(Above: Jonny from Sandgrouse Travel together with Opie, the Bushman tracker, guide and field ranger from Derek & Beverly Joubert's 'Great Plains Conservation' in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.)
On a Sandgrouse mission across Southern Africa
The premise of this particular operation was to find, photograph and study Sandgrouse in their native heartlands across southern Africa. However, this was in fact only a silver-lining to the true call of this trip to Africa.
Solveig and Jonny from Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions recently spent one month journeying around Southern Africa, on a epic mission continuing to reconnoiter the very best lodges and camps for our retained Sandgrouse clients and VIPs. In fact during this time, Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions had retained U.S. VIP clients simultaneously out in Africa, enjoying the magic of the African bush on what was their very first high-end African safari. Of course these guests were blown away by the unparalleled levels of excellence and local hospitality that one experiences at Africa's most revered names in the industry. Camps and lodges that we know personally, and recommend with confidence when we plan our tailormade luxury safaris. Africa at the top end is hard to match! Naturally the U.S. guests are already planning their return - East Africa next.
Whilst Jonny and Solveig were on their travels, encounters with wild animals in the bush reigned supreme, as an on-going almost daily theme, safaris by all means and modes of transport were savoured. One particular (too close for comfort) encounter with a highly aggressive male leopard in his prime stands out in Jonny's mind, but that story will be for another day.
Taking things a little further (as one inevitably finds oneself doing as a serial safari goer), and in-line with Jonny's personal interest in birding or ornithology, Jonny made sure he had the opportunity of a lifetime. An opportunity afforded by the luxury of private guides, rangers and trackers dediating their time to Jonny's viewing desires.
One morning in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, together with his personal Bushman guide, Jonny headed out to locate, photograph and document the habits of Sandgrouse, the company's namesake. This is a bird that is truly special, a bird that means so much in the successful story of Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions and one that captivates those who fall under its evocative spell, be it bird-hunter, ornithologist or general nature lover.
"Sandgrouse have developed to transport water in body feathers from a water source back to the nest to water their chicks"
(Double-Banded Sandgrouse near the Selinda Spillway, Selinda and Jarafa Camps, Great Plains Conservation. Photographed by Jonny, Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions).
The double-banded sandgrouse is found in Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is less common than Burchell's sandgrouse (Pterocles burchelli) and Namaqua sandgrouse
Go Private for flexiblity and ulitmate freedom
How was Jonny able to specifically go after targeting one species in Africa, without ruffling too many feathers? The answer is simple, a private safari. Private safaris allow for our clients to tap into areas of interest in the bush that are specific to them. Our trips to the Delta in Botswana allow guests the luxury of their own private game vehicle, tracker and ranger.
(Lesh, guide and tracker extraordinaire! Sandgrouse heading out armed with Zeiss Victory binoculars on the hunt for the most interesting of wildlife encounters whilst at the impeccable Duba Plains Camp, part of the Great Plains Conservation set-up in the Okavango Delta, Botswana).
Having time alone with these experts who live and breathe the bush means that our clients can drill down into the most interesting aspects of wildlife, nature and local traditions. This means you can focus on the things you want to see, without distraction. Private safaris mean dedicating as much time to locating and viewing the aspects of the bush that appeal the most to you and your family. At Great Plains Conservation, it is not uncommon for guests to head out on safari, and not return until sunset, taking breakfast, lunch and dinner in the bush - before sundowners to close proceedings. This often happens if the action is simply too good to leave - and it often is in the Okavango Delta!
(Time well spent, Jonny at dawn with a family of elephants in the African bush - few experiences on earth can be better).
In the cover photo, Jonny is seen with Opie, a ranger and tracker and native Bushman, who has worked at Great Plains Conservation for 6-years, throughout this time, he has been in one specific area, the Selinda Spillway. This has allowed him to learn this area like the back of his hand. He is by nature, at one with the bush, having learned from his Grandfather and father, traditional Bushman skills such as tracking, fire lighting, hunting (by bow and arrow) and much more. Heading into the bush with someone who is so at home in the bush, is a gift in itself.
(The Burchell's Sandgrouse photographed by Jonny from our team in the currently dry, Selinda Spillway, north east of the Okavango Delta proper, Botswana.)
An adaptation that adult Burchell's sandgrouse have developed is the transport of water in body feathers from a water source back to the nest to water their chicks. Upon arriving at a water source, adult Burchell's sandgrouse first rub their bellies on dry ground to ruffle up their belly feathers, increasing the amount of water the feathers can hold. They then wade into the water and bob up and down on a horizontal axis to soak up the water in their belly feathers. Males have been observed to hold an average of 22 ml of water, while females can carry an average of 9 ml. Once the water is gathered, Burchell's sandgrouse fly back to the nest and allow their chicks to drink water from their belly feathers.
Opie and many his colleagues at the higher echelons of safari guiding, are true experts who live and breathe their work and their environment. To the uninitiated they are magicians! It' is quite remarkable how they are so attune to the bush, the spoor, various calls, signs and tracks.
Thanks to Opie, Jonny was able to track down two species of Sandgrouse in the Selinda Spillway area, both the Burchell's and the Double-Banded. These two species of the bird would have otherwise remained unseen if it were not for the sharp eyes of Opie scanning the ground from left to right as they rumbled through the bush. Open-sided, specially adapted 4.3 litre Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles with ample space, cubby boxes and mounting solutions provide the perfect platform for game viewing and photography. The Double-Banded Sandgrouse seem hyper aware however, and do not allow vehicles too close. They are more easy to spot and view at dusk when they return to watering holes to drink, or gather water in their feathers to take back to the chicks. However, heading out by day, to try and find these masters of camouflage on the deck is another task entirely. Much like Ptarmigan in the Scottish Highlands, they look like stones or boulders on the ground, however take flight far more readily, perhaps a result of various threats in the African bush.
With the mission brief given to Opie, the challenge was on!
Jonny usually prefers walking safaris, opting to travel through the bush on foot allows an immersive experience with the opportunity to view aspects of the bush that can be overlooked from the game vehicle where one is arguably more detached. This being one of the last days in Africa, Jonny and Opie opted for the Land Cruiser and departed camp at first light, prior to the sun rising. They headed out in the cooler temperatures which was a treat for later on in the day, the temperature rose rapidly to around 45'C. The hard work and dedication to the dream paid off with encounters of both the Double-Banded and Burchell's Sandgrouse. The birds blending in impeccably with their arid habitats - masters of camouflage these guys reluctantly each put to the wing and moved on to quieter corners of the bush, but not before Jonny was able to capture them on the fabulous Canon telephoto lense camera, supplied on a complimentary basis by the camp.
(Dawn in the Delta; there can be no better way to experience the delta than by mokoro canoe. The traditional mode of transport in this area allowace unfetted access to prestine nature. Simply glide through the natural world, floating on a bed of silence but for the perennial soundtrack of the delta).
(Sandgrouse guests arrive by private light aircraft charter into the Delta, Botswana).
(The Okavango Delta in Botswana is truly an ornthologist's paradise, here the bird species check-list is smashed!).
(The Namaqua Sandgrouse seen once again, mostly in pairs. Jonny & Solveig were afforded the luxury of seeing these incredible rare Sandgrouse whilst in Namibia travelling through vast areas of desert).
Elsewhere on this African odyssey, Jonny and Solveig were able to see the localised Namaqua Sandgrouse in the remote desert landscape of Namibia. As evening decended on a long 11-hour drive through the desert from Sossessvlei back to Windhoek, several pairs of these beautiful birds were seen in the dirt road, reluctantly taking flight as the Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions Toyota Hilux rumbled close by. Seeing these pairs to flight, and their beautiful winged plumage was a sight that will stay with both Jonny and Solveig for many years to come.
The Namaqua sandgrouse can be found in various arid parts of South Africa and its neighbouring lands. It is common in the Kalahari Desert, the Nama Karoo (in central and western South Africa), and in parts of the Western Cape. In addition, it is also found in Namibia (especially in the Namib Desert), Zimbabwe, Botswana and Angola.
It favours deserts and other arid areas. In order to survive, this bird needs only seeds, some gravel, and easy access to some sort of fresh water source. Their habitat usually has rough vegetation and tussock-type grasses.
If you are thinking about planning a birding trip to Southern Africa, speak to our team today. Please drop either firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com an email. We are able to tailor your private safari to your specific requirements, catering for you and your group with the utmost attention to detail thus ensuring the most memorable and magical safari experience possible.