Golden rays at Mavela herald the call that a new day has dawned. What is in store for this morning’s game drive?
The light captivates the eyes of the beholder. The magical moment passes. Guests breathe the crisp, Autumn air and shield their eyes from the sharp angle of the African sun as the land cruiser noses down into the valley below.
A wonderful array of birdlife, strong in morning chorus, sets the stage of expectancy. A kudu male bounces down into a ditch and throws back its regal horns to disappear under a thorn tree. A small herd of impala stir for the day and a zebra snorts ahead of the path. A giraffe looks at us inquisitively and then returns to inspecting the nearby foliage.
Cats are scarce and our field guide, Sam Vorster, scans hard to the horizon. Suddenly, a guest calls out. Perched inconspicuously on the ground next to the vehicle are three Spotted Eagle-Owls. As nocturnal birds of prey it is a surprise to discover a mum and two sub-adults standing on the ground. With a flurry, they fly up into a nearby tree.
The intricate brown barred feathers overlay a fluffy creamy-white underneath. They are the most common owl in South Africa and have even adapted to living alongside people in cities and towns.
In order not to disturb them from the daytime perch, Sam drives a little further off from the tree and sets out the morning coffee and snacks. The guests learn about the biological features whilst the owls settle to roost(sleep) for the day.
Spotted Eagle-Owls average in height between 43-50cm. They boast a wingspan of about one metre. Their distinguishing features are the prominent tufts of feathers on either side of its head which extend as ‘ears’ or ‘horns’ and its bright yellow eyes. Owls don’t have a crop. When they eat, the food passes directly to the stomach where it is digested. The indigestible portion is compacted into a pellet. This ball of hair and bones is regurgitated (spat out) six to 12 hours after eating. One can learn what owls have been eating by inspecting the pellets.
Game viewing is not just about checking off the “Big 5” list. Rather, it is about having close encounters with a wide variety of species to marvel in the diversity and uniqueness of each species. What a special surprise for the Mavela guests to experience such an intimate encounter!