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BOTSWANA NOV 2019 - Part 1 (Moremi Reserve)


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INTRODUCTION - This is the first part of what will be a four-part trip report, covering 10 nights in Botswana from November 14-24, 2019.  I had heard and read so many good things about Botswana being one of the premier safari destinations in Africa that I decided it was time to see for myself, after three consecutive trips to Kenya.  This first installment of the report covers three nights at Camp Moremi, located within the Moremi Game Reserve.  Subsequent sections will address Camp Okavango in the Okavango Delta (2 nights), the Savute Safari Lodge within Chobe National Park (3 nights), and the Chobe Savanna Lodge on the Namibia side of the Chobe River (2 nights).  All four destinations are the properties of Desert and Delta Safaris.


CAMP MOREMI - After an overnight stay near the Johannesburg airport (necessitated by the international flight schedule), it was only a 2-hour flight the next morning to Maun, Botswana.  The in-country safari flights depart from the same terminal as the arriving international flights, so that transfer was quick and easy, and a short safari flight on a Cessna Caravan deposits one at the airstrip nearest Camp Moremi.  This camp is situated on the northeast corner of the Okavango Delta and is within the Moremi Game Reserve.  The camp itself has 12 tens with a total capacity of 24-26 guests (one of the tents is a larger-capacity family tent).  These "tents" are some of the nicest I have ever stayed in, tastefully furnished, spacious, and with 24-hour hot and cold running water and in-room electricity.  The primary activity at Camp Moremi are game drive in open-sided Land Cruisers, either in the drier areas of the Reserve to the south and west of camp, or to the wetter Paradises Pools area east of camp.  The alternate activity, done once during a 3-night stay here, is an afternoon boat ride out into the Xakanaxa Lagoon.   








My initial impression of this location was that game seemed to be sparse in both sheer numbers and variety compared to what I had experienced in Kenya at a similar time of year.  Some of that might well be due  to low water levels in the Delta, but the guides did not seem to turn up much game during my 3 days there.  The only larger animals present in any significant numbers were Cape buffalo, with impala, Burchell's zebras, and other animals such as elephants and giraffe present in smaller numbers.  Some other common African residents such as cheetah, hyenas, and even vultures were notably absent, which I took to mean an absence of prey animals for them.  In the absence of large mammals or dramatic predator action, I fell back on my usual photographic strategy and looked for interesting birds.  I will reserve my other views on this trip for the end of the overall trip report.  


The Paradise Pools area was the most attractive of the nearby areas, with permanent water sources that attract both mammals and birds.  Strangely enough, the Paradise Pools area is replete with lots of dead trees.  I suspect this has to  do with water levels, as either too much or too little can kill the trees.  Some of the dead trees are also likely due to elephants, which seem to be responsible for damaging and ultimately killing a lot of trees.  As noted above, the elephants were not present in larger herds, but the small groups and individuals were relatively approachable.  Maybe being near a reliable source of water put them in a good mood.










The most unique mammals seen in the Paradise Pools area were the red lechwe, an antelope species adapted to living in wetland areas by having somewhat longer hind legs than a typical antelope. 








Paradise Pools, and other small wetlands in the area, were home to a variety of water-loving birds, and a couple of water-loving hippos as well.  When these hippos surfaced in these vegetation-covered pools, they looked like one of those camouflaged special forces soldiers emerging stealthily from below the water.  The jacana took the hippos in stride, and I half-expected this particular jacana to walk right across the hippo's head.





Some of the other water-loving birds seen in the Paradise Pools area included the common greenshank, the little stint, the Egyptian goose, the great egret, and the yellow-billed stork.  











Back in the drier areas to the south and west of camp, the highlight was seeing a mother lioness (on the left) and her two teenage offspring, one male and one female.  The younger female seemed alert and watchful for prey, while the adult female and the adolescent male were doing what lions usually do in the daytime hours, which is being as lazy as possible.  








Other mammals present but not common in these drier areas included vervet monkeys and small herds of impala.








The zebras present in this area are a subspecies of the common plains zebra, here known as the Burchell's zebra and distinguished by some fainter "shadow" stripes between the dark stripes on the flanks of the animal.  These shadow stripes are obvious in this photo of an individual Burchell's zebra:




As always, there is something both elegant and wild about zebras in motion:






The one animal that was present in fairly abundant numbers was the Cape buffalo, but then they were generally easy to find congregated in shady spots.  This might just be me, but I have a hard time getting excited about Cape buffalo - they strike me as large ornery black cattle.




But others are more entranced by the Cape buffalo, especially this yellow-billed oxpecker:



Here are some of the red-billed oxpeckers doing their thing on a South African giraffe.








As I mentioned previously, we saw no hyenas and only two jackals.  I believe this is an adolescent side-striped jackal, with largely indistinct side stripes.  Hard to be sure without a side-by-side comparison, but the size here seems a little bit larger than what I remember for black-backed jackals.



One feature of the landscape that was outstanding, and I mean that in the literal sense, were the termite mounds.  These were some of the tallest I have ever seen; I understand the height of these mounds is related to the water levels within the soil, and high water levels can require the termites to construct ever higher mounds to keep the base dry.




As I mentioned above, when not seeing exotic mammals or dramatic predator behavior, I default to looking for interesting birds, and the drier areas of the Moremi Reserve had a good variety of avian residents (and seasonal visitors).  First up is the impressively large yellow-billed kite:




Next is an attractive female Bennett's woodpecker.  I talked to a friend who visited Botswana this time of year in 2018, and he said they saw these woodpeckers everywhere.  We saw . . . one.



This is the first time I have seen a fork-tailed drongo.  Or if I had seen one before, I didn't know what I was looking at, which is typical for me with respect to birds.




Another new bird for me is this plain-backed pipit, which I would neither have noticed nor identified without the help of our guide Wise and some birder guests in the vehicle.




Not the first time I had seen lilac-breasted rollers, and I am sure it won't be the last time I stop to photograph one.  They are stunning, both at rest and in flight.






Another repeat customer for me is this Southern ground-hornbill.  It is large and amusing to watch, though I haven't decided whether I would put it into the "attractive" category.




What is distinctive about the red-eyed dove is not its appearance, but rather its engaging call.  The rhythmic call of the red-eyed dove became the soundtrack for waking up every morning in Botswana (and this was true of the other camps and lodges, not just at this particular camp in the Moremi Game Reserve).  As one of my fellow travelers on this trip pointed out, the call of this dove seems to echo the rhythms of African music (or is it the other way around?).




A good alternative to the bumpy game drives is to take an afternoon boat ride out into the nearby Xakanaxa Lagoon (pronounced as "Ka-ka-na-ka"), which we did once during a three-night stay at Camp Moremi.  The aluminum boat is outboard-powered and has seats for nine guests plus the guide.  Being out on the water is a pleasant way to see the local wildlife, namely hippos, the occasional elephant, and a variety of waterbirds.






This is a reed cormorant, which will play a starring role later in this trip.



Looking somewhat like a cormorant is the African darter, which is notable for having a pointed bill that it uses to spear fish.  The darter is also a bit larger and skinnier than the cormorant.



Another waterbird with a slender pointed bill is the purple heron.  It is a little confusing visually with all the grass stems, but note the heron's skinny little orange-pink tongue in the second photo with the open bill.






Much smaller  is the squacco heron.  This particular individual (it is the same bird in both photos) never budged as the boat circled around him.





Being out on the Xakanaxa Lagoon is a lovely setting for an evening sundowner.  No, you can't get out of the boat to stretch your legs, but otherwise having your evening drink on the water is a really nice end to the day, before heading back to camp for dinner.  










There was time the last morning for one final game drive, mostly around the Paradise Pools area, before getting packed and departing for the next camp.  After a farewell from a watchful vervet monkey nursing a little one, we saw a few more interesting waterbirds this morning, including the African spoonbill and the colorful saddle-billed stork. 






A stately waterbuck was calming surveying his territory, while a water monitor was actively roaming the area, presumably out looking for breakfast:






And this cute tree squirrel  has already found its breakfast and is not parting with it anytime soon.




As pleasant as the safari routine can be, some days it seems like we don't do much more than eat, sleep, sit, and occasionally dip in the pool on a hot afternoon.  Don't you sometimes get the urge to break out of that rut, to jump to your feet and dash through the savannah, leaping like a graceful impala?  Director's note: cue the theme song from "Born Free" at this point.






This young hippo did not seem to be running FROM anything, or running TO anything in particular.  Just running for the joy of it.  On that note, let me wrap up Part 1 of this trip report and move onto part 2, Camp Okavango located more in the heart of the Delta.  Thanks for reading part 1, and Happy New Year!

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Great start and such fantastic photos to go along with it.


Looking forward to the rest.

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Thanks, @mopsy.  I am working on Part 2 (Camp Okavango) right now, but it will have a lot less photos.  I hope the wildfires are not impacting you.  The footage we are seeing here in the States is heartbreaking.

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Beautiful photos! Interesting you saw just the one Bennet´s - like your friend we saw them very regularly this February in the Delta.

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Great photos, beautiful elephants, good to see the Lechwe and many beautiful birds 

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Peter Connan

Lovely photography, and wonderful hippo sighting!

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Seeing the hippo running must be a rare sight! Thanks for Part 1 of your trip to Botswana.

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Thanks for this  trip report @KCAZ.   And I love the prancing Hippo!

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Thanks to all for reading Part 1, and for seeing both the beauty and the humor in the running hippo.  :)

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Awesome narrative and photos!!! 

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