Day 4 (Sunday, 1st May)
Another 5:30 wake up call, and this time when we stepped out of the accommodation, we found that it had been raining through the night. It looked as if this had been a short, heavy burst, and I wondered if this meant that the tracks would be any easier to find. For our comfort, that was to have been the last of the rain, and it became sunny and warm through the morning. This morning's quarry was Elephant, one of the few remaining animals that we hadn’t seen. So we headed out of the camp 15 minutes early to the likely spots. The problem with Elephants is that, despite the size and numbers in the herds, they can be very mobile, and can get lost in the forest easily. This time of the morning, perhaps due to the rain, there was a lot of bird life evident, with numerous Yellow-bellied Bulbuls, Fork-tailed Drongos, and many others which were too briefly seen or distant to be identified. Yesterday's Black-collared Barbet at the lodge was added to with a pair passed in the open at the top of a tree, and a further one in flight a short time after. Another stunning bird seen all too briefly was Pygmy Kingfisher, which zipped across the front of the Land Rover, landed for mere seconds, and then departed. This was the second kingfisher of the morning – a Striped Kingfisher had been much more obliging. First of the mammals seen were a very close group of Giraffe and Zebra – we rounded a corner in the forest to be confronted by a huge male Giraffe feeding right at the centre of the track. It looked down at us totally unconcerned, and ambled slowly away, along with the remainder of the small herd.
Searching for Elephant also took us off track, looking for Leopard which had fresh tracks from separate male and female. This took us deep into the bush, which until recently hadn’t been crossed by vehicles, and the route we took was even then barely marked. Bird parties here were superb, mainly consisting of Southern Black Tits, along with one or two different bulbuls, and I was lucky to pin down a Golden-tailed Woodpecker which landed on a nearby tree trunk. Our main quarry was very elusive, despite the impressive skills of Lucky our tracker and Mike, the ranger. They eluded us so well that we went well over time, and even when we stopped for a coffee with a good chance of them appearing, nothing showed. When we moved off a hundred or so metres down the track, we found that they had crossed our own tracks only a short time before. The frustration of tracker and ranger was obvious, since professional pride dictated that they should find at least one Elephant – the fact that other groups had seen them earlier compounded this. We then sped off, past a hovering Black-breasted Snake-Eagle overhead, when we came nose to backside with a single bull Elephant, gently grazing the overhead bushes directly in front of us on the main track. Circumstances dictate that this is the way to find it – the last minutes of the drive, with a fantastic bull Elephant, which we were able to circle and watch from the front in the bush. Yet another unforgettable experience.
The last game was seen on the transfer from the lodge to the airstrip, along by now almost familiar tracks. Nyala and the odd Impala were by now becoming almost expected, but we did also see 3 Giraffe. Around the airstrip runway, there was surprisingly little bird life, and certainly not the Cheetah on a termite mound that had seen by one lucky group yesterday. However, there was one last treat before we boarded the plane. A large group of Marabou Storks was circling just over the trees on thermals. A Vulture picked out from these and to the right was an even bigger treat, because the white secondaries identified this bird as White-headed Vulture, which apparently only turns up at the reserve very occasionally – perhaps up to a dozen times a year.