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Mana Magic 2.0. - A Return to the Best Place in the World


michael-ibk

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michael-ibk

Thanks, @Zubbie15, @Peter Connan, @Atravelynn, @janzin and @xelas!

 

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On to our last full day on the flood plains! It had been uncomfortably hot at night, with no cooling breeze at all, so were a bit knackered.

 

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This young Gymnogene had obviously detected something inside this dead tree and tried its best to scare it out but we could not work out what it was after.

 

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We drove around hoping to find signs of the Lions or Dogs again but they remained hidden. The western end of Long Pool was full of life but no predators near or far.

 

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But we were very happy when we found a small troop of some relaxed and impossibly cute Dwarf Mongoose, just right next to the road! Definitely our best sighting of these so far.

 

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After two great weeks in Zambia´s Kafue National Park (see report in progress here) @AndMic, our guide @Doug Macdonald and me moved on from Lusaka to Zimbabwe. We had five nights on the flood plains a

A short while later we thought we had found an old friend - Boswell, the iconic handstanding tusker of Mana Pools. Of course we had to walk over to say Hello, just to be polite.    

The Dogs came back, content to have shown their enemies who´s boss.         But the Hyenas apparently were unwilling to learn and came closer again! These Zebra

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michael-ibk

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Zebras were much more common this time than during our 2015 visit - they must have had a good year, like the Waterbuck. Quite a few young ones among them.

 

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We tried our luck at Shumba Pan again but all the Buffalo-Hyena excitement two days ago must have been just a bit too much fun for the Dogs, they had vacated the area.

 

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The resident pair of Saddle-Billed Storks - the female in the foreground with the yellow eyes.

 

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This is a bird that´s not uncommon but probably very often not identified for what it is - an Intermediate Egret, just a bit smaller than a Great Egret, neck not quite as long, and the gape not extending behind the eye.

 

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One of the most common safari birds - Helmeted Guineafowl. Abundant as they are they are actually quite tricky to get decent photos of.

 

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We found Lion tracks and walked around for quite some time hoping to find them with their cubs but they were playing a game of cats and mouse with us, going in circles, off to the bushes, backtracking - it was not easy for Doug to stay on the track, and finally we could no longer follow them because it would have led us into very thick vegetation. Not a sensible thing to follow them in there. Doug was certain that they had to be close but we just had to admit defeat this time.

 

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It was already past 11:00 when we returned to camp, and the heat was back into full-powered hairdryer mode. Just on a hunch Doug decided to do a quick detour to Old Ndungu 1 (just a few 100 metres upriver from our campsite), and indeed, the Lions were there.

 

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Some of them, to be exact. Three sisters were resting here. This was pretty far from where we had tracked them so the pride obviously had split up.

 

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While we were having lunch they were trying to have some too - they had a go at some Zebra just a few hundred metres next to camp. We quickly left our food and drove up but they were in no mood to try again. The Zebra were gone, and Waterbuck is not the most popular choice on their menu.

 

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The hunt had not gone too well for this Lady.

 

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michael-ibk

Difficult decisions for the afternoon - should we stay with our three Lions who were obviously hungry and would in all likelihood try to hunt again? Or try to search for the Dogs who had been seen in the morning at Croton? Not an easy choice but we love the Dogs and so our path was clear.

 

Some of the fig trees were fully ripe now and attracted a lot of fruiteaters, Green Pigeons and Trumpeter Hornbills.

 

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We left the car and walked towards the area where Doug hoped the pack would be. A little adrenaline rush on the way - an Elephant bull had been out of sight for us down in a gulley and when we suddenly noticed each other he was not too happy about us intruding. But fortunately he just calmed down and went the other way.

 

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It turned out to be pretty easy to find the Dogs - a lot of people had heard about where they were today, and some of them were already on their way. So we just had to walk towards them, and indeed, the pack was there.

 

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Doug offered us a choice again: There were two possible waterholes where the Dogs would probably be off to after getting active, one quite close where all the people (around 20 over the afternoon) were waiting. Or we could take a risk and wait for them at the second one (where nobody else was sitting), and if we were lucky, maybe the Dogs would come towards us. We went for the second option and waited quite a while, seeing which way they would go. If that had worked out it would have been the best plan ever. As it was, it turned out to be a pretty lousy one since the Dogs cheerfully ran away from us, straight to the crowd, and settled again there. Oh well, you can´t win them all. We quickly went back, joined all the others, and Doug managed to get some reasonable spots for us.

 

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This was the first time we ever experienced a crowded Dog sighting, and obviously it´s so much nicer if you get them on your own. But this is also Mana Pools, and Doug told us, it can happen that up to 50 people walk in on the pack when everybody knows where they are.

 

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Still, it was a nice sighting, and you just can´t help but smile when the pups are playing with each other.

 

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Or, in the case of this little lone wolf, try to catch butterflies.

 

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The Impala were getting nervous, and rightly so - the Dogs were getting restless and soon left, probably on their way to hunt.

 

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It was already too late to follow them, it was dawning, and so we went back to the car.

 

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michael-ibk

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It was our last morning on the flood plains, we were expected at Kanga Camp (our very last stop for this trip) for lunch. Originally we had planned to just do a longish walk from camp but the heat had finally gotten to me - I had not felt on top form last evening, barely eaten anything (which is highly unusual for me :D) and was still a bit wobbly on my feet. So we decided to just do a drive around. And we were lucky! We had almost given up hope of seeing them again, but after only 15 minutes, before 06:00, we found the Lions and their cubs again, not far from where we had tracked them the day before.

 

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They were reasonably close to the road but the still low light and all the grass made photography quite difficult.

 

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A lovely sighting! Cubs, be it Lion, Leopard or Cheetah, are always wonderful to see, and we were very happy about this farewell present the Flood Plains had granted us.

 

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All five cubs were around. Sadly, I heard that as of November they are down to four (which is of course very normal - mortality is high).

 

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Let´s just hope that the rest of the little rascals will be fine and will grow up to be big bold and fearsome hunters.

 

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Meanwhile, however, they are just little kittens needing mommy´s love. :)

 

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When more cars arrived mother did not appreciate all the attention and soon led their offspring into the bushes again. A good thing we had started so early, otherwise we would have missed them!

 

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We still had a little time so drove down to the area where the Dogs had been yesterday. A few minutes of thorough binoc scanning, and indeed, Doug found them. Would we want to go over to say Good Bye? Come on now, is the Pope catholic?

 

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They were all resting. Very nice to see them one last time.

 

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And again, of course, the pups were the most restless, and they were coming down (and thereby closer to us) to drink.

 

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Arrividerci, my young little friends, you have been very good to us this time. Hope to see you again next time!

 

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It was finally time to make our leave from the flood plains. On my request we had one last stop at Trichellia - I love the Zambezi, and just wanted to be there one more time.

 

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It was very windy and cloudy today, a sign of the things to come very soon - in only five days the dry flood plains would be completely transformed by more than 160 mm of rain!

 

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After getting our things and saying Good Bye again to the nice people in camp (which we had enjoyed a lot) we were off to Kanga, going as fast as this IIF.

 

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The bone-dry inland area - nothing to be seen on the drive to Kanga.

 

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So how would our last two nights go? Had all the animals left?

 

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Peter Connan

Fantastic dog and lion sightings!

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Atravelynn

Cute little lion cubs!  The dogs keep performing.  Love that leaping impala--fully stretched!

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michael-ibk

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Kanga Camp, the last chapter of this trip. A lovely place in the middle of nowhere, and the perfect spot to enjoy and relax.

 

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This is armchair safari at its best. No need to go anywhere, the animals are coming to you.

 

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This late in the dry season the pan is normally pretty much the only watersource near and far, and all the animals in a radius of many kilometres have to come here sooner or later. Rain was good in Zimbabwe in 2017 and so there were more pans active than is usual but the activity at Kanga still was very good. I´m sure the experience will be quite different, however, early in the season or after the rains have started.

 

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Our Foam-Nesting Frog, following us everywhere we´d go this safari.

 

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The dining area. Food was excellent, staff friendly and motivated - it´s a really good camp. And after three weeks of non-stop activity it felt quite nice of doing things at a slightly slower pace at the end.

 

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I rarely use plunge pools but in the incredible heat this was a godsend - I never wanted to get out again.

 

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A very bold Yellow-Bellied Greenbul. He´d participate as much on the breakfast buffet as any of us. It was already there in 2015 - or maybe it has learned the tricks of its elders.

 

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It´s sensible to keep your eyes open when going to tent - Elephants were a constant presence.

 

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Terrestrial Brownbul

 

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Our very comfortable tent. Wonderful to sit there in the afternoon and watch the animals amble by.

 

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Greater Kudu

 

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Cattle Egret

 

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Our rooms.

 

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I have striking pictures of AndMic in these very flashy bathrobes but he swore to kill me if I put them up.

 

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The bath"room"

 

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michael-ibk

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So we´d mostly just sit around on the main deck or in front of our tent and waited what would come down to drink. Very often we´d also go under deck to be on eye-level with the animals. We had some comfy chairs down there, and camp made sure we had everything we needed. We shared the space with Neil, a cameraman doing a documentary on Kanga who had spent already two months here. He showed us some really awesome footage, a Croc killing a Genet and - most exciting - a Leopard going after an old Baboon. The old guy put up a good battle but had no chance in the end. I was very sorry to hear that Neil had left his gear down there when the rains came shortly after we left - the poor guy lost a lot of equipment.

 

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Many Thick-Knees around this time. Last time there were some Saddle-Billed Storks, Herons and a Fish-Eagle - none of them this time. I can only assume they had already eaten out all kind of fish they prefer.

 

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Many, many Baboons coming and going all the time. The camp manager told me they have identified at least five different troops, and they all have different ways in and out and favourite places to hang out.

 

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They were also the source of some drama - the sinking water allowed them to get into the middle of the pan where the Thick-Knees were nesting. All the birds´ hard work was rendered futile when this Baboon found out how tasty eggs are.

 

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Eland were a bit shier than the other antelopes, they mostly kept to the far end of the pan.

 

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Black-Winged Stilt

 

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I was delighted about this Duiker coming out. They are not rare of course, but it´s not very often that you get a good close view of them like that.

 

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The most numerous animals were Impalas of course.

 

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Mammalwise, to be precise. The number of birds coming to drink was staggering, especially the Doves late afternoon.

 

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Which attracted several Birds of Prey. We often watched these Goshawks trying their luck with them but did not see a successful kill.

 

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Warthogs with their best Iggy Pop look.

 

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I had hoped for these Crested Guineafowl but unfortunately they only put in appearances after the light was gone.

 

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The antelopes and Zebras were always on edge, always watching, looking in all directions, easily spooked, and a breaking branch could be enough for them to stop drinking and run.

 

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With good reason, the pan is a perfect ambush place for predators. The local lions were visiting one morning, and hung around in the vicinity, which did not exactly help in making the animals less nervous. We´d often hear them roaring, and they were close when we were having dinner - we saw them drinking right in front of the tents. Made going to bed just a bit more exciting.

 

Many Hyena at night as well, also some Genets and Civets. I was a bit too lazy to try for them during dinner, but of course a wonderful atmosphere with all these cool animals around. We also had two Leopards coming out to drink, always something special. Unfortunately they both kept to the far end of the pan.

 

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African Wood Owl

 

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And my personal highlight at night - a Honey Badger!

 

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Neil the cameraman had told us that he was still missing Badger footage. When this guy showed up Neil was just having a break. After he came back under deck and we told him the Badger had just been here he laughed and would not believe us. A look at my camera made him kick himself, however. B)

 

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michael-ibk

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Kanga is usually not top game drive country. Animal density is not that high, and your chances of seeing something exciting are much higher at the pan than being out. We only did two hours in the morning on our full day and the 45 minutes going to Kanga airstrip (across the Rukomechi) when we were leaving, otherwise we stayed put. A few scattered Impala, maybe a Zebra now and then, the odd Kudu and birds - that´s mostly it.

 

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Dwarf Mongoose

 

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Crowned Hornbill

 

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The ground is very sandy in parts, and we actually got stuck once. Doug had us collect elephant dung and put it behind the wheels, that was enough to get out again. The structure in the background is Kanga´s sleepout btw - one can spend the night on that platform under the stars.

 

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Crested Guineafowl again - I really like them.

 

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Little Bee-Eaters were very cooperative.

 

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michael-ibk

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Elephants are Kanga´s main stars. We had a lot of fun watching the gentle giants. Though present all time of the day most of them came out at dawn.

 

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It was interesting to see that they would use different spots for drinking and mudbathing. They like to keep clean what they drink, and only ever suck in the top surface water.

 

 

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Note the Hippo in the background. This guy must have felt miserable, because this spot seems to have been his very last refuge in the whole pan. A preferred spot for the Eles, and the Hippo cannot have liked that. The local Croc was also staying there. It´s still small, and not yet a danger for the antelopes. But if it stays (and I cannot see why it would not) it will make for some very interesting scenes at Kanga in the future when it´s fully grown. Both Hippo and Croc must have been immensely happy when the rains arrived in force shortly after our departure.

 

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Taken from "down under". The Elephants were curious about us and often eyed us but did not really seem to mind our presence here.

 

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michael-ibk

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Greater Kudu are among my favourite animals, and Kanga is a terrific place to watch them.

 

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I just love these majestic spiralled horns with the white tips!

 

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This was incredible - a bachelor herd of 10(!) good-looking males!

 

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The name of the animal was imported into English in the 18th century from isiXhosa iqhude, via Afrikanns koedoe -  part zebra part deer.

 

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michael-ibk

More life in the pan:

 

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No herds out here but these dagga boys were coming and going.

 

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An abundance of Queleas.

 

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Dovesdovesdoves.

 

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Red-Eyed Doves

 

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Hamerkop, the succesful fisher

 

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African Hawk Eagle

 

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Baboon familiy life

 

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Note the baby - must have a good grip!

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michael-ibk

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Last post of Kanga Camp, Ladies and Gentlemen.

 

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The pan is a good place to look out for some of the smaller creatures - like this Slender Mongoose.

 

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Or this Rock Monitor - quite a big guy.

 

I was experimenting with slow shutter speeds to capture the sense of constant movement of the drinking animals here.

 

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Bushbuck are beautiful antelopes, and as with the Duiker you don´t get to see them that relaxed and posing for the camera too often.

 

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A lovely couple.

 

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The Lady was presenting here for a moment but then decided she was a decent girl after all and would not become the object of gratitious Bushbuck porn.

 

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One more Warthog - actually the very last animal I took a photo of at the pan.

 

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Emerald-Spotted Wood Dove a bit closer - abundant as they are it´s actually not easy to approach them.

 

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Western Banded Snake Eagle, in flight and resting.

 

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This bird is the reason for many, many deleted photos - a Broad-Billed Roller, high up on my target list. Not an easy one to get.

 

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michael-ibk

Do not worry I may have become one of these silly people running after birds but I´m not ending this report with a Roller. No, of course I´m concluding with Big Cats. I mentioned that game drives around Kanga usually may not be too rewarding but we were lucky. We had a top Lion sighting at morning, not more than 10 minutes from camp, and that will be the last sequence for this trip report.

 

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This guy looked very timid and like he did not belong.

 

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And obviously he did not - the pride (two males and two females) were resting a bit farther off, and obviously were not welcoming the other guy.

 

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One of these is called "Scruffy" because of the not exactly super-impressive mane.

 

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michael-ibk

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Scruffy was getting in the mood here.

 

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That does look promising, he must have thought.

 

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What a smell!

 

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But the Lady was not too keen.

 

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Sleeping was the more preferrable option. Hm, Scruffy thought, maybe - could I - would she?

 

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Definitely not! Get *"§)(§&)(§% off me or ELSE!

 

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Men!

 

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Now what did I do wrong this time?

 

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michael-ibk

The last batch of photos:

 

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I seem to remember that the males were father and son but I could be totally wrong - I really should take notes again.

 

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A very relaxed and pleasant sighting in the morning light - photowise the best Lion one of the trip.

 

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If she is not in the mood there are other ways to get affection.

 

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And that´s it from me, we have reached the end of this report. Thank you for reading, commenting and liking, trip reports are much more fun with a little feedback. I was more than happy with this return to Mana Pools, against my fears it totally lived up to our (high) expectations. My main worry now is that the 2018 trips are booked without any Mana in them, and it does not look too good for 2019 either. That can´t be quite right, I wanna go back - soon! After all, it really is the best place in the world.:)

 

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Edited by michael-ibk
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Peter Connan

According to the forum, I have run out of likes. I disagree.

 

What a magnificent trip and report, thank you very much!

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Tdgraves

Grrrr @michael-ibk you got a broad billed roller at kanga. I spent two weeks looking for them with no success ? ! Well done.

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Seniortraveller

A fabulous trip report, so glad you had such a wonderful trip. Reading about Kanga was difficult, after our experience of being there after the rains.☹️

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Ratdcoops

Such a great report with so many great viewings. Loved all of the photos, my personal favourites were the Carmine’s. I am in Mana late September early October 2018, with my family and can’t wait. Two of the things I have always wanted to see are the large flocks of Quelea and a Carmine colony, so I have my fingers crossed.

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Sangeeta

I want to know who is writing these reports for you in such impeccable English!?

 

Really beautiful images, Michael. They get sharper with each trip and I can see your camera experiments clearly. Have you changed/upgraded your gear?

 

Darn, I want to go back too!

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19 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

and it does not look too good for 2019 either.

 

Why?! Already planned out?? I think you might change your mind even if so, flight tickets for 2019 are still not on sale :D!

 

Wonderful trip report, one of those that makes readers starting to re-shuffle their short and long terms travel plans.

Edited by xelas
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On 12/9/2017 at 9:23 AM, michael-ibk said:

My main worry now is that the 2018 trips are booked without any Mana in them, and it does not look too good for 2019 either.

 

I know what you mean...I have no Africa at all in 2018 and actually today reading your report (and a few others) I actually started feeling physically ill at the thought. Could it be an addiction? :o

 

Great report and photos, that goes without saying!

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Zim Girl

@michael-ibk, @AndMic

 

Great trip report and photos as usual.

 

So good of the dogs to see you off the floodplain and I loved all the Kudu pictures at Kanga Pan.

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