Monday, 24th September DAY 5
If ever one wants to find out the advantages of sleeping under canvas then this is it. The still night air is filled by Water Thicknees calling, hippo continually snorting and four different types of Nightjar serenading us and then in the early hours lions begin roaring around the camp. With no perimeter fence so to speak of we are now very close to nature. What an experience to lie awake and listen to these wonderful sounds.
We are going to take up our post on the opposite side of the dam and begin our 24 hour count at 12 noon. We have a leisurely breakfast interrupted by some beautiful Red-headed Weavers in the overhanging branches.
The nights are cool but the days warm rapidly so that by 11am it is cooking as we set off.
We quickly setup at a spot which commands a view along about 600m of the shoreline and settle down for what promises to be an interesting 24 hours.
At the stroke of 12 noon, 26 impala come down to drink followed by 2 warthog. Two African Skimmers are preening themselves on a nearby bank. The afternoon wears on with very little action. It is already apparent that if antelope catch sight of us they give us a wide berth and drink outside of our area.
Just before sunset we are jolted out of our inertia as a herd of 31 ellies breast the rise behind us and come hurrying down the hill straight for us. We strategically take refuge in the vehicle, Chris rather hurriedly sitting on my camera.
The lead ellie stops about 10m from us, stares motionlessly and then comes forward stopping right next to us curiously waving its trunk. Dudley delicately puts it that this is a real “sphincter test” moment.
The ellie mercifully turns away joins the others down at the water’s edge and we enjoy this amazing sight with the sun setting to the left and the ellies performing to the right. We have a few more tense moments when curious ellies come forward to inspect us but they grudgingly let us be.
To begin with we sat for nearly 6 hours with very little happening but this now changes completely. Herds of ellies now begin to flock in just as the full moon is rising.
Soon there is only moonlight which makes for a most surreal feeling as we now leisurely sit in our deckchairs and watch these enormous ghost-like animals at close range. Watching through binoculars magnifies them even more and I enjoy one of my most impressive wildlife experiences ever. From 6 – 9pm the ellies pour in non-stop paying scant attention to us as they thirstily head for the water. Thereafter herds come in regularly with a surge of them at 1am. The last herd arrives at 3.36am and thereafter nothing at all. Strikingly every single herd after that first one comprises of 12 – 20 members and in total we count 274. All told we sat for 14 hours without a single ellie arriving with all the activity at sunset and thereafter into the night. All the while hippo are squabbling and snorting, the nightjars and the waterbirds are calling but even better the roars of lions across the water just adds so much to the scene. Far to our left and outside of our zone, a huge herd of buffalo estimated at over 1,200 comes down to drink in the darkness.