River Walk


Badgers, Badgers, Badgers, where are you? I decided to take to investigating things along the Save River. This river is huge and along the Sango section is about a kilometre wide. It’s made up of several channels with islands of dense vegetation in between. A sandy river, which I love. And it’s perennial, but only with one or two channels flowing all year. I left Joanie parked under the dense shade of a Natal Mahogany. The riverine vegetation here is almost impenetrable and the only way through to the river is along a game path. Preferably an elephant one. I found a path leading into the ‘jungle’. It looked pretty closed in, but was used by elephants, so it had to be good for me. The path was overhung with Flame thorn, (Acacia ataxacantha, which is loaded with stout hooked thorns.) that seem impenetrable. But when the ellies have been through the thorns hook into their flanks and get ripped away from the main plant, leaving the branches smooth and so making access relatively painless. Those thorns don’t bother the ellies. In places I had to crouch low to get under some of the branches, branches that elephants just barge through. The path zig-zagged through the dense undergrowth eventually coming out at the river bank. It was a couple of meters high here, but the elephant traffic had gorged out a slope to the sandy river. I tumbled down the soft sand onto the river bed. The sand here was more coarse. Animal tracks littered the whole river, a lot of them not distinguishable, just depressions in the sand. Elephant and buffalo stood out. Both of these beasts would not be good to bump into in the dense vegetation, but out here on the open sands I felt safe. This channel was about a hundred meters wide. Flowing only in a narrow stream about a meter wide, the water meandered from this side to that, back and forth. The water was shallow, only a couple of inches deep, and cool and fresh on my bare feet. No chance of crocs in these shallows. I headed upstream enjoying the sand flowing between my toes. I felt totally wild and free. Sandy African rivers are an absolute delight to me and whenever I can I will walk and rest on their sandy bottoms. The island to my east had tall grasses growing up its bank, with game paths leading into the dense vegetation of figs, mahogany’s, nyala-berry’s, Acacia albidas. An elephant trumpeted not too far away. A little further north another channel came in from the east. I followed it to a little pool up against the island bank. The water was dark and deep. Who was lurking in there, although I didn’t see any croc tracks around. I climbed the steep bank with it’s creamy soft sand that felt like something you wanted to bottle. Three Mahogany trees stood together providing dense shade. The soft sand below them was disturbed by elephants that had taken advantage of the shade too.
Ant-lion tracks criss-crossed the soft sand as they moved around before burrowing their funnel-shaped traps. This sand was perfect for these guys as any insect walking along the crest of the funnel would quickly fall to the bottom where the ant-lions lay lurking with their pincers ready to grab anybody battling to escape their trap. I heard an elephant feeding close by but the foliage was too dense to see anything. There were lots of little paths leading through it but too dangerous to be caught in those thickets. I found a clearing further north and to the south saw an elephant standing under a Mahogany collecting the soft sand in his trunk and tossing it over his back. I could just imagine how cool and soothing it was. There was a gentle breeze from the north, which must have wafted in his direction, as he suddenly took off south, thankfully, crashing through the bushes as if they didn’t exist. A second elephant, that I hadn’t seen, disappeared behind him. They were gone, my moment with them ever so brief. I carried on north up the riverbed. In places in the sand, holes had been dug by elephants, always looking for the cleanest, coolest water, water that had filtered through layers and layers of sand and wasn’t exposed to the hot sun. Fresh buffalo dung patties plastered the edge of flowing water. Now my dilemma, besides not seeing any sign of badgers, the western bank was choked with fig bushes. Several game paths went through it, but the buffalo dung was fresh. Were they still lurking in the thickets? I took the path least used, watching my every step, searching the bush ahead. The path joined and crossed others. A Grey Lourie alarmed at me. Would that start a stampede? Eventually I came out into the open on the vehicle track. No buffalo. All was good…

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Elephant comes to visit

2nd August 2019
Things are warming up fast here and I’m loving it! A warm wind came in from the east late in the afternoon. Even after dark I was still dressed in shorts and not even in my sleeping bag. Bliss. The mopane woodland consisted of tall slim trees as if planted for timber. There was very little undergrowth, so visibility was great. Compared to down on the alluvial soils around the river, there’s quite a bit of grass up here in the north. A big herd of impala were dwarfed in the woodland. As I drove past something spooked them and they ran straight towards me. I scanned around with my spotlight and not far north of them were some other eyes. I left the track heading east. It was easy going, no fallen trees stumps. The elephants haven’t got hold of these trees yet. A small drainage line ran north/south. Lining the drainage line were Raisin bushes and small sickle bushes, which provided cover for the eyes I was following, now moving south along the drainage line. A gap in the bush and I saw her, a leopard hunting the impala. Not far behind her, another pair of eyes. Her youngster nearly a year old. They both stopped in the drainage line, looking south where the impala had been. After a while the mother had a change of plan. She turned back north and her little one followed. Maybe they were going to approach the impala from another side. I followed along the edge of the drainage line, seeing them now and again. It was getting rocky. Just to our east was a huge flat topped mountain where all these rocks had come from. The cats then moved east and I was snookered. I waited a while in the woodland. What little sound there might have been was muffled by the wind and the stars had disappeared with a complete cover of clouds having moved in, keeping it extra warm.
It was late in the night when I snuggled up under a Nyala berry tree. I was woken by a rumble just to my right. An elephant. I couldn’t see it but could hear it shuffling along. That sound like someone shuffling around the house in slippers. Amazingly quiet for such a huge beast. It was coming closer. I didn’t want to use my light as that might spook it or challenge it. It was moving round the front of Joanie. As it got in front of me I saw his silhouette against the now clear starry sky. He was about 10m away. Too close for me to do anything. I decided to lie back and just enjoy the time with him. He was picking up Nyala berries in his trunk and eating them. He knew I was there but kept coming closer and closer reaching with his trunk under Joanie to get to some berries. He was right next to me and could easily have reached out and touched me. Every now and then I’d see a little flash of starlight on his tusks. They weren’t big. Slowly he carried on round the tree picking up berries and soon continued on to the next tree. How very special to be able to spend just that brief moment with this huge gentle giant!
I took a detour on my way home to see how the wild dogs are doing. When I got there the puppies were all out lying snuggled together in the sun. They’re now about 3months old, in their cute phase and will probably be leaving the den soon…

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Elephants by the moon

16th July 2019
I was mid-stride on my way out for the night, had crossed the river and stopped to get some scarf-age around my neck as the chill became real. Reaching down to get my scarf I noticed an empty opening. That special gap where my flask with my smoothie lives. I’d left supper and breakfast at home! Back home I went. And probably just as well cos coming out later I happened upon these elephant bulls drinking. Water was being pumped in to the pan and they were taking turns to be sure to get to the freshest water as it arrived. Actually they don’t really take turns. The dominant bull there at the time keeps it all to himself. When another more dominant bull arrived he just barged in, no queueing. If you’re the boss you drink first. And it’s amazing how fussy these guys are wanting clean water. Some of them will wait their turn, half an hour or more. 6 bulls came to drink which kept me busy for about an hour. A long way off a kudu had been repeatedly barking down towards the river. The track took me most of the way there. The kudu had stopped barking but I kept following my pointer star, north off the track in tall riverine vegetation. The understory was pretty open. I straddled a log, but must have mis-judged the straddle and my wheel caught it shooting it up into the engine. It didn’t sound good. I reversed and found my steering was tight. On examining the damage, thankfully Joanie was fine and the stump had just missed the sump, but the tie rod was properly bent. Eventually managing to remove the stump I was on the way again but with the tie-rod bent, the steering was everywhere and I had to call it quits for the night and limped back to camp.

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