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Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa Sept 2017: A Different View


janzin

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amybatt

I think too it’s a good reminder for taking the steps to put things back on course as soon as they start to go off the rails.  I learned that on my second safari, if I don’t speak up it’s going to continue to irritate/disappoint.  It’s too much of an investment and too far of a journey to not have things go the way you want.  I completely agree a sighting in the hand is worth all the bush breakfasts in the world!  ;)  (I’d also note that it’s a striking contrast because didn’t Enaidura bring you breakfast or lunch out in the bush so you wouldn’t have to leave a sighting??  Or is that someone else?)

 

I meant to add earlier that the shot of the giraffe’s top of the head as it reaches for the flowers on the sausage tree is really unique.  You don’t often see that angle!

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I have been a bit reluctant to start this trip report because there have been so many excellent reports out of Zambia and specifically South Luangwa lately...will folks really be keen to read another?

When we arrived at Amanzi, there was one other couple in camp, but they were leaving the next morning and we learned that for the rest of our stay, we would be the only guests. This meant that even th

During the long lunch break I entertained myself by watching the comings and goings in our little marsh. The light was always very harsh so photography wasn't optimal, but here's a few of the critters

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What great sightings you had @janzin I cant believe breakfast was prioritised over dogs and leopard. Could your driver could have used the radio to alert the necessary people you were going to be late, or skip breakfast all together?

 

We had a similar thing happen in the Mara back in 2009. We were lined up ready to watch a river crossing when our driver said we had to get back to the lodge for lunch. We were most disappointed to find out the crossing occured about 30 mins after our departure. We also had a private vehicle so there was no-one elses wants and needs to be considered. Looking back I think what annoyed me most is that we weren't even consulted as to what we wanted to do.

 

Hopefully things improve now that you have your own vehicle, looking forward to seeing what happens next!

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5 hours ago, amybatt said:

(I’d also note that it’s a striking contrast because didn’t Enaidura bring you breakfast or lunch out in the bush so you wouldn’t have to leave a sighting??  Or is that someone else?)

 

I meant to add earlier that the shot of the giraffe’s top of the head as it reaches for the flowers on the sausage tree is really unique.  You don’t often see that angle!

 

Yes that was me. Enaidura brought us our lunch out to the far side of the reserve so we wouldn't have to leave a cheetah sighting. As a matter of fact they actually now have what they call a "roving food truck" to deliver breakfast and lunch so you don't have to leave the bush!

 

 

 

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29 minutes ago, mopsy said:

What great sightings you had @janzin I cant believe breakfast was prioritised over dogs and leopard. Could your driver could have used the radio to alert the necessary people you were going to be late, or skip breakfast all together?

 

 

I believe they did radio in that we'd be late, but even so, there wasn't really an option of not going back--or at least it never came up. I think our car-mates would have wanted to go back for the breakfast...but again, it was never discussed. Besides we didn't even know the reason we were rushing around (as it was supposed to be a "surprise") until Jacob finally realized how upset I really was, and he told us what was going on. By that time we'd already left the dogs and the leopard.  :(

 

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The 3rd giraffe image in post #70 (I think) is the most unusual perspective of a giraffe I've ever seen. Made me smile.

 

@janzin Not sure if anyone else has mentioned ~ that's not an Olive baboon.  

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1 hour ago, Geoff said:

The 3rd giraffe image in post #70 (I think) is the most unusual perspective of a giraffe I've ever seen. Made me smile.

 

@janzin Not sure if anyone else has mentioned ~ that's not an Olive baboon.  

 

 

oops @Geoff my bad, you are right, that should be Yellow Baboon.  Did it quickly without really thinking, since it was Olive Baboon in East Africa!

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I'm really enjoying your report and your photos are just stunning. The Red-necked falcon and the giraffe eating the kigelia flower are wonderful. But to leave a sighting of dogs for breakfast :wacko: - talk about the wrong priorities! I've been to SLNP several times but not since 2010. I also had complaints about BC but not stayed at any of the RPS camps. Worst experience was in North Park at Mwaleshi which was so poorly organised and guided I actually got money back from the UK operator (after a fight!). Perhaps SLNP has had its day for those who want more than luxury camps! I wouldn't go back there.

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Now that we had a private vehicle, what did we want to do for our afternoon drive? Well, go back to look for the dogs, of course! The area where we'd seen them was at least an hour north of Tena Tena---more of course if you stopped along the way. We asked to leave a bit earlier than the usual 4 p.m., so I think we left closer to 3:30. Progress :)

 

Heading out of camp, one of the first animals we saw was this Bushbuck who was in such perfect light I had to stop.

 

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We saw ellies crossing the river, but the light wasn't really right. (It would be better the next morning.)

 

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We spotted a young male lion coming from the bush.

 

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But no, he just went over to another bush and laid down.

 

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We soon realized there were actually two lions...under two bushes. Probably brothers.

 

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We didn't stay too long with them as we still had a ways to go before getting to the area where we'd seen the dogs in the morning. A tough choice, but the lions really didn't seem to be hunting, and looked pretty well fed. So we moved on.

 

We got to the plains where we'd seen the dogs earlier that day.  No dogs were obvious, but we waited and watched the many impala and puku which were grazing here. You could see why the dogs would hang around in this area!

 

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It was a beautiful spot, and we waited patiently to see if there was any alarm from the antelopes. But aside from an occasional false start, they seemed very calm. We circled the area a few times, but no sign of the dogs.

 

Before long it was time to head back. We got back to the river and had our sundowners while watching the Helmeted Guineafowl collect in the trees.

 

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Time now to pull out the spotlight.

 

We saw a Hyena (no good photos), and I suppose we saw some small things, but it seemed pretty quiet. Just when we were giving up hope of another leopard, we saw this!

 

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We stayed with him, hoping he might do a little hunting. Well, no hunting but he did eventually get up but we lost him for awhile in the brush. About a half an hour later, one of the other vehicles told us they had just left a leopard in a tree. Could it be the same leopard? We found the tree, but we couldn't really be sure if it was the same leopard we'd seen earlier. Jacob thought it was a different one. No matter, it was a leopard...in a tree. And with a most peculiar framing :)

 

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He got up and moved after a while.

 

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But at that point we lost him, and it was time to head in for dinner. We didn't re-find the dogs...but we had a great leopard (maybe two?) and there was always tomorrow....

 

 

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I'm just going to add a few shots of birds that we saw that day, because I forgot to intersperse them :)

 

The ugly bird, but in a funny pose...

 

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A shy Verreaux's Eagle Owl...we'd see him better the next morning.

 

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Southern Ground Hornbills foraging..

 

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great photos (love the guinea fowl up the tree) - out of interest, what camera setting did you use for the night drive leopard shots?

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michael-ibk

Great photos, and regarding your sightings I expected much worse after what you said at the start. Actually you had very good ones in SL I'd say, your frustration with the area seems to come more from camp rules, no? Which I fully understand, I'm afraid I would have gone nuts each and every morning and would have nagged absolutely everybody to finally down theit damned coffee and get on with it! :)

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21 minutes ago, michael-ibk said:

Great photos, and regarding your sightings I expected much worse after what you said at the start. Actually you had very good ones in SL I'd say, your frustration with the area seems to come more from camp rules, no? Which I fully understand, I'm afraid I would have gone nuts each and every morning and would have nagged absolutely everybody to finally down theit damned coffee and get on with it! :)

 

@michael-ibk you know, its funny in retrospect doing the report it doesn't seem so bad! But, coming home, we just felt it was lacking overall. We saw quite a bit but (and I was going to get to this later) we saw very little actual action. And there were long stretches of not seeing much...which almost never happened in the Mara (somewhat more in Botswana, true.) We saw no cubs of any kind...no prides of lions... The camp rules really were frustrating, and I think my perceptions were also colored a bit by not feeling so well with the tse-tse bites.

 

Also, we expected to do walking and that was one of the draws of SLNP but that didn't happen.

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1 hour ago, philw said:

great photos (love the guinea fowl up the tree) - out of interest, what camera setting did you use for the night drive leopard shots?

 

Thanks @philw  I use Nikon gear and for the night shots I was using either spot or highlight-weighted metering, which is unique to the newer Nikon models. It works GREAT for spotlighting...in fact, it was pretty much designed to be used with spotlit performances, or weddings, etc but works great on safari.  If you don't have highlight-weighted, spot works almost as well. I used the D500 with the 70-200 2.8 lens wide open at 2.8, and  ISO from 1000 to up to 3200, depending on whether the cat was moving. (These last few are at 1600, but the earlier leopard from Tena Tena was at 3200 because he was on the move.) I found that with the spotlights, 1600 or so would give me an acceptable shutter speed if the critter wasn't moving.  I used Auto2 White Balance which on Nikon preserves a bit of the warmer colors of the spotlight.

 

The light from the spotlight can be really uneven, so at times I dialed in some negative exposure compensation if it looked like the highlights were getting blown out (even the highlight-weighted metering isn't perfect!)

 

 

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I should mention a bit about the walking at Tena Tena. We certainly were offered the opportunity to walk there, but by this point we didn't do it for a couple of reasons. The primary reason was that we were keen to find the dogs and they were far from the walking area. In fact, we saw some folks from Nsefu camp out walking, and it looked really tame. It seemed any walking would be done in the general area of the camps, which was not the best area for wildlife. And there were other areas we wanted to explore; such as get up to the area of the salt pans where we would find some specialty animals and birds.

 

No one walked from Tena Tena while we were there, but on the morning we left, some people were planning to walk.

 

The other reason was that I wasn't really sure it was a good idea to walk on my swollen ankle, but it was subsiding a bit by the last day. So I think if we had been there even one more day we probably would have opted for a walk, but it just didn't seem that walking was the best use of our limited time there.

 

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Zubbie15

@janzin I’ve been waiting for this report since I started to see your photos show up on Facebook. It seems like you had some good sightings despite some trying issues.  In particular having to leave dogs and leopards for a bush breakfast would have driven me up the wall!  Whenever I consider going somewhere on Safari where I don’t have control of the schedule I always hesitate, for reasons just like that.  I can imagine how frustrating it would be.  Oh, and awesome photos, as always.

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The next morning Jacob suggested that we head to their local Carmine Bee-eater nesting site. We talked about going for the dogs again, but decided it might be better to try for them again on the afternoon drive, so we opted to stay more local, and give the Carmine's another shot.

 

Not far from camp, the first thing we came across was this pair of hyenas. They were nosing around at some feathers on the ground--all that was left of whatever had been killed there. Can anyone identify the bird?

 

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Interestingly, we saw no jackals in South Luangwa...and only the one in Lower Zambezi. Are they that uncommon in this area? They are so ubiquitous everywhere else we've been in Africa.

 

Along the river, we found this Water Thick-knee.

 

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And while the photo is obstructed, we were excited to find this Wahlberg's Eagle.

 

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At around 7:30 we approached the area of the Carmine Bee-eater colony. This is where Kaingo camp, located on the other side of the river, has its floating hide. When we arrived, there were photographers in the hide, but Jacob could see that their return ride was approaching, so knew that they would be leaving shortly. As a courtesy, we waited for them to depart the hide before we got out of our vehicle to approach the birds more closely...it would have been bad form to spook them. (the birds...not the photographers!)

 

You can see that the folks in the hide aren't actually all that close to the birds. We were able to get closer from above, although the hide of course has an angle we couldn't get. And I suppose at times the birds must alight on the snags right in front of the hide.

 

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Once the photographers left the hide, we got out of our vehicle and slowly approached. Just as in Lower Zambezi, the birds didn't seem all that concerned with us being there.

 

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This White-throated Bee-eater did a photo bomb! Where'd he come from? B)

 

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We stayed about 1/2 an hour, or until our arms were aching from holding up the big lenses. As we got ready to head out, the birds were decorating the trees like Christmas ornaments.

 

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We really enjoyed spending the time to just hang out shooting the bee-eaters, it is really quite an amazing spectacle, to see so many of these gorgeous birds darting and soaring, even for non-birders.

 

The morning was still young so we continued on along the river. The light was quite nice this morning, much better for the elephants.

 

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We came upon this youngster having a wallow.

 

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And this darling Puku admiring his reflection.

 

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And today, the Eagle Owl was much more cooperative! (I'm actually not sure this was the same one, but it likely was.)

 

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We came upon this group of four lionesses...sleeping, of course.  Jacob told us that currently, there was no large pride in this area. We were rather disappointed in the lion activity in South Luangwa...or should I say non-activity. There was no large pride, no cubs, and no action at all while we were there.  Apparently, the other side of the river is the better area for lions...at least it was at that time. Our vehicle mates had come from Luangwa River Camp, and said they had lions with cubs over there...and of course, the other side is where the famous Ginger and Garlic reside.  I had to wonder whether the lack of lions was because of the proximity to the Game Management Area. I forgot to mention that we did hear shots a couple of times, coming from across the river, while we were at Bilimungwe. :(

 

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We stayed with the lionesses awhile, hoping they'd DO something, but of course, they didn't. We were lucky they lifted their heads up at all ;)

 

At this point it was time to head back for lunch. Yes, we could have stayed out longer, as we now had the private vehicle, but activity was low, and it was hot, and we were getting hungry. The plan was to head up for the dogs again in the afternoon, so we headed back to camp.

 

 

 

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Kitsafari

I am surprised that Robin Pope - famous for its reputation to do wild safaris - was let down by the plague of meal times which you would think is a obsession with the more luxurious camps. the positive thing is that Jen the manager saw the problem and worked immediately to rectify it, which is more than what many camp managers will do. for sure, you had such a trying time - i can't imagine spending only 10 mins with wild dogs (we never found them in our daily drives into Nsefu from tafika but of course, they turned up 2-3 days after we had left!). or a leopard. i think perhaps Jakob could have radioed Jen and said that the wildlife sightings were so awesome that the guests did not want to leave them, assuming your vehicle mates were agreeable. 

 

I agree with Michael - you had some good sightings while at Tena Tena - 3 leopard sightings and dogs! 

Lion sightings were also scarce when we were in Nsefu -  the Nsefu pride used to hang around the hot springs area but many of them died of some disease and a handful of survivors moved north. there was also another pride which we saw during the evening drive which had a lot of cubs and subadults. closer to the RPS camps, we saw only a couple of them asleep under bushes. 

I think there's been a major disruption in lion prides since the hunting of lions was reinstated. even in the opposite banks towards the Kaingo/Lion Camp areas, the prides have been going through constant changes which is a very sad consequence when a pride male - in his prime - is hunted. Interesting that you could shots while in Bili.

 

I love that angle of the top of the giraffe's head! unique perspective!

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ZaminOz
16 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

Great photos, and regarding your sightings I expected much worse after what you said at the start. Actually you had very good ones in SL I'd say, your frustration with the area seems to come more from camp rules, no? Which I fully understand, I'm afraid I would have gone nuts each and every morning and would have nagged absolutely everybody to finally down theit damned coffee and get on with it! :)

Sorry, folks... but I just gotta say this: If you are particular about what time the game drives leave camp and you cannot abide waiting for other guests (who may not share your priorities but in all likelihood have paid as much as you have to be there) ... then get a private guide/vehicle!!

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6 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

I am surprised that Robin Pope - famous for its reputation to do wild safaris - was let down by the plague of meal times which you would think is a obsession with the more luxurious camps. the positive thing is that Jen the manager saw the problem and worked immediately to rectify it, which is more than what many camp managers will do. for sure, you had such a trying time - i can't imagine spending only 10 mins with wild dogs (we never found them in our daily drives into Nsefu from tafika but of course, they turned up 2-3 days after we had left!). or a leopard. i think perhaps Jakob could have radioed Jen and said that the wildlife sightings were so awesome that the guests did not want to leave them, assuming your vehicle mates were agreeable. 

 

I agree with Michael - you had some good sightings while at Tena Tena - 3 leopard sightings and dogs! 

Lion sightings were also scarce when we were in Nsefu -  the Nsefu pride used to hang around the hot springs area but many of them died of some disease and a handful of survivors moved north. there was also another pride which we saw during the evening drive which had a lot of cubs and subadults. closer to the RPS camps, we saw only a couple of them asleep under bushes. 

I think there's been a major disruption in lion prides since the hunting of lions was reinstated. even in the opposite banks towards the Kaingo/Lion Camp areas, the prides have been going through constant changes which is a very sad consequence when a pride male - in his prime - is hunted. Interesting that you could shots while in Bili.

 

I love that angle of the top of the giraffe's head! unique perspective!

We actually had quite a few good lion sightings on our trip ago to zambia at around that time but some of the dynamics were quiet different to what we have seen elsewhere in Africa, with the lack of cubs potentially a concern. Notably:

  • when at Mwamba in SLNP  saw a very large pride with around 20 members - good mix of male and females but only one three month old cub (who I think may have subsequently been killed by crocodiles)
  • at Tena Tena in Nsefu area we saw a number of males and females in small groups of 2 or 3, including a mating pair. But again no cubs.  
  • at Old Mondoro in Lower Zambezi, I think four or six males (in pairs of two) but no females at al
  • at Chiawa in Lower Zambezi, one reasonably large pride with males and females. No small cubs but two around two adolescents kept by mum away from the pride, probably 9-12 months old
  • we didn't speak to anyone who saw small cubs anywhere

Not sure if its a result of a return to hunting or something else? I'm sure there are some Zambian experts (Egil?) who can opine!?

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@philw as I mentioned, our vehicle mates did see cubs on the other side near Luangwa River camp, which is I believe in the central area, south of where you were. But I am not sure how many, nor if they were with a large pride. I don't think so. I hope you will write a report so I can see how your experience at Tena Tena compared...you were there shortly after us!

 

The group of four lionesses was the largest group we saw in the Nsefu area. We had also seen that other group of four in the southern end of the park.

 

Unfortunately, maybe because our guide was on loan from another camp, he didn't seem familiar with the prides or the reasons for lions being scarce. Or if he was, he didn't really impart much information.

 

When we heard the shots across from Bilimungwe, we expressed concern to the camp manager and Manda that it was for lions, but they said the lion quota had already been met so likely it was Buffalo. It was right in the middle of the day, and quite loud (they were discussing what type of gun it sounded like, but I couldn't tell you.)

 

It is rather concerning about the lack of cubs!

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3 hours ago, ZaminOz said:

Sorry, folks... but I just gotta say this: If you are particular about what time the game drives leave camp and you cannot abide waiting for other guests (who may not share your priorities but in all likelihood have paid as much as you have to be there) ... then get a private guide/vehicle!!

 

 I absolutely agree...but its not always affordable for everyone--myself included. More to the point, I would think that a camp or group of camps that markets themselves as being for serious safari-goers and deeply immersive in the experience would have more reasonable start and end times. It seems, at least in these camps, they are now moving away from that model and more towards a more general market of folks that don't want that early wake-up...that's fine, but they should make that more transparent. Its something I will now think to ask about when researching camps.

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wilddog

@janzin I must say that my expectation would be that we would be up and out early as that has always my experience in the past. However your experience and those of others in various trip reports recently would suggest that we should not assume that early starts are the norm and ask the question prior to booking.

 

Very enjoyable report, so thanks for all you hard work :)

 

 

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KaingU Lodge

Janzin: wonderful photographs as always.  

 

Your comments make me really think about how things should be done.  I cannot understand why the guide did not radio back that you were on an amazing sighting and were going to be later back.  In our lodge I expect the guides to use their judgement.  It is not unknown for lunch to be put aside and eaten at 15:00 if something really good is going on.  This is the guides judgement call and the only exceptions are arrivals and departures.   We make a point of sitting as a team (guides and us) and discussing how we see guests priorities and how we are  going to plan things.  But I can tell you that if a guide left wild dogs after a few minutes because of a meal I would be less than happy.  We do island lunches after game drives and if staff have to stay on the island and hang around waiting for guests 'late' in from sightings then so be it.  

 

But (and this is a general comment not directly towards yourself Janzin) there are a couple of pointers from the other side of the counter so to speak. Camp managers and guides are not mind readers.  We see all sorts of different people and with different interests and expectations.  Clearly yours are very high (from a sightings point of view).  We cannot be expected to anticipate each and every expectation of every guest and cater for them (some, like sightings we might not actually be able to do anything about) unless you speak up!  At the camp welcome talk we try and make a point about asking about expectations, likes, meals etc.  If on arrival in camp you tell the manager what your expectations and likes/dislikes are then you at least are helping the team meet them (if they are realistic!).  Each and every camp I have ever been in does things slightly differently so there is no such thing as too much information for managers and guides to work with.  

 

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@KaingU Lodge I appreciate your comments, and completely agree. People need to make their wishes known.  In this particular case (and I don't want to harp too much on it!) we had been very clear from the start that we hoped to see the dogs. That's why we went up specifically to this area looking for them :)  So the guide knew, and the camp manager knew too. At the sighting I specifically requested to stay a bit longer but was told we had to go. He did say at that point that we were leaving because there were too many vehicles (four I think, and another was coming), but I then asked if we could move aside for 10 minutes and then come back (as I could see that other vehicles were about to leave), but he said "the dogs are just going to sleep now."

 

Honestly, I am not normally one to make a fuss and I get a bit embarrassed, so perhaps I should have been more forceful about it, but also with the other folks in the vehicle, who were very laid back, I didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable. And I didn't want to have bad feelings with the guide as we had several more days with him.  But it was pretty clear how upset I was (as I was practically crying)--which was why he eventually told us the real reason for leaving--to get back in time for the bush breakfast.  In the end, perhaps it was really bad judgement on the guide's part, but I really, really don't like to complain about a guide or get them into hot water, unless they do something dangerous or really stupid--I know how hard they work and how difficult a job it is.

 

Anyway as I noted the manager did right by us and gave us the private vehicle which allowed for more flexibility. Which we made use of, as the next few installments will show :)

 

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Well I'm sure by now everyone is waiting with bated breath to find out if we found the dogs again :)  You'll have to wait just a bit longer, because we had some other nice sightings on the way to their area. We tried not to dawdle too long as we really wanted to get to the northern section where the dogs were, but we had to stop a few times...

 

I absolutely love the way these Pukus glow in the sun. They are my favorite antelope now (did I mention that before?)

 

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We had some more lovely elephant sightings in this marshy area. Please click for full resolution!

 

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This fella seems a bit taken aback by his neighbor.

 

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It was hard to tear away from these guys in such beautiful light but it was now after five and we didn't want to run out of time.  We reached the open area and almost immediately...

 

 

.....drumroll......

 

 

....saw the dogs! The third time's a charm!

 

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The same group of five, of course, that we'd seen the first time, with the collared female.

 

They were just relaxing, but they were beautiful.

 

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I think they had recently eaten, since this one's leg looked a little bloody.

 

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african_wild_dog_JZ5_3091a.jpg

 

We stayed with them about 45 minutes, hoping they would get up to hunt, but now it was nearing six o'clock, and we had a long way back to camp. Reluctantly, but satisfied, we left them and headed back. I think Jacob was also very relieved that the pressure was now off! :)

 

As it was quite a ways back and almost dark already, we drove pretty much straight through; but we slowed down for a spot light drive as we neared the camp.

 

bushy_tailed_mongoose_JZ5_3169a.jpg

 

We had Bushy-tailed Mongoose, porcupine, and as always, genets. One new trip mammal was a Bushbaby, but well hidden in the leaves and no decent photo.

 

A successful drive!  We talked with Jacob about tomorrow's options, and decided for the morning drive, we'd venture up to the area of the salt pans where we could find the Cookson's Wildebeest and a large colony of Crowned Cranes.  It was quite a distance further than we'd been so far.

 

 

 

 

Edited by janzin
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