A guest post by Rob Davies!
It was my favourite thing to do … couple of days in Cape Town, getting back into Africa mode, then that amazing flight into the dry, seeing the vegetation recede and the land redden as one approached the heart of the Kalahari. The sky was gold and the swifts were milling about as I stepped off the little plane in Upington. I spent an hour scoping out the hire cars, watching the swifts and just generally enjoying being back in Africa while I waited.
Life definitely keeps you young in Africa – Simon had not changed an iota since I had seen him last in Kenya 10 years before. Then I had been doing an overland trip in an old Land Cruiser with a friend of mine who studied primates, we had driven up from South Africa to Uganda to see the Mountain Gorillas. So much of this blog of Simon and Laila’s reminds me of that amazing trip – the rains, the vehicle hassles, the challenges but also the wonderful rewards. I was very lucky that Simon and Laila invited me to join them for part of their adventure.
Simon and I first met in Nairobi in 1985. I was very impressed with his knowledge of African raptors and it was great to see his collection of raptors, all very well looked after. I remember driving out of town in his old Land Rover to camp under some cliffs where Lanner Falcons were hawking bats. The bush vehicle that he and Laila picked me up in in Upington could have been the same beast – it had put on a bit of weight and its skin had wrinkled like some tough old rhino hide. I asked him whether he had had it vulcanised but he said no, it was the paint job. This was a seriously bush vehicle, full of tools and customisations and well, stuff. I felt very lacking in ranger stripes in my shiny silver “Mr. Bean” hire car as we drove up to the Kalahari park the next day.
We stopped at one point in the heat to give the vehicles some water and as I looked around I could see golden grass everywhere – we found out later that the Kalahari had received more rain than ever before in the month of February. I was looking for big finch flocks but instead we saw growing numbers of the tiny Namaqua Doves as we approached the park and this set the scene for the amazing photos we came back with – of Lanner Falcons hunting them at the water holes.
The park was fully booked for the next two days so we stayed with my friend Prof Anne Rasa who is famous for her work on mongooses. She owns a beautiful farm just outside the park gates where she takes visitors on walks through the red dunes. Laila has already told you about the little baby meerkat and what a great raptor spotter he was – 25 million years of evolution can’t be wrong! That first evening was Anne’s birthday and we had dinner with other friends including Dr. Gus Mills who is an expert on African carnivores and is running the cheetah research work in the park. I was a bit alarmed when Gus said he hadn’t seen many raptors lately – I had been bigging up this place as the Nirvana for the raptor road trip and had been going on about the Kalahari to Simon for yonks. But Gus as usual was pulling our legs …
Later that evening Laila showed me the photographs she had taken of the raptors and other wildlife along the way. I was completely blown away by the quality and sheer quantity of beautiful images that she has captured. And this is less than half way through their journey! I realised what an amazing project this is and what a brilliant partnership these two make – I don’t think there are many people around who know African raptors as Simon does, and this combined with Laila’s skills with the camera – well watch this space …
Simon and Laila’s trip interested me because this is the first trans Africa raptor road count that I have heard of. It has been great to see this blog, and all the raptor e-mails bouncing around the continent and the world on the new African Raptor list-server. Africa is the only huge continent which straddles both hemispheres of the globe but all of a sudden it seems a bit smaller and more connected. Africa hangs on to the richest diversity of birds of prey against huge pressures from human population growth. We desperately need to take a trans-boundary approach if we are to safeguard these precious birds and their beautiful natural habitats. In addition to the books they are doing, this epic trip of Simon and Laila’s will develop the road count methods as well as generate valuable data for a continent wide database of African birds of prey.
I am glad to say the Kalahari did deliver the raptors in the end as you have seen from some of Laila’s beautiful photographs. I think it has been the highest densities of raptors that Simon and Laila have recorded so far on their trip. We all came away from those 10 days with amazing records and photographs of what we saw, but the best of it was the fun and adventure with Simon and Laila and my cousin Col.
Thanks guys, this adventure of yours is epic, and it was great to navigate some dunes with you in my “Mr. Bean” car!