Jao Camp – May 2014

May 31, 2014 Jao Camp
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Climate and Landscape
Year after year, the Okavango Delta moves to its own seasonal rhythm. Even those of us privileged to have watched this over the years are continuously amazed by the changes that appear to happen overnight. At this time of the year, as the clouds become less and less of a feature in the sunsets, we see a contradictory situation of the water rising around us as the inundation arrives in the Delta channels. As it soaks in through the sands we are suddenly living in an aquatic paradise of birds and water-loving antelope.

There were a few chilly mornings at Jao this month – just a little pre-warning for us of the winter that is on its way. The days are still warm and we enjoyed a couple of hot days in between.
As we watch the waters arriving at Jao all the way from the highlands of Angola, we see a change in the cast of the wildlife. The main characters are still here however, and our small pride of lions is doing well, eating a regular diet of red lechwe. Sadly there is one less cub and there has been much speculation about how she was lost. There are two schools of thought, the first being that with the water rising so quickly she was taken by a crocodile in a deep crossing; or possibly a hyaena may have taken her. There is something special about watching lions crossing water, be they big males, young mothers or cubs – they all have that same look a pet cat would have painted across its face!

The leopard that was around Jao and the islands seems to have moved on ahead of the advancing water. There have been reports of vocalisation from Tsetse Fly Island and from the Jacana Camp side of the concession.

Earlier in the year, our four impala had three lambs which have now grown up and we can now see that we have two males and a female. The youngsters are very accommodating of the fame that they have acquired at Jao and take it all in their stride, often prancing around for guests when they see a camera. The small herd looks as if it needs a warm blanket early in the morning. Winter is definitely making itself felt by all the creatures of the Jao Concession.
Jao Camp Wildlife
The Jao Mafia mongoose family numbers seem to increase as the water rises – quite suddenly overnight there are a whole lot more. We were lucky enough to see them moving the babies from one den to another. They are now a constant presence around the back of house and seeing them crawl out after all the staff are in at work, puffed up and chattering to each other is a happy way to get the day started.

There have been a few sightings of Mozambique spitting cobras, both around front of house and in the termite mound, and for about a week one sunning itself in a variety of spots in the back of house area. There have also been a few sightings by guests and guides of a large black mamba out on Jao Island. On full moon we were looking for the best spot to take a picture of the orange rising ball in the sky when I came across a rather large snake track across the road. After much debate and a lesson in snake directional tracking from Reserve Manager Antony, we decided that it was a large African rock python.

A lion hunt was seen by a few lucky guests and again the reality of how nature works was brought home to all of us.
Birds and Birding
There are certain sounds around Jao that alert us to something special about to happen, and the genteel yelp of the hamerkop is one of them. As I looked up to see what was going on, the blacksmith lapwings joined in, closely followed by the squeaks of the palm swifts, and there I saw him, a slightly sinister overlord, a martial eagle, perching on the top of one of the tallest ebony trees we have on the island. Not bothered at all by the commotion he had caused he slowly surveyed his domain.

We have been really lucky this month with our summer avian visitors departing and our winter visitors arriving, with some passers by showing themselves and making for some great sightings in the process. We have had a few flocks of white-fronted, European and carmine bee-eaters passing through on their way to their winter homes. Our resident little bee-eaters have been as busy as ever.

The rollers have made a good showing of themselves this month with the lilac-breasted, purple and the broad-billed all being spotted in and around Jao.

Large flocks of water birds have been seen circling over the newly submerged floodplains: open-billed, saddle-billed, black, woolly-necked, yellow-billed and marabou storks, as well as wattled cranes, glossy ibis, hadeda ibis and sacred ibis. Massive amounts of grey, black-headed and purple herons, egrets from the great to the little and the snowy to the slaty have all been spotted taking advantage of the new source of food in the Delta.

While setting up a floodplain tea, we were lucky enough to witness a cormorant fishing team round up a school of fingerling fish and drive them to the water’s edge for an easy meal. There was also a support team from the air in the form of pied kingfishers, and from the water’s edge in the form of great and little egrets.

The spur-winged geese have made their yearly comeback onto Jao Island and we are awaiting the comical little goslings to amuse us all.

The vast numbers of yellow-billed kites that are a constant presence in summer have made their way up to warmer climes and have left the skies open for us to see the other great raptors we have in this area. While there is the constant call of the African fish-eagle we have been seeing a long-crested eagle around the front of camp. This year’s juvenile bateleurs’ flying lessons have provided endless entertainment and dreams of being able to fly just for the pure enjoyment of it. Our concession team briefly spotted a black-chested snake eagle as well as an African marsh harrier. We have had many sightings of the diminutive and beautiful black-shouldered kite while the African harrier hawk (gymnogene) has been harassing the palm swifts recently, only to give up after a certain loud starling got involved in the situation.
Our sub-adult giant eagle-owl has been heard around camp and spotted regularly on the island by our reserve managers. He is a curious animal and when he spots activity, he makes his way across to see what is going on. He has made an appearance at a few Boma Evenings, much to the delight of our guests. We have a pair of Pel’s fishing-owls on the island too; however no one has actually seen them. There is something weirdly eerie about their call that makes one a little more alert than usual on the walk home in the evening.

We had a pair of swamp boubous build a nest and hatch two eggs in our back of house area. What devoted parents they were, feeding two little puff balls, fending off snakes, and keeping them warm as the nights got cooler. The two little ones have now fledged.
Giant Eagle Owl
The birdlife at Jao is a constant wonder and enjoyment, with a rainbow of colours and a plethora of shapes and sizes; it’s no wonder that many guests leave Jao with a new appreciation for our feathered creatures.
Camp Activities
It all started with one guest mentioning at dinner that the only thing that he hadn’t seen in his first three days in Africa was a hippo out of water. He had been one of the lucky ones, having seen the leopard and cub on Hunda Island, and the lions here on Jao. A lot of general game had been spotted and he was amazed by the sheer numbers of lechwe out on the floodplains. Then one mealtime, I was returning to the downstairs kitchen when I spotted a family of three adults and a baby hippo. This was quickly communicated to the guests as they were finishing off their dessert and there was a very fast exodus from the table as they all got to enjoy some time with our expanding family of hippo.

Guests have enjoyed a new style of wine tasting and enjoyment with Ken giving a running commentary of the wines and their history.
Staff in Camp
Managers: Ken Walton, Cindy Swart, Retha Prinsloo, Marina Lunga, Alejandra Pablo Wolf, Andre van Rensburg, Estie van Rensburg
Guides: MT Malebogo, Maaipaa Tekanyetso, TT Manyuka, Johny Mowanji, July Mogomotsi, Salani Tibabili and Marks Kaneletse


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