During our ranger training at Londolozi we are taught a number of valuable tips and tricks that enhance the guiding experience and hopefully make for a more memorable, holistic and informative time spent in the wilderness. We try to diversify our skills as guides, incorporating as many elements as possible into how we deliver information and conduct a guest’s journey through their safari. In-depth knowledge about a wide variety of species both great and small right down to how we position the vehicle in sightings is all important. But one element that I find extremely valuable is ensuring that we stimulate the guest’s senses. It’s easy to bounce around on the back of a comfortable Land Rover for three days looking at the various different plants and animals but at the same time we must be reminded to explore more than what we can just see.
To taste the fruit of a Marula tree during the summer, to feel the heat emanating from the chimney of an active termite mound on a cool morning or to smell the wild aniseed in the air after a thundershower can be just as invigorating as seeing a leopard. A large majority of people that visit Londolozi spend most of their time otherwise, in or near a city – areas that are polluted by waste and noise which can so easily numb their senses. We as nature guides are encouraged to re-awaken those senses to allow those visitors the opportunity to experience the feelings, the smells, the flavours, the sounds and of course the sights of Londolozi. In this post I wish to bring to you, wherever you may be, a few of my favourite sounds of this amazing environment.
As nightfall approaches an entirely new cast of creatures begin to awaken in the African bush. The fiery-necked nightjar is one of these birds whose call – for me at least – epitomises this environment. So often we dose off to the melody of the nightjars call in the distance, exhausted from the activities of the day. The nightjar’s call is one of my earliest bird call memories from my childhood days spent in the African bush and always brings on a wonderful sense of nostalgia.
This call may not seem like much but it is the time of day that you hear it that makes it special. Scops Owls typically call very late into the evening and may be the only piercing sound that breaks the silence of the night, particularly in winter. These birds are notoriously hard to see though and are heard far more often than they are seen. Sleeping out under the stars one night at Londolozi I was awoken by the call of a Scops Owl in the Schotia tree above me. The bird’s soft chiiiirp-ing call was echoed by others in the distance. At that point I hadn’t yet seen a Scops Owl and so shone my flashlight up into the branches in search of the bird but to no avail. I lay back down and decided to just enjoy its call in the darkness.
If sunrise at Londolozi could be represented by a single bird call, there’s a good chance the Natal Spurfowl would take the honours. These ground dwelling birds are often one of the first calls that you hear and often accompany me along my walk from my room down to camp in the mornings before game drive begins. Cutting through the crisp freshness in the air, hearing them always makes me excited about what the day may bring us.
Upon my arrival at camp to meet the guests before morning drive, with the Natal Spurfowl still calling in the background, myself and two other rangers are greeted by the calls of a Vervet Monkey sitting high in the branches of a Jackalberry Tree. The tone and tempo of the call is quite panicked, indicating that something has alarmed the troop. We follow their gaze down into the dry river in front of camp and not before long we catch sight of a male leopard moving swiftly downstream. If it wasn’t for the monkeys we wouldn’t have even known he was there. Rangers and trackers often rely on the alarm calls of several different prey species to give away the position of a predator.
We set off from camp and decided to pursue the leopard we had briefly seen from the deck during our morning coffee. Because the river is quite inaccessible from where we initially saw him, we tried to loop around in front of the direction he was heading, anticipating his movements. We parked, switched off the engine and waited to see if our gamble would pay off. Only minutes later, almost on cue, he emerged from the palm thickets and then began to call. The sound likened to saw cutting through a plank of wood, he vocalised to advertise his territory and alert any other leopards in the area to his presence. This behaviour is often witnessed during dawn and dusk.
A summer-time special. The Woodland Kingfisher is one of the several migratory bird species that we encounter at Londolozi. They spend our winter months further north, in the tropics of Africa, and return around early to mid-November, just in time for the rains to arrive and the insects which they feed on to emerge. Given the time of year, this call reminds me of a sweltering hot summer’s day. If you find yourself out in the heat of the day, the vast majority of animals will be lying up in the shade, escaping the sun’s rays, however the call of the Woodland Kingfisher will still be ringing.
The eerie sound of a hyenas ‘whoop’ or cackle has been heard by many a traveller throughout Africa. In total Spotted Hyenas have around 14 different calls, some of which are loud and can travel several kilometres. These calls serve to rally the clan members and advertise their presence in the area. Hyenas are often not given the attention they deserve. They are arguably the most successful large carnivore in the region, have exceptional senses and a complex social structure underpinned by remarkably intelligent minds.
The roar of a lion can quite simply send shivers down your spine. The volume and tone of their iconic roar embodies an unmistakable sense of raw power and fearlessness and should you happen to find yourself with a roaring lion you’ll feel your body vibrates to the core. The sound can carry over a distance of 5 to 15 km, depending on the atmospheric conditions at the time, and fulfils the purpose of advertising territory or to communicate and locate other members of the pride. One evening, we found ourselves with one of the territorial male lions in the area. He was moving slowly through an open area towards us with his head bowed low. Suddenly, the roar of another male – his brother – emanated from somewhere in the distance. The male stopped, raised his head and listened for a moment before releasing a bellowing roar himself, alerting his brother of his whereabouts. Shortly afterwards, we heard the third brother call from a different direction – a truly surreal experience to be surrounded by roaring lions.
These are just a few of the sounds that you could came across during your stay at Londolozi and I urge you tap into all your senses while in this environment and you’ll soon find that there’s more to be seen than meets the eye.
Are there any sounds that you remember from your stay at Londolozi?