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Botswana Nov-Dec 2014: Dogs and more dogs!


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janzin

In the "better late than never" category, I thought it was about time I repaid the forum by presenting a trip report. I confess, I do not keep any kind of daily diary--any free time on a trip is taken up with photographing, downloading and backing up photos. The photos are my diary! So this won't be a day-by-day, drive-by-drive account, but I'll try to hit the highlights on a camp-by-camp basis.

 

This trip to Botswana came about rather side-ways; we were planning Zambia, not really thinking we could afford Botswana, since I'd always heard how pricey it is. But we soon discovered that our time frame--which would afford us low-season rates, mid-to-late November--could be excruciatingly hot in Zambia. We were working with Bill Givens at Wildsource, and he suggested that for similar money we could do Green Season in Botswana. Okay! We'd read much about how "easy" it is to see Wild Dogs in the Okavango camps, and that was high on my list of "most wanted", since after three prior African trips we'd yet to see one. We are also pretty serious birders and wanted to get some specialty birds like Carmine Bee-eater and Pel's Fishing Owl. To make a long story short, we ended up with three nights in each of four camps: Kwara, Lagoon, Duma Tau, and Xigera. We were hesitant about Xigera because it offered less chance of big predators (or so we thought--more on that later ;) but included it for the birds. And surprisingly it turned out to be our absolute favorite of all the camps we visited.

 

On our way to Kwara!

 

 

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Kwara was our first camp and first experience in Botswana, and things started out slowly and a bit disappointingly. Naturally, as soon as we arrived we inquired about the dogs, which had been making a great show of it all summer. Of course, they had moved off and hadn't been seen in a week :( Oh well, there is lots more to see! Lions! Leopard! And lots of birds!

 

Well....Kwara was slow. Really slow. It was extremely hot...inside our tent on one afternoon break my thermometer read 104F. Ouch! I spent the break sitting on the porch pouring cold water over my head.

 

But we did get some lovely sights of non-predators, and birds. Here are a few highlights:

 

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We did find one sleepy lion--the only lion we saw at Kwara:

 

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And one Spotted Hyena on a night drive:

 

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And some birds....I spotted this guy outside our room as I was sitting on the porch pouring water over my head :)

 

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That's probably enough for one post, to be continued....

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In the "better late than never" category, I thought it was about time I repaid the forum by presenting a trip report. I confess, I do not keep any kind of daily diary--any free time on a trip is taken

Shortly after parting with the lions, Alan spotted some movement in the grass ahead (what's that running there?) and now I'm screaming, dogs, dogs, dogs!!! Not in our wildest dreams did we expect to s

Now to our last camp. Xigera is considered a "wet" camp, in high season surrounded by water in the heart of the Delta; but at this time of year there was plenty of dry land to traverse. In fact, water

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janzin

Our budget didn't allow us a private guide, but we were put with another couple that was interested in birds. They were quiet, and a bit reserved, but that was fine by us. Some others came in and out of our vehicle at various times, but only once did we have more than four, and that was only for 1/2 a drive (airstrip drop-off.)

 

Our guide was Robby, and we did have some frustrations with him. He knew we were all eager to see dogs and other predators, and while he worked hard to find them, at times he was too single-minded--wanting to please, but not really paying attention to the consequences.

 

We had one unfortunate incident where we traveled quite a long way to the northern section of the concession, in search of some dogs that had been spotted recently. We arrived near the location and Robby and the tracker parked the vehicle under some shade trees and said they were going off to look for tracks. We expected them to be gone maybe 10, 15 minutes at most but the clock kept ticking...we started getting restless. After a half an hour we were starting to worry--but we hadn't heard any screams... :unsure: After 45 minutes we were all discussing if we could figure out how to use the radio. (All this time we were sitting in vehicle, of course unable to get out, with not much to look at--not even the birds were visiting us. And the camp kept calling on the radio...Robby Robby Robby come in, come in...) After ONE HOUR we were getting a little panicked and also very, very annoyed as we essentially had lost an hour of our drive time sitting looking at nothing. :angry: And we were in a pretty remote area and had not seen any other vehicles nearby. Luckily we had water, and I was beginning to count my granola bars... Just as I was about to try the radio to call for "help" Robby and the tracker finally reappeared, coming from the other direction from which they started. They'd made a complete circuit, looking for the dogs (and without result.) We expressed our unhappiness/displeasure at being left for a full hour without warning, but they more or less shrugged it off. After that, we drove a short way and they got out again, again leaving us sitting! We told them 10 minutes MAX, luckily they did come back in about 15 minutes (with nothing to report.) We were not pleased, and I considered complaining to the camp manger, but we didn't want to get them into trouble, especially since we still had more drives to do.

 

So at this point, we were starting to think we made a mistake with Kwara and maybe even with Botswana. But things did get better--much better :)

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Soukous

a great start @@janzin, loving the photos

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SSF556

Did they take the keys? I would have fired it up and started my own safari...hell with a guide and tracker.... :D

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janzin

Did they take the keys? I would have fired it up and started my own safari...hell with a guide and tracker.... :D

 

Ha! I actually don't recall. They may have left them, but I assure you we had no idea where we were or how we would ever find our way back :D

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Game Warden

Super start to the report @@janzin and great work with the photos, post processing as well. Really makes them pop. Write up a little how to to post in the photography subforum if you get time? I think members would appreciate it. There was a question about adding borders just yesterday I think.

 

Matt

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janzin

On our last evening, we did the boat trip to the bird rookery. This was a highlight, for sure. We had the boat to ourselves, it was cooling and relaxing after the long, hot, and frustrating drives; and we had many great bird sightings. We also had one rather unexpected mammal sighting--I saw an antelope running in the high grass along the shore--what's that antelope, I asked Robby?

 

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Sitatunga! Even our guide was excited as he said they are rarely seen here. We never would have seen it from land; being on the high deck of the boat afforded us the ability to look down into the grass.

 

So we were off to a good start! And we had some nice bird viewing along the way.

 

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We came to an area where there were dozens of Yellow-billed Kites coming in to roost for the evening.

 

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Arriving at the rookery, we were surprised by how small it really was...just a few trees with birds roosting. But the light was lovely, and birds were flying in and around while we had our sundowners. It was especially nice to be at eye-level with the tops of the roosting trees. There wasn't a lot of bird variety, but what there was, was very close!

 

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On the way back, we had the most amazing sunset, and the trail of swirling water behind our boat made for some nice photo ops.

 

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A lovely end to the day. So maybe Kwara wasn't so bad after all :D We were starting to warm up to it...and to Botswana...

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janzin

Super start to the report @@janzin and great work with the photos, post processing as well. Really makes them pop. Write up a little how to to post in the photography subforum if you get time? I think members would appreciate it. There was a question about adding borders just yesterday I think.

 

Matt

 

Thanks @@Game Warden Wow, how to post-process--there are entire books and classes on that, not sure I'd even know where to begin. I do think folks don't put enough emphasis on post-processing, many don't want to bother (and that of course is their choice) but as far as I'm concerned, what you do after the fact is as critical to a great photo as snapping the shutter. Post-processing is often the difference between "snapshots" and art (not that I am in any way inferring that all my images are art! I try though...) And I'm not downplaying the value of snapshots---but if you want it to be "more", you have to learn to post-process well. Anyway, I could try to answer any specific questions, I'll keep an eye on that forum.

 

Re: the borders, I do that for my own website so since these photos are pulled from there, they have the borders. On Facebook for instance I don't bother with borders. They are really simple to do, in the software I use (not Photoshop or Lightroom!) I created what is essentially a macro, or action, to do them.

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Game Warden

That photo of the lagoon has a real dreamy substance to it. Nice!

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marg

nice report and photos thus far and worth the wait!

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janzin

By our last morning, we'd given up hope of seeing any dogs at Kwara. We packed our bags into the jeep and headed out for one last drive before our mid-day flight to Lagoon. But against all odds...after about an hour or so the call came in...dogs had been spotted! A small group of six... Robby said we were about 20 minutes away. Before we could even catch our breath we were speeding and bumping our way to their location. And I mean bumping (more on that in a bit...) I swear we did that 20 minutes in 10 minutes :lol: As we pulled close this was what greeted us:

 

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Our "life" Wild Dogs!!! Whooo-hooo!

 

There were only six, and they had just finished their breakfast, I guess, because they were toying with the remains.

 

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So we were happy now. :D But we didn't have all that much time to spend with them, so frustrating; we had to leave enough time to get back to the airstrip for our flight.

 

Still...Kwara wasn't quite done with us yet...

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SafariChick

Great photos! I loved my green season Bots trip - looking forward to more!

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madaboutcheetah

Sitatunga!!! Wow - That alone is worth the price of admission .... No cheetah at Kwara? I was under the impression they were everywhere in recent times (just hearsay - I haven't been in quite a while)

 

Re the hour's tracking - There are days, one can do 6-7 hours of such tracking if you are keen to find something specific ..... Just FYI. I've been in situations in the heat of October - well worth the effort I must say and gives you a sense of appreciation of not just the wilderness areas, but, to explore areas not often ventured into.

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janzin

@@madaboutcheetah yes we were really excited about the Sitatunga...but it wasn't the last we saw...we had even better sightings later....stay tuned.

 

As for the tracking...it would have been different if they had told us what they were doing and warned us how long they might be gone (in that case, we probably would have told them not to bother.) but; to just sit in the vehicle doing and seeing nothing for an hour seemed a huge waste of our precious safari time.

 

As for cheetah...well I did say that Kwara wasn't done with us yet. <_< See my next post!

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janzin

Sadly it was time to leave the dogs. But as we started to pull away, what crossed right in front of us but THIS!

 

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Unbelievable! We followed a short bit until he got comfortable by a termite mound, where he set about doing a little face-wash for us. Again, we couldn't spend too much time, but it didn't look like he was moving anytime soon, anyway. As it turned out, this was our only cheetah sighting of the entire trip. We spent as much time as we could admiring this magnificant cat but had to go.

 

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We were all in great cheer as we headed back to the airstrip. But there was one more less fun surprise--when we arrived at the airstrip and started unloading the bags--hubby's bad was nowhere to be found! And we distinctly remembered putting it into the vehicle. Yes, it had apparently bounced out of the back of the jeep somewhere during our mad dash to the dogs! Praying that some wily baboon hadn't dragged it away, we flew off with promises from the guides that they would retrace the route we took and locate it, and send it on to us. How they could even retrace our madcap route was beyond me...but we had no choice but to fly on to Lagoon with one bag less then we had when we arrived.

 

Still, it was hard to be upset after that fabulous morning!

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madaboutcheetah

PS - brilliant photography all round!!! enjoying it ...... Haha - you did get the cheetah. Sorry I thought you were done with the Kwara segment. My bad.........

 

It seemed like everything was happening just when it was time to leave - but, glad you got some nice sightings.

So glad you got an even better sitatunga. Very fortunate indeed ...... I agree with you - better communication from your guide was definitely in order.

 

Look forward to Lagoon.

 

I do hope you got your bag sent to you and that they found it -

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Kitsafari

gorgeous photos of the birds especially of the Jacana and the ibis flying in the skies.

sitatunga! how lucky you were to see it. and then wild dogs and a beautiful cheetah served up to give you a grand send-off. I love the pic of the cheetah looking up at you while cleaning his foot or paw.

 

hope your hubby got his bag back in one piece!

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janzin

Amazingly, the bag did indeed turn up at Lagoon by lunchtime the next day, after first flying back to Maun! What a relief, especially since my husband had his medications in it; and we were very grateful that it had been located, none the worse for sitting in the bush a few hours. Whew!

 

But other news at Lagoon was disappointing as their dogs had also "just moved off" (grrrr!) to Lebala and even there, no one had seen them in a couple of days.

 

Our guide at Lagoon was Paul, with tracker Ishmael. Here again, we felt that the guide was not that engaged with us. We actually found the guiding at the Wilderness camps superior than at Kwando, the guides just seemed more excited; somehow friendlier and more enthusiastic. I got the distinct feeling from both our Kwando guides that they were kind of bored with it all. Of course, I know others really love the guides at Kwando camps so maybe we were just unlucky with guides, and it was the end of the busy season, so maybe they were just eager to get home. Ishmael, the tracker at Lagoon, was fabulous and we thought him more enthusiastic than Paul; he was very interested in helping us find birds, genuinely excited when he spotted a new bird for us; and even had his own birding field guide.

 

Not to say we had a bad time at Lagoon! The camp was lovely (more on that later) and we met some really nice and interesting people there. Our jeep companions for most of the drives was a very laid-back, friendly young couple from Germany who had already been at several camps and seen lots of dogs and other predators, so they were happy to do and see anything; and on a few drives we were joined by another photographer with a big lens (also from Germany!) who we could talk to about photography and was happy as long as he had something to photograph (like me :) So all was good in that respect.

 

We actually saw no top predators at Lagoon except for two sleeping lions. We were kind of surprised at the scarcity of other predators such as hyena and jackal in the Delta, which in Tanzania and in South Africa we usually saw on every game drive. A couple of time, we did drive by a hyena den with (so we were told) pups, but they never seemed to be home :(

 

So I don't have too much more to say about our time at Lagoon, I'll just post some photos of the highlights.

 

One of the sleepy lions. He did raise his head for a moment.

 

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There was plenty of general game including large herds of Sable, possibly the most majestic of the antelope here. Also a large herd of Eland but unfortunately I did not get any photos, they were moving fast ahead of us.

 

 

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And we came upon large herds of buffalo, something we didn't see anywhere else.

 

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And more ellies.

 

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Including some really BIG bulls.

 

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And some of the smaller things too. Okay, well Warthogs aren't that small...

 

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But mongoose are.

 

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and tortoises are small.

 

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And even smaller--the Lagoon camp had zillions of these Northern Flutterer dragonflies fluttering around.

 

northern_flutterer_5285c.jpg

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janzin

One highlight at Lagoon was an active Bat-eared Fox den with four pups. Luckily they were out and about, unlike the less cooperative hyenas.

 

Probably Mamma...

 

bat_eared_fox_4678a.jpg

 

And the four pups!

 

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And we did get a quick view of a Side-striped Jackal.

 

side_striped_jackal_5815a.jpg

 

 

Now, don't think I've forgotten the birds! There were plenty, I'll save them for the next installment though.

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SafariChick

Shame you didn't see more predators at Lagoon. But beautiful shots of the sable, and I love that dragonfly shot! And those bat-eared foxes are beautiful, the babies so cute!

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michael-ibk

Phantastic photography, really love your pictures! Sable! And Sitatunga, just wow! Sorry that Kwando didn´t live up to your expectations predator-wise but you had some very special sightings to make up for that. I am a bit surprised that you didn´t see more lions especially, though.

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Re the hour's tracking - There are days, one can do 6-7 hours of such tracking if you are keen to find something specific ..... Just FYI. I've been in situations in the heat of October - well worth the effort I must say and gives you a sense of appreciation of not just the wilderness areas, but, to explore areas not often ventured into.

 

I have to agree - while in Ndutu, wanting to watch cheetahs hunt, we daily (!!!) spent hours doing nothing, just waiting for the cats to finally start moving - and they usually did,,,it is indeed a completely different safari experience but nevertheless one not to miss

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graceland

Wow, @@janzin, lovely shots. Love the Sable, just gorgeous.

I agree with you about guiding at Kwando; I was disappointed at Little Kwara but thankfully we had several Wilderness camps to look forward to. I also think it has something to do with "going on leave"; being tired; getting bored, not communicating; etc.

 

But you did get an exceptional last day of out Kwara!

 

So I am one that does not post process because I find it intimidating, sometimes frustrating. Of course I only use what is available on my computer program...Apple photos.

If you have a suggestion on which to use; I'd love to hear it. Might try it now that I am retired and have more time to play around.

Thanks.

 

Looking forward to more GreenSeason; I loved that time of year in Botswana!

Edited by graceland
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Zubbie15

I love your photography @@janzin - I remember the pictures you shared on the Tripadvisor Tanzania forum a couple of years ago because of how good they are, and if anything these surpass them. Looking forward to reading more about your trip, the start is very promising.

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wilddog

Lovely images, Thanks @@janzin. The sable image in particular is spectacular.

 

Sad to hear you were disappointed with your guide. Most of the Kwando guides seemd great to me. But of course when it is holiday time for some of the senior guides one may get someone a bit less enthusiastic.

 

Looking forward to hearing about the next stage.

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