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michael-ibk

Kwando`s Green Season

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michael-ibk

I love animals. Always have, always will. And it was my first safari to Tanzania in 2011 (http://safaritalk.net/topic/10294-tanzania-2011-my-first-safari-ever/) which made completely sure that there´s only one conceivable way for me left to spend my holidays. Go watch wildlife. So after searching for (and finding) Tigers in India (http://safaritalk.net/topic/10565-india-november-2012/) and Jaguars in Brazil (http://safaritalk.net/topic/11651-brazil-september-2013/) it was finally time to return to Africa in March 2014.

For whatever reason Botswana just called out to me. Other options did cross my mind, but I couldn´t resist the pull of the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari.

From all the valuable information here on Safaritalk I soon decided to go with Kwando Safaris who have a reputation for good guiding and making game viewing their priority.

The itinerary was:

March 15 - 18, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Tau Pan Camp


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March 18 - 21, Nxai Pan National Park, Nxai Pan Lodge


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March 21 - 24, Okavango Delta, Kwara Concession, Kwara Camp


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March 24 - 27, Linyanti, Kwando Concession, Lagoon Camp


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March 27 - 29, Victoria Falls, The Elephant Camp


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So let´s find out if it was any good. :)

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madaboutcheetah

Mating wild dogs? My word ......... So, the lagoon pack is going to be denning soon I hope .........

Cheetah at Vic Falls?

 

I hope you had a good trip, Michael ........ I had some relatives visit both LK and Lagoon towards the middle of March - they thought Lagoon had some outstanding viewing and Kwara very wet!!!

Trust you had a good time?

Cheers

Hari

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Peter Connan

Well @@michael-ibk, you certainly good some magnificent photos!

 

Even an elephant in the Central Kalahari too!

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bettel

What a great start of the report! I am looking forward for updates :)

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Game Warden

And an encounter with @@wilddog as well :) What a Safari!

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Kitsafari

Wild dogs mating! That's not something seen too often. Wonderful pix to whet our appetite for more!

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michael-ibk

We flew to Botswana from Austria via Frankfurt and Johannesburg with South African Airlines. The flight was as fine as a long distance enonomy night flight can be, so no complaints there. Only about my own stupidity: I had managed to forget all my flash memory cards at home and had to buy new ones at the airport. Not cheap. Not cheap at all. But I decided not to get worked up about it - at least I had realized and could buy new ones. Wouldn´t have been so easy to rectify this mistake in Botswana.

 

(A couple in Lagoon had only brought one memory card. Which was full after the first day. The managers tried to get them new ones and deliver them to their next camp, but unfortunately for them their very specific type of memory card wasn´t available.)

 

We had plenty of time to get our connecting flight to Maun in Johannesburg, I think it took us less than 45 minutes from exiting our plane to getting to the gate area. We did check our luggage through from Innsbruck straight to Maun. Since I´ve read a couple of reports about people´s luggage problems in Johannesburg it was a relief to see our bags come through on the conveyor belt there.

 

Immigration proceedings in Botswana were a bit slow since the computer had crashed and it took them about 20 minutes to get the "damn thing" online back again (or at least to pretend that it did work again), but officers were all friendly and it was the start of our safari! So who cares, right?

 

We then were soon welcomed by the representatives of Kwando, and after maybe half an hour were driven to our plane to Tau Pan. There´s a 20 kg weight limit (including hand luggage) for all flights, but if someone weighed our bags we didn´t realize it. (It´s possible someone did at the airport because ours bags were labelled and then brought to the car by staff.) Certainly nobody weighed our hand luggage. Neither were our bags weighed on any of the subsequent flights.

 

Some time ago there was a discussion here on Safaritalk about the safety of Moremi Air, the airline used by Kwando, see here:

 

http://safaritalk.net/topic/10974-moremi-air-kwando-safaris-air-crash-findings/?hl=%2Bmoremi+%2Bair

 

That was the reason I had asked to switch to Mack Air. Indeed our flights Kwara-Lagoon-Kasane were then subchartered out to them, but this was not possible for the Kalahari and Nxai Pan parts of the trip.Would have had to charter a plane for about EUR 1.000,--. No thank you, rather crash down. ;)

 

And I thought Moremi Air was fine. The planes looked alright, and pilots did a good job. (Especially on the flight to Kwara, which was quite scary. But I´ll come to that.) In fact the only plane which looked very old and kind of duct-taped was a Mack Air one.

 

The flight to Tau Pan was a bit more than an hour. We were the only passengers (four seats were available) and very much enjoyed seeing the endless vastness of the Kalahari.

 

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Maun Airport

 

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Thamalakane River

 

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Kalahari

 

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Tau Pan Airstrip, our plane.

 

 

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michael-ibk

Cheetah at Vic Falls?

I´ll admit that one is a bit of a "cheet". Named Sylvester. B)

 

I hope you had a good trip, Michael ........ I had some relatives visit both LK and Lagoon towards the middle of March - they thought Lagoon had some outstanding viewing and Kwara very wet!!!

Trust you had a good time?

Thank you Hari, I certainly did. I did see an Indian couple in Maun at the airport (March 16th), but didn´t have a chance to chat with them. Maybe those were your relatives?

 

 

Well @@michael-ibk, you certainly good some magnificent photos!

Even an elephant in the Central Kalahari too!

Thanks, Peter. Though I´ve read in the Kwando sightings report that elephants very, very rarely do wander as far, this is not one of them - the pic is from Nxai Pan National Park.

 

And an encounter with @@wilddog as well :) What a Safari!

Indeed, who could ask for more. ;)

 

 

Wild dogs mating! That's not something seen too often. Wonderful pix to whet our appetite for more!

 

 

What a great start of the report! I am looking forward for updates :)

Thank you both. :)

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michael-ibk

At the airport strip we were welcomed by our guide Vasco and tracker Voda. On the short drive to camp (about 10 minutes) I was happy. It just felt wonderful being back in Africa, and work and home already seemed to be a thing of the distand past.

Our arrival in camp was a bit hectic, we got there about 16.00, and were determined not to miss our first game drive (starting at 16.20). So a quick drink, dropping bags off in the room and off we were again. (I´ll describe camp and assorted stuff in coming chapters.)

I knew the Kalahari is a half-desert and therefore not as dry as one could be led to believe. Still I was amazed about how green and vivid everything looked.

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One of the most delightful things was the amount of butterflies around, definitely something I wouldn´t have expected. Every little puddle on the roads would attract dozens of them:

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There are no Meerkats near Tau Pan, but we soon found the next best thing - Southern African Ground Squirrels.

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Vasco quickly moved on, because they had spotted something a bit bigger:

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The local Tau Pan pride. It´s quite something to see lions so close, even more so in the open South African style jeeps. Papa Lion was busy:

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The lady didn´t seem to like us much - or she just did enjoy making funny faces to entertain us, who knows:

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We watched them for a good hour, and Big Daddy did his very best to pass on his genes. Again and again:



As the sun started to set we finally granted them their privacy again and moved on to the Tau Pan pan itself, a spacious flat depression.

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Here we saw our first Springboks and Gemsboks, albeit quite far from the road. (Offroading is not allowed in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.)

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I love Gemsbok. :)

And, after sundowners, we had a delightful sighting of a few Bat-Eared Foxes. It was already quite dark, and they were not that close, but it was a real treat seeing them. Nice ending for our first gamedrive.

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Sangeeta

Wild dogs mating! That's not something seen too often. Wonderful pix to whet our appetite for more!

Ditto! That's a pretty remarkable Day 1 already.

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SSF556

Great start to a report...we were there a month before you.

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twaffle

I'm enjoying this very much, especially photos of non wildlife things such as aerials and the Maun airport.

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Treepol

Wonder start to your TR, and I'm looking forward to much more! Did Vasco happen to mention how he expected the game viewing to be in CKGR later in the year, say August-Sept as I gather there has been a very 'big wet' in CKGR this year.

 

Did you experience any rain during your stay in CKGR?

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michael-ibk

The Daily Routine

 

Is pretty much the same in all Kwando Camps, so here´s a quick rundown:

 

The day starts with a friendly "Knock-Knock" wake-up call at 05:30, followed by a light breakfast usually taken in the boma, consisting of fresh muffins, some cereals and fruits. Since it´s already getting light by now you´re allowed to walk to the main area without a guide´s attendance.

 

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Manager Mapilo & Staff at Tau Pan Camp serving breakfast.

 

Game Drives get going between 06:20 - 06:35. Kwando use two type of cars, one with a roof, two rows and six seats:

 

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This model is used at Tau Pan and Nxai Pan. We actually were six in the car at Tau Pan, which obviously isn´t ideal for photography, and the roof is problematic for spotting birds. Still, it does get very hot here, so especially during all-day-trips (like to Deception Valley or Baines Baobab), it would be pretty much unbearable without it. At Nxai Pan we shared with three others, and had one row for the two of us, which was fine.

 

The other type of cars has three rows and nine seats. And no roof:

 

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These cars are used in Kwara and Lagoon. Even though both camps were mostly fully booked we had to share with only two other people which was perfect. I really enjoyed the open car, it adds to the feeling of being "out there", and it is of course a huge plus for taking pictures. The heat was not that bad, it gets really hot only about 11:00, and we were fine with a brimmed hat and long sleeves and trousers.

 

Between 09:30 and 10:00 there´s a break, usually at some scenic place with enough shade, and coffee and cookies are served:

 

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We were told at the start that morning safaris would end back in camp at about 10:30. They never did. I think the earliest we were back was 10:45, 12:00 was the regular time, and once we got back not until 13:30. So Kwando´s "We put game-viewing first and everything else has to wait for it" is not just marketing, it´s what they actually do. Which I loved, needless to say.

 

Then lunch is served, some hot dish (for example delicious Lasagna or some fish-rice-mixture), salads, sausages, mushrooms, bacon, eggs as ordered, cheese, fresh orange juice and more.

 

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Lunch Table at Lagoon

 

(During day trips lunch is obviously served picnic-style, in very comfy chairs:)

 

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After lunch in camp there´s a little time for siesta (or for exploring camp). At 16:00 there´s "High Tea", served with fresh lemonade, often some meat or cheese pastries, cake and fruits, at the bar.

 

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High Tea at Nxai Pan Lodge with Florence, our very friendly permanent "waitress for tonight".

 

The afternoon safari starts around 16:20. At about 18:20 or 18:30 there´s time for sundowners, usually at some idyllic spot where the sunset can be enjoyed. Drinks as ordered (Gin Tonic in my case) and tasty fingerfood (nuts, cucumber sticks, cheese and ham rolls or wine-saturated plums wrapped in roasted bacon).

 

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In Tau Pan and Nxai Pan the safari ends after sundowner, and we were back to camp at about 18.45 or 19:00. (No night drives in the national parks). In Kwara and Lagoon, however, after sundowners, the searchlights are activated, and the way back to camp turns into a night drive which ends around 20:00 in camp.

 

Dinner is served after arrival, and is a three-course affair, a soup or warm starter with bread (served), followed by serve-yourself-buffet (very good and plenty). Dessert (mostly some cake) is again served.

 

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Dinner Table at Tau Pan

 

I very much enjoyed the communal dining, since not only all guests but also the guides and managers share the huge tables. Lots of interesting conversations to be had here. The permanent top-up of good South African (red and white) wines helped loosen tongues. And finding sleep instantly after getting to bed, mostly around 22:00. :)

 

There´s always a guide escorting guests back to camp at night. Since they don´t bring a gun I asked one of them what they would actually do if a lion should block the way, and I was explained that they then could at least prevent guests from running aways (which could only end badly.) Makes sense.

 

Paul, one of our guides (at Lagoon), told us of a hairy lion encounter at Tau Pan at night. After he had brought all the guests to their rooms (which are quite far apart) he was walking back, and then two bright spots stared at him out of the dark. Suddenly one of the big males was approaching him, apparently considering what to do about him, and the two stared at each other for an eternity. (From Paul´s point of view of course ;) ). Finally the lion retreated to the dark again, but Paul didn´t dare to move. Only after five minutes he started walking back to the main area very, very slowly. But still too fast! Because all of a sudden the big male was charging after him, and all Paul could do now was run, run, run. He barely made it up the steps to the dining area and slammed the doors. Not only the big male, also four females had appeared now and were giving him a very unfriendly stare.

 

I´m quite glad I didn´t meet any lions in camp, and I´m glad that I wasn´t told this story in Tau Pan, where fresh lion tracks were just in front of our room. B)

 

A few bits and pieces of other information:

 

Drinks (also stuff like Whisky or Amarula)are included at Kwara. Right at the start you are provided with a drinking bottle, and can refill it anytime at the bar where a big, cooled water tank is situated. The fridge is unlocked, and you´re free to help yourself with any drink you like, beer, coke, lemonade, sparkling water, tonic water, wine and more. Water and lemonade is also in the car anytime.

 

Laundry (all except underwear) is done daily and returned the same day. Very helpful considering the 20 kg luggage limit.

 

No Chargers for camera batteries in the rooms but the main area. They work all the time, and even when camp was fully booked I always found a free spot. We had brought adapters (the South African model), but it wasn´t needed, all kinds of plug-ins (including Continental European ones) were provided.

 

The rooms are equipped with showering gel, conditioners, shampoos and insect repellents (for both room and body), so none of that stuff needs to be packed. Mosquitoes (or other insects) were no big hassle, the repellent worked just fine.

 

You don´t need a raincoat either, ponchos are provided in case of rain on a game-drive, as are plastic-bags for camera and binocs gear.

 

In case of emergency there´s a fog horn in the room. Guides told us that they had one guest who used it at midnight. When they breathlessly arrived to save him from some terrible beast he told us he couldn´t sleep and would like to have a Gin Tonic. :rolleyes:

 

I always wondered what the "safety talk" I saw mentioned here on ST now and then would consist of. Well, it´s basically "There are dangerous animals wandering through camp all the time, so do take care." Helpful information indeed. ;) And you have to acknowledgy by signature that you won´t sue them in case you are killed by lions, snakes or hippos. Or anything else.

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madaboutcheetah

Oh! You are making me home sick ........ WOW ....... So nice seeing some of those images and Maipilo is a wonderful hostess!!!

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michael-ibk

Wild dogs mating! That's not something seen too often. Wonderful pix to whet our appetite for more!

Ditto! That's a pretty remarkable Day 1 already.

 

Thank you, Sangeeta, but it was actually much later, at Lagoon.

 

 

Great start to a report...we were there a month before you.

 

Thanks, Scottr29. Yes, I remember you went to Kwando from the "Moremi Air Crash" thread and of course you fabulous lions and dogs pictures.

 

 

I'm enjoying this very much, especially photos of non wildlife things such as aerials and the Maun airport.

 

Thank you, Twaffle.

 

Wonder start to your TR, and I'm looking forward to much more! Did Vasco happen to mention how he expected the game viewing to be in CKGR later in the year, say August-Sept as I gather there has been a very 'big wet' in CKGR this year.

 

Did you experience any rain during your stay in CKGR?

Hello @@Treepol , no we didn´t. (And thank you for the nice comments.) We saw rain a couple of times (as in the first pic of the report), but it´s very localized, we never got wet. Some roads were, however, some sections were positively swampy at times.

 

I did ask about high season, and was told that game viewing should be very good, since most animals do not wander off when it gets dry. With the shorter vegetation Vasco mentioned there´s a much higher chance of seeing the smaller mammals (like honey badgers), birding is not as good however. The waterhole in front of the camp is said to be very productive in dry season, whereas we didn´t see one single mammal there during our stay.

 

I have to confess I was - and am - a bit sceptical about what Vasco told me, since everything I read seemed to point to the fact that February was the the best time for the Kalahari and game viewing could be scarce when it´s getting dry.

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michael-ibk

Our first full day in Africa started. With lovely blue skies:

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"Green Season" is really not "Rainy Season", at least not for us. During our whole trip in Botswana we had a rainstorm once (during a flight) and a bit of drizzle one afternoon drive.

The morning started quietly, with some nice sightings of Rollers, Hornbills, Bateleurs, Northern Black Korhaans and listening to the songs of Rufous-Naped Larks. (I´m not giving birds the short stick in this report, btw, I have decided to group them in separate posts.)

We soon came across the Tau Pan pride again.

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The two big males were there, and as Vasco told us, were not particularly enarmoured of one another at present, since they had been fighting over the females.

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And they still were determined to show who´s boss, which in their case meant "I´m louder than all of you!".





Hearing a lion roaring just a few metres away from one´s open car is quite an extraordinary experience, the roars sent shivers through my body. Not completely sure if those were scared or excited shivers. ;)

Vasco had given us the car safety talk. "Don´t stand up, don´t move around too much if they get very close. They don´t recognize you, they just see the car. One big thing for them, not dangerous to them, and not prey to them."

Makes sense, but you have to force yourself to believe that when they are giving you looks like that and are practically at arm´s length:

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Or here (around 00:23):



Our Welsh friends in the second car were not all that relaxed about this lioness´s inquisitiveness, as they told me later:

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The lions really put on a fantastic show for us, circling around each other (and us) and roaring, always active, always awesome.

At some point one of the subadult-males got too close to the females, which the boss didn´t approve of at all:

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The youngster, however, didn´t act too impressed, quite the contrary:

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(Damn that antenna.)

Ultimately, the youngster came to his senses and went into submission mode:

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Big Brother just watched, probably hoping for his companion (and rival) to get some bloody scratches, too.

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After a good hour the lions finally decided they had had enough action and went to some shady bushes for doing what they do best - sleeping. :)

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michael-ibk

After we left the lions we saw some Black-Backed Jackals. A regular sighting for us in the Kalahari, but they always remained careful and kept a good distance from the roads. And since the grass could often be quite high it was not easy to spot them, let alone get pictures of them.

 

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The undisputed stars of the next few hours, however, would be Gemsbok.

 

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I had really been looking forward to seeing them, I love their long horns and their distinctive face markings. Impressive, formidable animals. But I had not expected to see so many of them. Didn´t try to count, but I´m quite sure in our three days in the Kalahari we saw nearly thousand of them. Most in small herds, quite some on their own. In fact, I think we saw more of them than Springboks.

 

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The name "Gemsbok" is interesting to an Austrian like me, because one of our few bigger animals is the "Gemse" (a mountain goat), the male called "Gemsbock" (chamois in English, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamois ). Gemsbok were in fact named after our "Gemse", apparently because of the superficial similarity in their facial markings.

 

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Truely regal antelopes...

 

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... but sometimes something goes a bit wrong. :)

 

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The spirit of the Kalahari

 

We also found several Ostriches who didn´t allow a closer approach however.

 

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And some Red Hartebeest:

 

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And this weird-looking collared Wildebeest:

 

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It always feels kind of "wrong" to me to see one single wildebeest, as they are the ultimate herd animal. But not in Botswana, as I would find out during the coming two weeks.

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graceland

What a great report; I enjoy the pics of course, but also the descriptions of the lodges, the vehicles, the routine (or not..) and the food and drink. Its ALMOST as good as being there!

 

Thanks - it made for a pleasurable read! Love the many lions

and the smiling faces of the staff!

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Atravelynn

Wonderful start!

 

Those mating wild dogs are quite the sensation. Then on to mating lions. Good to see the predators are doing their part to perpetuate their species. Your first shots show bright sunny skies as a backdrop to all the animals. No sign of rain.

 

Emergency Gin and Tonic, good one. :wacko:

 

Great capture of the lion roar. For anyone who asks, “How close can you get to the animals?” your clip of the lion surveying the vehicle is the perfect response.

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graceland

@@Atravelynn...and then they say, weren't you scared???

 

Hell no we want more! And then the g&t ^_^

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michael-ibk

Birds pt. 1 (Korhaans, Bustards and Secretary)

There´s one animal who truly behaves like he´s King of the Kalahari. And it´s not a lion. In fact it´s this little guy:

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The Northern Black Korhaan. In some areas there´s one every few hundert metres. They are highly territorial, and defend their small kingdoms vigorously against any intruder.

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And not only against rivals. No matter who or what is passing through they turn on the volume and try to scare away even cars with a very loud "kerrak kerrak kerrak". Unflinching. And literally screaming their tongue out. :)

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I really grew very fond of these fearless little fellows, and their raucous "songs" became my personal "sound of the Kalahari".



They were around at Nxai Pan as well, but not nearly as numerous as the Kalahari. The Females are even braver than the males.

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This lady felt we had come too close to their nest, and tried to scare the car away:



She wasn´t all that successful. A hilarious sighting. :)

We also saw their cousins, Red-Crested Korhaans, in both Tau Pan, Nxai Pan and Lagoon, but these are much shier and keep to the higher grasses. Black-Bellied Bustards, which do occur in the area, were not seen.

Their much larger relative, the Kori Bustard, however, was a common sighting in both the Kalahari and Nxai Pan. None in the Delta, one in the Linyanti.

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Somehow the way they move always remind me of dinosaurs, especially veloceraptors. (Thank you Jurassic Park.)

Secretary Birds were rarely seen, one each in the Kalahari, Nxai Pan and the Delta and two at Lagoon. All of them quite far away unfortunately.

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michael-ibk

What a great report; I enjoy the pics of course, but also the descriptions of the lodges, the vehicles, the routine (or not..) and the food and drink. Its ALMOST as good as being there!

 

Thanks - it made for a pleasurable read! Love the many lions

and the smiling faces of the staff!

 

You´re welcome, Graceland, thank you. :)

 

Wonderful start!

 

Those mating wild dogs are quite the sensation. Then on to mating lions. Good to see the predators are doing their part to perpetuate their species. Your first shots show bright sunny skies as a backdrop to all the animals. No sign of rain.

 

Emergency Gin and Tonic, good one. :wacko:

 

Great capture of the lion roar. For anyone who asks, “How close can you get to the animals?” your clip of the lion surveying the vehicle is the perfect response.

 

Thank you, Lynn. Fortunately we would later also see the results of their perpetuating efforts. Yes, it is very close. I think @ mentioned problems with vehicle mates who felt that something like this is too close. Luckily we didn´t experience that, all our vehicle mates were good company and as much into the wildlife experience as we were, but I remember two other guests at Lagoon who found these kind of sightings more fearsome than joyful and were actually contemplating if they should skip drives.

 

@@Atravelynn...and then they say, weren't you scared???

 

Hell no we want more! And then the g&t ^_^

 

I agree about the g&t, but "more" would have been problematic, even closer would have meant the lion roaring straight into my ears. And I strongly suspect they have offensive breath. ;)

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michael-ibk

Tau Pan Camp was the first stationary camp to be built in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Nine rooms, one of them a family chalet, can house up to 20 visitors max. It was almost fully booked during our whole stay (18 guests) and so camp was quite busy. It´s mainly solar-energy-powered, so the most reliable time to enjoy a warm shower is in the afternoon. (Patience needed, it takes about five minutes until hot water is running.) There is a plunge pool, but I don´t had the impression that it´s ever really used. Queleas seem to love it though, I read in one Kwando Sightings report that the pool was effectively blocked for days because they couldn´t shoo the flocks away.

 

The accomodations are not tents, but thatched desert room units, effectively tailored to the hot environment of a half-desert. Rooms all have a lenghty form and lots of small openings to ensure good ventilation. All rooms are equipped with a fan.

 

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The view from the outside shower and the viewing deck is very impressive.

 

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The waterhole (seen in the second picture) was not much of an animal draw, in fact we saw no mammals at all there. I was told that it´s very different in dry season, when lots of animals come to drink at this only water body near and far. Tau Pan itself is seen in the background, to the right.

 

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The Main Area where Paul made his narrow escape from the lions

 

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The Boma

 

Camp Manager was Mapilo who did a very good job. In addition to game drives they are also offering nature walks with bushman trackers. Though every report I had read about this did sound very nice we didn´t do this, didn´t want to sacrifice a game drive.

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Big_Dog

Stunning pics so far...I remember you mentioning the planning of this, looks from the intro you had a great time! Kwando is simply superb.
Looking forward to more!

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