August is traditionally one of the busier months of the year at Abu Camp in terms of guest numbers, and the people who shared this August with us will have left with some incredible memories.
The peak of the annual inundation has now passed, and the water levels in the Abu Concession are visibly falling. This means that we can once again access some floodplain areas on game drives, and we’re not the only ones heading out there.
Areas that until recently were underwater often have particularly nutritious grazing, and many antelope species take advantage of this. The fish that were lately enjoying a hugely expanded aquatic realm may now find themselves about to be late – if they’ve not already managed to return to one of the permanent channels, they will soon be under siege from birds in one of the fish traps (isolated and shrinking pools) that are starting to form.
While these fish traps signify a desperate plight for their doomed residents, they also represent a wonderful birding opportunity with the most active of them having a dozen or more species of egret, heron and stork in attendance at any one time.
The slow drying out of the area means that before long, we will have to curtail our seasonal boating excursions (although mokoro activities will continue). The Okavango Delta is an incredibly dynamic ecosystem, and the fact that we can’t offer all our safari activities year-round is not so much an impediment as a testament to the fluid nature of the habitats we explore.
With the magnificent constellation of Scorpio presiding over the evening skies, we have felt the sting in the tail of winter. Just as it seemed summer temperatures were upon us, the mercury suddenly fell again to a minimum of 5°C (41°F), although the daily maximum temperature was a considerably warmer 33°C (91°F).
On more than one occasion, we actually had a thin film of ice on our new walkways early in the morning. More on those walkways later.
Looking out across the Concession, the haze in the air puzzled us at first until our team members explained that farmers in the villages that fringe the Delta were doing controlled burns as they prepared their fields for ploughing.
Throughout August, the Abu Concession delivered in terms of phenomenal game viewing. The general game – especially on the slowly-drying floodplains – was notable for sheer numbers, while our resident predators were also much in evidence.
Guests were almost spoilt for choice when it came to teeth and claws – both large and small. Wild dogs (always a highlight) were seen almost daily, and our male lions put in several appearances. Both lionesses and female leopards were seen with cubs, while the hyaena den at the airstrip was once again a hive of activity as new puppies started to explore the world around them.
Perhaps the most incredible sighting of the month involved not mammals, but a bird and a lizard. It was both hard to watch and fascinating, in equal measure. These pictures, shared by Abu Camp guests Beth and Curt, tell the story of a prolonged and rather gruesome struggle.
The martial eagle, with its black executioner’s hood, is the most powerful raptor we see here, and these birds are not shy to take on potentially dangerous prey items. Having spotted a large monitor lizard emerging from its hole in a dead tree, the martial eagle attacked and an epic struggle began.
Even an eagle as strong as a martial has its limitations, and the monitor lizard had every reason not to want to be pulled out. The battle hung in the balance, and then – in full sight of the guests – the eagle resorted to the grisly tactic of pecking out the monitor’s eyes.
Blinded but not cowed, the lizard clung on for dear life and eventually the eagle flew away to perch in a nearby tree, empty-taloned. The unfortunate reptile continued to writhe, and that was where the story ended. The eagle flew off in search of more pliant prey, while the monitor (probably mortally wounded) retreated into its lair. An episode that illustrates that Nature can be cruel, but that (unlike with some humans) the violence is purely for survival and never for amusement.
On the days when our guests were further out of Camp, on game drive or bush walks with the elephants of the Abu Herd, the skilled carpenters who are working on the refurbishment of the Camp continued their work.
The new raised walkway is proving to be popular, and has also reduced the Camp’s footprint and impact on the immediate habitat. The appearance of several old buffalo bulls in Camp during the evenings has underlined another reason for building upwards. Famously short-tempered, these old bulls were the only visitors to Abu Camp during August who seemed to be anything less than delighted.