Tomorrow we leave Kruger. It was an odd kind of trip, sightings-wise. We saw just about everything on most people’s wish list. But sometimes from afar or in a brief flash. A cheetah chased a herd of impala across the road. We could just tell what it was from a splash of spotted-tawny between a car and the dense bush. We saw wild dogs after a tedious wait behind a huge queue of undisciplined cars. They were fast asleep under a distant tree.
But given that two whole packs died of canine distemper since last year, we’d just been remarking on how unlikely it was that we’d see any at all. Once the dominant predator of the savannah woodland (the only creature that hunts successfully more often than it fails), they’ve been literally dogged for the last century by this always lethal infection carried to them from domestic canines.
The great thing about Kruger is that it’s a roll of the dice whether you’ll have great sightings or not. That may not sound like a good thing. Why not just go somewhere where the animals are lined up, neat and orderly? But it’s all up to you to add more dice to your pool to maximise your chances: getting up at the crack of dawn, planning routes based on recent sightings, and searching diligently.
We did few of those things, relying mostly on blind luck. We have a fair pool of it, and it paid off an hour ago when we got a good look at a young leopard in yet another unruly cluster of cars and busses.
The saving grace when sightings are slow and unsatisfying is looking for birds. I’ve never been bothered to keep a list before. I just loved watching and photographing birds. But I have to admit: keeping a list makes it much more engaging. Instead of just moving on from little brown birds, or speckled waders that all very much look alike, I was invested in figuring out what they were. In the process I learned many new things about birds–such as that little brown birds are best identified from (a) the type of environment in which you find them, and (b) by their calls.
The list made it just that much more exciting to see a few that I’d always known about for years but had never seen. Birders have their own (sometimes awful) jargon, and they call these ‘lifers.’ I had a few. I was excited to see a Black Heron (which I would have called a Vampire Heron for the way to covers its head with it’s black wings like Bela Lugosi under his cloak to better see prey beneath the water), a Squacco Heron, Wattled Starlings, White Crowned Lapwings, etc.. You get the idea.
Writing up some of this Kruger experience was also an experiment in blogging while on the road. I think that, when you’re with other people, it can be difficult to take the time to edit photos, write text, and upload those pictures. But the bigger problem is not unique to being on the road. It’s about who I’m writing for and what voice to use.
On Facebook I have a pretty good idea of my audience. Ditto on fora. I’m a fluent, sometimes funny, sometimes fierce writer. But here, with very little feedback, I find myself writing in a reserved, slightly formal manner. I find it way easier to rant about politics or make pointed remarks when I have some idea of what people’s expectations are, even if it’s to upend them. I can only hope I can loosen up with time.
I shall still comment on a couple of Kruger related issues, some of which may jolt me out of my formality with either outrage or bewilderment–like the curious experiences of dining out in Kruger rest-camps. That will be after our drive back across the width of this country to Cape Town, and the alarming reality of 2017.