Salmon, our dashing, very sharp looking guide, comes and leads us through the small reserve. Perfect looks at Welwitchia mirabalis
Family: Welwitschiaceae (welwitschia family)
Common names: welwitschia, tumboa, n’tumbo (Angolan), tweeblaarkanniedood (Afr.), !kharos (Nama/Damara), nyanka (Damara), khurub (Nama), onyanga (Herero)
Weird, peculiar, wonderful, strange, bizarre, fascinating, and of course, unique, are the kind of words that are used to describe the welwitschia. It is one of the few things on Earth that can truly claim to be one of a kind. There really is nothing like it.
Description An adult welwitschia consists of two leaves, a stem base and roots. That is all! Its two permanent leaves are unique in the plant kingdom. They are the original leaves from when the plant was a seedling, and they just continue to grow and are never shed. They are leathery, broad, strap-shaped and they lie on the ground becoming torn to ribbons and tattered with age. The stem is low, woody, hollowed-out, obconical in shape and sturdy. It grows to about 500 mm in height. The largest recorded specimen is in the Messum Mountains and is 1.8 m high, and another on the Welwitschia Flats near the Swakop River is 1.2 m tall and 8.7 m wide. Carbon dating tells us that on average, welwitschias are 500-600 years old, although some of the larger specimens are thought to be 2000 years old. Their estimated lifespan is 400 to 1500 years. Growth occurs annually during the summer months.
The sexes are separate, i.e. male plants and female plants. The male cones are salmon-coloured, small, oblong cone-like structures, and the female cones are blue-green, larger and more tapering. At Kirstenbosch, they flower from midsummer to autumn. The male flower has a sterile, modified pistil-like structure, which exudes nectar (50% sugar content) from a modified stigma-like structure. The female cone has exposed stigmas and also produces a nectar droplet.
Cone-bearing plants are often wind pollinated, producing masses of pollen and all at the same time. Welwitschia is clearly not wind pollinated, as it produces smaller amounts of pollen, with the nectar to attract insects, and the flowers open in succession over an extended period, which also encourages cross-pollination. It may be a beetle, but judging by the fact that large distances can separate plants, Ernst van Jaarsveld thinks it is more likely to be a kind of wasp, which he has seen on the male cones in habitat. The female cones reach maturity in the spring, about 9 months after fertilization.
The seeds are 36 x 25 mm and have a large papery wing and are dispersed by wind, in spring, when the female cone disintegrates. In their natural habitat, many seeds are lost to fungal infection and to small desert animals that feed on them. The seeds remain viable for a number of years. They germinate only if fairly heavy rain is spread over a period of several days. As these conditions rarely occur, it often happens that many plants in some colonies are the same age, as they all germinated in the same good year. The seedlings, once established,depend on the fog for survival until the next rains occur.
There are more remarkable features that make Welwitschia so difficult to categorise: Unlike any other plant, the apical growth point of the stem stops growing from an early stage. This causes the stem to grow upwards and outwards, away from the original apex (which remains dead), resulting in the characteristic obconical shape. In older specimens, continued growth results in the undulating of the stem margin. This growth habit is unique. Like other cone-bearing plants (gymnosperms e.g. pines and cycads) it is a dioecious (male and female separate) cone-bearer with naked seeds, but the male ‘flowers’ or microstroboli are reminiscent of the flowering plants (angiosperms). The water-conducting tissue (xylem) is also typical of the angiosperms.
Distribution Welwitschia mirabilis grows in isolated communities in the Namib Desert, in a narrow strip, about 1 000 km along up the coast from the Kuiseb River in central Namibia to Mossamedes in southern Angola. The plants are seldom found more than 100 to 150 km from the coast, and their distribution coincides with the fog belt. Welwitschia is still common in its habitat and shows variability, which is a sign that it is far from extinction. They are neither endangered nor rare, nevertheless they are protected by law.
Ecology Welwitschia is ecologically highly specialized, and is adapted to grow under arid conditions receiving regular fog. This regular, dense fog is formed when the cold north-flowing Benguela Current meets the hot air coming off the Namib Desert. The fog develops during the night and usually subsides by about 10 a.m The leaves are broad and large and droop downwards. This is an ideal way for it to water its own roots from water collected by condensation. It also has numerous stomata on both leaf surfaces and fog-water is taken up directly through these stomata. The fog has been estimated to contribute 50 mm in annual rainfall, but in spite of the fog, the plants are still dependent on additional sources. Rainfall in this area is erratic and extremely low, only 10 – 100 mm during the summer months. In some years, no rain falls at all. The plants are often confined to dry watercourses or next to higher rainfall regions, and they occasionally grow on rocky outcrops. All these habitats point to an additional underground water supply. The plant has a long taproot, allowing it to reach this underground water.
There are other interesting environmental adaptations. The largest plants are found to the south where the rainfall is the least, whereas in the north where the rainfall is higher the plants are much smaller. The most likely reason for this is that the plants in the north have to compete with savannah vegetation whereas those in the south have little or no competition. Another interesting adaptation is the corky bark, which could be the result of thousands of years of exposure to grass fires so commonly associated with savannah.
Antelope and rhino chew the leaves for their juice during times of drought, and spit out the tough fibres. They also eat the soft part near the groove. This luckily does not damage the plant as they simply grow out again from the meristematic tissue.
Uses & cultural aspects
:The core, especially of the female plant, was used as food for people in earlier times. It is said to be very tasty either raw or baked in hot ashes, and this is how it got its Herero name, onyanga, which means onion of the desert.
Derivation of the name & historical aspects Welwitschia mirabilis was discovered by the Austrian botanist, explorer and medical doctor, Friedrich Welwitsch, in 1859 in the Namib Desert of southern Angola. The story goes that he was so overcome by his find that he knelt down next to it and simply stared! Thomas Baines, the renowned artist and traveller, also found a plant in the dry bed of the Swakop River in Namibia in 1861. Welwitsch sent the first material of Welwitschia to Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Director of Kew, in 1862. Hooker described it and named it in honour of Welwitsch, despite the fact that Welwitsch recommended that it be named Tumboa, its native Angolan name. Its species name mirabilis means marvellous or wonderful in Latin. The specific name was later changed to bainesii to honour both men involved in its discovery, although mirabilis is the name recognized today.
Because it is so different from other gymnosperms, Welwitschia was placed in its own family in a small order of gymnosperms called the Gnetales. It shares this order with two other families each containing one genus: the Gnetaceae (Gnetum, 30 species) and the Ephedraceae (Ephedra, 40 species). All three genera can stand by themselves, and the relationships between them are remote. There is nothing else like them, and of the three, Welwitschia is the most remote.
Welwitschia is thought to be a relic from the Jurassic period when gymnosperms dominated the world’s flora, its ancestor trapped in an environment that slowly but progressively became more arid, and all its close relatives long since disappeared.
Off in the LRs after an hour and a Korhaan is right across the road for us to photograph. We hit tarmac!!! Yea, we will be on it for most of the day. At Khorixas (capital of Damaraland) we stop for gas and bathroom. I find a solphigid in the men’s room to share with you. AKA sun spider – an arachnid.
As we head almost due north we gain in elevation, therefore more moisture available and therefore trees appear. The mopane woodland gets pretty darn thick. We hit some termite mounds for the first time – they appear to be pretty much leaning north (toward the sun). We have a photo stop for a nice white browed weaver nest and several vintage cars roll by us.
I see fires in several places and Corna says they harvest the black thorn acacia for charcoal. It is a pest and degrades the pasture for the cattle. We turn right at Outjo and head east to Otjiwarongo and then out to the Cheetah Conservation Foundation. We pass by Corna’s old farm house – she has not seen it in 30 years. I am sure it is pretty moving for her. She says it looks the same!
Up over the hill and we see the famous Waterberg Mountains. There is not water on this side only the other. Arrive at CCF and order our simple lunch of chips and sandwiches and then a tour with Gephardt. To the VC and a short movie featuring Laurie (very charismatic lady) and then to watch the cheetahs being fed. Perfect timing I must say.
Retrace our steps at 230 – white backed vultures, Marabou stork. Another stop for gas at Outjo and then we have about 80 minutes to go to Andersons Camp in the Ongava Game Reserve just outside the Etosha NP gate (which is only 20 minutes away). Welcome drink and nice wet washcloths greet us as usual. Jimmy and Sakkie give us our orientation and we check into our lovely cabins. Nice architecture and green building. Nicer than John and Lisa thought it was going to be. Water acacia in full yellow flower on the calcrete.
We watch the full moon rise. Double banded sand grouse, BB Jackal, Cape Turtle (work harder) dove, many guinea fowl, rufouscheeeked nightjars, common duiker are around the lit up water hole (artificial but nice). The best food that we have had so far. Elaine is one of the managers. Queenie is one of our waitresses. We get a great look at a scorpion which is scurrying around on the floor.
To our rooms and then immediately we have a knock at our door and there is a rhino at the waterhole. We all dress and rush out and have great looks through the scope in the moonlight at the magnificent creature. The Italians are not as loud as we are!! So much for stereotypes!
Friday, November 14.
Spotted hyenas and other sounds during the night. Dreams a plenty for many. Actually got a bit chilly in the night. Apparently according to Elaine this has been the first cool weather in three weeks. Lucky us. We are 3600’ here. Melba finch, gabar goshawk, fork tailed Drongo, red billed quelas, cinnamon breasted bunting, golden breasted bunting.
Off at 710 through the Ongava Game reserve started by 4 owners as a hunting venture from 4 cattle farms. Now in partnership with WS to do eco tours. No hunting. Lion and hyena researcher with a flat tire and no he does NOT want help.
At the gate at 730 and on our drive into to Okaukuejo (the place for official payment, toilet and gift shop) we stop at Ombika Spring and see many Burchell’s zebras and springboks. Next it is a giraffe all by herself, black faced impalas, northern black korhaan and some feisty ground squirrels with very big testicles! At 835 we are parked by the castle-like watch tower, many tourists here. Southern masked weaver, wattled starlings, white bellied sun bird. Glad we are staying out of the park. This place is set up for self drive folks. 2 wheel drive and pavement. Easy to go all by yourself. Kinda weird for me after all the game parks in Tanzania.
We head southeast toward Olifantbad (Elephant bath). 2 martial eagles in a tree next to a large sociable weaver nest. A very large group of oryx. Gemsbokvlakete is one of the many artificial water holes in this park. I can see why we did not spend much time earlier looking at springboks! They are everywhere and the most numerous antelope in Namibia. They are the national animal of South Africa.
One toilet stop just in the nick of time. I share the carbon recycling story in the karst formations.
At Olifantbad we get great reflections of the impala in the water. Black backed jackal wades right in. Pied crows and black crows. Battling impalas.
To Aus, the last waterhole on our route, there are cattle egrets, common sandpipers and one African jacana with a bad left foot. We now backtrack. A pregnant oryx, her young from the previous year and a male all come for water. 3 male ostrich, 2 female and 14+ new born chicks! Way cute. Corna’s LR has a great kudu experience while we wonder what happened to them. 2 secretary birds, one tawny eagle and a springbok with perfect reflections in a puddle in the middle of the road. It just rained a few days ago here and the water is still on the surface.
We cut over to the Nebrownii water hole for very close looks at Oryx and springboks. Then to the Pan viewpoint by 1PM, very warm now. What do you mean stay in the car?? Lisa needs to pee! Imagine a huge mass of glacier ice at the same location 300 million years ago!! Meanwhile our Italian friends are actually seeing lions! Good for them…
We head more or less directly back to the lodge, we are getting hungry. Arrive at 145 and eat immediately. Yummy. The afternoon is spent relaxing and enjoying the ambience of this converted farmhouse. The old water storage tank is now a refreshing pool, right behind the bar. Red sky at sunset and just as we sit down for dinner a cheetah comes by the water hole. WOW great looks in the scope as she/he crouches to drink among the sand grouse, doves and one BB jackal. Everyone is quiet as we luxuriant in this moment. Only the 2nd cheetah Rosta has seen here in five years!! The cheetah is very aware and nervous. The rising flock of birds startle the cat.
Saturday, November 14.
Red sky in morning….etc. Not much at the water hole early this am. But apparently there was a fight between a white and black rhino at 1230 AM. The white ignored the smaller aggressive black one. Nice dawn bird chorus. At 7 all but two of us are off for a nice walk with Frances. He has a bit of trouble getting the rifle’s mechanism (the bolt action) in the barrel. This does not inspire confidence!! We are off and have a great deal of fun. Carolyn loves the way he says giraffe and try to get him to say it for her pleasure. We see several different tracks (kudu, giraffe, springbok, zebra, and rhino – the odd toed ungulate). We actually see kudu and scrub hare. Carolyn loves the way he says giraffe and try to get him to say it for her pleasure. I give you an overview of the large termite mound Francis is destroying. Fungus farmers.
Back to the lodge in time to finish packing. We see the mopane moth – Saturnid family – same as silk moth.
Imbrasia belina (Westwood), the mopane worm or Anomalous Emperor Moth, is a saturniid lepidopteran which is widely distributed throughout southern, central and east Africa. Its distribution in southern Africa follows that of its primary host plant, the mopane tree (Colophospernum mopane), which occurs in a broad band extending from the Northern parts of South Africa into Zimbabwe and Botswana, and west into Namibia. I. belina feeds on a number of tree species but C. mopane is the most suitable host in terms of developmental periods, number of emerged adults and nutritional quality.
Plane flight at 915 with a stop after one hour at Palmag for refueling and then we continue to our camp. This part virtually doubled the cost of the trip but we will love it.
We meet Bruce and Donna who took the place made vacant by Karen and Bob. We give our tips to Rosta and Corna and say goodbye to them – the fast and the slow. Fly at 5k over 1/3 of Namibia’s black rhinos. We fly right through the Entaketa basalt flows which erupted 130 million years ago as the Gondwanaland was breaking apart. Deposits 2k thick were created. Erosion has removed all but 1 K of the lava flows, and we shall see the red basalt in several places along the Skeleton Coast. We are flying through a very familiar, flat topped, mesa, American West scene. Dropping down into Palmwag for refueling. I can see oryx, zebras, and springbok from the air. Then off to the Skeleton Coast. The pilot giving us a great tour at 2800’ and we even see one desert elephant. What a landscape, as we drop down on the 700 meter dogleg landing strip. Cessna Grand Caravan. It is 1000’ here along the river.
Walk over to lodge. Meet Callie, Jonathan and Daleen – our cute Namibian hostess. Carolyn and I immediately after lunch hike up the nearby hill. Our view from the peak looking north is an isolated oryx, standing quite still on the apparently barren gravel plain. This is an image we will always remember – the Skeleton Coast.
Lichen fields, dollar plants, tractrac chats, gray larks and Narrra fruits. Rest until 430 then we meet for tea etc and I give a brief overview of the geology that we just flew over. Then we are off heading upstream on our first “game” drive.
Three folks cans ride atop the LRs; we encounter seven desert giraffes. One is an adolescent. They always have to bend down to eat. Nothing grows tall here. We continue up and out into the granite hills and the mica schist. We can go off by ourselves for quiet time. Some however choose to make a lot of noise spitting out oryx poop. Hmmm go figure on that one. Sundowners with pink clouds. Driving back in the dark – more giraffes, clear sky, Venus and Jupiter. Dinner and then hot water bottles at the foot of our beds yummy!!!!
Sunday, November 15.
52 in our room. Fog and the jackals calling at night. They just vocalize once loudly and then stop. Hot water and/or coffee delivered to our rooms!! This is our longest day – begins at 730 AM and will end back at the Lodge at 8 PM. There are brown hyena tracks – one comes around the camp every night after things quiet down. Red billed francolins calling. Our goal is Cape Frio 100 k from here; there is much to do on this day. We head downstream; the ocean is 18 k as the pied crow flies. Be sure to take your bathing suit today — yuck yuck. Porcupine (spiny pig) tracks – one tries to break into the kitchen every night. Habitat here = gravel plains, lichen fields, ephemeral rivers, gypsum areas, hammocks.
It is foggy to start and will be foggy at the end but with sun in the middle of the day. Alarm hairs emit pheromone as warning to others. Stop for a great Narrra Acanthosicyos horridus, talk about this member of the cucumber family- dune formation around it, important food source, long tap root, captures fog, stomata photosynthesis talk, dioeciously, wean human babies with the bitter juice.
Stop for lichen view and talk. Ostrich poop – the world’s largest bird thrives here! Garnets give a red hue to the dunes here, later it will be the red basalt giving a red hue to the dunes. Kallie spies a dune cricket and we all get a mighty fine look at it. Bruce almost steps on it!! A parasitic wasp comes by and nearly nails it. Dollar Bush is Zygophyllum which means egg leaf due to the shape. Zygophyllum macrocarpon Retief [family ZYGOPHYLLACEAE].
Fantastic dolerite dykes sticking up black and in straight lines= part of the Damara mountain formation. (remember the two cratons colliding 900 to 600 mya – Congo and Kalahari).
We watch some termites for a while that are out gathering grass. Act your shoe size says Jonathan. We are, but that is not as much fun for Europeans! Up to the Viewpoint for a great look at the barchan dunes and get see a little glimpse of the salt pan and the ocean barely visible. We can also see the white structures on the far mountain where the amethyst miners stay.
The coarsely crystalline varieties of quartz are, in general, transparent and lustrous. Rock crystal, a colorless form of quartz, usually occurs in distinct crystals. Rose quartz is coarsely crystalline but without distinct crystal form and is colored rose red or pink, the color often fading on exposure to light. Smoky quartz, or cairngorm stone, occurs in crystals ranging from smoky yellow to dark brown. Amethyst, a semiprecious variety of quartz, is colored purple or violet. Many other minerals form inclusions in crystalline varieties of quartz. Rutilated quartz contains fine needles of rutile that penetrate crystals of colorless quartz. Aventurine is a variety of quartz containing brilliant scales of hematite or mica. Liquids and gases also occur as inclusions in quartz. Milky quartz owes its milky-white color to the presence of numerous minute liquid or gaseous inclusions.
The cryptocrystalline varieties of quartz are often divided into two general classes, fibrous and granular. The fibrous varieties, which include agate, carnelian, heliotrope, onyx, and chrysoprase, are all forms of chalcedony. The granular varieties include chert, flint, jasper, and prase.
The barchan (Russian word) dunes coalesce to form transverse dunes (perpendicular to the wind).
A barchan dune is an arc-shaped sand ridge, comprising well-sorted sand. This type of dune possesses two “horns” that face downwind, with the slip face (the downwind slope) at the angle of repose, or approximately 32 degrees. The upwind side is packed by the wind, and stands at about 15 degrees. Simple barchan dunes may stretch from meters to a hundred meters or so between the tips of the horns.
We get back to some of the exposed basalt from the Entaketa formation. And then we go up fast and very slowly down the barchan dunes… yee haw. Riders on top of the land rovers have fun but the photos do not make it look as exciting as it was.
We cross over west and then head back east on the other side of the pan. Stop and look at some amethyst tailings from mine diggings. They are always found in the basalt. Brazil has matching rocks from the same Entaketa formation and is famous for amethysts.
We drop down into an area that actually has water and a spring. White breasted plovers in the mud flat. We were going to stop for tea but the wind is a blowing hard so we continue on to the coast. Sunny now but windy. Head north on the firm sand right on the beach. Can go fast and we are running over many ghost crabs. Stop for a southern right whale skull upside down. Many Sanderlings feeding in the surf line. Next stop is the lower jaw of the right whale. Hot rocks and Carolyn leaves our camera in the sand= bummer!!!
We find a nice lunch spot where the sand is not blowing because it is a bit moist. What a great set up and tasty as well. We walk north to some of the fur seal groups. Graveyard of fur seals; many dead, bones, fur etc. We walk for a bit too long and then are picked up and transported to the main group of Cape Fur Seals. We climb up some rocks for superb views of the cacophonous colony. There are many, many new born pups with their dark birth coat still on. We see one that has just been born and one female whose waters break and she is struggling to give birth. We have to leave before she succeeds.
It is cold with the wind blowing and the fog is back. We must have seen 15 + black backed jackals foraging in the seal colony. Pretty easy pickings this time of year. Yummy those placentas taste good with sand on them. We leave at 450 and have a mighty long way to go back. We take a different, more inland, route back. Crossing one of the most amazing landscape I have ever seen. Virtually no vegetation, we literally could be on another planet! To Agate mountain in the cold afternoon light. The wind is howling; we have all the clothes that we brought on.
And then the mystery stone circles by the strandlopers (beach walkers). These are the San people – the first human dwellers in this harsh environment. It is assumed that they came here to harvest beached whales and take some fur seals. It might have been a bit wetter. Carolyn requests our quiet time. It is the prefect place for it but we do not have time.
As we continue inland a bit we are getting into more plants and it actually looks lush to us now!! Who would have thought these scraggly plants would be considered luxuriant? It is cold and foggy, getting dark as we rush south back to camp. We pass the dunes that we drove through on our left and circle around them. We call in our drink orders and finally get back around 8.
Dinner first (thank you Michael) and then to our cabins. A long day but really incredible. One of the striking things to me was the near total absence of human impact on the desert landscape. WS works hard to minimize our effects. Footprints, tire tracks last a very long time here. Marsha gets THE HAIR OF THE TRIP award and Donna gets the STEVIE WONDER SCHOOL OF GAME SIGHTING award for confusing a jackal with a giraffe!
Monday, November 16.
Jackals loud tonight. Get to sleep in this am. Wake up at 7 and breakfast at 730. 55 this am, foggy, overcast. We go for a walk right from the lodge after breakfast. YES!!! not in the land rovers! While all of us are still on the porch we see local family group of 4 Ruppell’s Korhaans. Callie calls and the male responds first and then the female. Bokmakierie – the beautiful yellow shrike that frequents the ground – is seen as well. Striped mouse scurrying around, hopefully not getting into Lisa’s tent. Stark lark and the usual Cape sparrows. We head down river from the lodge not making great time but seeing many things very close. I demonstrate rabbit jumping – what talent! We notice all the tracks – the morning newspaper, as our guides call it.
They id a white “lady” spider’s trap door and proceed to extract him. Way cool. Everyone gets good looks and some of us have the venomous (not poisonous – thank you Marsha) animal crawl on us. Introduced Jimson (Jamestown) weed or Datura. Another melon plant just starting out later we will see the fruits of it. One Castor plant. Dune ant AKA ball biter. Salsola the same genus as tumbleweed. Combretum and a camel thorn acacia. Tracks from the Korhaan have no fourth toe, whereas the red billed francolins do and the smaller bird’s feet are bigger. Legless skink tracks in the sand. How do you tell a legless lizard from a snake?? The golden wheel spider prefers the steeper sand dunes. Golden mole is not supposed to be here but our guides have seen some tracks that may be from them. Three tracks close together are from gerbils. Narrra plants with fruit and flowers.
Then the highlight of the day for me. Callie finds the entrance to a web footed gecko’s hole. Looks like a scorpion hole but there is no pile of sand right at the entrance due to the way they excavate it. Callie digs way down and finds the cute little nocturnal lizard over a foot below the surface. It seems so soft and vulnerable for this incredibly harsh world it inhabits. Good photos and then we return him to his sand, no worse for wear we hope. Back via the airstrip. Sun lizard – very fast. Then we have lunch and rest until 330. At tea time I go over three things = giraffe drinking, nitrogen fixing and lichen natural history. Scaly feathered finch and bokmerikie. Then we are off to the south crossing the lichen fields. Our guides demonstrate the ability of the lichens to quickly absorb moisture and turn green and soft right in front of us.
Then we get to witness a pair of oryx copulating – twice. Jeff has photos. As we head toward the clay castles we see 4 oryx with three young which are the color of lions. Ludwig’s bustards – a pair. Dramatic cliffs as we drop into a valley cleft in the rocks. We walk in a place where the water is forced to the surface by the underlying rocks and narrow fissure. Many animals come here to drink. There is possibility of cats here – Callie saw a lion once. The last rhino in the region was in 1984. The rhinos, dik dik and oryx can eat the toxic euphorbias. Mt. chat male hopping on the rocks.
We walk down the windy valley at 535. The huge clay deposits above us. Result of sand dunes backing up the river which is full of silt sediments. They drop out and accumulate through time. The river later erodes them and leaves some hanging up above us. We return up stream with a silent meditative walk. Nice.
To lr at 630 and return to camp for our sundowners at 720. John and Lisa waiting for us. Another fine dinner and to bed. Windy and foggy – we do have the 4 seasons in a short time along the Skeleton Coast.
Tuesday, November 18.
Jackals loud again this am. Overcast we do not have the morning light here often. Heading inland today. We retrace our road of yesterday afternoon, heading south 45 K to the Haorusib River. We stop for a very large fairy circle that may be caused by termites according to Callie. At the Haorusib we see a new lodge for a fly in safari. There are many non-native, pesty tamarisks trees growing in the water and there is much water at the surface!! A treat along the Skeleton Coast.
We turn and head inland east at this point following the river course. Hyphanae palm AKA ilala palms only grow where is there permanent water. Olive or Madagascar bee eaters, wild sages, Datura in full flower, Phragmites australis – the common reed, Hermania – the beautiful white pendulous flowers, wild sesame, Nicotiania weedy plant from South America, many three banded plovers, black smith plovers, Egyptian geese, flocks of the common waxbills ( a very tiny bird), fantastic looks at a pair of hammerkops, rock martins filling the air. We see the desert lion tracks and they are fresh – this morning!!
Driving along trying to follow the cats, we are close but no cigar. So we opt for tea up on a little river terrace. I find a scorpion to show you. Carolyn goes a bit away to pee. Little does she know that a pair or more of lions are watching her!!! As we drop down the hill leaving from our break, Callie spots 2 young lions lying in the shade on the other side of the river. We get off the roofs because these lions are NOT habituated to humans in vehicles and once a lion charged Callie land rovers. The guests were moving around too much. A lesson there! Eventually we see 2 of the females and all 3 cubs. The females are collared and a researcher is tracking them. An augur buzzard and a falcon fly high overhead. The scope brings the amber eyes of the cats in very close for my LR.
Off we go feeling pretty darn lucky and the day is clear, sunny and warm (getting hot). Then we see a female and a young male elephant feeding in the river. We stop at the river (creek I would call it) and watch a lone bull elephant (could this be the one we saw from the air? It was in this riverbed).
The water is slowly trickling by; bee eaters are softly calling while they hawk insects out of the air. All is perfect as we slowly follow the bull ellie up the river. There is another elephant upstream from the big guy. We encounter many cattle tracks owned by the Himba folks upstream. A troop of chacma baboons is clambering around the cliffs and playing in the stream. We watch them preen one another and go about their baboon business. Our closest relatives on this trip. One unseen elephant trumpets loudly as we pass by. We turn to find him and can just see his ears flapping through the dense vegetation.
Up above the canyon opens up into a broad valley. One more smaller troop of baboons. We have lunch under an Ana tree. Yummy and another group photo is taken; this time by Bruce. They have been folded well into our group. But Donna has quite a challenge with the quiet time.
Then to Purros (a modern Himba village) and a short visit to a school supported by Wilderness Safaris. Way high on the cute factor. Next stop is the genuine Himba village. Do not walk between the krall and the holy fire (facing east in this village). This is an interesting stop but a mixed bag for many of us. Voyeuristic and we are not really sure how we are affecting change in this village. Shopping does occur after our tour. They did make a lot of money off of us. At four we return to the camp by a different and much more direct route. We finally pass an oncoming vehicle – the first we have seen on the entire time in the Skeleton Coast. But we are on the main road after all. Many springbok pronking around… oryx as well. Ho hum….. we are getting used to these desert adapted antelopes.
The Springbok (Afrikaans and Dutch: spring = jump; bok = antelope or goat) (Antidorcas marsupialis) is a medium sized brown and white gazelle that stands about 75 cm high. Springbuck males weigh between 33-48 kg and the females between to 30-44 kg. They can reach running speeds of up to 80 km/h. The Latin name marsupialis derives from a pocket-like skin flap which extends along the middle of the back from the tail onwards. When the male springbok is showing off his strength to attract a mate, or to ward off predators, he starts off in a stiff-legged trot, jumping up into the air with an arched back every few paces and lifting the flap along his back. Lifting the flap causes the long white hairs under the tail to stand up in a conspicuous fan shape, which in turn emits a strong floral scent of sweat. This ritual is known as pronking from the Afrikaans, meaning to boast or show off.
Back at 515 and free time until 730. We have a Bar B Que under the Leadwood tree in the Boma. We have our closing circle while our lovely chef is cooking over the fire right in front of us. It was very nice to share our experiences together and good for our guides to hear our impressions of their wonderful country.
To dinner and the chef sings for Donna. We eat and then all the staff sing some more. Out into the very starry African night for good looks at the Small and Large Magellanic clouds among other stellar delights. The perfect night for a perfect trip.
Wednesday, November 19
A sleep in!!! Breakfast is not until 8. Of course Pat and I get our usual early morning delivery but I have to take mine in cabin 5 not 4. The fog lifts into a glorious perfect and clear day, very still and quiet. Many chestnut vented tit babblers around. By 930 we have packed and left our rooms. We drive up river to just the signs marking the edge of the concession. We hike south a bit up to look at our first Lithops (lineata). Also called Bushman’s Buttocks. They are way cool. They are members of the same family as ice plants – a widespread ornamental in California.
Stone Plant, common name for several species of South African desert plants that closely resemble the pebbles among which they grow. Stone plants are succulent plants and are related to ice plants.
The small body of the stone plant is almost entirely hidden beneath the sandy or gravelly soil. All that shows are the one to three pairs of exceedingly fleshy leaves, which often assume the gray or green colors of nearby stones. Except for when it blooms, a stone plant is scarcely visible on the desert floor. The flowers consist of many narrow petals and are often brightly colored and glistening. The flowers are frequently larger than the rest of the plant..
Then we have our 15” of quiet time up on the hillside. Nice. Back to camp and lunch at noon. Jonathan gives an overview of the Children in the Wilderness Program. We quietly wait for our plane.
It comes and we give our tip to our delightful guides, bid them adieu and then back in the same plane with the same two pilots. Off to Palmwag for refueling and then to Windhoek. We arrive in the rain again. Head into our line the Air Namibia flight to Joberg. We take off just as the sun is setting, incredible rainbow and golden light. A bit bumpy as we move through the storm clouds. 2 hours later we are in Joberg. Say goodbye to Pat and Jeff and to Donna and Bruce. To our nearby hotel and a late dinner for some.
Thursday, November 20.
Some actually manage to sleep in. We all opt to relax in this fine hotel rather than add another trip to Soweto to our journey. Off at 430 for our flight to NYC via Dakar. Wrap those bags. Off we go until we meet again……