Short Film Festival

Ooops!  October’s half over and this is our first blog post for the month.  But we’ve been busy with Birdsong Africa Lodge.  Construction’s nearly done, and we’re preparing the furnishing & decorating.

Earlier this week it rained!  27mm of lovely rain; the first in over 4 months.  The bush is slurping it up, and in just the couple of ensuing days the first signs of fresh green growth are already appearing.

We did get time for a quick trip to Kruger this week, just for our fix.  It was a quiet day, but the highlight was a beautiful leopard in a tree on the Lower Sabie. SAM_0749s Other than that, not much happened, and to prove it, here is a festival of five 30-second films in which nothing really happens.

First a korhaan.  Check out her effective camouflage!  These fascinating ground birds are also known as the Suicide Bird, because the male will sometimes suddenly launch himself 25 metres straight upwards, and then fold his wings and tumble wildly to earth looking as if a sniper got him.  But just a second before he fatally splats into the ground he spreads his wings and recovers to a (barely) safe landing.  Stunt not shown in our video however; this is a female and thus above such crazy macho stunts.

Next is the white rhino, suffering a bit of dust.

Followed by a lovely wee steenbok; a normally solitary critter that survives in a harsh world of hungry predators by being incredibly alert and also astonishingly fast and elusive when necessary.

Now three giraffes, one of whom ties himself in a knot trying to scratch an itch.

And finally the beautiful big leopard, doing what leopards mostly do in the daytime.

And there you have it; Les & Paul’s Excellent Short Film Festival.  A total of two minutes and thirty seconds of your life, if you watched it all.  Sorry; no refunds. SAM_0760s

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Roof Day

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Birdsong Africa Lodge’s concrete roof slab is being poured today.  WooHooooo!

We’ve been very busy on the lodge project all month, so this is the only blog post for September.  But be ready for a flurry of posts in October, because by the end of that month Birdsong construction will be finished.  And then we’ll be decorating, furnishing and commissioning everything.  Applying the finishing touches.  First guests are already booked in December.

Anyway, to celebrate our reaching the milestone of Roof Day, here is a collection of photographs of the gradually accumulating essence of Birdsong …

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Cheetah

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Over recent months we have regularly seen a female adult cheetah with her two nearly full-grown cubs around the Crocodile Bridge area of Kruger.

Here’s one of the cubs, pictured just a few weeks ago.

On Sunday last we were driving in the same area, and remarking about how those cheetah cubs must be now at the age when they’d be ready to strike out on their own: in fact what happens is that when the mother is ready to breed again, she will simply abandon them, her work as a doting mother done. They are unceremoniously cast adrift, with everything she could teach them already taught.

Sure enough, that’s what seems to have happened. Because on Sunday we found her, alone. Looking a little nervous and bereft. But that’s the way of cheetahs; one moment your mama is showing you how to survive, and the next … you’d better have been paying attention!

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We’ll be looking now to spot two new cheetah adults, making their own way in the world.

After we left her, or more accurately after she left us, we had a few nice moments with giraffes (including a beautiful baby), and with some rhinos. So here are a couple more brief video celebrations. The first is cheerful, and the second a little more somber because Kruger’s rhinos are in the news right now. The SA government has resolved to move some rhinos to areas of Kruger supposedly less accessible to poachers. And also to sell several hundred rhinos off to private reserves, which is surely an uncertain fate.

Government + private interests + money … it’s never an encouraging mixture.

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African Wild Dogs

_MG_7395sOn each of our first four Kruger trips together, we saw wild dogs. How rare is that? Well, on our next 100+ trips we saw none, in spite of our often optimistically patrolling the roads where sightings had been reported earlier the same day.

_MG_7415asThat changed last Friday, when we came upon a pack of 6 adults and 6 pups near Malelane. And we had about 40 minutes with them, before they moved off (might have been more than 40 mins … time seems to stop, or warp or something, when you’re with these elusive and fascinating predators).

Rather than rave on at length – which we certainly could – here’s our email exchange with scientist & wild dog researcher Grant Beverley, of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Kruger group. They greatly value sighting reports with observations of behavior, and pictures. It helps a lot with their work to manage and protect the remaining wild populations of this rare animal species.

Dear Grant,

Here’s a video of a wild dog pack at about 1600h on 15 Aug, on the western side of the H3 main road around 3km north of Malelane gate.  Weather partially overcast and mild. The pack comprised 6 adults and 6 pups.  One adult was collared.

They were initially resting with the adults loosely spread in shady spots about a 40M circle in semi-open grassland, and the pups closely grouped together beneath the cover of some thicker bush off to one side, about 20M from the perimeter of the adults’ location.  Twice in about 15 minutes single adult dogs (two different individuals) rose and visited the pups’ position for a few seconds’ contact before returning to their own resting places.

Then the adults progressively roused and began greeting and play behavior, before collecting at the pups’ location.  The whole pack then romped about together for several minutes, with increasing twittering.

After that, several adults came very close (<2M) to our vehicle on the elevated roadside, while the others and all the pups moved off to the north.  Two adults remained briefly after the others had passed from view, then they in succession moved off with the last dog providing the final beautiful shot in the video as he trotted coolly away after the departing pack.

Best regards, and thank you for the inestimable work that you and your colleagues do for Africa’s wildlife and for all of us.

Paul Martin & Les Roberts

_MG_7398asDear Paul & Les,

Thank you for sending through this detailed report of your Wild Dog sighting. This pack is a splinter group from the “Skukuza pack”. These six adult dogs split from the Skukuza pack in March this year and it was discovered shortly after their split that an adult female was pregnant.

The new splinter pack has been spending most of their time along the Crocodile River on the S25 and around Berg en Dal camp. The pups started moving around with the adults two weeks ago with regular sightings in the last week. The female with the collar was darted in March 2012 near Stevenson Hamilton. 

Regards Grant

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And finally just to explain why the successful establishment of a new pack is a big deal; a pack of wild dogs will habitually range over several hundred square km or more, so space to live is always a hard-won prize for them.  And as for the 6 pups, if they can survive the attentions of lions (who always try to kill wild dogs on sight) the pups will within a few more months have doubled the original splinter pack’s numbers of effective hunters, which will multiply the pack’s hunt success rate, and thus significantly increase this new pack’s long term prospects for survival as a viable, cohesive unit.

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Big 5 with a Cherry!

We just had our brother & sister-in-law, Cliff and Anita, staying with us for Cliff’s birthday.

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Anita & Cliff chillaxing quite closely at Lower Sabie Rest Camp, Kruger National Park.

And on the actual birthday, 14th August, we went into Kruger to see what we could see.

And what we saw! The entire African Big Five – elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard – PLUS, as the cherry on top, three cheetahs hunting through the open bush near Crocodile Bridge! How can you beat that for an unforgettable birthday treat?

_MG_7158sAnswer is: You simply can’t. There’s nothing, for African bush lovers like the four of us, that could put the exclamation mark on Cliff’s 70th birthday (could be wrong about that; he might be only 50 or so) like sharing close encounters with the Big Five, plus seeing three hunting cheetahs as the bonus ball.

We had a lovely time during Anita & Cliff’s too-brief visit; a few adult beverages, a braai or two, and lots of laughs. And we were able to together inspect progress on our new boutique bush lodge next door; Birdsong Africa Lodge. Cliff & Anita’s verdict on Birdsong so far? “Lekker, man! Shame!”

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For his birthday, we gave Cliff a custom-made, decoratively-bound bush stick, for walking and for fending off crazed pangolins and other threatening wildlife.  He approved of it.

And now it’s Sunday afternoon, and they’ve gone back home to Durban. Arrived there already actually, via Swaziland, in far too little time – we reckon Cliff drives too fast when unencumbered by us in convoy. Leaving only happy memories and quite a few beers in the poolside fridge. Which can stay there until their next visit.

Or … possibly not.  Shame!

Happy Birthday, Boet. And Cheers, too!

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Building Inspectors

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Our new guest lodge next door is under construction!  WooHooo!

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Sam the building contractor (white cap) and his merry men.

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It’s at the foundations stage, and today we had the local building inspectors in; a substantial delegation of vervet monkeys to inspect progress and approve the excavations. One of them actually had a clip-board.

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The vervet monkey inspectors also extensively sampled the several big mounds of builders’ sand and gravel that have just been delivered, and seem to have given the materials the thumbs-up as being of suitable specification. They certainly expressed no apparent disappointment in the various piles of the stuff.

As we write, their inspection remains in progress, so we’re eagerly waiting for their final go-ahead. Then we can tell Sam the builder that he’s been officially cleared to proceed with the reinforcing steel & concrete for the foundations and floor slab.

The lodge is to be called Birdsong Africa Lodge. Here’s one of a preliminary design suite of possible logos, thanks to Bev.

zeb2photo 1 (1)Also thanks to Bev for her conceptual design of the lodge to our very demanding briefing. It’s going to be simple, clean and Zen-like. Minimalist. Mostly polished raw concrete surfaces. None of the usual macabre stuffed animal heads on the walls, no zebra skins on the floors, and no tacky Africa-themed furniture and decorations.

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But maybe Les can be persuaded that a few of her uniquely beautiful Kruger & Marloth photographs will look perfect on the walls.

 

 

Birdsong has a totally private outlook into the bush parkland at the rear (south), so the design has been done to take maximum advantage of that outlook with seamless indoor/outdoor living space flow. From the patio and pool you see nothing but uninterrupted natural bushland in every direction.

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We’re expecting completion of construction by November, ready for some Christmas and New Year paying guests.

That schedule depends, of course, on the outcome of the vervet monkeys’ ongoing progress inspection programme. They will have the final say.

 

It’s an exciting time for us. Thrilling to see a dream materialising a little more every day.

Perspective vs2-page-001 (1)Better brace yourself for a series of construction updates and pictures!  Watch this space.

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And thanks also to Curt Ziegler from Minnesota, USA for helping us with the website we’re developing for Birdsong Africa Lodge.  (Curt’s at: http://www.cudazi.com)  We’re looking forward to hosting Curt in our new lodge.  And you, too.  Better pencil it in!

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DUST

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