Wildlife Holiday News

Spotted Hyenas, Botswana

Writing Competition 2019 – Results!

We had a wonderful response to our 2019 Writing Competition, and many thanks to everyone who entered! The writing was of an extremely high standard once again and we thoroughly enjoyed reading all the articles we received. We are delighted to announce the winners of our 2019 competition as follows:

First prize: ‘A safari Complaint’ by Duncan McNab. Duncan wins a Naturetrek holiday in Europe up to the value of £1,500 OR a £1,000 Naturetrek Voucher.

Our thoughts: Duncan’s amusing piece of writing shows originality and portrays an immersive experience of being on safari in Botswana, and the joys of encountering wildlife both by day and night. We can only apologise to Duncan for having so many photos to edit upon his return!

Second prize: ‘India: Burning Bright’ by Becky Dine. Becky wins a £500 Naturetrek Voucher.

Our thoughts: Becky’s engaging piece skilfully brings to life an encounter with a Tiger, and other wildlife, while on a visit to the province of Rajasthan; India’s quintessential land of maharajas, medieval forts and palaces.

Third prize: ‘Corsica – The Scented Isle’ by Nancy Priest. Nancy wins a £250 Naturetrek Voucher.

Our thoughts: Nancy’s article is a charming appreciation of the stunning wild maquis, and spectacular flower-filled hillsides of Corsica, and beautifully conveys the surrounding sights, smells and sounds to the reader!

Congratulations to all our prize winners and many thanks to everyone who entered. For details of our 2020 Writing Competition please see here.

N.B. The judges consisted of our Newsletter editor, Debbie Ward, and our Operations team.

Winning entry: A Safari Complaint

by Duncan McNab

Duncan travelled on our 10-day ‘Botswana’s Desert & Delta’ holiday in September 2019. Here he describes the highlights of his time on safari in a novel and amusing way.

Dear Naturetrek,

I had high expectations for my September camping safari in the Okavango Delta, but at the end of the trip I was left despondent and disheartened.

I wish to complain about the work load this safari has caused me. I now find myself sorting through some 3,000 images and three and a half hours of video footage. Have you any idea of how long that is going to take me? There are so many species of mammals, birds, reptiles and plants, I barely know where to start.

It was also very distracting trying to eat in the dining tent with Warthogs, Waterbuck and 50+ Elephants cavorting in the river just yards away from the table. How would you like someone taking a mud bath or suckling a 500lb baby next to you as you eat your midday meal?

If it wasn’t bad enough having all this activity at lunch-time, we had to put up with a pride of 13 Lions making an appearance at dusk just across from the dining tent on the other side of the river. They are such noisy drinkers! How is one supposed to enjoy a glass of red wine with one’s evening meal with all that slurping going on?

The Lions then, with no respect for those who need to sleep, had the temerity to kill a Buffalo a short distance from our camp. If they had done it quietly, they would not have attracted every hyena from miles around. But oh no… the still of the night was shattered by the commotion. And can I just point out that hyenas are also no respecters of the peace and quiet of the night. They hooped and hollered into the small hours until there was enough of them to steal the Buffalo kill from the poor Lions. The sounds of that night will not be easily forgotten.

I had hoped to capture some cute photographs of the hyena cubs at their den. But that was yet another disaster. Before we even got to the den, we encountered the hyenas out in force devouring a baby Elephant they had killed an hour or so before. The dynamic interactions between those fighting for the tasty bits and the left-over bits was an assault on the eyes, nose and ears. We were right in the thick of the action as hyenas charged about us carrying various body parts and creating clouds of dust swirling up into the golden early morning light. These were not the gentle cute photographs I had hoped for. As for our guide, Mr Ace, he left me feeling utterly inadequate with his ability to see creatures in the landscape that were completely invisible to myself and the other guests. I ask you, how is it possible for someone to spot the tiny twitch of a sleeping Lioness’s ear in long lion-coloured grass from 100 metres away whilst driving a vehicle? I’m also sure he was wearing some hearing amplification device. He could tell the age, sex, weight and species of an animal by the sound it made standing on and breaking a twig half a mile away.

Oh, and then there were the Leopards. Granted, he did find us a healthy male Leopard, but it only had three legs. Who ever heard of a three-legged Leopard? I certainly hadn’t. But there it was, minus its left rear leg. Mr Ace did go on to find another Leopard for us, and thankfully this one had all its limbs. Not only did she have a full complement of legs, she also had a cub and a freshly killed male Impala. She was not the smartest Leopard in the delta as she had killed an Impala that was too big for her to carry up into a tree. She did try to hide her kill by dragging it under the uprooted base of a fallen tree. The hyenas in the area were not the smartest either. They never found the now stinking carcass through the night, and when we returned to the scene the next day, we watched the mother and cub take it in turns to feed on the Impala. Because Mr Ace got our vehicle positioned in such a way as to give us a good view of the gruesome dining habits of these cats, we inadvertently were treated to the smell of rotting guts and the sound of crunching bone.

On the subject of dining, I would also like to complain about the weight I put on during the course of the safari. Our chef not only prepared wonderful food, he always invited me up for second helpings. Well, it would have been rude to refuse. But it is his fault that I arrived home heavier than when I set off.

But my principal complaint is this. The quality of the guide, the sightings and the overall experience were so spectacular that they have ruined any plans I might have to safari again. For surely, any safari I undertake in the future is destined to disappoint and could never live up to this one.

I hope you will treat my complaints with the seriousness they deserve.

Yours,

Duncan McNab

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Botswana's Desert & Delta

A 10-day mammal-watching holiday to the spectacular inland Delta of the Okavango, focusing on the abundant wildlife within the Moremi Game Reserve.


India – Burning Bright

by Becky Dine

Becky Dine travelled on our 13-day ‘India – Ranthambore, Bharatpur & Chambal’ tour in February 2019.

The masala chai was both warming and reviving. In the cool pre-dawn of a new Rajasthan day, the heat of ginger, fragrance of cardamom and milky spiced sweetness was very welcome. Fortified, we climbed aboard our open jeeps, blankets on knees, binoculars and cameras held tight in anticipation.

The air was still fresh, not yet laced with the heat and dust of the day, and it flowed across our faces as we bumped past sleeping dogs and cows, vibrant green fields of chickpeas and potatoes and closed-up roti and puri stalls. Then we were through the ornate Mughal arched gate into Ranthambore National Park.

A ridge-top red sandstone fort dominated the skyline in places, and sported both living ornaments of peacocks on its battlements and brightly coloured flags raised in the temple of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of success and good luck, the mover of obstacles.

On into open woodland where Spotted Deer, the stags sporting magnificent antlers, grazed with Nilgai (“also called ‘blue bulls’:  named after a cow, looks like a horse, is an antelope” quipped our guide), while Common Langur monkeys – elegant, athletic, long-limbed – sat and watched, bemused, as another group of expectant faces rolled by.

A Grey Francolin tapped away at ants and termites under the trees; a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher flicked out of sight and Indian Peacocks strutted and called. Spotted Owlets gazed out from the sanctuary of their tree holes. The limbs of a giant banyan tree created a natural gazebo through which creatures threaded themselves.

We rounded a bend; ahead was a stationary jeep. Then I registered that to one side was a tiger, languishing close to the track on a dry creek bed. Slowly, surely, she rose up and stretched. 

A tiger! A wild Bengal Tiger! Not in a zoo, not in an enclosure, but a wild, free animal in her home habitat. What a privilege to share this moment.

With utmost confidence she padded beside us, but a leap away, stripes rippling, paws looking deceptively soft and then – she stopped, gaze fixed, tail dropped and twitching. A jeep had pulled up behind us; it reversed at speed and there was palpable tension in the air. We followed her gaze.

A small group of deer had wandered through the woodland on the other side, contentedly grazing, unconcerned by the jeeps, the tigress hidden from their view. Perhaps it was the movement of the jeeps, but suddenly alert to danger, they turned and moved away, no doubt aware the distance was still to their advantage.

Nonchalantly our tigress, Nuri, daughter of Noor, a two year old, resumed her stroll and crossed the track between the jeeps. As if to make a final point about whose territory this was, she rose up onto her back legs and reaching up, scratched at a tree before melting away out of sight.

We can so easily be given false expectations of wildlife viewing when watching nature programmes in the comfort of our own homes, the days and weeks invested by camera crew distilled into a few moments of stunning intimate footage. I had not dared articulate it, but this was the sort of encounter I had wished for. 

Some experiences generate a visceral emotional reaction; for me, this was one, as although we saw other tigers, that first sighting was the most special. We were treated to other animal encounters too in the park over the next few days. An ambling Sloth Bear, rooting in the undergrowth, was unconcerned by our presence, and a spectacular Leopard crossed our track and lay down to sleep, having washed its face with its paw. 

Yet back to that first day; on leaving the sanctuary of the park, it was striking how the scene outside had changed since the early morning. Hawkers waved hats and shirts at us with optimism and perseverance.  Brightly painted lorries rumbled past followed by plumes of dust and diesel fumes that left an unpleasant metallic taste. Tractors with loud speakers strapped to them pumped out blaring music. Mopeds whizzed past, horns tooting, a balancing act as multiple people perched, riding pillion. Food stalls bustled, oil frying, smoke rising. Dogs dodged traffic, a look in their eyes as if they expected the worst but hoped for the best. Women cocooned in vivid magenta and orange saris steadied large metal pots on their heads. Men stood round, chatting and enjoying their milky sweet masala chai, just as we had done at the start of the day.

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India - Ranthambore, Bharatpur & Chambal

A 13-day holiday in search of the birds and mammals of Ranthambore, Bharatpur and Chambal, including cultural visits to Agra and Fatehpur Sikri.


Corsica – The Scented Isle

by Nancy Priest

Nancy travelled on our 8-day ‘Corsica – The Scented Isle’ tour in May 2019.

Fifteen years ago, I said I would return to Corsica. At the time, I was sitting in the little train that climbs ever upward into the mountains and the Vizzavona Forest. The smell of the maquis was drifting in through the open windows of the carriage and I was being lulled to sleep by the train’s rattle and clack and the unrelenting August heat. I wished for the freshness of spring when the snow still lay thick on the mountain tops and the maquis bloomed and birdsong drifted through the forest. In early May this year, I returned.

The Corsican spring had been long and cold. Snow is falling as we drive higher into the mountains towards Evisa. The road twists and turns as the minibus winds its way for mile upon mile between the dense trees. We are welcomed at the Hotel Aitone with simply-furnished accommodation and a substantial dinner. Later, in my room, I open the window and the heavy wooden shutters to breathe in the cold night air. Jupiter shines brightly to the south above silhouetted mountain tops. I fall asleep listening to Scops Owls calling. They call all night. My dreams are filled with them.

Two days later, we visit the Spelunca Gorge – a deep cleft between granite cliffs thick with trees and the scent of sun-warmed maquis. Wild pigs and cattle do not venture here so the maquis is undisturbed apart from the rootling of Wild Boar. We walk along a mule trail girded with flowering hellebore and allium, then stop for a picnic by an ancient packhorse bridge where two rivers meet. It is a beautiful place.

Tyrrhenian Wall Lizards skitter over the warm rocks where we sit for lunch. They come very close, pause, lift a leg with elbow crooked, foot poised, toes splayed, heart beating beneath reptilian skin. There are butterflies, too, in patches of sunlight – Corsican Speckled Wood, Orange-tip, Corsican Tortoiseshell, Small White.

The sound of tumbling water is everywhere as it falls over sun-bleached rock into turquoise and glass-green pools. Light patterns shimmy across the river’s surface and stripe the underwater cluster of stones. It is mesmerising. I take off my boots and socks and immerse my feet. The water is ice-melt cold so I lift my feet in and out of the pool, in and out. A Grey Wagtail momentarily lands on a boulder a little downstream and bobs, too. Circular shadows cast by the feet of pond skaters slowly shift over the river bed, each one magnified to the size of a peach. I hear the electric zrik zrik of a dipper amongst the rush of falling water and look up expecting to see it flying low over the river – but it has already gone.

Back along the gorge, we find the first Illyrian Sea Daffodil of the trip that’s in flower. It’s tucked against the outer side of the low parapet that separates the path from the steep drop down to the river. I climb over the wall to smell it. Its scent is lily-like, yet sweeter.

The village of Ota sits high above the Spelunca Gorge – a tight clutch of houses stepping up the hillside, stone walls and ochre pan-tile roofs amongst the green of tree and shrub. We stop for a drink at Café Felice and sit out on the balcony. The view westward to the granite pinnacles of the Calanche is stunning. I sit in the shade, a gentle mountain breeze stirs the air. Above the peaks, small thin clouds slowly form and dissipate and form again. The red geranium flowers along the edge of the balcony glow against the blue of the sky.

On the way back to Evisa, there are wild pigs wandering across the twist and turn of the road – some black, some spotted, young, old, one with a limp, and all heedless to traffic. Further on, two young bulls are fighting and blocking our way. Heads down, they lock horns, skull against skull, pushing against each other with all their bovine might. It is a well-matched, stationary tussle. Now and then, there is a slight shift one way, then a slight shift back the other. They are strung across the road in their strange, violent, brow-to-brow dance. We wait to pass. There is bellowing. Other cattle wander to the scene. The minibus manages to inch past as the two animals momentarily push to one side of the road. There is more bellowing. As we drive away, a family of goats wanders out from the trees.

It is only the evening of my third day on Corsica and already I have learned that this island is one of the world’s special places. I am so glad I came back.

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Corsica – The Scented Isle

An 8-day holiday of birdwatching and botanical walks in the rugged mountains of northern Corsica.