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New Botswana Trip Report--Tau Pan, Moremi, Khwai, and Chobe, Green Season Safari


mtanenbaum
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mtanenbaum

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I can't express my excitement in boarding the plane for my 3rd trip to Botswana (4th to Africa) in mid-March...at least until the United pilot made us all "de-plane" due to engine problems (don't they check these things before hundreds of people get on the plane?). When I went to the United agent to get re-booked, he actually told me that he couldn't find me a route to Jo'berg on business class and that I should re-deposit my miles and go home! I was speechless and it wasn't until I called for a supervisor that a seat was miraculously found for me, even though I had to fly LA-Frankfurt-Zurich-Jo'berg, with the airline losing one of my bags and barely making my connection to Maun!

 

However, once I got to Maun it was time for a short transfer to Tau Pan in the Kalahari, where on our first game drive we came across one of the rare cats I hoped to see, a caracal! It was shy and we had only a brief sighting before it disappeared into the long grass. 

 

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This was my first time in this part of Botswana, and I was blown away by the gigantic pans, with their herds of hundreds of springboks and oryx...impossible to capture with a camera....

 

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And of course can you ever see to many lilac-breasted rollers? This one looks like it was still drying off after some rain...

 

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While we didn't see any of the brown hyena that live in this area, we did see jackals, jackals, everywhere....

 

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Lots of birds of prey as well, including this guy (a tawny eagle???)

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and Kori Bustards seemed to be everywhere as well.

 

Traveling alone I was lucky to be paired with two very nice Germany ladies about my age, who happened to arrive at the same time as I did. We agreed to do a day-long trip to Deception Valley, which I was eager to do since I had recently read "Cry of the Kalahari." It was a long day with a picnic lunch but gave us a sense of the scope of the reserve, which is vast indeed. fullsizeoutput_374.jpeg.b40d287b1912e26a9e869512b2edee44.jpeg

 

And we were lucky to have a few wonderful lion sightings, including a large pride with the male lion, cubs, and the females. There were so few people around the reserve that we were the only ones at these sightings, although occasionally we would pass another vehicle (usually self campers) during the day. What a treat to have this enormous park almost entirely to ourselves!

 

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Simba and Mufasa (unfortunately the focus is not tack-sharp, but I liked the pose anyway!

 

More to follow on the rest of my trip....

 

 

Edited by mtanenbaum
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michael-ibk

Way to start off a report with Caracal as your first animal, fantastic! Tau Pan is so beautiful in the Green Season, I fondly remember my time there. What a scare with your flights, glad it could be sorted out. 

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Caracal

Wow! A Caracal sighting on your first game drive ( couldn't count the number of game drives I've done over the years and I'm still waiting!) and a beautiful photo to back it up.

Love the photos of springbok and oryx on the pans and I know I'm going to enjoy following your report @mtanenbaum

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Tom Kellie

~ @mtanenbaum:

 

Thank you for preparing and posting this trip report.

 

The eyes looking over the log shot is delightful.

 

The scratching lion strongly reminds me of the diminutive lion dog in my house.

 

Oryx, a lovely roller, and a jackal in flowers — all outstanding.

 

Many thanks!

 

      Tom K.

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When I went to the United agent to get re-booked, he actually told me that he couldn't find me a route to Jo'berg on business class and that I should re-deposit my miles and go home! I

 

Oh my… not understanding that this was just above ‘stowaway’, ‘post myself in a coffin’ and ‘hijack a plane’ in the available options list here. Glad you got it sorted. I would have considered one bag actually making it a win though, with that route.

 

Starting with a caracal is just amazing, as is the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

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That was an unbelievably bad start to your trip! To be on the plane one minute and the next minute being told that you could not even go! Wow. Fortunately you did not accept that and a way was found. Then, actually being back in Africa - yay! Looks like a great start to your trip once you actually got there.

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mtanenbaum

Some smaller critters in the Kalahari--no meerkats, unfortunately, but a squirrel, a fox, and some lovely wildflfowers...

 

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Our tracker, P.K., was from the local San people, and it was fascinating to learn about some of their local traditions, and some of the plants that keep both animals and humans alive in the dry season because of their high water content. Yes, that is a wild watermelon! 

 

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Moremi:  After 3 nights in the Kalihari, I returned to Maun, where amazingly, I was reunited with my missing bag, and joined four other adventurers for a 6-night Letaka camping trip in Moremi and Khwai. I am not a camping person so this was quite a leap for me, but something I was keen to try since I thought it would bring me closer to the animals, especially at night. The camping trip was a little less "glamping" than I had expected, at least as regards the tents and the bathroom arrangements. The food and the guiding, however, were excellent. I was actually coincidentally reunited with an outstanding guide named Shaka who was my guide on my first trip to Africa ten years ago at Sandibe, an And Beyond camp. He was such a great guide that I told him it was his fault that I was now on my 4th trip to Africa! I had no idea he was now with Letaka.

 

We had an interesting mix of people on the trip--I was a bit concerned about how we would all mesh. Three came together, a British couple in their 70's who were minor aristocrats of some type (the woman had been to school with Princess Anne) and had been to Africa many times, a friend of theirs who they brought along, a Canadian woman who was an avid outdoors person, and myself. The friend of the British couple had not only not been camping before, she had never been to Africa, and the proximity to the animals at night was too much for her. One night our tents were surrounded by very loud hippos (the guide thought some were fighting), not surprising since we were at a camp site right next to a lagoon, and this woman was terrified, sure that there was a lion or hyena outside her tent when she heard what she thought was panting and pacing. I think it was just the hippos, since it's hard to imagine a lion or hyena getting mixed up in a big pod of hippos, but in any event I don't think camping is a good option for people who have never been camping or been to Africa!!!! (I don't think they had a very good travel agent....)

 

This was my first trip with someone who was an avid birder--I had been on game drives with birders before but this person I felt was really hijacking the whole thing with stopping for every bird and then taking lots of time to look up the bird in her guide and match it correctly with the help of the guide. I was trying hard to go with the flow and "live in the moment" but was getting really irritated until several days in, when the birding slowed down a bit (I think because she was seeing the same birds over and over). She preferred continuing to look for birds rather than proceed to a lion sighting, for example. I now understand why some people get private vehicles when they go on safari, although it would not have worked for this type of trip.

 

 

Here is a picture of the peaceful lagoon we were camping next to, early in the morning. 


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This malachite kingfisher seemed to be perched in the same place every morning.

 

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breakfast time...

 

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Our first morning in Moremi we were treated to a fantastic wild dog sighting very early in the morning, a large pack of about 20 or so getting ready to hunt and spreading out looking for prey. We didn't see them catch anything but were able to observe them for quite a while. This was our only wild dog sighting of the trip, so we were quite lucky to see them.

 

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A surprise shot as the oxpecker flew either off or onto the giraffe!

 

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mom and baby giraffe....

 

 

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Are the zebra hugging?

 

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More to come....here is a teaser....

 

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Fantastic- Caracal and Wild Dogs. It sounds like an excellent trip

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Loved the photo of the lion cubs peeping over the big log!

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mtanenbaum

We were lucky to have 3 leopard sightings during our camping trip--two by sheer chance on the road, and one that the guide found when the guinea fowl started alarm calling, followed by alarm calls from a large baboon who had scampered up to the top of a large tree. A leopard must be around....and in fact he then found one. With all those alarm calls it was hard to believe that leopard was going to have any luck hunting! 

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leopard at night on the road in Khwai...DSC09838.jpg.b97d08b0eec6b1d3a8ab5e5b6d6bd506.jpg

 

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Lots of eles around, including this one with a lilac breasted roller in the background, a feisty little one, and an ele with wildflowers...

 

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spotted on a mokoro trip....a lizard makes a good breakfast.

 

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a tiny frog no bigger than your thumbnail...probably a good breakfast for something else...

 

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anthracosaur

@mtanenbaumLooks like your trip was quite eventful. We we with Letaka about 3 weeks before you. Do you know what campsite you used in Moremi? What you describe sounds quite similar to ours. We tracked wild dogs for the better part of a morning. Their tracks were pretty fresh, but we never managed to find them.

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mtanenbaum

I don't know the name of the campsite, but it was adjacent to a large lagoon where the red lechwe were hanging out every day in addition to the hippos! How did you find your experience with Letaka? 

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mtanenbaum

Lion adventure:  On one of our afternoon game drives in Khwai, we came across a group of five lion cubs playing in the road. 

 

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Suddenly we heard a loud squeal in the distance--DINNER! The cubs tails went straight up in the air as they dashed in the direction of the sound. Given that there was lots of ground water, we could not follow their route, but our guide took a round-about route and within a few minutes of crashing through the bushes (off-roading being OK in Khwai) we came across two lionesses and five cubs digging into a warthog kill. The other jeep in the area managed to take the wrong way around, and got stuck in the muck. Just one of the advantages of a very experienced guide! The warthog seemed like nothing more than a good snack for the 7 of them. I couldn't get a really good angle for photos with all the brush in front of the lions. I was sitting in the front of the jeep and it didn't seem like a good idea to suddenly stand up to improve my photos within a few yards of 7 lions, even if they were busily eating, but these will give you the idea. 

 

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It's hard to beat the excitement of the lions on a kill, but I did like this bateleur eagle, who was trying to warm up after a rainy night. We saw them constantly in the Khwai area.

 

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Before leaving Khwai, we managed to see a lonely hyena, a playful monkey, and another lion chilling by the side of the road. Then I was off to Kasane for my first trip to Chobe!

 

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anthracosaur

@mtanenbaumWe were at Hatab 8 I believe, I need to look at a map again to confirm. Our experience with Letaka was good. Our guide, Matambo, was quite good. We also had luggage issues though. First KLM, then Airlink, managed to misplace our bags. We ended up with our luggage on Day 5 of an 8 day trip. Don't think we saw as many "big" sightings as you did, grass was quite tall when we were there, but the benefit of enjoying birding is that we had things to get excited over when the mammals were slow. Ended up around 120 bird species over 7 days of looking. I'll have a TR up sometime soon, work has been killing me since I got home.

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mtanenbaum
Posted (edited)

I was really excited to experience the Pangolin Chobe Hotel, which specializes in providing experiences for photographers, including providing camera equipment for use and specially equipped photo boats and jeeps. I normally shoot with a bridge camera, so this was an opportunity for me to use an SLR with a large zoom lens (I think I was given a 100-500 lens). I must admit I found the large lens harder to handle than I expected, and I wound up changing it for a slightly shorter version. I think the people who were there for 7 days made the right choice, since they were really able to get a lot of photo instruction...for me, with 3 nights, by the time I was feeling comfortable with the equipment, my stay was close to over. I do think Pangolin is a great choice for safari-goers who want to take their photography to the next level. Their instructors are very hands-on, providing suggestions for settings (we were all shooting on manual and I am used to shooting on aperture priority so I needed a lot of help in this area). We tried techniques I would never normally use, like rim lighting, high key, low key, different angles, etc. We were encouraged to use low angles on the boat, for example, but I decided if I lay down with the camera for a low angle I might not easily get up again!!! Definitely didn't want to end up at the Kasane emergency room with a strained back! 

 

I have to say that as an elephant lover I really adored Chobe, but I'm glad I got to experience it with the crowds low both because of Covid and because of green season. It would be fascinating to see the huge herds in August and September but I'm so spoiled by sightings with few vehicles in my trips to Africa that I don't think I would like the crowds both in the park and on the river. Although we didn't have the huge herds we had some wonderful sightings, especially of elephants in the water. We also had a very good game drive in the park where we tracked the lions across a large area and came across them resting and mating. Another afternoon we saw the lions at some distance but in a beautiful golden light. We also had fun photographing baboons with rim lighting and crocodiles on a water buffalo carcass (fascinating in a somewhat disgusting way, especially since the carcass was rotting after several days). Lots of birds along the river as well...

 

Here are some examples from Pangolin. First some lovely birds:

 

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baboons with rim lighting:

 

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hippo and friends, in low key

 

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Chobe lions:

 

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lions having fun:

 

 

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All done for the moment...

 

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The rest of the gang are just watching the action...

 

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For those who like crocs, it was quite the experience to see them go at a buffalo carcass in the river--not so easy for the cros to rip into it, it turns out. Here are just a few pictures to give you a sense...

 

 

 

Here the croc has a mouthful of flesh from the buffalo (I think...)

 

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crocodile eye:

 

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Some of the crocs swarming around looked small compared to the buffalo.

 

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how doth the little crocodile...

 

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Still to come--my favorite elephants!

 

It's so hard to choose just a few favorite elephant shots from my trip, especially from Chobe--the colors were magnificent, with the bright blue skies, puffy clouds, green green grass, and even rainbows in the distance.

 

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a dramatic silhouette in the river:

 

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Baby takes an afternoon swim:

 

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Elephants are wonderful moms...

 

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And they let you take piggy-back rides in the water!

 

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Time for another drink...

 

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And now time for our sunscreen...

 

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Thanks for letting me share these with you! Happy to answer any questions about Pangolin, Letaka camping, or Duma Tau!

 

 

 

 

Edited by mtanenbaum
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Beautiful birds and baboons with rim lighting @mtanenbaum

Also very interesting to learn about the Pangolin Chobe Hotel.

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Zim Girl

Great trip report!

Your pictures are really lovely.

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The Baboons with rim lighting photos worked really well

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anthracosaur

@mtanenbaumReally nice baboon photo. Pangolin Lodge seems like a great Lodge.

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Towlersonsafari

wonderful  photos. We have often wondered  about a mobile camping trip but worry that we would find other folk annoying  or more likely the other way around!  @mtanenbaum

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Looks like you had a great trip! Who was your photo guide? I had Janine when I was there. Did you get to see any elephants from their new photo blind?

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mtanenbaum

I think Janine was on a break when I was there because I did not meet her. I had Dennis. Dennis was very good. The only thing I didn't like (and hadn't been aware of in advance) was that there was more emphasis on the river trips and less on game drives, and the whole group had to agree on which to do. For some reason I thought you did one game drive and one boat trip each day, but this was not how it worked. I finally got them to put me on an additional game drive with a different photo instructor for one of the activities since otherwise I would have had 1 game drive and 5 boat trips on my 3 night trip. The other instructor I thought was not as hands-on as Dennis, he was available if you had questions but seemed to be on his own phone a lot. Dennis was very proactive in helping us with settings, angles, etc. Unfortunately  I didn't get to see their new photo blind--they didn't mention it in fact. I wonder if they had it shut down for some reason? I didn't hear anyone talking about it either. Too bad!

 

I would love to go back there. Several of the guests were on return trips there. One of the only downsides was that there were no leopards or cheetahs in the area. Plenty of lion, though.

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That's how it was when I was there also (1 game drive and 5 boat trips). 

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anthracosaur

@mtanenbaumand @NancySand anyone else with experience at Pangolin Lodge...Would someone not interested in photography enjoy the lodge? My wife doesn't have much interest in photography and I'd be concerned that she wouldn't enjoy all of the specialized photography instruction.

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Taking pics is not required and she could just tune out any photography tips. It's not like sitting in a classroom for a lecture. If she enjoys being outside and watching the wildlife, she should be fine. Although possibly they may stay with one bird or subject longer than she would prefer. I guess that would be the only drawback.

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