Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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Two birds with one ‘stone’

Two birds I’ve been wanting to photograph for a while are the Musk Lorikeet and the Azure Kingfisher. I got to take some photos of both of these in the last week.

The first one was the Musk Lorikeet. I was working at Dutson Downs east of Sale in some  woodland when a large and noisy feeding flock of these parrots (possibly up to 200) descended on some Coastal Manna Gums.

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Though they are mostly nectar feeders I noticed they were actually feeding on sugary lerps on the leaves of the gums. One landed just above my car so I climbed on the tray and managed to get quite close and take some snapshots. It was hard to get one standing still as they were probably overdosing on sugar so the photos aren’t the best!

The other was the Azure Kingfisher. Again I was working in some bushland, this time at a beautiful redgum woodland area at Avon-Perry River Delta Gippsland Lakes Reserve. While walking along the edge of the Perry River at lunch time I heard in the distance the distinctive high pitched ‘seet’, followed by another further along the river. Following the noise I was disappointed to find them gone but waited 5 minutes and was rewarded to have one land literally in front of my camera only 2m away. Firing off about 20 photos in succession I got a few decent pics.

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I then walked backwards to observe it better and noticed it fly out of site under the steep bank of the river where I was standing only to emerge a few minutes later and fly off. This makes me think it had a nest in the side of the bank and probably the reason it was checking me out. It wasn’t carrying any food so it may have been constructing the nest. This species is listed on DELWP’s current threatened species advisory list as near threatened.

A very productive week.

 


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A frog and a fern

I was lucky enough to get photos of two more of Victoria’s threatened species on my forays recently.

The first is the Green and Golden Bell Frog Litoria aurea.

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Green and Golden Bell Frog

 

 

 

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Typical habitat of Green and Golden Bell Frog with matted and floating vegetation.

 

This frog is listed as threatened in Victoria and many populations have crashed in recent years from a multitude of factors, particularly the introduced Chytrid fungus. This one was captured during a fauna survey for a client near Dutson Downs, Victoria and is possibly the most westerly record of the species in Victoria in recent times. We were pleased to hear a large number of these frogs calling in the wetlands we surveyed at the site.

The other threatened species was the Filmy Maidenhair Fern Adiantum diaphanum.

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Filmy Maidenhair Fern

 

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Typical habitat

 

This species is restricted to only a few small fragmented sites in Victoria, all being in the western Strzelecki Ranges in Gippsland. Although threatened in Victoria there are healthy populations in New South Wales, Queensland, New Zealand, several islands and China. This one was photographed at a site near Trafalgar, Victoria, in wet forest.

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The Prom and the Parrot

Almost every Victorian has a soft spot for Wilson’s Promontory National Park, one of the state’s most iconic and visited parks. So to be asked recently to go on a hike in the less visited northern section of the ‘Prom’ I jumped at the chance, especially since we were there to look for the rarely seen Ground Parrot.

We started the hike at Five Mile Rd carpark just off the main road once you get inside the Prom. Here we walked east over undulating hills to Barry Creek campsite where we set up our base camp for the surveys. In the afternoon we hiked north along the Lower Barry Creek track for over 2km checking areas of low shrubs and heathland, the Ground Parrot’s favourite habitat, then returned back to camp. Most of the suitable habitat we found was not far from our camp so this was where we concentrated our efforts.

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Wet heathland near Barry Creek camp.

 

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Looking towards Yanakie from the Lower Barry Creek track.

 

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The Lower Barry Creek track was often hard to find!

 

Unfortunately we didn’t see or hear any Ground Parrots during the two days. We did however stop to talk to a lone hiker who we asked if he had seen any low-flying, stocky green parrots. When we described them to him he seemed certain that’s what he saw but some descriptions he gave us sounded dubious. Who knows?

 

The Ground Parrot is a very cryptic species, much like its closest cousin the once thought to be extinct Night Parrot. A plump bird, the Ground Parrot is green with heavy mottling of yellow and black and a distinct red patch above the bill. It is more often heard than seen, unless accidentally flushed out of heath and is listed in Victoria as threatened. The call (which I had on an app on my phone) is very unlike any parrot I’ve ever heard and for me sounds more like a Gerygone than a parrot. Information beforehand suggested the Ground Parrot calls at dusk and dawn so these were when we did the most of the surveys. What we didn’t realise until after the survey was they actually call more often half an hour before dawn and half an hour after dusk!

We did however see a lot of interesting plant and animal life as well as some stunning landscapes so it was still very much worthwhile going on the hike. Chestnut-rumped Heathwrens were very common in the low heath areas. I’d only seen a fleeting glimpse of them before so to see and hear them a lot was great. I got some terrible photos of some at a distance so I wont embarrass myself and put it on here!

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Crescent Honeyeaters were reasonably common and were often seen feeding on Xanthorrhoea flowers.

 

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Bees and wasps feeding on a Xanthorrhoea flower

 

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This Southern Water Skink Eulamprus tympanum was friendly around our camp.

 

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This enormous Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus was not so friendly and was reluctant to let us pass on the track.

 

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Many Hibbertia species were in flower everywhere. This one is Silky Guinea-flower Hibbertia sericea.

 

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Yellow Stackhousia Stackhousia viminea.

 

There are plans for another survey next year and this time with the new information that has come to light hopefully some can be found/heard and counted.

Anyone who sees or hears a Ground Parrot around the Northern Wilderness Area of Wilsons Promontory National Park, Nooramunga Marine & Coastal Park and Cape Liptrap Coastal Park can download the survey and ID form from the Parks Victoria website.

Thanks go to Denise and Anthony Fernando, the Victorian National Parks Association and Denis Nagle for a great hike in a great location.

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Threatened Flora- Central Gippsland Plains

Working in the environmental management industry I’m privileged to be involved with the conservation and management of several threatened species, mostly flora, throughout Gippsland, Victoria. The central Gippsland plains have had a terrible history of extinctions and drastic reductions in populations of flora. This is especially the case for communities such as grasslands, grassy woodland and swamps which were extensively modified for cattle grazing and cropping. The introduction of rabbits and weed species have had a further impact on these habitats.

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Native Themeda grassland, Yarram, Victoria

 

Below are some of the plant species which have only just hung on despite these adversities and many now have management plans and efforts to stabilise and hopefully increase populations. All species below are currently listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee (FFG) Act 1988, the key legislation in Victoria for the conservation of threatened species and communities. Some are also listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biological Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999, the federal government’s central piece of environmental legislation.

Purple Diuris Diuris punctata is a stunning species of Donkey Orchid found throughout lowland Victoria. In the Gippsland plains it is protected mostly on road and rail reserves in open grassy woodland/grassland communities. Populations can fluctuate from a handful of plants in some years to tens of thousands in good years.

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Purple Diuris, Munro, Victoria

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Although threatened, some years it can flower in the thousands. Fernbank, Victoria

The Gaping Leek Orchid Prasophyllum correctum is one of the rarest orchids in Australia. It once extended throughout the grassy plains of south-east Victoria but is currently only known from two small sites west of Bairnsdale. This species is listed under federal legislation as endangered and there have been various attempts at propagating this orchid with varying successes. Little is known of its requirements in the wild such as pollinators, symbiotic soil fungi and the effect of burning regimes. Currently 19 other Prasophyllum species are currently listed in Victoria as threatened and research is being done on this genus into their biology and ecology.

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Gaping Leek Orchid finishing flowering and developing hopefully viable seeds. Munro, Vic.

Matted Flax-lily Dianella amoena is another species associated with open grassy woodland/grasslands and is also listed as endangered under federal legislation. As with Purple Diuris this species is now mostly restricted to road and rail reserves. Once also found in Tasmania it is now apparently extinct there and is currently known from scattered populations from the Gippsland plains to the Grampians in western Victoria.

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Matted Flax-lily, Giffard, Victoria.

 

Matted Flax-lilies develop brilliant purple and yellow flowers in spring and is often identified from other local Dianellas by the toothed margins and mid-rib of each leaf blade.

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Leaf blade of Matted Flax-lily showing serrations on margin and mid-rib.

 

Dwarf Kerrawang Rulingia prostrata is a nondescript little plant and as it’s species name says it grows prostrate. Although small, it’s trailing branches can spread up to 2m. In spring it develops small light pink flowers and in summer a spiky round seed capsule. This species is restricted to the fringes of wetlands associated with woodland communities.

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Dwarf Kerrawang, Dutson Downs, Vic.

Dwarf Kerrawang is member of the Sterculiaceae family which typically includes larger trees and shrubs such as Kurrajongs or Flame Trees Brachychiton spp which many people are familiar with.

One of the showiest of Gippsland’s threatened flora is the Wellington Mint-bush Prostanthera galbraithiae. In spring this spindly shrub develops brilliant purple-mauve flowers with a spotted throat. At present it is known only from several populations at two localities, Holey Plains and Dutson Downs. Although present in relatively intact habitats (typically heathy woodland) it is dependant on regular burning regimes for germination and is susceptible to over-grazing by herbivores. This species was named after Jean Galbraith, a local botanist who co-discovered the plant and advocated for its conservation.

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Wellington Mint-bush, Holey Plains, Vic

 

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Wellington Mint-bush, Holey Plains, Vic

 

Swamp Everlasting Xerochrysum palustre is a tall daisy associated with wetlands and swamps in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. In Victoria the species is found in small scattered populations mostly due to the extensive draining and modification of wetlands for agriculture but also from weed invasion and grazing by native and introduced species.

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Swamp Everlasting, Gelliondale, Vic

 

Trailing Hop-bush Dodonaea procumbens is a low-growing, prostrate shrub up to 20cm in height with trailing branches. It develops tiny flowers in spring and distinct winged capsules in summer. It inhabits seasonably wet depressions in woodlands, heathland and grassland.

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This species was once thought extinct in eastern Victoria but a small population was rediscovered in the Dutson Downs area in 2009. Although not currently listed as threatened under Victoria’s FFG Act it is listed as vulnerable under the federal EPBC Act. It also occurs in low numbers from southern NSW to South Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Swamp Skink

The Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi is one of my favourite animals but unfortunately is becoming increasingly threatened from human-induced changes to its wetland habitats as well as predation by foxes and cats. It is currently listed in Victoria as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988).

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Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi, Bass Coast, Vic

Swamp Skinks grow up to 250mm in length and have a distinctive colouration. It’s body is typically a light olive green colour with two prominent black stripes along its olive-brown back. Its sides are black with light olive spots and patches. It can be confused with other species, particularly the similar sized and patterned White’s Skink Liopholis whitii (see photo below).

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White’s Skink Liopholis whitii, Hernes Oak, Vic

The habitat of White’s Skink is typically drier and it doesn’t seem to prefer wetland areas. The two skinks, however, were previously lumped together in the genus Egernia but recent studies have separated both these species from genus.

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Swamp Skink

 

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The current distribution of the Swamp Skink is the coastal plains of Victoria with populations extending slightly into coastal South Australia and NSW. The majority of these populations are highly fragmented and subject to increasing pressures. Swamps, wet heathland, saltmarshes, sedgelands and watercourses are the preferred habitats for the species and many of these have been drained for development or agriculture. Many of the small isolated patches of habitat left are subjected to further pressures from disease, pollution, weather events, poor drainage, amongst others. Some areas though have been protected and have a relatively stable population but much more sites need protection through habitat restoration, pest animal and weed control, and minimizing disturbance to existing habitats.

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Swamp Skink ‘condo’, Bass Coast, Vic.

If you live along the coastal plain of far S/E Australia keep an eye out for this species and submit any sightings to relevant departments. A great platform for the general public to submit sightings is the Atlas of Living Australia.  This citizen science based website collects data on Australia’s flora and fauna from a wide range of sources and can be accessed for information on species as well.

A fantastic article to read in relation to their requirements and management is the Swamp Skink management guidelines for the Mornington Peninsula (Clemann and Robertson 2015).

 


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Southern Africa

Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t posted for a while. Well, my family and I have just been to southern Africa and recently returned. I know my blog is usually to do with S/E Victoria but I thought I’d post here anyhow. I literally took thousands of photos on our trip, most being of wildlife, and below are some of these.

It was the first time any of us had been to Africa and we did have a few concerns before we left. These were mostly to do with our safety and health, especially travelling with our two girls aged 7 and 9 in a campervan for most of the time. We were relieved that these weren’t as much as a worry as we thought as long as we were smart about taking all the necessary precautions.

Our basic itinerary included four countries in almost three weeks (South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Botswana) and we began by flying in to Johannesburg (or Jo’burg as the locals call it) in South Africa. Here we hired a campervan and began a two week drive along the eastern part of the country. In our view this was better than going on a tour as we had the flexibility to visit wherever we liked and to stay the night at spots which looked nice.

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Map showing the areas we visited.

There were some mind blowing sights in SA and the highlights of the two week drive were the Drakensberg mountains, Blyde River Canyon, St Lucia, Hluluwe Umfolozi NP and Kruger NP.

The first major highlight was the enormous Drakensberg mountains west of Durban. Rising out of the rolling hills this mountain range extends hundreds of kilometers north and south but some of the biggest peaks surround the tiny mountainous country of Lesotho. We unfotunately didn’t have time to visit this landlocked country but apparently it is beautiful and the way of life has similarities to some parts of highland South American cultures.

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Drakensberg mountains near Winterton, South Africa. Beyond these peaks is the highland country of Lesotho.

The escarpment below Lesotho in South Africa was an awe-inspiring sight with towering peaks and deep valleys. As it was winter it was very cold (often well below zero at night) but it was also dry as most of the rain falls in the summer period. This area is a good spot to observe the endangered Bearded Vulture but unfortunately we didn’t have much time and didn’t get to see any. We weren’t going to spend the night there in sub-zero temperatures in a campervan!

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As you can see road safety is taken very seriously in South Africa

Another fantastic spot was the area around the forested seaside town of St Lucia. This area includes the World Heritage listed iSimangaliso (Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park. We touched on the southern part of the park and the area was abundant with birds and mammals. Hippos apparently were known to regularly walk down the main streets at night in St Lucia and occasionally their droppings were seen in the streets around houses and on lawns. They probably find the lawns very tasty.

We were lucky to see two male Hippos fighting in the water. There was some immense power in the fights but they didn’t seem to inflict much damage on each other, more bluff I think. Still wouldn’t want to mess with one!

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iSimangaliso wetlands near St Lucia.

 

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Clockwise from top: Vervet Monkey, Red Forest Duiker, Crested Guinea-fowl and Banded Mongoose.

Inland from St Lucia our next stop was Hluluwe Umfolozi National Park (actually two National Parks joined together). This relatively small park was loaded with an array of plants and animals and this was our first glimpse of the larger mammals iconic with Africa. The girls had their faces almost permanently plastered to the windows of the campervan as we drove through the park looking at them.

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Hluluwe Umfolozi National Park, South Africa.

 

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Clockwise from top: Chacma Baboon, Burchell’s Zebra, Elephant and Impala.

Next on the list was the small country of Swaziland. This country has a lot going for it such as several game parks, traditional villages, beautiful scenery and relatively good infrastructure. The border crossings in and out of the country were mind-numbingly slow though.

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Sophie with a Reed Frog.

 

Driving back into SA we visited an unexpected highlight of our trip and one which is not very well known outside of Africa, Blyde River Canyon. We never imagined we would see something like this on our holiday and it left a lasting impression on all of us. Unlike Australia they don’t believe in many safety barriers at places like this so we had to keep an eye on the girls a lot of the time!

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Aloes growing precariously on a cliff face at Blyde River Canyon.

 

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Spectacular scenery at Blyde River Canyon.

 

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Some of the flora and fauna around Blyde River. Clockwise from top: Jameson’s Red Rock Hare, Rock Hyrax, Aloe species and Pseudoselago serrata

Not far from Blyde River Canyon on the lowveld (plains) was Kruger National Park, a massive 19,500 square kilometre game reserve and SA’s first national park. We entered just above the central part of the park and travelled south staying at four camp sites over five days. There was no camping outside the designated, fenced campsites for obvious safety reasons but during the day we did our own game drives in the campervan. One thing that slightly disturbed us was the fact that the campsite gates were left open during the day so anything could wander in! They did too! Some antelopes, monkeys, baboons and warthogs were regularly seen inside the camps.

Almost every kilometre travelled in the park resulted in a new sighting and a tick off our list. Occasionally a herd of elephants or some zebras would wander seemingly oblivious to our presence across the road directly in front of our campervan with squeals from our girls. Animals and birds were used to seeing gawking tourists and we could drive up to them pretty close before they ambled away. As the speed limit was 40km/hr on dirt and 50km/hr on bitumen there was not a single roadkill seen over the five days.

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Lilac-breasted Roller, Kruger NP.

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Black-headed Oriole feeding on Aloe flowers, Kruger NP

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Baobab tree with Giraffe in background. Baobabs are close relatives of Australia’s Boab tree.

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A shallow river in Kruger NP.

 

Birds, Kruger

Clockwise from top: Go-away Bird (Grey Lourie), Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures, White-bellied Sunbird and Helmeted Guinea-fowl,

 

 

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Clockwise from top: Hyaena, Variable Skink, Tree Squirrel and Crested Francolin.

 

Above: Leopard Tortoise and Blue-headed Agama

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The enormous Southern Ground Hornbill. This species is highly endangered and we were lucky to see two separate groups of them in Kruger. This one has leg bands and was reported to ranger staff.

 

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More of the animals seen in Kruger. Clockwise from top: Klipspringer (a species restricted to rocky outcrops), Wildebeest, Giraffe and Kudu (male).

We managed to spot some lions which were high on our list to see. This was on a safari tour we took from one of the camps in Kruger during the late afternoon and in to the night. The second photo the female has her cub with her.

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Zebra at sunset

We often knew when there was a good sighting up ahead as there were usually a few cars parked haphazardly across the road with cameras out the window. Road rules were completely thrown out the window when something amazing was seen.

It was always good to see the critically endangered White and Black Rhinos but sad to read that in Kruger NP alone a few hundred are killed by poachers each year despite a major effort by wildlife rangers to catch the culprits.

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White Rhino, Kruger NP.

Kruger and a lot of other parts of southern Africa are unfortunately in the midst of a mild drought so many rivers and waterholes were low and animals tended to hang around these areas. It was the middle of the dry season as well so much of the vegetation was in the process of dropping their leaves. These two factors meant many of the animals were easier to see.

After reluctantly leaving Kruger we had to get back to Jo’burg in a couple of days to return the campervan so we could fly up to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Vic Falls township was our base while we went on a four day package tour of Zimbabwe and Botswana.

The first night in Zimbabwe we visited a large restaurant called Boma where they served up traditional meals. Many of the dishes though included a lot of the game animals we saw in the wild such as Kudu, Buffalo, Ostrich and Crocodile so it felt wrong to try these! One thing I did try (with a lot of encouragement from the girls!) was a mopane worm, actually a caterpillar of the large Emperor Moth similar looking to the Witchetty Grub. I don’t recommend it!

The next part of our package tour was a boat trip down the Chobe River in Botswana. This was fantastic and allowed us to get very close to a lot of animals and waterbirds. There was also no shortage of Nile Crocodiles, some of which were pushing 4m in length, and the tour operator wasn’t shy about getting our dinghy close to some decent sized ones.

Many of the water birds were very similar to, and some the same as, Australian species. Birds like Glossy Ibis, Great Egret and Little Egret are the same species as ours. There were also Darters and Cormorants which superficially looked like our ones too but were African species.

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Clockwise from top: Glossy Ibis, Great Egret, Little Egret and African Darter. Chobe River, Botswana.

 

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This female Impala seemed like it was enjoying the attention from these Red-eyed Ox-peckers who were eating parasites off it. Not so much in its ear though!

 

This part of Botswana is one of the best places on the African continent to see huge numbers of Elephants and they didn’t disappoint. At one stage large groups of Elephants appeared out of the dry scrub and assembled along the banks for miles. They were used to seeing tourists so we got relatively close to them in the boat.

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Elephants on the Chobe River.

Several groups of Elephants started to nervously enter the water, most likely checking for crocs first. They then began to swim across the river in single file to reach the green grass on the islands in the centre. One young one who couldn’t reach the bottom was coaxed along by the mum at the back who occasionally dived under the youngster and lifted it out of the water while it alternated between using it’s trunk as a snorkel and or holding onto the dad’s tail with it’s trunk.

 

Video screenshot- Elephants, Chobe

A still photo taken from a video showing the young Elephant holding it’s dad’s tail while being pushed by the mum. Chobe River, Botswana

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Clockwise from top: Nile Crocodile, Slender Mongoose, Kori Bustard and Grey Heron.

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Clockwise from top: Pied Kingfisher, Hippo (definitely male!), Waterbuck (male), Waterbuck (female). Chobe River, Botswana.

 

 

Yellow-billed Stork and Black Heron, Chobe

This Black Heron had an interesting relationship with the Yellow-billed Stork. It would follow the stork around and when the stork probed the ground it would fan its wings. Any small invertebrates or fish would try and seek shelter from the stork under the heron’s wings which it would then eat.

 

After the boat trip we piled into an open-aired safari car and went on a game drive of Chobe National Park. This park was much drier and sandier than Kruger so it was interesting to see a lot of different species. Another species seen which is similar to an Australian one was the Kori Bustard, Africa’s largest flying bird and national bird of Botswana. This is very much like the Australian Bustard’s plumage but is larger than our species.

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Game drive in Chobe NP, Botswana.

 

On one of the days we went on a three hour paddle in an inflatable raft down the Zambezi River which bordered on one side with the country of Zambia and the other with Zimbabwe. Apart from our guide and a rower we were the only ones in the boat so it was good to sit back and take it slow for a change. We didn’t see as much wildlife as on our boat trip down the Chobe but we all had a nervous moment when we came out of a set of small rapids into flat water to find a Hippo not far away from us. The guide and rower exchanged some nervous looks and hand gestures and they managed to move us away without any trouble.

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Hippo footprint on the edge of the Zambezi River.

One place high on almost every visitor’s list in Zimbabwe is Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall. It’s native name is Mosi-oa-Tunya which means ‘the smoke that thunders’. This comes from the enormous cloud of mist thrown into the air by the force of the water hitting the base of the gorge. Nothing could prepare us for the enormity of the falls and halfway along the top of the walking track it seemed like it we were caught in a windy rain storm as the billowing mist saturated us in seconds. On our last day we went on a helicopter flight over the falls and got to see it and the town in a different perspective.

In the township of Victoria Falls wild animals were free to wander into town and we saw a few different species in the streets including a small herd of elephants one night wandering on the edge of the main street. Talking to one local he said lions have been known wander the streets but they know that if there are buffalo moving into town there are lions around. This is because buffalo feel protected from lions in towns. A very crude early warning system and not one I’d trust 100%!!

The town is set up primarily for the tourist trade and is not all that big in size. It’s a bustle of activity for both tourists and locals but not far out of town life is much slower and the way of life more traditional. We visited a village where families still live in grass and mud huts.  One family showed us around their small patch of land of about 1 acre and it opened our eyes to how difficult it is for them to live off the land and support their family. Water needed to be carried from a well nearly 1 km away and food was a struggle to grow in the very impoverished soil. Not only that but they had to deal with bird flu a while ago where all the poultry in the village died. To make an income so they can buy extra food and other items they can’t produce themselves many of the villagers make crafts to sell at Victoria Falls markets or they transport animal manure to local farmers with donkey and cart. We definitely take our own luxuries and way of life very much for granted.

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Our girls checking out the village.

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The village ‘mobile phone’. This drum was used to communicate with other nearby families. Certain drum beats indicated different things such as a lion is nearby or if it’s party time. This guy had a great sense of humour despite many of the hardships his family faced.

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Weight lifting on the cheap. This was made by pouring concrete in milo tins.

 

Southern Africa was well worth the visit and I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t been yet as it will blow your mind. As long as you research the areas you will travel and speak to locals if you have any concerns it’s reasonably safe and hassle free.

..and yes, if you’re wondering, we did see the big five (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, Rhino) but were amazed how much it was plugged at every tourist place we travelled!