Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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Bald Hills Wetland Reserve

On a relatively warm day last week I had a wander at the great little patch of bush on Gippsland’s Bass Coast, Bald Hills Wetland Reserve. This little pocket rocket of a reserve is relatively small at 135 hectares but has a great variety of ecosystems to keep a nature nerd busy for hours! This was my first serious effort at trying out my new telephoto lens and what it’s capable of.

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Info board at the start of the walk. Bird life around here was amazing.

 

A walking track leads from the carpark and takes you through open woodland, crossing over a seasonal creek lined with both the Scented and Swamp Paperbark and continuing on through mostly Messmate and Narrow-leaved Peppermint woodland.

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After walking almost a kilometre you reach a wide wetland where there was once a bird hide that was unfortunately burnt down by an arsonist several years ago.  The wetland at this time of the year is often very low and the birdlife not that numerous but in its peak season the number of waterbirds can be amazing.

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Masked Lapwings were very common.

 

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Grey Teal and Masked Lapwings

 

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Silver Banksia Banksia marginata catching the sun

 

Damselflies mating. Bald Hills Wetland, Vic. 16.4

Damselflies mating

 

I snapped off a few shots but I had other things on my mind to photograph, those of the scaly kind. There is a little ephemeral wetland to the left of the main wetland which is full of reeds and sedges and I remembered from my last visit seeing a Lowland Copperhead snake around this area. I thought I’d try my luck at finding one but little did I realise how successful my search for them was to be!

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The ephemeral wetland. Copperhead central!

 

Scouting around the edge of the swamp in the open sunny areas where the reeds and sedges merge into paperbark thickets and woodland I manage to glimpse a large Copperhead which slid away into some dense sedges. No luck with a photo yet. This time I moved stealthily, scanning every potential sunning spot where they might be hanging out. Finally some luck! One was moving amongst some reeds heading in my direction, apparently oblivious to me. I stood completely still and watched as it moved even closer. I realised I should have put a smaller lens on the camera as my telephoto has a minimum focus distance of around 2 metres and the snake was currently almost 2 metres from me.

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Lowland Copperhead hunting amongst the vegetation.

 

I managed to snap a few terrible photos as it moved in and out of the reeds, probably hunting frogs, before it became too close to focus. I was about to step backwards to keep the snake in focus when I thought I’d better check behind me so I didn’t trip on anything. Luckily I did as there was a large Copperhead right behind me less than half a metre from my foot! I stood still watching it as it tasted the air around me with a few flicks of it’s tongue. It finally realised there was something suss about me (or maybe I just had bad B.O.) and it moved off out of sight. I turned my head back to the other snake to see its tail disappear into thick vegetation. Straight away I put on a more sensible lens and went ‘hunting’ again. This time I had more luck and got some half decent shots of some.

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Lowland Copperhead- Austrelaps superbus (2)

Overall I counted at least 10 or 11 Copperheads in this wetland. Looking out over the top of the reeds I could see where a lot of the snakes were moving as the vegetation was flicking and bending, plus you could hear them moving around. As a lot of you who read this regularly know I love my reptiles so I was in scaly heaven, albeit a little bit of a risky heaven at times!

Woodland birds were very common in the reserve, especially at the start of the walk. Most obvious were Golden and Rufous Whistlers, Grey Shrike-thrush, Red-browed Finch, White-browed Scrubwren, Superb Fairy-wren, Grey Fantail, Silvereye and eight honeyeater species (White-eared, White-plumed, New Holland, Yellow-faced, Brown-headed and White-naped Honeyeaters, Red Wattlebird and Noisy Miner).

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Grey Shrike-thrush

 

Superb Fairy-wren. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic. 16.4.17 (RT)

Superb Fairy-wren strutting his stuff

 

Yellow-faced Honeyeater. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic.16.4.17 (RT1)

“Oi, what you lookin’ at?”  Yellow-faced Honeyeater

 

I was hoping to see some Koalas on this walk as I’ve seen them in the carpark area before and their droppings are everywhere under the trees. No luck this time though.

Apparently this reserve explodes in spring with orchids and flowers so I’m going to check it out again in Sept or Oct.

 


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Human:nature

I’ve been in the field of environmental management for a little while now and one thing that stands out is that most people who couldn’t care less about the environment and/or destroy it are the ones who have distanced themselves from it since childhood. If they do spend the occasional weekend in nature they’re not the ones who stop to appreciate the beauty of it in all its intricacies from the beetle scuttling amongst the leaf litter to the raucous honeyeaters feeding on blossoms in the tree canopy. I believe it all stems from what experience in nature, if any, you had as a youngster. Without experience and knowledge there’s no empathy and appreciation. Therefore conservation in general is hampered by the quality and quantity of kid’s (and adult’s) experience with nature. For conservation to be normalised in society and not something some people are ashamed to admit we must get kids in to nature as much as we can, especially in schools.

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Kid’s spare time these days is generally dominated by the digital revolution, whether its playing games on a tablet, trolling the web or watching TV. Human’s love affair with everything digital is mostly influenced by friends and advertising. Society unfortunately sees this as normal, a way of disconnecting with reality while at the same time exploring and interacting in digital media. With the emergence of smart phones everything is now literally in the palm of your hand. Children adjust to technologies well and become tech savvy very quickly. Most young kids have poor judgement and are highly influenced by society which is a toxic combination when it comes to the digital world. They see it as the only way in which to ‘escape’.

The environmental movement today has, in part, benefited from digital media but its a double-edged sword.  One one hand it has brought attention to conservation issues on an unprecedented scale and reduced paper consumption but on the other hand it has created a society which would rather view a forest on their phone than actually see it in person. It has also created a society which is bombarded by the media with conflicting information about environmental issues, particularly climate change. This results in many people becoming confused, complacent (and often annoyed) by all the flood of information and often feel hopeless that they can’t do anything to help.

When people do get out of their sterile world and immerse themselves in nature they get a sense of why and what the conservation movement is so passionate about preserving. It should be mandatory in the school curriculum to get kids on a regular basis out in to nature and to get them on their hands and knees exploring and appreciating all that they see. If we have any hope in reversing the destruction humans have created its in the kids these days because the adults (cough..cough..politicians..) are doing a terrible effort.

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I know there’s many people who follow my blog who have kids, plus I’ve got two, so in the near future I’m going to write some short articles which hopefully sparks an interest in children to get out and explore their local bushland or park, not an article which forces information down their throat but one which portrays nature with a sense of mystery and generates adventure and wonder. Well, hopefully it does! So keep posted and get those future leaders out into the wilds.

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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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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.

 

St Lucia

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.

 

Hluluwe Unfolozi NP

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!