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Trip Report - Mombo, Vumbura Plains and Duma Tau, June 2006

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I'm going to make this a bit shorter than previous reports, photos and maybe video if I can get my act together will follow.

This trip was put together by our travel agent Nicky Glover and her husband James Weis of Eyes on africa, they invited us and three other clients to join them on their trip. They are now running a series of Digital Photography safaris with some great pro photographers and this was a bit of a dry run for James having a group to take care of.

In addition to the group we had the services of Grant Atkinson as a private guide. If any of you have not had a specialist guide before, it's brilliant. His detailed knowledge of behaviour, individual animals and birds was awesome, and he's a really fun bloke to boot. This did add some cost, but we liked him so much we are hoping he can guide us next year at Mombo and KP. The other advantage of travelling as a group was private vehicles, we had two at Mombo, then when the group thinned out we switched to one at Vumbura and Duma Tau.

Mombo

Six days at Mombo. A spectacular treat, made possible by the great deal that Nicky made us. I guess it really pays to get a relationship with one agent and to keep using them. I know I could never have saved enough by nickel and diming different agents to have covered the discounts we got on this trip.

Mombo is a great camp. I love the rooms and the view across the floodplain. The big highlights of the viewing were in no particular order

Mathata Pride - c.28 Lions
Moporota Pride - c.17 Lions
Burnt Ebony Male Leopard
Tortillis Female Leopard with three 2-3 month cubs
Far Eastern Pan female Leopard with 4 month old cub
Dogs! - we first saw them in the shade at a pan near camp, and so sat with them for about an hour, then went for brunch. Then we came back, parked ourselves in the shade and sat with them for another hour plus, just to make sure they didn't move. Irrational, I know, but thats how special they are to us. We spent the afternoon game drive with them. The first two hours watching them sleep, then the wonderful social greetings as they stir, then on the hunt. Though I admit I despaired of them ever catching anything, they always seemed to go in the wrong direction.
We found them the next morning and watched them sleep. Returning in the afternoon we spent another three hours and again hunted with them.
On our final morning we ran into them hunting and followed as best we could, then saw the male and female Leopard within minutes of each other and a male Lion to boot. We saw the Leopards because we followed up on alarm calls, a lot of new safari goers dont understand the importance of patiently listening, the temptation to just drive around is great, but it usually means fewer sightings not more.

As many of you know I always like the challenge of setting a target for our bird list and on this trip Grant decided 175 would be doable, given the camps we were going to visit.
After day one at Mombo we broke the 100 mark and actually saw 160 birds in 6 days, a pretty good number for winter.

Vumbura Plains

I think this is one of the first trip reports that includes the new 6 paw camp, so I will go into some detail on the rooms, camp etc.
Rooms are huge, very contemporary, almost Scandinavian. Some really liked them, some thought they were too removed from an african feel. I liked the room but prefer Mombo and KP. The big problem was the triumph of form over function. As usual the camp was designed by Silvio who has done the other 6 paw camps, which are excellent. By now Wilderness trust him so much that he has free rein, so he has done what all architects do when they get our trust - abused it. the concrete shower pad would surely hold 12-16 people, but there was only one shower head, so the two of us couldn't even shower at the same time. The room was divided by some light curtains that were blown about by the strong wind that blew through. The rooms face east and so get the sun rising, but they also get the prevailing wind, which blows through at a fair clip. Because of that the outside blinds were deployed to block wind and keep some heat in the room, which meant no light entering.
Staff here were very friendly, in particular the management team of Garth, Richard, Linda and Luka. Our guide Cisco was brilliant also.
Food was definitely a little patchy, not up to the standards of Craig at Mombo. (Though there were no Hyenas chewing through corrugated iron doors as at Mombo!)Craig also prepared a lovely bush brunch for us at Mombo.
Room 1 is a long way from the main areas - 5 minutes walk.
The temperature was very cold, one morning it was 35F - the picture of us all bundled up on the vehicle is a hoot.
Highlights
Male, Female and 1 yr old male Cheetah
Mating Lions
Shy Leopard
Mekoro
Boat Trip
Meat party
On our drive from the airstrip to camp we saw the three Cheetah and then saw the Male again one morning. We followed a male Lion for about 5 miles one morning, then the group saw Lions Mating and roaring, while I was on the Mekoro with Grant. We were hunting the Pels Fishing Owl, or Garfield as he calls it. No luck but Max the poler saw a male Cheetah leaving a carcass, then we witnessed loads of vultures and Storks fly in to eat. This was a good Mekoro trip because I was with Grant and because I didn't feel like I was missing too much, because we had so many game drives on this trip.
The boat ride through the channels is a lot of fun, and gave us the chance to get good close ups of Malachite Kingfisher and Allen's Gallinule.

Our bird total at Vumbura was 155, we saw many new birds, took the trip total over 175 but didn't see the Pels.

Duma Tau

On to Duma Tau, which will be spectacular with the water in the Savuti channel for the next few months. The raptor action is unbelievable, particularly with build up of Quelea. We saw Martial Eagles close up eating Guinea Fowl and saw a Lanner Falcon a couple of times. Great displays by Tawny Eagles, there must be one every hundred yards or so.
At Duma Tau we saw a Black Mamba that had been attacked by something (presumably an eagle) it was lying, dead we thought, next to the channel, we got fairly close for James to take pictures, the it started moving very slowly toward the water. It's face was covered in blood and there were other gashes and marks on it. The snake picked up speed and started swimming the river, we thought it was going to get across, when suddenly it reared 8-10 inches out of the water in some kind of death spasm, before sinking presumably dead.
Straight after that we saw a Martial steal a Tawny's kill, we were all watching the action when DW looked the other way to see Impala being chased by dogs over the channel. As we headed towards the dogs, a Leopard appeared, we followed a little but stopped when it was clear that he was very nervous (a lesson for other camps there).
We enjoyed a complete day out in the channel, the highlight of which was seeing a very protracted and violent battle between two male Zebra (good timing with the cover of this months Africa Geo!)
By now we were getting close to two hundred birds, which seemed like a very unlikley possibility when the trip started, so we took the Duma Tau boat on the lagoon one afternoon and saw an Osprey catch a Tilapia and just manage to avoid losing it to the resident Fish Eagle for the 199th bird. The 200th was a pair of Stonechat, then 201 was a Marsh owl on the night drive.
On our last morning we tramped around camp (probably waking some people) looking for a Wood Owl that we had heard calling and found it for 202.
Impressions of Duma Tau. Lovely setting, tents are nice, but not up to the standard of the Gucci Camps. We were lucky for the most part and didn't find too many obnoxious guests at Mombo or Vumbura, though most people probably found our group a bit much, who knows? Given that we were on the vehicle before they were woken up, we had less opportunity to disturb people. The best guests were the people at Vumbura who were stereotypical rich New Yorkers, they even had a portable toilet seat, so they didn't have to squat! One lady said of the Duma Tau tent, Oy Vey! I can't really add to that.
Food at Duma Tau was good, buffet rather than plated a la 6 paw camps. In my experience the food at Mala Mala really does take some beating, its not fancy, but its always impeccably cooked.
Duma Tau was experiencing a rodent invasion due to the high rainfall and abundance of grass seed, this meant everything has to be put away or it will be chewed. The management said no food, but the warning is nowhere near comprehensive enough. Trust me, the rodent in our room has cleared up his cold sore problem with my tube of Abreva!

Conclusion

We are serious game and bird viewers, but do like our comforts and service, so we are unashamadly 6 paw people, that's the way it is and I make no apologies, other than to my bank balance.
Mombo is still awesome. Vumbura I enjoyed but it's not high on a list of repeats.
Duma Tau has a great location, much better than Kings Pool, which is my favorite camp. So I will go to KP at the optimum time for game viewing. Next year we are there the first three days of October.

During the trip I was introduced to Weis' Laws of Safari

1. Never miss a morning game drive.
2. Shoot anything available when the light is good.
3. Dust is the enemy.

Lastly as this was now my tenth trip to Africa, it's clear that 9-10 days is enough time in the bush for me. So if I work hard I should be able to get a private vehicle, its becoming apparent that unless you are travelling with a like minded group, you need this. And a private guide is also a wonderful addition, not least for the indiscreet stories thay can tell!

A great trip with huge thank you's to Nicky and James of Eyes on Africa, Grant Atkinson our guide, and to the photographic expert who travelled with us, author of such titles as "Shooting in the Shadows" and "High Noon - Theres nothing like that light", J.Flemon Vomeronasal III, without whom the trip would not have been as much fun.

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