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Gone to Gorongosa – October 2017

There was a very heavy rainfall towards the end of the month and with it came relief to the dry waterholes and plains, which is what the bulk of this month’s blog is about.

The construction at Muzimu Tented Camp is still going strong, even with the heavy rain, as the construction team were able to work inside, sanding floors, installing and painting ceilings, and placing the netting to prevent insects from entering the staff rooms.

 

Muzimu Tented Camp Update

The pipeline to supply water to Muzimu Tented Camp is complete, this in itself is quite an achievement when you consider that the entire trench was dug by hand, almost a meter deep, and seven kilometers long! Having water piped in reduces a lot of effort as we now no longer have to transport water for construction with water bowsers.

The swimming pool for the camp was dug, as were the soak-away pits for grey water. After the rain the swimming pool was filled to the brim, ready for use! The soak-away pits suffered the same fate and one of those will have to be redone, but using the TLB makes that a quick exercise.

One of the big advantages of having had so much rain is how much easier it is to excavate now, the ground is no longer rock hard and holes that took a day to dig are now being done in less than half the time.

Roads to the camp were extensively flooded and damaged, these are being repaired at the moment but the repairs were delayed while we waited for them to dry out a bit before trying to move heavy loads to them.

The rains have held off for a few days, and the ground has dried up quite a lot. The soils in the area are known as “Black Cotton Soils”, which were produced by the disintegration of black lava. If the roads are given time to dry out before being used then very little to no damage is caused to them, however, if they are used too soon then the damage caused can be extensive. Due to the fact that the road used for delivery to the camp is one of the main arterial routes in the National Park it was inevitable that there would be damage, it was limited as much as possible but anti-poaching patrols still need to take place, irrespective of weather conditions.

 

A Celebration of Life

After the fires we had in August there were very large tracts of land in Gorongosa National Park that seemed to be dead, dust devils scurried to and fro and no matter where you were it felt like you were in an oven, a very dry and hot one. Birds sat with beaks gaping as they tried to cool down, and any available water was always surrounded by animals. All that changed with the rain, there was 150 mm of rain in less than a 24-hour period, some of the roads looked like rivers, waterholes and pans filled quickly, and “lakes” were formed wherever there was limited runoff.

The same waterhole, seen with water filling it and 48 hours later filled!

African Bullfrogs came out of nowhere, every puddle, waterhole and pan seemed to contain only them! No matter where we stopped their deep, booming, calls filled the air as the males called desperately, advertising their presence to claimed territory and to attract females. And then they were gone, as quickly as they appeared they disappeared, as if they had never been there!

Black, burnt areas turned green just as quickly, wherever you look there are carpets of emerald decorating the plains, forests and intermediate biomes. Birds and insects and frogs call incessantly as they herald the new life. The areas that did not burn, where there are still swathes of dead grass, have blades of green peeking from under cover, and watching animals pick these off from between the dead blades shows their appreciation of the new diet.

Waterbuck on the plains feeding on the new growth

Red-throated Twin-spot at Muzimu Tented Camp

Flowers have bloomed and some of the fruit bearing trees have fruit that is almost ripe.

Sour-plum fruit, ripe and green side by side, natures version of sours!

Some of the flowers that are blooming now, Northern African Dog-rose and Wild Asparagus

We haven’t seen many Monitor Lizards lately, mainly because it has been so dry and they had probably all migrated to where there was water. Now that there is water everywhere, we are seeing more and more of them as they move from one waterhole to the next and then back again, in their never-ending search for food. Something that I had never seen at Gorongosa National Park is the Giant Plated Lizard, driving back from Muzimu Camp one afternoon I spotted one laying out in the sun, close to its shelter under an old log

Water Monitor Lizard                                           Giant Plated Lizard

The contrast between the dry period and the wet is huge, instead of hot, dry air that doesn’t seem to move we have hot, humid air and when the wind blows there is a definite feeling of cooling. Beforehand the wind was always hot and all it did was make you feel even hotter. There was very little movement as far as the animals were concerned and there were no insects, birds were mainly quiet during the day, and it was only very early in the morning that the temperatures were bearable.

That hot period is very short-lived, as soon as the turn is made from winter to spring the heat starts building, while that is going on you can see clouds building up in the distance, and every day the buildup gets bigger and bigger until, suddenly, it rains and the temperatures drop with the rain.

The animals scattered when the rain came, no longer reliant on established water points they can wander freely to wherever they wish, there is water no matter where they go.

 Sleeping like a log?

We found this young warthog fast asleep next to an old tree that had collapsed a long time ago. Many of the youngsters have been pushed out by their mothers who have just given birth as a means to protect the new piglets, their older siblings would be too much competition for the little guys to survive

 

Waterbuck Bull walking between Spur-wing Geese and White-faced Whistling Duck

Helmeted Guinea Fowl on the left and Crested Guinea Fowl on the right

The waterhole close to Muzimu Tented Camp in the Fever Trees, now brimming with water.

Matabele Ants on a raid                                     Water terrapin heading to the water

Without all the “small” parts of the eco-system, insects, birds, flowers, etc. the “large” parts would not survive, and vice versa. Both are entirely dependent on each other and both play important parts in the eco-system. Very often the main emphasis is on the bigger animals, lion, elephant buffalo etc. we sometimes skip the smaller parts and they are the ones that act as the adhesive. With that in mind let’s look at some more of the glue!

A pair of Saddle-billed Stork and some Spur-wing Geese

The geese feed mainly on plant material such as grass shoots, aquatic plants and seeds. Very often we see them on the plains as they forage for the new grass shoots but later during the day they are usually found in the waterholes, as they eat the new aquatic plant growth. This will change shortly and we may only find them at the water when it is time to drink.

The Saddle-billed Storks feed on frogs, fish, crustaceans, reptiles and aquatic insects, with the freshly filled waterholes they are targeting mainly frogs and lungfish at this stage. The choice in frogs is very wide and very abundant, both fish and frogs are normally washed before swallowing.

Saddle-billed Stork heading to roost as the sunsets.

Lee Bennett

Muzimu Tented Camp and Gorongosa Collection, 31 October 2017

Gorongosa National Park

Mozambique