Friday, July 29, 2011

Also featured at flycamp...

Make sure to check out the Sand Rivers blog for Mark's excellent post on the rare African Skimmer. These birds earned their name because of their habit of flying just inches over the water with their lower mandible (a fancy name for the bottom half of a beak) dipping into the water, ready to reflexively snatch up any snacks they come across in the shallows. There are few places better than the Selous for seeing these birds and few places better than our flycamp sites for watching them skimming.

I caught this one on camera last week when I was flycamping with my guests. For the whole hour that we enjoyed the sunset over the lake, this skimmer made passes along the lake shore just in front of our camp fire. A few times we even saw it lift small fish out of the water right in front of our noses! So kudos to Mark for his pictures of the skimmer chicks, but there's no picture quite like a skimmer actually skimming.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fly camp

Fly camping is the best thing we do. And yet, as special as fly camping is, it's rare that I get to head out with my guests to enjoy it. In fact, previous to this week, I'd been flycamping as many times at other Nomad camps as I had here in the Selous.

But the wait was worth it. With great company, a beautiful sunset, spectacular birdlife on Lake Tagalala, and lions roaring at one end of the lake while hyenas whooped at the other, I couldn't help feeling jealous of all the guests who enjoy fly camp without me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Front row seats at the Kiba airshow

I went out to the Kiba airstrip yesterday to receive some vegetable supplies, and was surprised to find a rather formiadable welcome party for the plane. 

I suppose that to those of us who have travelled across continents in airplanes, a small, single-engine craft nimbly landing on the dirt slope we call the kiba airstrip may not be too exciting. These lions, however, seem quite impressed by the performance.

In the end, however, the lions' natural laziness overwhelmed the excitement of the plane landing and taking off, and guests debarking with a week's worth of vegetables for the camp. The pair never stirred from their shady haven. The new guests were quite chuffed to find their first Selous lions 30 seconds into their visit.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Drop your Malarone and grab your...socks?

Last year, I wrote a blog about anti-mosquito laser defense systems. It seemed like a bizarre and overly-sophisticated malaria prevention strategy, but it showed promising results.

This year, researchers are taking a different approach. According to an article in The Washington Post, public health researchers are trying to tap into the hidden potential of your smelly socks as a means of capturing mosquitoes. A comparative field test is currently underway in Ifakara, a town just outside the Selous Game Reserve, to determine whether natural human foot odor, collected in used socks, creates a more potent attraction for mosquitoes than synthetic chemical odors. The final step in the process is to contaminate those socks with a fungus that kills mosquitoes before the malaria-causing Plasmodium falciparum is ready to infect a new human host.

So forget laser defense and expensive prophylactics. It turns out your socks are more than the laundry attendant's worse nightmare, they're the mosquitoes' worse nightmare too.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

All along the river

Yesterday evening, I headed out to the sand river, my favorite drive in the vicinity of Kiba Point. Last year, the sand river was exactly what it's name implied, a vast, sparkling dry river bed of white sand that hinted at a wetter era long past. But in truth, that era was only as long ago as the last rainy season, and as we enter July, encroaching tendrils of water still snake up the sand river. Following the heavy rains in April and May, the riverbed has gone to seed, with a blanket of grasses and shrubs washing across the once blinding sand.

Now, even driving over the long-used tracks feels like trail-blazing, and the giraffes that frequent the sand river every evening seem exaggerated as they tower above low shrubbery. And while this particular drive didn't reveal the sand river's classic image-its pride of 15 lions grouped around a buffalo carcass-it certainly did not dissapoint with a wealth of birdlife and some large herds of very large mammals.

This breeding herd of buffalo initally fled when they heard the approching vehicle, the accompanying flock of cattle egrets forced to abandon their perches and take to the air with chaotic flare.

Eventually, though, the herd turned and trained their characteristic stony glare on me.

Here a white-browed coucal takes flight over the scrub.

On my way back, I encountered a vain lilac-breasted roller posing on a bush.

To complete the drive, as I neared the Rufiji at the beginning of the sand river, I caught a giraffe set against an acacia bush and Kipalala hill, the sun setting just over his shoulder.

Some people might wonder how I can do the same drive week after week, and year after year.  It's simple. Every time is different, every animal sighting is rewarding, and never more so than on the expanse of the sand river.