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Botswana Botswana Explorer’s route 2018: What could possibly go wrong?

Peter Connan

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Peter Connan

@offshorebirder, we all had "seed nets", which I believe are the screens you refer to. They are normal shade cloth, and yes, the primary purpose is to keep grass seeds out of the radiator. Such seeds are very difficult to remove, because once they get wet, they expand.

They also help a little bit with keeping mud out of the radiators. On some cars they can be seen tied to the top of the bull-bar.


My car has an additional expanded-metal screen, which can be seen in @xelas' first post. This is to protect the lights against guineafowl strikes, which happened to me a couple of times before I fitted those screens and never since, thank goodness. 


It reminds me of the story of the guy in Somerset who sprayed his lawn with Eu de Cologne to keep the Tigers away. When his neighbor told him not to be rediculous as the nearest tiger was thousands of miles away, his reply was "see, it works!"

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Peter Connan

Day 4:


I awoke pretty early, and tried a bit of star photography. It was close to full moon though, so I wasn’t expecting too much.



Peace on the pans





Everybody was taking it pretty easy, so after the sun had risen, Alex and I took a walk with the long lenses on. There was a surprising amount of water-birds around, including lots of Gulls and Terns, and we saw a few Flamingos flying past.





Making use of every opportunity



Turning Tern



My first stitched pano



Another turner


After a leisurely breakfast we packed up camp and headed back toward Mmatshumo via the so-called “Island X”, a secret location we are not permitted to divulge. This fabulous island is much smaller than Kubu, but if possible even more enticing. It has a couple of magnificent Baobabs, one of them so big and rotten that it is possible to walk right through it. It is also home to a family of Barn Owls, which exited as we arrived.



White-backed Vulture on Baobab tree



Climbing the island



Barnies getting a fright (look closely, there are two)



Swiss Cheese



Another knurled Baobab



Toughing it out.






Bowed under the struggle of centuries






A slow flow


My trouble started soon hereafter: my clutch started slipping on the way to Mmatshumo, getting rapidly worse. In Mmatshumo we stopped to see what could be done about it.


Lesser Grey Shrike



Peregrine Falcon


Graham, one of the mechanics in the group, whipped up a bottle of Coke and a piece of plastic hose. One end of the hose was stuffed into the bell-housing, and, with the engine running, the bottle was shaken vigorously and applied to the other end of the hose, forcing the Coke into the bell-housing. Hopefully @xelas has some photos of this procedure. I was under the car, getting full of Coke and mud. Not a tasty mix!


This was considered to be a temporary measure only. The sugar in the Coke makes a sticky layer on the clutch plates. As the group intended to get through the pans, and thus it appeared that the toughest section of the trip lay immediately ahead, we decided to leave the group and head to Maun via the easiest possible route, as I suspected that this was where we were most likely to find a replacement, and the skills and equipment needed to fit it.


However, soon after getting mobile, the clutch started feeling much better again. As the clutch was relatively new, I figured that it could not be worn out, and suspected that it had gotten full of mud, causing it not to be able to engage properly. So, back in Lethlakane, I pulled into the garage and washed the bell-housing out a couple of times with a garden hose. This seemed to do the trick, as the whole way to Maun (about 400km), and in fact for the rest of the journey, the clutch never slipped once, despite my best efforts. JJ had recommended that we stop at Audi camp, and we arrived just after sundown. Thus we decided to spoil ourselves and have dinner at the camp’s restaurant.

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What an adventure you were having, and it seems from what @xelas hinted at, the best (or most fun) has yet to come. 


I'm following along this entertaining journey too, safely in my chair. :) 

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Peter Connan

Thanks @Kitsafari


That depends very much on your idea of fun!

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In fact, I was going to write “worse to come” for you, but fun on hindsight and for us armchair safari goers on your trip!  But thought twice about it. :P

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What an amazing trip, I am enjoying it tremendously. The landscape, the clouds, the pans, the sunset views - they are all amazing! But I agree with the others, I would only attempt this on my Mac. 

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Peter Connan

Thanks @Kitsafari and @xyz99.

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Xelas, since you can't collect, I will bet $1,000,000 :)

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Make that a case of beer, Daniel ... and I might come to collect it :D!

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Day 4 (1st April):


One more night passed with me sleeping deeply, yet awake at an early, pre-sunrise hour. Ouside were already Piet with coffee and Peter with camera :). Soon also others have joined me for that obligatory morning coffee.




This time we did have time go birding, along the shores. In the beginning there were mostly BIF.


Cape Teal



Greenshank trio




Walking along the temporary shore of the temporary lake we reached a green oasis with some trees. One of them looks very photogenic.





And this is our camp in full motion.





Two more birds from this tranquil morning:


Chestnut-banded Plover



Purple Roller




And a group photo of all the vehicles before moving out of this special place.





Zig-zaging through the thorn bushes and tall grass we have reached what JJ called Island X. Peter already explained about it, I will only add two more photos.


Is that an elephant inside the baobab tree?



At the very beginning of a majestic life




Out of the bush and on our way to the next location, Peter started to look a bit worried; he exchanged some words with Sonja (in Afrikaans) and later he called for an emergency stop. As a passenger I have had no idea that anything with the vehicle is not working properly, so maybe, just maybe it would be a prank ?! Although this was April 1st, Fool's Day, Peter was in no mood for any pranks. The problem was obviously serious.


We have had two pro mechanics in our group, and quickly a real "bush mechanic" solution was delivered: a big bottle of Coca Cola Classic (not Zero not Diet !!) and a long hose. What followed I was able to capture in only 3 photos:


Hose is found



Detailed procedure is explained to Peter



Coca Cola is ready to fix the clutch (and to soak Peter)




While the rest of the group departed to their planned next destination, we have first stopped at Lethlakane, for a quick lunch and for Peter to wash the clutch, and then we have used the main tar road to reach Maun.


Here, on the section about half way between Lethlakane and Maun, I have seen the worst potholed road EVER! Been around and driven a car on some seriously rough roads, this was by far the worst of them all! The potholes in otherwise smooth tar road were deep up to 50 cm (or more) some of them having at least 100 cm in diameter! Every vehicle on that road was trying its best to avoid those traps, and it looked like a mad dance where traffic rules means nothing, and avoiding to fell in the hole is everything. Luckily everyone drove very slowly, and for a good reason as otherwise not only the tyre but the whole wheel assembly could be easily ripped off the car.


Once the traffic thinned out, Peter decided that driving that slow we will never reach Maun, and that Patty has strong enough suspension and tires to withstand driving through smaller of the potholes directly, and he started to avoid only the bigger ones. That tactic worked, we came to Audi Camp in time for a really nice dinner (steaks, yeah!). 

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Game Warden

This continues to be a fantastic adventure/report. Thanks both.

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Peter Connan

Thanks @Game Warden.


Now I am really kicking myself! How did i miss that roller?

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Peter Connan

Day 5:


Audi camp is situated on the bank of the Thamalekane river, and in the morning Alex and I naturally gravitated towards it, eventually walking along the bank for a couple of hundred meter. This was possibly our best birding of the trip.



Arrow-marked Babbler



Goliath Heron



Red-eyed Dove



African Open-billed Stork



Hadeda Ibis



Meve's Starling






Red-billed Spurfowl



African Open-billed Stork



Giant Kingfisher



African Darter



Ovambo Sparrowhawk



African Jacana



Green-backed Heron



River Traffic



Stalking a Kingfisher






European Bee-eater


As we had now decided that the clutch was fine, and since it was Sunday anyway, we basically lazed around camp the whole day, although I did spend an hour or so faffing underneath the car checking for any other problems. 


Even in camp, the birding was good. In a tree in the stand next to ours were two active nests! 


Female Red-billed Hornbill



Green Wood-hoopoe 



Red-billed Hornbill delivering a meal



Mr. Delivery


We were just sitting at the bar discussing our options for the rest of the trip when JJ rolled into camp! The group had been un-able to get through the pans, and had to re-plan.  At dinner, the plans for the following days were explained. We would be leaving early in the morning, headed for the Khwai river area, and from there to Seronga via the Selinda Spillway.

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Day 5 (2nd April):



Audi Camp proved that JJ knows about stuff. This was one of the nicest larger camps I have stayed at. Not that many place for campers but enough of shade, clean ablutions and a restaurant with really tasty food. Not to forget about a small pool. This is how it looks:











Among trees there were some birds having nests; both Green (Red-billed) Wood-Hopooe and Southern Red-billed Hornbill have been busy collecting food for their chicks.







Outside the camp fence was river Thamalekane (thank you, Peter), which was looking cool and nice most of the day but not all day.


The river flows



An old wooden mokoro



Modern times




After the breakfast we went out for our first (and only) truly birding day! It was just awesome, with birds all around, and we both have enjoyed this morning immensely! Herebelow is the selection of my best photos.


Goliath Heron



African Jacana



African Grey Hornbill



Woodland Kingfisher




Peter has anticipated this story by his photo of myself stalking a Kingfisher. It was a Pied Kingfisher, and all photos below are same size (no cropping applied) as taken on the field!


First we have noticed it perching on the boat roof.




It then fly away to find another, uglier perch.




However it was on our side of the river now and I have hoped to get a closer photo of it. 


A few steps, and click



Few more steps closer and another click



Now things started to get interesting! Few more careful steps, with viewfinder glued to my eye (luckily no snakes were hiding in the grass :rolleyes:), click



Wow, WOW, really close now! Should I approach the bird even more?! Why not! One step, two, steps, three steps ... click, click !





What an obliging Pied Kingfisher! A proper gentleman, knowing how much better the photos are when the subject fills the frame etc. After giving me above look, enough was enough even for this bird.


Absolutely perfect birding day!








Edited by xelas
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Peter Connan

Day 6:


Because I hadn’t filled up when we arrived in town (I was worried that Audi might not have room and we would have to search the town for accommodation, which I didn't want to do in the dark), and I had neglected to do it the next day too, I had to get up pretty early. By half past four, I was rolling out of camp, back toward town. Fortunately, I found an open garage quickly, and we were filled up, packed up and ready to leave before six. The road north  was far different from the dry, corrugated road that I remember from the previous times I had used it. Lots of mud-holes across the road now!



Tawny Eagle



Green-backed Heron



Our first Ellie


These became larger and wetter as we approached the Khwai river, and shortly before Mababe village, we saw our first elephant, and shortly thereafter we found a pool of water so deep that a brand-new Hilux stood drowned and abandoned in it. We turned around and found a detour. While feeling our way through these wetlands we also found Hippo and my first-ever Pygmy Geese

Priorities, priorities.



Rising up



Small fry



Marsh Harrier






African Pygmy Geese



Gabar Goshawk



African fish-eagle



Spurwing  Goose


African darter


Most of the day was spent in really beautiful country, as we drove along the Khwai river. It was also by far the most productive day as far as game sightings was concerned. We saw Elephant and hippo several times, and also Giraffe, Impala, Zebra and Red Lechwe.



Meve's Starling









Magpie Shrike






Coppery-tailed Coucal





White-backed Vulture



Grey-headed Kingfisher



Hooded Vulture





Pied Kingfisher



Red-billed Buffalo-weaver





But there was trouble in my paradise!

Suddenly, and for the first time ever, my car’s oil light started coming on when idling, and when revved (when fording, I tend to select a very low gear and fairly high revs), it was sounding a bit tappety…

At least the skies were clear that night!



Edited by Peter Connan
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This continues to be a memorable trip report! Thank you both. Great series on stalking the Pied Kingfisher, @xelas and equally good effort at catching it in flight @Peter Connan !

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Well, this is great fun to read about. Although i do have a niggle.

A while back, before you even started posting your TR, Peter lamented that you'd seen very few birds on this trip. 

Your tally so far is pretty good; not just numbers but also some really nice captures. 
I look forward to the next batch.

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5 minutes ago, Soukous said:

A while back, before you even started posting your TR, Peter lamented that you'd seen very few birds on this trip. 


It always looks like there were only a few birds immediately after the trip (or birding excursion). Might be because only the best sightings remains in vivid memory. Usually after browsing through actual photos previously forecasted number doubles or even triples!

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Peter Connan
2 hours ago, Soukous said:

Well, this is great fun to read about. Although i do have a niggle.

A while back, before you even started posting your TR, Peter lamented that you'd seen very few birds on this trip. 

Your tally so far is pretty good; 


That was said in the context of Big Year ticks, thus not so much the number of birds seen as the number of new birds for the year. As most of the birds I saw on the trip were already in my count for the year.


I haven't actually done a reconcilliation yet, but I still doubt I have more than 10 new ticks from the trip.


Thanks for the compliment though. and thanks also @PeterHG

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Well, I´m not sure this was non-stop fun for you all the time, but it certainly is very entertaining to read. And definitely a proper adventure, one to tell one´s kids. I also had thought you had seen virtually nothing after your first comments after returning but your photos tell quite a different story. Lots of really beautiful shots!. (Especially Peter´s look much better when clicking on them by the way, the difference is not as drastic with Alex´ photos.) Great to see a Pygmy Goose, really hope to find one next year.

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Peter Connan

Thank you @michael-ibk.


I wonder why. 

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Day 6 (3rd April):



It was a really early wake-up call this morning, and we were on the road already before sunrise (06:04:47 timestamp on below photo). First part of the driving uneventful, then JJ made one of his famous driver's speeches; all in Afrikaans so my wild guess is that he told everyone not to worry one bit, while not all were of the same opinion. Road was wide and gravel and filled with huge puddles. After Peter's problems with clutch also the rest of the convoy was trying to avoid getting soaked the undercarriage too much.









Once we have entered the wetlands, this sight has reasoning even the most daring of drivers in the group. We did made a huge detour around that lake. Because next one could have had tenants in it :o.







Soon the wildlife started to appear more frequently, birds first. There was not much time or place to stop for better angles yet final results were quite good, IMO.


European Bee-eater



Common Sandpiper



Little Bee-eater




It was 10:00 when we have reached Khwai Community Concession. There is where our camping was located ... somewhere :blink:. The tracks were now even less visible, and water was always somewhere near. However thus also larger mammals :). The largest of them all came closer to wish us a warm welcome and a very good luck with driving in his territory.













Another 45  minutes and we have reached the area of Khwai Community campsites. There are several of them, ours was Number 4. A campsite is a bit of an exaggeration as in fact it is just an area where a camp manager has pitched his tent, and is blessed with a group of larger trees. No ablutions no water no nothing but pure wilderness! At least there was no shortage of water all around :lol:. But before we have reached our designated camp there was still some driving to be done, and some photos to be taken.




Waterbuck at home



Incredibly relaxed Lilac-breasted Roller (almost no cropping applied)



Red Lechwe in tall grass




It was 11:25 when our drive ended. No way we would be brave to cross this one; later I learned this is Khwai River. So we backtracked a bit to the camp #4. According to JJ our location was taken by another group (it happens a lot in Botswana that who came first just occupy better spot irrespective of his and other persons actual reservations). As we were there for only 1 night, no one gets excited. It was midday by then, so time for lunch. Most of our group decided for just enjoying in some well deserved down time.


Khwai River



Picking the camping spot



Kids at play



A beautiful butterfly (no cropping at all)




Peter an me decided to try our luck driving back to where we have entered the Khwai concession. It was part driving part submarining and now that I have the front row seat, it was much more enjoyable drive. And sightings were not at all bad :). Zebras enjoyed tall and juicy grass, while African Wattled Lapwing was almost invisible in the greenery. Luckily for me Blacksmith Lapwing has wrong colours for this environment. We were not alone there, this is a game drive vehicle of our neighbours. That was one of the famous mobile camping safaris so popular in Botswana. If I would ever went back with Zvezda then joining such mobile camping safari will be the only option for me to enter again into that maze of waterways, lakes, and deep sand tracks !











Turning back towards our camp we have encounter more birds and mammals, and of course we could not miss the hippos!







This panoramic photo might give you the basic idea of Khwai Community concession.





Back at the camp at 17:30 and JJ and his team were already hard at work to prepare us a tasty dinner. 










It was another day of adventure, adrenaline, joy, wilderness, water, wildlife, you name it! All suitably ended with that perfect African sunset! What could possibly go wrong ??!!






















Edited by xelas
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Xelas, you don't need to do the mobile camping option you know, just go in August when it's drier and you can do it solo.  When we went in August we barely had any water crossings at all and if we did the water was pretty shallow.

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Game Warden

This is a life's time worth of memories in one trip. Next, @Peter Connan and @xelas will be organising a Safaritalk expedition. Did you not give @Bugs a shout for this trip?

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Peter Connan

Day 7:



Washing the breakfast dishes. @Game Warden, @Soukous and @Bugs would attest to the efficacy of using sand for this task.


During our morning ablutions, I heard a ground hornbill. So, once clean, Alex and I went looking for them. On the way, we found a nice big elephant bull feeding through the area, and we decided to see if we could get ahead of him. On the way, we, of course, flushed the ground hornbills.





We caught up with the elephant feeding in an adjacent campsite, in which there was a mobile safari camp. The friendly staff waved us in, and we spent a few minutes in rather close proximity to this awesome animal as it shook seed-pods from a Camel-thorn tree.






The eye



The tusk





On the return walk, we found the Hornbills again.



Southern Ground Hornbill


After breakfast, we found that Alex (the other Alex)’s car wouldn’t start. The Engine Control Module had gotten wet. They tried for a considerable while to get it going, but to no avail, and from this point on, Alex was on a tow-rope behind Michael’s car.



Red-billed Spurfowl









hooded Vulture





Once out of the concession, we headed north.  From now on, we were in dense Mopani scrub. The road was narrow with no room to turn around, the mud-holes frequent and relatively deep. Several cars get stuck, including, once, JJ.

At one point, Alex’s tow-rope breaks, cracking like a gun-shot and slamming a big dent in Michael’s rear door. Somewhere along the way, two more cars’ clutches start slipping. In their defence, both these cars were over 20 years old, and both had over 440 000km under their belts. As the day progresses, I need more and more revs to kill the oil pressure light, and the noise at higher revs gets worse. I am trying to operate in the narrowing band between too little oil pressure and audible knocking.

Some of the guys behind us have a magnificent Wild Dog sighting: 14 animals that they get to spend a considerable amount of time with, and later, they also see some Hyena. 



Knob-billed and White-faced Sucks



Mopani Corridor


We see nothing but a few birds the whole day.

With all of this, we are making slow progress. Eventually we turn West on another cut-line, heading toward the Selinda spillway. This lies between concessions, and we are in theory not allowed to stop in this area, but as night arrives, we have no option.

We find an area where we can at least all pull off the road in relative proximity (despite having to bundu-bash a bit) just as the sun sets. I borrow everybody’s extra oil and do an oil change, in the hopes that fresh oil might ease my problems. As we had stopped so late, we need to make our own food.

Edited by Peter Connan
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