Evening Serenades

As the hot yellow ball sets below the dusky horizon in all its African splendour, the temperature drops suddenly. Ah yes it’s still winter.

We start up the bush TV and warm ourselves up for scrumptious bush dinners prepared by Nicholas our wonderful on site chef.

Night falls and we look up to the clear night skies remembering our astronomy lesson and clock the Southern Cross and her pointers. Yes, I can work out where south is now! And over there, yes it’s Scorpion and Antares.  Check.


First attempt to photograph the southern cross with my basic kit lens

Those first few nights were just incredible.

It wasn’t nearly as noisy as lying down as a night in the amazon, but here the sounds were unfamiliar and there are plenty of dangerous game around and not a lot between us and them. If they wanted to get me it would be a simple jump over the fence or walk straight through the open gate, scratch through the tent canvas and hello!

Just after I’ve fallen asleep to the sound of quiet,  there comes the whooping crescendo of a hyaena from the right side of camp.

A few moments later it calls again.

Then in the distance on the left back side of our tent we hear another similar call.

And another on the right front side farther from the first call. They must be locating each other. I lay my head again to hear some faint screeches way in the distance on the left side of the tent… probably in the plains somewhere a jackal has taken his jackpot.
About 3 am I am awake again to the sounds of baboons grumbling. There is a troop that lives on the other side of the dam from our camp. Sounds like a juvenile baboon is being scolded by an elder and he’s not happy.

There’s also something munching near our tents to the south. Is it the kudus we keep seeing around camp? I heard they really like the camel thorn pods that have been falling to the ground a lot lately.

I try to sleep again and fail as my exposed face is so much colder than the rest of me. I slip my sleeping bag over my head. Breathe in and out. I’m suffocating. Ok that didn’t work.  Maybe if I keep the sleeping bag tucked in under my chin and pull the duvet over my head instead? It has a bit more structure so maybe there’ll be enough of a gap between my head and the duvet that I can breathe.

It must be close to dawn but it’s still dark.  Just as I am almost settled enough to go back to sleep after what probably was an hour of adjustments, suddenly there is another sound.

A leopard.

It makes its repetitive grunting territorial call to the right back of my tent. It sounds pretty close.

A few minutes later it does it again but it’s moved. Closer. And to the back left. Still not at the camp perimeter but it’s definitely closer.

Minutes later again it calls. This time it’s very close. And to our left. I don’t know how close it is but I swear it’s just on the other side of our tent. I know logically it’s probably on the road towards the dam wall but at night, the air is thin and sound travels so clearly and they seem so much louder & closer than they probably are.

This leopard moves so quickly and steadily. It continues to make more calls at regular intervals moving away each time. It sounds like it is moving on the eastern side of the river and going further south. Just amazing to hear it’s definitive call.

Here’s video of baboon yelps and the repetitive grunting of the leopard taken elsewhere for you to hear – FYI it’s louder than what we were hearing from our beds!

The munching returns and again it’s close to our tent. I wish I knew how close these animals were. I lie in bed too cold to get up and check out the windows or open the entrance flap to verify.

Then the floorboards of our tent squeak as if someone is walking along them.  Quin and I are both in bed. I’m pretty sure everyone else is still in their tents and I didn’t hear any zips close.

More munching and crunching of those seed pods and a few more floorboards squawk.

Kudu surely couldn’t have climbed up the steps onto our deck to get the umbrella thorn pods that fell there earlier in the windy afternoon? That just can’t be it… I go to sleep telling myself that it’s only kudu and even if it’s not, it’s a herbivore and doesn’t want to claw through our tent to get to us. So we should be safe. Right?

Gafaw! The baboons are at it again. Disagreements abound between the old and young.

The sunlight only just faintly starts to appear on the horizon and the cacophony of birds starts. Who needs an alarm when you have so many birds singing their dawn chorus to wake you up?

swainson_s_spurfowl
Swainson’s spurfowl

There goes the musical screeching of the crested francolin, soothing sounds of the cape turtle dove with its insistent “work harder” call, some Egyptian geese and a few other waterbirds I haven’t learnt the sounds of yet, the descending call of the water thick-knee follows and oh yeah there’s the scrawch of the natal spurfowl.  I guess I can be thankful it’s not a Swainson’s spurfowl that early in the morning. More musical birds like the long-billed crombec come online, the burnt necked eremomela and many other bird sounds that I want to learn…

I’m so tired from listening to all the sounds… I try and go back to bed.

Thwomp thwomp thwomp… someone has just climbed the stairs of the deck of the tent next door. Duty team is coming with their wake up calls.

Good morning Africa!

It’s a frosty morning at camp and we awake to find out our friend, Andrew, who stays in the tent next door and loves getting up early, has found out who has been munching on the seed pods and hitting our floorboards. It’s the young hippo who comes into camp from the river. Mystery solved.

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Photo credit: Lucy
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5 thoughts on “Evening Serenades”

  1. Beautifully written Mags that is exactly how our nights unfold. As I sit here in the early morning darkness reading your blog I can hear all your sounds creeping out of the darkness. Such a perfect way to start the day.

    Liked by 1 person

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