Namibia, day 8 ... a sea of springboks

18 November – Etosha National Park (Okaukuejo, day 2)
Guineafowl swarmed into the Okaukuejo waterhole first thing; it was like looking at a free range Norfolk turkey farm. An elephant shrew appeared – not the first sighting behind the perimeter wall – and it watched as a crimson-breasted shrike dealt with a large moth. The camp’s fuel station forecourt was alive with birds, perhaps picking up insects attracted to lights left on overnight. Purple roller, Cape glossy starling, a single ruff, crowned lapwing, red-headed buffalo weaver, white-browed sparrow-weaver, laughing dove, white-crowned shrike: easy birdwatching.

Our drive took us north to the huge expanse of the Etosha saltpan. Geoff’s bus paused for at least 23 banded mongooses scampering along and a perched lanner. Darrin’s contingent saw a laughing dove land among seven red-necked falcons. The outcome was, well, that it wasn’t laughing.

Four lions by Etosha's main pan: second from left has a tracking collar (Cheryl Hunt).
The low, dry vegetation faded into the huge expanse of the saltpan, which appeared to stretch forever and be barren and desolate. But desolation was wide of the mark as we stopped by a fresh spring in the pan’s edge. Mammals were scattered everywhere, but the main focus was on lions, four lionesses with two cubs closest, two males farther over. One female with a collar walked right alongside the bus. Farther along there were more close lions, in particular a scruffy-looking young male. Cameras whirred again. Back by the spring, a lion dropped out of sight in the dune vegetation. A springbok approached, oblivious. The outcome: nothing happened as the springbok walked on, perhaps not close enough to the lion. For the lion, another would be along in a minute, no doubt.

"A lion cub decided to lie down in the road, surrounded by vehicles of various shapes and sizes" (David Bennett).
Scanning over the spring, the scene was alive with wildlife. Hundreds of Namaqua sandgrouse were coming and going from the water’s edge, calling continuously. Behind them were medium-sized springboks, behind them again on the vegetation’s edge larger gemsboks. On the saltpan were yet more mammals, in the haze impossible to identify. Sublime. Then the ridiculous: a lion cub decided to lie down in the road, surrounded by nine vehicles of various shapes and sizes. Ours, the tenth, headed back for breakfast.

The camp waterhole was a sea of springboks after our breakfast and a lanner swooped around, scattering small birds. There was so much activity that we stayed put rather than going for another drive. Zebras came into drink in waves, a steady stream coming in and others walked. A cluster of about 200 springboks stayed in the shade the whole time. A similar number of springboks was in and around the waterhole, regularly getting spooked by something and all bolting away from the water. A few kudu and gemsbok came to drink. 
A sea of springboks, here standing in the shade.
Then the elephants arrived. The 22 elephants included a range of sizes, and we saw or heard dust bathing, splashing around and occasional trumpeting. Lunch was again Geoff making sandwiches on his stoop before we settled down for the afternoon siesta.
Then the elephants arrived, a range of sizes, splashing around (Tim Hunt).
During the afternoon, Daphne came with a description and a photo of a red-headed woodpecker. Cardinal woodpecker, said Darrin, and Jeremy and I returned with Daphne to the trees near the swimming pool where it was still tapping away and with the help of a telescope agreed with Darrin’s ID.

Ten of us went on the optional night drive in a vehicle with three tiers of seats and open-sided into the hot evening air. Driver Gabriel took us north to the Etosha pan, where we’d been this morning. Two spotted hyenas were an early find. Scrub hares were the most numerous mammals, far more than by day, but also there were many springhares, bounding on large hind legs like a giant gerbil and balanced by a long, black-tipped tail. Everything else picked out by Gabriel’s red search light was like by day, only worse views, such as many springboks that seem to ‘pronk’ (spring) more than in the day, plenty of jackals active by night and lions by the pan. Soft drinks were handed out as we stopped by the lions: “Surreal”, said David. The star sighting was on the return: an aardwolf, running away but showing its hooped patterning. Blink and you’d miss it, but the rarity of the sighting was illustrated by Gabriel saying he hadn’t seen one for two or three months and he’s out most nights. The book says that their diet is almost exclusively termites, which struck as odd as there were no termite mounds in this area. That puzzle was explained later, while we were in the Erongo Mountains. We’d started the drive at 8pm and we were back just after 11pm
Burchell's zebras, waterhole at Okaukuejo, Etosha.


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