THE GREAT GREY GREEN GREASY LIMPOPO RIVER ALL SET ABOUT BY FEVER TREES. Rudyard Kipling
Here we are. My final post for the Rise of the Matriarch expedition 2022. Our last stop on this epic adventure was Limpokwena. This is a private reserve on the banks of the Limpopo River where it borders on Botswana’s Tuli Block.
A lovely, tented camp right on the river accessed by a wooden pole bridge was our final destination. Unseasonal rain meant the river ran high and the rushing water was our lullaby.
We are here to meet John Davies from the Endangered Wildlife Trust. John is part of EWT’s Birds of Prey programme. In March he located a Pel’s Fishing Owl nest about 1km from Island Camp where we were staying. The chick would now be the right age to tag with an ID ring and we were going to adventure along.
Derek, also from EWT, came along. He is part of the Carnivore team and it was very interesting to hear more of the work they are doing in this area and how it is connected to Grant’s work in the Greater Kruger area. We also met Tim based at EWT’s office as a technical writer and fundraiser. Also, very interesting to know more about his perspective of this valuable organisation’s work.
A beautiful morning dawned for our last day. After a coffee we set off on foot to find the nest. John carrying a ladder, rope and a drone. A fast flowing channel brought us to a halt. Some quick, creative thinking on John and Derek’s part and the ladder and rope became bridge. A quick check for crocodiles and we slowly made our way across the makeshift bridge.
As we neared the nest site, we spotted an adult owl flying across to sit in a big tree opposite. A little closer and the mother flew up off the nest which was in a dead tree hollow. We stopped and waited quietly while John put the drone up for a quick look. There was a little white fluff ball in the nest, too young to be the March chick. The conclusion was that that breeding attempt had been unsuccessful which apparently is quite common. But here they were trying again. John would return in a couple of months to hopefully tag this chick. Wishing this gorgeous ginger owl family well we made our way back to camp. Another pinch-me moment to add to all the others we had experienced over the past month on expedition.
This Pel’s Fishing Owl project is particularly special to me as I am a keen birder. Their feathers are a similar colour to my hair and I feel a kin connection with their goofy, floof ball characters. I learned so much from John in the short time we got to spend listening to his story. I learned that Pel’s can be quite sensitive to changes in their habitat, needing undisturbed riparian areas with mature trees for nesting sites. This makes them an important indicator species as their absence can indicate ecological disturbance. It also means they are an umbrella species – by protecting habitat to ensure their survival everything else in the habitat is conserved as well.
I also listened raptly to John outline his dream of creating raptor safe zones across South Africa. This 20 year project will engage with landowners in specific areas to look at on-property threats for raptors, especially vultures, provide training and mitigation methods and then a certification as an area safe for raptors. Raptors provide essential ecosystem services and currently under enormous pressure from habitat loss and poisoning. Each safe zone needs to be about 2.1 million hectares. This is a huge challenge. Yet another vital boots-on-the-ground project and one I will support in any way I can.
And just like that the Rise of the Matriarch expedition 2022 comes to an end. On a stony outcrop with 360 degree views across the bushveld and overlooking the great grey green greasy Limpopo River as the sun sets on another glorious day under African skies.
Tomorrow the crew from Leg 2 drive a long way to get back to the big smoke of Jo’burg and then our separate ways. But always bonded by our shared love of wildlife, wild places, the open road, the road less travelled, stories round the campfire, being spellbound by the African night sky, the stillness of waiting those last few seconds before the sun dips below the horizon and our genuine connection to the Conservation Collective we have become part of.