Simon and I were joined by Rob Davies for the Kalahari leg of the expedition. Rob is a raptor expert who knows Simon from way back. He lives in Wales now with his wife and young child and is working on a field guide to African Birds of Prey with Bill Clark. He sent us a small computer system called a PDA to log our data in a few months ago and we had been talking about meeting up in the Kalahari ever since. As it turned out, he arranged the whole 10-day Kalahari trip for us, making all the bookings, and it was lucky he did as the place was fully booked when we got there.
We spent the first few days with Anne Rasa, a renowned small-mammal biologist. She was looking after a young rescued meerkat called Fizzle. I got quite attached to Fizzle over those few days. Meerkats are incredibly social creatures and Fizzle was always either running around on high energy or curling up with you. Anne took us for a walk along the dunes, telling us about the Kalahari’s plants and animals, imparting knowledge on everything down to the smallest insect. It was fascinating and having Fizzle with us, digging up insects along the way, added to the fun.
Anne talking to the group
Fizzle digging up insects
In the afternoon, we all went for a small drive around Anne’s property. Rob, Fizzle and two other guests went in the car with Anne, and Simon and I followed in the Range Rover behind. We stopped a few times and all got out of the car to examine something, or check a Social Weaver nest for Pygmy Falcons. After the second stop, Fizzle decided to come in the car with Simon and me. I found myself wishing he could join us on the expedition. Not only is he good company, but he picks out raptors miles away, long before any of us see them! (Please note that Fizzle was rescued from a family who had taken him as a pet and could no longer handle him. Wild animals should not be kept as pets. The demand for wild pets has been the cause of much animal cruelty and drives wild populations towards extinction).
Fizzle in the car
The Kgalagadi Tranfrontier Park is an altered ecosystem. Along the two mostly dry riverbeds, people have put in regularly spaced waterholes. This means that wildlife that used to have to migrate to find water now stays put all year round. It also means that there is lots of water for small birds to come down and drink. This makes things interesting for us, because with the small birds drinking come the falcons and goshawks looking to make a meal of the small birds. Rob had spent time here with Andrew Jenkins, falcon expert, and they found that the different small bird species such as Turtle Doves, Namaqua Doves, Sandgrouse and Red-headed Sparrows come down at different times of day, creating peaks of activity. The raptors have obviously figured out these peaks as they descend when the waterholes are at their busiest.
A female Lanner Falcon tucks into her meal while the smaller male sits by, hoping for his share
So we spent much of our days in the Kalahari driving from one waterhole to the next in time for each peak. Rob and I waved our cameras around, trying desperately to get photos of a falcon catching a dove. But it happens so fast!