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

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

Old Jun 29th, 2006, 01:01 PM
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Trip Report - Mombo, Vumbura Plains and Duma Tau, June 2006

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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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 01:14 PM
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Oh oh oh my! oh my oh my!

Sounds like a fabulous trip - and darn right that you should not have to apologise for your choices of accommodation. What each of us choose to budget and spend our money one is no one else's business unless we invite them in!

What a wonderful trip this sounds - with Grant as a guide, I'm already jealous and then such a wonderful long stay at Mombo and then VP and DT too!

WOW and WoW again!
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 01:18 PM
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Matt,

Thanks for your excellent report. By now, I am eagerly awaiting your photos.

I think I met Grant at Tubu Tree in June 2003.

And it's true, I can't imagine myself going to Botswana again without a private vehicle at my disposal.


Best regards,

Johan

 
Old Jun 29th, 2006, 01:45 PM
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Johan,
That's Grant's "home" camp when he's not doing private guiding so probably was him!
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 02:00 PM
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Grant now is based out of Maun and mainly accompanies the overland trips that Wilderness do. But he did spend a lot of time in the Jao, Tube, Kwetsani area.
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 02:08 PM
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Thanks for the great report. You had some fabulous wildlife sightings.

I couldn't tell, but did you see more birds on this trip than on others, or fewer because it was winter. Love the description of tramping through camp looking for the wood owl.

Your comments on the lateness of some group early morning game drives echo some other comments I've read here lately. Are lodges in general becoming more concerned about accommodating late sleepers, do you think? (I hope to be out and about early.)

CW

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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 02:09 PM
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Ah ok... he did mention he was doing more and more private guiding trips so I guess it makes more sense for him to be based in Maun. Tubu Tree's loss though!
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 02:18 PM
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CW

I would say that lodges are not necessarily moving towards later starts, our group is pretty hard core and so we made the decision to have 5:30 wake ups rather than the 6am that most people had. Duma Tau was 5:45 rather than 6.
One day at Vumbura a vehicle did come on line at 9:50 asking for updates on sightings, but that is a Gucci camp.
The wake up time, really goes to my point about having a private vehicle or travelling with like minded people.
If you find yourself with people who are late, I think its appropriate to politely state that we've all paid a lot of money to see animals, and for the most part, they can't be viewed from our tent. If this doesn't get through to them, then you'll need to talk to management.
You are in my opinion much more likely to find less hard core guests at the six paw camps, which is why I try and travel with like minded people or in future would do my own vehicle.
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 02:46 PM
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Thank you for the advice. If I find that we (couple) are in the position of asking for earlier starts, I will be prepared to politely state our wishes.

I completely understand the point of a private vehicle. It avoids any conflict and gives you all the options to do what you want.

CW
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 02:47 PM
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Matt: great trip report, thanks for sharing. Lanner falcon, wow! Excellent job with the wood owl and marsh owl similar to our spotted owl and short eared owl respectively. Do you notice that when birding in Africa that certain species really remind you of cousins from the same genus at home. I find it fascinating.

Seems like you had great predator viewing on a daily basis as well. Looking forward to pics and video.
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 03:34 PM
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CW - less birds in winter because the migratory species are in europe, asia or central africa.

Pred - also Red Necked Falcon at Mombo, and yes many species are reminiscent, and some obviously are the same. Grant saw a barn owl as he took us back to our tent, but I was not looking in the right direction.
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 03:40 PM
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Brilliant report, napamatt. Thanks!
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 03:43 PM
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Wow, excellent sightings, lots of owls around. I would love to do an active survey and call in owls like I do here. Perhaps I'll check for permission on my next trip and keep the guide out for some owl calling.

It's got to be nice to be out with a group that is into everything like you are.
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 04:18 PM
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Pred - Grant actually used the Wood Owl call on the Roberts CD on his laptop to try and call the owl, with no luck. Then in the morning he heard it, so we went in pursuit.
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 04:37 PM
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Now there's a thought...I will record my dogs barking and then play it on my laptop while I am at Kwando & Sanctuary later this year! Maybe a pack of 20 wild dogs will come rushing to the vehicle.

Hehehe...gotta love the name J. Flemon Vomeronasal III. Middle name Plegm, last name Nasal. Ahhhhcccchhhoooooow!!!
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 04:38 PM
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(Phlegm)(forgot that all important "h")
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 05:25 PM
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So if I abuse my architectural design powers, will I then be able to afford such a wonderful trip - it is tempting.

Your trip sounds amazing. Luck and good guiding were truly on your side.

Thanks for sharing your great report. I look forward to seeing your pictures.
Sherry
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 06:49 PM
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Excellent trip report, Napamatt. Thanks.

Btw, Vumbura area seems good for cheetah viewing? Were they fairly relaxed animals? I think, they hv been seeing cheetah in the area in recent times. Did ppl at Mombo mention any cheetahs in their area in recent times?

Thanks
Hari
 
Old Jun 29th, 2006, 07:35 PM
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Hari

Yes the Cheetah were all very relaxed. The terrain at Vumbura is very conducive to Cheetah and they see a number of them on a regular basis.

Mombo is not doing so well for Cheetah since the passing of the steroid boys, who knows what the future will bring.

Rocco - well done on spotting Flem's name. Good luck with dogs at Kwando, Botswana really is the place to be.

Cybor - if you're an architect then I ask you to remember these words

"Get thee behind me, satan"
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Old Jun 29th, 2006, 08:41 PM
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Rocco: don't think a recording of your dogs will get it done but a recording of some wild dogs contact calls and twittering may well work if dogs were in the area. I have surveyed for coyotes using their group yip-yap call very successfully and I bet a wild dog contact call will work well. I have wanted to try the hyena whoop call to see what comes. There have been studies using that call that I believe brought in male lions at an equal rate as it does hyenas. There are lots of ways to tilt things to your favor but luckily in safari areas it is easy enough to find the animals at reasonable rates without having to interfere with such methods. I am usually looking for rare species or those that have learned to avoid people and thus proper surveys require such techniques.
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