Night & Day

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In Africa no two days are ever the same. Each sunrise and sunset is guaranteed to be unique. The only thing you can be sure of is that the roads you travel each day will be bumpy and dusty. But the attraction of not knowing what you will see round the next corner is what keeps you going day after day and brings you back year after year.

Some days you are lucky, some days you are unlucky. One minute too soon and you miss a sighting of your life. One minute too late and it’s too late! However, once in a rare while you time it just right and you have a sighting of a lifetime. This is what guarantees you go back.

Mid summer in Kgalagadi it is hot, damned hot. It’s also dusty, damned dusty. Basically you have to be crazy to visit during this time of the year, but beggars can’t be choosers, so when you get a booking, you take it and then tolerate the heat and dust as best you can. The old adage that there is no gain without pain is specially true for Kgalagadi. It’s hot and dusty, but what you see makes it all worthwhile.

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Even the Ground Agamas prefer shade to the sun

The first rays of light of any day are always brilliant. It’s an ever changing show of subtle colors and hues that constantly evolve until the sun breaks the horizon. After that it’s a relentless circle of ever increasing heat until it finally settles 180 degrees and twelve hours later. Then you get the reverse. The dust of the day accentuates the sky’s colors in a mix or red and orange that only nature can derive. I’m not a landscape photographer, but these are daily events that are hard to resist. For what its worth here are some results of my efforts with the 5D, obviously a little enhanced with the help of Photoshop. But this aside I have to say the 5D’s ability to capture color is absolutely in a class of its own.

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First light Kalahari Tented Camp

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Sunrise at Nossob

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Sunrise at Bitterpan

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Sunset at Bitterpan

The wildlife of Kgalagadi is an eclectic mix of hardy animals, birds and reptiles that have adapted to living in its arid scrubland. They comprise two types of animals. Day ones and Night ones. In the early morning before it gets too hot is when the day animals are most active. Its not uncommon to see herds of hundreds of Springbok enjoying the early daylight hours. Also this is the time of the day when you have the best chance to catch them pronking. Pronking is a strange series of stiff legged high leaps with bowed backs and the white fan lifted. It’s a series of stiff legged vertical jumps similar to that of a human on a trampoline. It seems the exact reason for this behavior is not known, but one theory is that they are showing off their individual strength and fitness.  Whatever its purpose it’s quite interesting to observe.

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On one day, south of Mata Mata we came across a huge heard of Springbok grazing the dunes adjacent to the dry AuobRiver. Suddenly without warning they turned and ran down the dunes towards us and then just as quickly began peacefully browsing again. It was strange, because there were no warning calls or coughs.

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As the sun climbs so does the temperature and logic dictates shade is cooler than the sun. So, as the temperature rises the animals migrate to whatever shade is available to spend the peak heat hours dozing as comfortably as they can constantly readjusting to the movement of the sun and shade as the hours progress..

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Aside from Springbok the most common antelope in Kgalagadi is the Oryx, or Gemsbok as they are commonly called. These animals are especially well adapted to the arid landscape. They don’t really need to drink frequently as they obtain most of the moisture they require by feeding in the cool of the evening when moisture levels in the plants they eat is at its highest. They manage the extreme heat by raising their body temperatures above that of the ambient air and then cool their brains by passing blood to the brain through a complex series of membranes in their nose.

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Unique cooling systems aside, Gemsbok like all the animals and birds in Kgalagadi are not dumb. When the sun is at its peak and temperatures are highest they retire to the shade of Camelthorn trees. The temperature in the shade provided by these trees is substantially lower than it is out in the sun so it’s the logical place to spend the midday hours. The only dumb things moving around when it’s hot are humans travelling the dusty roads between camps which makes you wonder who has the most intelligence, animals or humans!

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At midday any shade however sparce is a welcome relief.

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Surprisingly, despite the heat you can find some very interesting little gems in what would appear to be a very barren landscape. An example of this is this beautiful succulent spotted next to the road in the middle of a series of very hot and dry dunes on the way between Bitterpan and Mata Mata. Unfortunately I have not been able to find out what type of plant it is, but it was a splash of splendor in an otherwise desolate landscape.

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Like Springbok, the early hours of the day are when the Gemsbok are most active . This is when you catch them testing their strength in a clash of horns and neck strength that is great to watch.

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As the sun sets and the day animals drift off to the protection of the dunes the night animals stir ready for a cooler twelve hours of feeding. Many of the camps in Kgalagadi are unfenced and wildlife visitors during the night is the norm.  All you need is a good torch and you are more or less guaranteed to spot something scrounging around. Also many of the camps have hides with lights adjacent to a waterhole where after dinner you can sit and observe the coming and goings to water.

The hide at Nossob is particularly good. The day before we arrived a pair of lions spent the day mating under the boardwalk. Lions, Cheetah, Jackals and Hyena are regular visitors. The night we were there we saw a Brown Hyena for the first time. For everyone else this was no big deal, but for us it was a fantastic sighting.

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Even within the camp you never know what you will see lurking in the darkness while you are cooking your meat. More than once during the trip a quick scan of the darkness with a torch revealed Jackals quietly observing us or scrounging around hoping for a snack. We named this guy below “Jack.” Usually Jackals are very skittish and disappear after the first shout but he never moved an inch when we tried to chase him off. Two hours after we first spotted him he was still lying there. Only when we processed this photo did we notice that he seemed to be blind in his left eye.

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On another evening whilst cooking we noticed what at first looked like a big spider scurrying across the ground next to where we were standing. Closer inspection showed it to be a Scorpion. I don’t think it was one of the really dangerous ones, but looking at the size of the dark sting I would say it would still give a nasty bite.

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Another interesting target were the Bibrons Geckos that you find in the camps. Compared to the geckos you find in Asia these guys are huge, some at least six inches from head to toe. Like all geckos they feed on insects attracted to the lights and are quite easy to photograph.

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To close this posting here’s a shot of the sun setting over Twee Rivieren taken from the dunes above the camp on our last night in Kgalagadi.

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What can I say. I look at these and miss the place. I’ll take Kgalagadi, heat and all over Kuala Lumpur any day!

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