50 Shades Of Poo

Wed. 29th May ‘24

My astrophotography is improvingIt’s 7:45am, we’re 5 minutes into our walk guided by Erwin and we’ve already identified our second set of animal poo. Readers of a sensitive disposition may want to skip the next couple of paragraphs because it turns out that our walk very much continues in this fashion. We learn the difference between Springbok with enough water in their diet (clumpy poo) and those without (pellets like rabbits); and between male and female Oryx (piles of droppings vs a ‘follow me’ trail). What have we signed up for?

White hyena pooEven worse, every time he finds an example, Erwin turns round to us and asks us which animal left this. Isn’t that supposed to be his job? He does give us a clue by telling us that one trick is to look nearby for footprints. And so it is that we eventually get there with both jackal and zebra droppings. We learn that hyena droppings are white because they eat the bones of animals – but then in a weird ‘circle of life’ twist, their droppings are in turn eaten because they are a source of calcium.

Ant nest surrounded by grass seeds)When it isn’t poo, there is always something for Erwin to point out to us, whether it is about the landscape; how the paths are made (animal trails); or the various trees and shrubs – which are poisonous, which medicinal, which used for perfume and how all of them were used by the indigenous people. He shows us an ants nest – just a couple of holes in the ground, but surrounded by a hill of grass seeds which on closer inspection have entry / exit trails. The ants go to the spindly grass growing nearby and harvest the seeds and bring them back to their nest. Before taking the seeds underground, they remove the chaff and leave it piled up around the nest. How many ants must there be to create this?

Termite nest built around a small shrubIn all, our walk is about 7 or 8km, starting slightly downhill from the lodge. I’m just happy to be walking out in this amazing landscape, especially before the day gets too hot. Often, I’m my own little reverie – until Erwin snaps me out of it with either another question, or another anecdote about the flora and fauna – perhaps about how termites build a mud exoskeleton around some of the plants. However, the rule is most definitely “don’t walk and gawp”. You have to be careful about where you put your feet as the ground is uneven and there are a lot of loose rocks. Periodically there is a cry of “engage 4WD” and we know to take extra care.

Walking up the dry riverbedFor a while, we follow a section of dried riverbed. There was clearly a strong flow of water at one point as the rocks have been shaped and smoothed. At one point, we come to a patch where the zebra have been digging in the gravel and they have made a small hole with a pool of water still visible in the bottom. The water table is that close to the surface. Then we climb out of the riverbed and slowly circle back round to get to the camp. We see what we think is a Verreaux’s Eagle flying in the distance, but he’s too far away to be sure. Other than the eagle, the only other wildlife we see are a group of Springboks at the bottom of the slope. (You can tell that we were suffering from a lack of wildlife as I bothered to take a picture of the Springbok!)

Springbok - our only wildlife of the walkRüppell's korhaan at the waterholeAfter lunch, whilst the staff have their siesta, Janet and I put the long lenses on our cameras and get competitive taking photos of the birds visiting the little watering hole by the lodge. There are around half a dozen species of small birds that flit from a nearby bush, down to the hole, have a couple of quick sips and then fly back again. All good practice with the auto-focus settings on the camera. Then, Janet wins the competition when a Rüppell’s korhaan (a type of bustard) comes for a drink while I have my back turned.

Erwin - with proof of rhino!As our sundowner drive last night was so successful, Erwin insists on taking us out again, but this time in the opposite direction. It’s actually useful to us as much of it is the track we will drive as we leave here tomorrow, so we keep out our cameras, sit back and enjoy the scenery. We’re clearly hoping to see some wildlife, but surely we can’t be so lucky two nights in a row. Erwin has other ideas though – the thinks that there should be both giraffe and rhinos over this side of the concession. As he drives he looks down in the gravel and mutters about rhino prints. Then we get an exclamation as he stops the car, hops out and picks up a lump of poo. Yes, we’re back on that again! Apparently the only way to tell the difference between the droppings of rhinos & elephants is by the short sticks (think toothpick diameter) with the ends cut at a 45o angle.

Rhino. Just, wow!By now, we’ve been driving for over 2 hours and the sun is getting mighty low. We’ve enjoyed the drive but not seen any animals let alone a big one. And then, all of a sudden, on a ridge ahead of us, half hidden by a bush, is a rhino. Oh my goodness! After peering in our direction, he wanders off and so we head up the hill to catch up with him. Now he’s certain that something is nearby but his eyesight is very poor, so he just stands there uncertainly, perhaps 100m away. All the while the cameras are going click, click. A couple of times he takes a step or two towards us and we wonder if now would be a good time for Erwin to restart the engine and back away. Eventually, the rhino gets bored and wanders away and we let him go in peace.

Giraffe in the rapidly fading lightIt is now past sundowner time and the sun is almost at the horizon. But just as we start heading towards a good spot to park up, Erwin spots a giraffe in the valley below us. The giraffe is quite a way away and the light is poor so I only get a couple of shots before he heads off away from us. Still not too bad for our first giraffe sighting. Poor Erwin now has to race to find a spot still in sunlight to park up and get out our drinks!

Naturally we are abuzz when we get back to the lodge, we never thought we’d see a rhino today, let alone have the best rhino sighting we’ve ever had anywhere. Although we thought we were done for the day, Kapoi the lodge manager had other ideas. With a clear sky, the moon not yet risen and no artificial light, the sky was awash with stars and the milky way meandered across the sky (no wonder the Incas thought the milky way was a river in the sky). He first gave me a lesson on how to find due south in the Southern Hemisphere (find the 2 bright stars pointing to the Southern Cross – 4 stars in crucifix or kite shape depending on what you see – and then follow the line of the long leg of the cross down to the horizon). We then had to have another go at astrophotography, this time using one of the trees as foreground subject. I’m definitely getting better (see lead picture) and the camera has picked up even more stars than were visible to the naked eye. What a way to end (another) great day.

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2 Responses to 50 Shades Of Poo

  1. Sheila says:

    I’m glad you listened to me after your round the world trip. The sky is interesting too. ✨

  2. Sheelagh says:

    Oh, the stars!!! Have absolutely incredible. My favourite so far. Xxx

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