This was to be an ordeal of a sighting. We were one of the first groups to see these pups emerge from the den, and you could see and hear the excitement of the pack, which now comprised 3 generations – adults, last year’s pups and the youngsters. After finishing up their socialization with the new pups, all of the year-old pus and the adults (except for two minders), left the den to go hunting, and at that point we left for our sundowner stop.
The next morning we went back again and the pack was still not back from the hunt, only the two minders were to be seen. On the afternoon drive we popped in and still they weren’t back. By this stage the two minders were visibly distressed. The male minder dog would run off a short distance into the bush, ears perked, only to slink back to the termite mound when it was evident that he hadn’t heard the returning pack. We could see that they were just so eager for the return of their pack, which had been gone 24 hours now. They were probably starving! And we were then starting to get distressed! Wondering if something my have happened to them. We had high hopes to find them back at the den the next morning, but they hadn’t appeared, and we left the lodge with pits in our stomachs. Fortunately a follow up with the guides after we had left gave us the good news, that the pack had returned and all was well. Another great safari experience with Lawson’s Safaris!

Wild Dog pups emerge from the den.

Lawson’s Featured Camp: Polentswa Lodge.

The small lodge concept is done better in Africa than anywhere else, and we are fortunate to have visited a fair few on our tours and travels. This month’s featured lodge is Polentswa, situated deep in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, on the Botswana side of the Nossob River, in one of the remotest parts of Southern Africa.

The accommodation comprises safari tents, set in a row overlooking a vast ephemeral pan and small, artificial waterhole. The tents are situated on raised decks, getting you away from Scorpions and other nasties that roam the sand at night. The camp is unfenced, so predators may move around at night, and we know that first hand from footage recorded on one of our trail cams placed outside the tent on a recent visit.

The dining and communal areas are also set on raised decks, and in the evenings the views from the lounge are just spectacular. The food is basic but wholesome and tasty, and the chef is a miracle worker indeed, considering how far they have to go to get provisions!

There are game drives on offer, though we usually prefer to book on an accommodation-only basis and do the game drives ourselves. Night drives are not allowed even for the lodge guides (as per the rules of the Transfrontier Park), and one has to be off the main tourist road by the allocated closing time (though that means you still have 20 minutes or more of driving in the growing darkness as you make your way to the lodge itself). The only other accommodation anywhere near the lodge is a small, basic camp site, but other than that, this camp is extremely remote, and that’s all part of the appeal.

The best aspect is the location – not far from Polentswa Waterhole, a Lion magnet during the dry season, and you can be one of the first cars there in the morning. And so remote that you really feel like you are in the wilderness. The starscape at night will floor you…

The Lawson’s rating:

Accommodation: 3.5 (basic but clean and comfortable, the only negative is that the tents are placed quite close together, so you can hear pretty much most of what’s going on next door… On future bookings we’ll ask for our groups to be allocated alternate tents, if at all possible).

Communal areas: 4.5 – the views are to die for.

Food: 4 – basic but tasty and wholesome.

Location: 5.

Game Viewing: 5.

Overall: 4.5.

Suitable for: more adventurous travellers.

Recommended length of stay: 3 nights.

Special notes: not recommended in mid-winter, when it can get bitterly cold.

Visit Polentswa on a Lawson’s Custom Safari!

Lawson’s Featured Bird: African Harrier Hawk.

Today we are taking a look at one of the most remarkable and entertaining of African raptors, the African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus). This species is widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, with the very similar Madagascan Harrier Hawk representing the genus in Madagascar. One of the unique features of the bird are the double-jointed knees, enabling the lower legs to bend in multiple planes, giving the bird the ability to access prey items such as geckos, lizards, birds, squirrels etc hiding in cracks, crevices and nests. Watching this bird hunting is quite an experience, and it’s clear at times that it has a degree of problem-solving ability as it works out how to extract something from a hole or crack. Another interesting feature is the ability of the normally yellow facial skin to change to bright scarlet according to mood – as can be seen in the mating pair which were obviously a bit excited! It’s a relatively common species, even occurring as a garden bird in our home town of Nelspruit, South Africa, and easily seen on most regional safaris. Photos by Leon Marais.

A few photos of the African Harrier Hawk in action:

Lawson’s & + GIVEAWAY!!!

Dear fellow travelers.

Today we are glad to announce that one of our tours – 14-Day Wildlife and
Photography: The Cape and the Kruger Tour – has been chosen as an Unordinary Trip of the
Month by, the #1 travel portal on the Internet specialized in the out-of-ordinary, special
interest vacations. As one of the key operators of quality safari in South Africa, we see this as a good
opportunity to further promote international tourism in South Africa and remain hopeful to see more
people come and explore our beautiful country in the near future.

In connection with this, we have a special offer for our customers! Any of you who book the above
tour before September 30, 2017 may be eligible for a very special prize from InfoHub’s sister company
GPSmyCity – publisher of travel apps for Apple and Android. The GPSmyCity app features
offline city maps, self-guided walking tours and travel articles for 1,000 cities worldwide, using which
you can turn your mobile into a personal tour guide. With this app in hand you can explore Cape
Town, Durban, Pretoria and many other urban destinations in South (and not only South) Africa on
your own, at your own pace. The GPSmyCity app works offline so there’s NO need to worry about
roaming charges when traveling abroad.

A lucky winner, chosen at random, will get a one-year full membership of the GPSmyCity app
including access to ALL the GPSmyCity content – over 6,500 self-guided city walks and travel articles
– to the total value of over $8,000!!!

Book now and enjoy your safari experience at Lawson’s!

British Birdfair 2017 – number 23 for Lawson’s!

Not long to go now to that biggest global event for birding and nature enthusiasts… 20 000+ visitors over the three days! Dubbed the ‘Birdwatching Glastonbury’, the British Birdfair takes place at the usual spot in Rutland County on 19, 20 and 21 August. Lawson’s will be appearing for the 23rd year in a row, in Marquee 6, Stands 44 – 45. If you are going to be there, please come and chat to us! If you would like to find out more about this fair, which this year is going to be the biggest ever, check out the website:

Lawson's stand at the 2015 Birdfair.
Lawson’s stand at the 2015 Birdfair.

Visa-free travel in Africa for Americans, by Jackie Edwards.

Freelance travel writer Jackie Edwards has kindly given us this short blurb on visa-free travel in Africa for American passport holders. Just another good reason to come on safari in Africa!

Attention American Travellers! These African Countries are Visa-Free!

According to VisaIndex, the American passport is one of the most respected passports around the globe, ranking fourth in the world. However, not all countries allow Americans to enter for extended stays, requiring special visas and other documentation.

When planning your next vacation, you may be envisioning an exciting destination in the wild that offers adventures on a safari amongst exotic animals and plants. If you are an American and this sounds like you, the good news is that Africa has many options for U.S. passport holders to visit the continent without applying for a specific visa.

The countries in Africa that allow Americans to enter for free (and some that grant a visa on arrival) include:

1.     Botswana – maximum stay of 3 months

2.     Comoros Islands – visa on arrival

3.     Ivory Coast – maximum stay of 90 days

4.     Djibouti – visa on arrival

5.     Egypt – visa on arrival

6.     Equatorial Guinea – maximum stay of 90 days

7.     Lesotho – maximum stay of 180 days

8.     Malawi  – visa on arrival

9.     Morocco – maximum stay of 90 days

10. Namibia – maximum stay of 3 months

11. Rwanda – visa on arrival

12. Senegal – maximum stay of 3 months

13. Seychelles – maximum stay 1 month

14. South Africa – maximum stay of 90 days

15. Swaziland – maximum stay of 30 days

16. Tanzania – visa on arrival

17. Togo – visa on arrival

18. Tunisia – maximum stay of 90 days

19. Zambia – visa on arrival

20. Zimbabwe – visa on arrival

With all of these African visa-free options for US citizens, you can easily plan an unforgettable vacation and see many of the stunning sights that the wildlife in Africa has to offer.

Destination Pafuri…

Pafuri Camp

Pafuri Camp 

At night, while sitting on your porch for a few minutes before you retire, the soulful two-note call of a Pel’s Fishing Owl reaches you from across the river (just too far to catch it in the beam of your torch!). From downstream in the big trees on your side of the river an African Wood-Owl pair breaks into a duet, somewhat livelier than the languid call of the Pel’s. Then, from the more open Acacia woodland just behind the camp, the deep pig-like grunting of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl comes through, while Fiery-necked Nightjars (“Good Lord deliver us!”), the whoops of foraging Hyenas and a plethora of insect clicks, rasps and chirps provide a sonic backdrop to the calls of the three owl species. What a way to end off the day at Pafuri Camp!

Pafuri Camp is located on the northern bank of the Luvuvhu River, in the Makuleke Concession area of the far northern Kruger National Park. This is the way to do the northern Kruger – from the closest public camp, Punda Maria, you can only really scratch the surface as you are basically limited to the southern bank of the Luvuvhu River. It’s north of the Luvuvhu, ie: between the Luvuvhu and the Limpopo Rivers, where it really gets exciting. Habitats are incredible, including Baobab savanna, iLala Palm savanna, incredible riverine forest, Fever Tree groves that glow yellow in the sun (see banner photo at top), seasonal pans holding amazing water birds, fantastic rocky gorges and more. Special bird species include Pel’s Fishing Owl (sometimes seen fishing in the river at night from the bar at Pafuri Camp), Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat, Three-banded Courser, the rather strange Bӧhm’s Spinetail, Tropical Boubou, Meve’s Starling plus the ‘usual’ range of Kruger birds. Big cats are not encountered here as often as they are in the south of Kruger, but for birders and those not overly concerned about cats, Pafuri is hard to beat. The camp is made up of 19 individual luxury safari tents, all spaced out along the river front for views and privacy. Three wonderful meals per day take care of all things gastronomical, while activities include morning and afternoon / evening wildlife and birding drives. In between drives one can continue birding and wildlife viewing from the public areas or your private porch, which is as idyllic as it sounds (see photos below). All in all this adds up to one incredible birding and wildlife destination. Experience Pafuri Camp on our Eagles, Elephants and Baobabs Birding and Wildlife set-departure, 3 – 15 March 2018. From ZAR 49 550 Per Person Sharing (based on 4 participants).

Rockjumpers on the moon.

On March 19 a runaway fire tore through the dry Fynbos vegetation around the village of Rooi Els east of Cape Town. Two homes were destroyed in the blaze, and the area still resembles a moonscape as the scorched earth awaits much needed rain. Into this lunar-like scene we stepped on the afternoon of Saturday 6 May in search of the endemic Cape Rockjumpers – one of the region’s most sought-after birds. The wind was howling, as it often does, and the comments from the two American photographer were understandably negative in terms of the chances of seeing anything, never mind the Cape Rockjumpers.  Still, as their guide I thought it was worth some effort at least, and managed to stretch it into a 45-minute search, which proved to be fruitless, so they returned to Cape Town empty-handed but not quite defeated. The Sunday was taken up by a pelagic birding trip and thus Monday morning was dedicated to giving it another shot – reports from another guide indicated that they were seen on the morning of the 6th, so it was perhaps just a matter of timing. Eventually we spotted a pair moving high up on the slope below the massif known as ‘Hangklip’, or ‘Hanging Rock’, despite the lack of anything resembling a food source. The advantage of the recent burn was that it was easy to move up the slope towards the birds, which we duly did. We managed to move in carefully enough that the birds weren’t disturbed and soon were sitting down with two males and a female jumping around on the rocks within 20 feet of our position. Believe me when I say that Gorges, with his 500mm f4 Mk11 with converter and Canon 1DX, got some absolutely cracking images! As the Rockjumpers moved off a flock of Cape Siskins moved through right past us, followed by other species such as Cape Bunting, Grey-backed Cisticola and Cape Rock Thrush. Talk about a high-5 moment!  Back at the car we had a well-needed cup of coffee and some food while photographing sunbirds before heading off to Stony Point for some more Penguin shots. What a great day in the field!

Male Cape Rockjumper, Rooi Els.
Male Cape Rockjumper, Rooi Els.
Female Cape Rockjumper, Rooi Els.
Female Cape Rockjumper, Rooi Els.

The most peaceful lodge.

Ok, so we can’t say that we’ve visited EVERY lodge in Southern Africa. Far from it, we’ve probably only scratched the surface so to speak, though with our high standards there are probably quite a few that don’t really warrant a visit, at least not when there are better alternatives. Over the years however we have visited quite a few lodges across the region, and we have a number of firm favourites. Now each lodge offers something unique, even though their ‘offerings’ may be the same as many other lodges. Design, location, situation, staff and other factors combine to create a unique experience, and it’s that experience that, at the end of the day, determines which lodge is a favourite and which lodge isn’t. Of course each lodge also has its strengths, where for example the game viewing might be so good that one is willing to compromise on other aspects. Or the game viewing might not be so great but the lodge experience is so good that it warrants patronage. Mkhaya’s Stone Camp in Swaziland is the perfect example of the latter. It’s not a Big Five reserve so forget about Lions and Leopard etc, though the Rhino sightings can be very good.  But the camp itself is wonderful, and it takes the award for ‘Most peaceful camp’. There’s no electricity, the open-sided chalets (yes, it’s pretty unique!) are situated far apart from one another, and there’s a very small but efficient staff compliment. This adds up to an incredibly quiet camp, far enough from the outside world that one is spared from the ‘village’ sounds in the background, while the staff are very good at keeping a low profile when they are not busy serving the guests (at some lodges the staff area can produce a lot of noise!). Daytime siestas are very relaxing, while by night all one hears is the calming chirps and clicks of crickets, the odd night bird or Spotted Hyena whooping as it passes by on a foraging mission. Lack of WiFi means that one tends to take a bit of a break from electronic devices and return to paper and ink, making Mkyaha Stone Camp a very good place to just get back to simplicity, peace and relaxation.