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A Trip of Firsts: A March Mobile Safari in Botswana


anthracosaur

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anthracosaur

I. Background and itinerary

 

My wife and I celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary next year and decided it was time we went back to Africa. We'd honeymooned in Timbavati and Sabi Sands, returned to South Africa a few years later, and done the northern circuit in Tanzania, but had't been to the continent since 2016, so it was time to return. Botswana was a destination I'd thought about since we'd returned from our honeymoon, while there we'd shared drives with an Australian couple who'd visited Chobe and their stories and photos showed a place I wanted to see, so I started putting together trip ideas. When I plan a trip I always assemble a variety of options and present them to my wife who whittles down the options based on what interests her most, this time I presented numerous Botswana options and a couple of ideas for Zimbabwe. To my surprise, she showed the most interest in Zimbabwe, particularly Mana Pools. So I started planning for Zimbabwe in May/June of 2023.

 

During planning for next year a few folks on here posted about significant discounts they'd seen for late 2021 and early 2022, as Covid continued to keep people from traveling some of the operators were eager to attract people willing and able to travel. Posts from @ExtraordinaryAlex@mtanenbaumand @AArdvark0got me wondering if we could manage a short trip in early 2022, it would need to be the second week of March to match my Spring Break, and the price would need to be right, but I was curious and contacted some operators about possibilities. After a bit of back and forth we settled on an offer from Letaka Safaris for a 6 night mobile safari in Botswana visiting Moremi and Khwai. The trip allowed us to see two prime areas in Botswana at a 40% discount and at the time of our booking no one else was signed on to the trip, there was a good chance we would have the trip to ourselves. In addition, we've wanted to try a mobile for a variety of reasons and this seemed like an opportunity to see if we enjoyed it. So, inspired by this wonderful trip report I booked the trip and we crossed our fingers that no one else would sign up.

 

 

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~ @anthracosaur:

 

Those seven bee-eaters on a branch are something else! 

 

What a wonderful portrait.

 

Thank you for posting this trip report.

 

What a nice anniversary safari.

 

As I've never visited Botswana, I'm especially interested in trip reports about wildlife there.

 

      Tom K.

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michael-ibk

Very happy our report inspired you - and obviously you had a great time, these opening shots are fantastic. Also particularly like the huddled Bee-Eaters! Looking forward to this.:)

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I'm so happy you were able to do this! Looking forward to hearing more. What a great leopard sighting, and I'm wondering if you saw the ellies on your mokoro trip? We saw only birds and a tiny frog on ours, but I have plenty of ellies in the water in Chobe. I love the beeeaters picture too! I got some nice ones of them but not all in a row, they were not cooperating with us for that particular shot!

 

Now if I could only get my husband to go to Africa with me for our anniversary sometime....

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ExtraordinaryAlex

Cracking! So glad you got to travel!

 

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shouldbewriting

Wonderful photos! Eager to hear the rest.

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So did anyone else sign up?  You could not cram another bee eater onto that branch!  I am guessing they must be related.  That's a first for me for sure.  How nice you've got another trip in the works!

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  • 1 year later...
anthracosaur

Chapter I: The good, the bad, and the ugly

 

In preparation for our Mana Pools safari (leaving in 9 days), I finally manged to go through all of our photographs from our green season safari to Botswana in March 2022 and will complete this trip report before we leave. I'll start with some general information, answer some of the questions I left hanging when I dropped the report, and end the first part with some photos.

 

The trip: We flew from Charlotte to Maun with a layover in Amsterdam and a one night overnight in Johannesburg. The trip was a 6-day mobile split evenly between Moremi and Khwai with one further day/night in Maun to have covid tests to be allowed back into the US. This would be our 4th safari overall, but first time in Botswana and our first green season safari.

 

The Good: Overall, the trip was wonderful, Letaka provided a great team lead by our guide, Matambo. He put in some long hours and did an excellent job of tracking and identification, including heading out one night after dinner to locate some lions we had been hearing roar through the meal. The food and service on the ground were top notch. I'd recommend Letaka as a mobile company to anyone interested in that type of safari. The other highlight was that the areas we visited were nearly empty of other safari vehicles, particularly Moremi. One day in Moremi we didn't run across another vehicle for the entire day and had our leopard sighting in Khawi completely to ourselves. While much of this was due to the pandemic, some of it is due to fewer visitor numbers during Green Season.  Most significantly, we were the only people to sign up for this departure, so we essentially had a private guide in Botswana for 7 days.

 

The Bad: We got a decent amount of rain, including two bouts of pretty intense downpour. The first of these occurred on our drive from Maun to Moremi and began about 15 minutes outside of Maun. Driving through this in an open sided vehicle was bracing, to say the least. Fortunately, the other downpour occurred toward the end of dinner one night in Khwai and didn't interfere with anything aside from the walk to our tent and the evening bathroom rituals. Aside from rain, we had lots of overcast skies, which doesn't much matter for game viewing, but is irksome for photography.

 

The Ugly: Our luggage didn't arrive with us in Maun, but was a day behind us at our layover in Amsterdam. AirLink assured us it would follow behind us a day later once it got to Johannesburg. But rather then send it to Maun once it arrived in South Africa, AirLink decided our bag would rather see the sights in Gaborone. My wife and I are pretty easy-going and have spent a lot of time camping and working out of doors, so at first we weren't phased by not immediately having a change of clothes; however, when the morning of day 5 on safari rolled around and we were still wearing our clothes from Day 1, we had gotten a bit grumpy.

 

To Moremi and Day 1: Waiting around at the Maun airport to discuss luggage issues and a brief stop at a store to purchase socks and underwear consumed a bit of a scheduled time to drive from Maun to Moremi, so we didn't have much time to stop for photography. The rain and overcast skies didn't help either. We did see quite a bit on the drive in: giraffe, elephant, zebra, jackels, and quite a few birds including Verreaux's Eagle Owl. What we didn't see were any other vehicles. On the entire drive I think we saw 6 other safari vehicles, two of which were at South Gate. We made it to camp well after dark, I think Matambo was a bit worried about the time because we were moving fairly fast over the last 30-40 minutes. After a quick meal, we headed to bed, a little wet and quite tired.

 

I always wake up early on safari, both because I'm excited and because I never slept well in new places. The first morning was particularly exciting because I hadn't really seen camp the night before. Turns out our camp was tucked into a small set of trees with a broad pool next to the entrance road. The grunts of hippo and calls of a variety of birds rose from among the tall reeds of the pool as the sun climbed up the horizon. Each morning at Moremi would have the same start. The first day was beautiful, one of the only days we had with clear skies. Much of our morning drive involved exploring the area around camp and looking for birds. The advantage of having the trip to ourselves was that I didn't need to worry about annoying other people, aside from my wife, when I asked Matambo to stop to look at a bird. It was also slow because we didn't have much luck with mammals. During our morning drive we saw numerous vultures circling in the distance with others clearly sitting in trees under those circling, so we were hopeful that we could find a kill in the afternoon. Unfortunately, when we did locate the object of the vulture's desire it turned out to be a dead elephant without any predators. Oh well, it was only day one. Sun downers at a hippo pond always ease disappointment.

 

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Sunrise first morning

 

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Three ringed plover

 

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Little Egret

 

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Purple Heron

 

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Yellow billed stork

 

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Burchell's Sandgrouse

 

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Red Lechwe

 

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Red Lechwe

 

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Wattled Cranes

 

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Woodland Kingfisher

 

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Little Bee eater

 

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Bennett's Woodpecker

 

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Half an elephant (It smelled worse than it looks)

 

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Hippos

 

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Hippos

 

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Fiery necked nightjar

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Atravelynn

5 days in the same clothes and I'd be grumpy too.  At least all your necessary camera stuff was with you as evidenced by the photos.

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anthracosaur

@AtravelynnIf it hadn't been rainy we would have been a little less grumpy, but dirty and damp is a rough combination. Oh well, lesson learned.

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anthracosaur

Chapter II: Always look behind you

 

The rosy-fingered dawn of day 2 brought clear skies and a sunny morning that gave way to clouds and rain in the afternoon.

 

 

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This was also the only day in Moremi during which we saw more than one vehicle at any given moment. After a quick breakfast and chat with the camp staff, we set off. We birded a bit around the small pool/pond just beyond camp before setting off in a different direction from the previous day. As one might expect, the green season's high grasses may game viewing a challenge, as can be seen by our first mammal of the day.

 

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This fellow was hiding in the grass with only the tips of his ears visible. Matambo managed to draw him out with a quick imitation of a wild dog warning. Immediately the jackal's head popped up out of the grass. We spent a bit of time watching him move through the grass before my wife said, "Hey, there are two lions behind us!" Matambo and I whipped our heads around and low and behold were greeted with these two ladies.

 

 

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There was a small hill covered in bushes behind us and the lions must have been in the bushes when we drove up. Whether they came out due to the vehicle noise or Matambo's dog impression is unclear. After a couple of minutes the lions turned around and sauntered back into the bushes. We circled around to the other side of the hill to await their appearance. Waiting for us there was a young male lion. The two females joined him and they were quite active for the next hour or so, wrestling with one another and rubbing/clawing at a large tuft of grass next to the road. The three of them got up at one point and moved out into an open area next too a small pool of water. We had been with them for a little over an hour by this point and two other vehicles arrived. This was the only "crowd" we ran into during our trip. At one point a small herd of impala walked past the water hole, drawing much interest from the lions. One of the females was hidden from their view and we thought she might give chase, bit they never got close enough.

 

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Atravelynn

Excellent lion action!

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anthracosaur

@AtravelynnYes, I was really happy about this sighting, it was really fun watching the two lionesses chase each other around and wrestle. About half of the lion sightings we've ever had have been sleeping mats of yellow, so it is nice to get something else. One of the things this trip really drove home for me was the benefit of being patient and quiet on drives. Both this sighting and the best one we had in Khwai wouldn't have happened if we hadn't just sat quietly and waited. In both cases we were watching one thing and something else came up behind us.

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michael-ibk

Agree with Lynn - cool sighting, and your photos are excellent! 

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anthracosaur

Trip report to be continued in about 2 weeks. Heading to the airport and Mana Pools in about 4 hours.

 

@michael-ibkThank you for the kind words. I'm glad you like the photos, they don't hold a candle to yours, but I'm getting better. Our trip was partially inspired by the trip report you did on your green season mobile in Botswana.

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michael-ibk

You're much too kind, really. It's not easy catching action sequences like that, you did a great job there. 

 

Wow, Mana Pools, I'm jealous! Have a great time! 

 

 

 

 

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  • 2 months later...

Hi @anthracosaur, firstly thanks again for this lovely trip report, I have just re-read it again.

I do have a question about booking, did you book directly with Letaka or through an agency? How did you go about getting the 40% discount.

I will be back in South Africa again this December and January and thinking of taking my family on a mobile Safari.

 

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  • 6 months later...

I will finish this TR by God! New photos will be up tonight.

 

@HadsThe discount was a special for that Spring that was advertised on Letaka's Facebook page. Someone, I sadly have forgotten who, on SafariTalk saw it and mentioned it to me in planning thread. Wouldn't have seen it otherwise. We had to book directly with Letaka. I was working on a Zimbabwe itinerary with Safari Specialists at the time and had my agent from there inquire with Letaka about the special. They told her it had to be booked directly so she sent me their info. The rate was likely a one-time post-covid rate to draw customers. It was a scheduled departure that had no guests as of two months prior to departure, I think they slashed the price so they could run the departure and pay some camp staff and a guide. Our guide told us he hadn't guided in two years at that point, so I think Letaka probably just wanted to get their folks out and working, even if the company didn't make anything on the deal.

 

 

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So, where was I? The afternoon drive after our active lion sighting was fairly quiet. Moremi as a whole was quiet in fact. Green Season combined with the still limiting Covid rules kept the park fairly empty. The lack of mammal activity provided opportunities for birding, so I wasn't complaining.

 

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Malachite Kingfisher

 

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Little Bee Eater

 

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Carmine Bee Eater

 

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Purple Heron

 

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Impala

 

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Red-billed Spurfowl

Edited by anthracosaur
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anthracosaur

Over the course of three days in Moremi I believe we saw a total of 3 other safari vehicles. The absence of others created a truly remote feeling to our trip, not only did we have no one else in the mobile, but it seemed like no one else was even in the Okavango. A downside to the isolation is that our guide had little chance to hear about sighting or trade tips with other guides. We also needed to wait for our camp staff to come out during the one afternoon we got stuck in high water. But I'd trade some sighting for isolation, part of why I like these trips to to feel like there is no one else around. Our next, and final, full day in Moremi was quiet for sightings. We tracked dog tracks for about an hour during the morning, I believe we were in the area around Camp Moremi. Our guide, Matambo, thought the tracks were from that morning, probably made within the hour, but they ended up going through some marshy areas where we couldn't follow. But that is safari, sometimes you miss, sometimes you hit. We dealt with a bit of rain in the afternoon, nothing too bad, but without a change of clothes it was more frustrating than usual.

 

 

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Morning

 

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Baboons in the rain

 

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Great Egret

 

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Pearl Spotted Owlet

 

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Senegal Coucal

 

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Little Bee Eaters

 

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Glossy Ibis

 

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Rain has some advantages

 

 

 

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Edited by anthracosaur
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