Christmas time in Etosha in the past, was traditionally a quiet time with local Namibians enjoying some well-earned rest. We have often been one of only a handful of cars out on early morning game drives. Up until the mid eighties, Etosha was even closed to visitors during the rainy summer months!
But things are changing and the camps are now fully booked out well in advance, with lower summer rates attracting more visitors.
This year we arrive in Halali on Christmas afternoon to find the rains have already beaten us to it! What a joy for the animals. This has been a desperately dry year and the game is thin. Overnight the Halali plains are transformed into temporary pans, the game starts returning and mopane trees drip water on your head back in camp.
A bat-eared fox family allows us to meet their cub before they pick their way gingerly through the water. 3 baby jackals test their combat skills a little way away from their neighbours. Blue crane pairs have taken up residence to nest again and take turns at sitting on the eggs.
A red-necked falcon quietly watches us while keeping a beady eye out for food.
With so much water around we almost don’t turn into Rietfontein, but a beautiful surprise awaits us there. The mother leopard I photographed with a tiny cub, 2 Easters ago, is drinking at a pool in the carpark. Sadly her 2 cubs of that year did not survive. But now she looks round and could be pregnant again. I am hoping so anyway, but it’s hard to tell!
Back in camp, tiny mopane trees, with just two leaves, push their way towards a long life through the soggy earth. A group of red-billed wood-hoopoes, endemic to Namibia, draw our attention to a nest close-by where they are feeding the youngsters. Halali is known as a good place to see this bird as well as another endemic, the white-crested helmet-shrike. Spending mornings in camp is rewarding if you are a birder.
On our second morning we automatically turn west to the Salvadora plains where we hope to spot some old acquaintances. The instant I see the glint of a golden coat on the open plain my heart skips a beat and tells me it’s ‘our’ young leopardess, the older daughter of yesterday’s mum. Sure enough she is hunting today and springbok is on the menu. She’s a very relaxed leopard around cars and people ( and kori bustards!) and uses our vehicle to slink closer to her prey.
No one moves as we watch her get to within metres of her meal, but something is not right today and she aborts the hunt.
The last damp morning reveals another of those glimpses that makes the heart miss a beat. Three cheetahs line the horizon, near Salvadora. They seem to be hunting but the cackling of hyenas at a den nearby forces them to turn away again. This is a coalition we have not seen before and are keen to find out more about them, but unfortunately it’s time for us to head homewards.
The storm clouds are gathering again and rain looks promising for Okaukeujo which is still desperately dry. South of Outjo good rains have fallen and I am in for a last treat, spotting no less than four different types of pink lilies along the roadside. Two are withered and we don’t stop, but my old favourite Crinum buphanoides is as delightful and refreshing as ever.
Fields of Ammocharis coranica have me dodging the increasing raindrops but I’m in my happy space and not deterred in the least!
The start of summer in Namibia is a magical time and one when we should be out in the bush witnessing the new life bursting out around us. I even saw the first omayovas (giant wild mushrooms) for sale – now that’s a true sign that summer is here!