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Botswana and Zambia October 2009


beau gust
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My wife and I spent 10 days in southern Africa in late October (two weeks including flight time). This was my first trip to Africa, but I hope it wasn't my last. I spent some time before the trip trying to lower my expectations to avoid disappointment. This turned out to be a complete waste of time, as this trip exceeded all my expectations and came very close to exceeding my wildest dreams. I hate writing trip reports, because I never know how much detail or background anyone wants. But this trip was so good I can't stop typing about it. If you find there's too much information, just skip to the pictures.

 

Sunday October 18, Johannesburg

After a 15 hour flight, direct from Atlanta to Johannesburg -- much of which we spent asleep -- we arrived in Johannesburg airport at around 5 PM. We got transportation to the Southern Sun, which is a former Holiday Inn, apparently. A seven hour time difference between Atlanta and Johannesburg means it was midnight by our body clocks before we arrived in Jo'burg. Ate dinner at the hotel and went to bed.

 

Monday, October 19 – Johannesburg, Maun, Chitabe Camp

In the morning, we arrived back in Johannesburg's airport and got checked in for the flight to Botswana. Johannesburg's airport seems new enough, but somehow they forgot to put any seating in the gate areas. Most have some seats, but it's like, 20 seats for a flight that holds 150. We were early, so we got seats, so I guess it wasn't too bad.

 

We boarded a Air Botswana turboprop plane for the two hour flight to the thriving metropolis of Maun, with an international airport and one traffic light. Well, I'm not sure about that, because we never left the airport, but there was a discussion we had at one camp where the camp personnel mentioned that Maun couldn't be accorded the official title of “city” because there are still large numbers of domestic animals in town. As far as international airport, think of an airport for a Caribbean island like St. Thomas, not of Heathrow.

 

Again, after deplaning and going though customs, we were met by representatives of Sefofane air charters, which is a subsidiary of Wilderness Safaris. They led us to the Sefofane ticket counter and gave us our tickets, weighed our bags, and sent us (and several others who came in on the same flight) through security towards our gate. We ended up traveling with several others to Chitabe camp, about a 20 minute flight in a Cessna or some other small airplane (maybe 30 seats).

 

Upon arrival at Chitabe's dirt airstrip (no buildings), we were immediately met by drivers for Wilderness Safaris and assigned to a particular land rover. During the drive to the camp, our driver informed us that someone had seen a leopard and pulled over near a large tree. Sure enough, there was a relaxed female leopard sitting in the lowest branches of the tree, totally oblivious to the car full of people below her. Susan and I had our cameras already ready and we began to snap away. We hadn't even arrived at camp yet, and we'd already seen our first leopard. This was looking like it was going to be a great trip!

 

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The first picture I took in Botswana

 

Eventually they moved us on to camp so we could get checked in in time for the afternoon game drive. Check in was easy and informal. We were met by the camp manager, who explained the schedule we'd be following, and the rules for moving around in camp – stay on the walkways, don't walk without a WS person at night. We got to our room with barely enough time to drop our bags, grab our camera gear, and head back to the bar/lounge area for tea.

 

We met our guide, Ebs, and shortly thereafter we bundled into the Rover with Phil, a British doctor and excellent photographer, and Jurgen and Annette, a pleasant German couple.

Our first game drive is a bit of a blur for me now, but I remember seeing impala, saddle-billed storks, a giraffe, zebra, a number of other water birds, and before log we headed to find some African wild dogs.

 

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All WS guides stay in touch by radio, so when an exciting find is made, others in the area can find out about it. However, WS rules mean that there are never more than three vehicles at any particular location. This avoids the unpleasant scenes that we've all seen on TV of one lion surrounded by 37 vehicles of all sizes and shapes. This is how we were able to drive straight to the dogs. They have a rule that there are never more than three cars at a given site, which avoids those “one lion surrounded by 30 vehicles” type of pictures.

 

We stayed with the dogs until it was time for “sundowners”. The guide drives back towards camp as the sun is near the horizon and finds a wide open place, usually around a water hole, where he can be sure there are no animals in the immediate vicinity. The rover is parked and we are allowed to get out. Beer, wine, or mixed drinks are served, along with some light snacks. If needed, a bush in the area is inspected to be sure it is safe for use as outdoor facilities.

 

After sundowners, it's just about dark, and we climb back in the rover. The guide gets out a spotlight and shines it into the trees and on the sides of the road as he drives back to camp. If prey animals are found, such as antelope, they don't shine the light on them so as not to interfere with their night vision. On this trip, we saw some hippos out of the water near one of the two wooden bridges near the Chitabe camp.

 

Upon arriving back in camp, we are greeted by some camp personnel, who help you grab your stuff and help you out of the Rover. The framework of the seats is on the outside of the Rover, with some steps welded on, but it is a little bit of a climb to get in and out. You get a few minutes back at your room and then it's back to the lounge/bar for a drink, followed by dinner in the dining room.

 

After dinner, you can go back to the bar, or sit around the open firepit (there's always a fire burning in it in the evenings, in spite of the heat.) We were exhausted and just got an escort back to our room.

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Tuesday October 20 – Chitabe camp

At 5 AM, our guide came down the long walkway to our tent, #8, and stood outside and called out to us with a wakeup call. At 5:30 he came back to walk us to the lounge area where there was coffee, tea, bread, butter, jam, and some dry cereal. At 6, it's back out to the Rovers for another drive.

 

Our guide for the three days at Chitabe was always Ebs, and he was an excellent, knowledgeable guide. He was quite good at reading tracks and interpreting animal activities. We also rode with Phil every day, occasionally with Nicky along, and Jurgen and Annette were there for the first two days. So it was nice to get to know the folks that you were with and made it more fun. We were lucky that we liked the folks we were paired up with, at every camp.

 

As many of you already know, Botswana is primarily made up of Kalahari desert. This is a sandy desert, but very flat. The Okavango River flows from the highlands of Angola through the Caprivi Strip of Namibia and into the northern part of Botswana. When it reaches the flat Botswana desert, it spreads out into the vast Okavango delta. The vast majority of the water eventually evaporates or sinks into the Kalahari sand. Before it does, however, it provides water to support a variety of biomes throughout the delta. There's moist forest, mixed woodland, dry mopane scrub forest, savanna, floodplains, rivers, and ponds.

 

Pretty much all of these can be found in reserve containing Chitabe Camp. It amazed me that we'd be driving through dry scrubby forest then round a corner to find a broad green grassland, turn another corner and find trees towering overhead – not deep forest, but more like islands of trees.

 

On this first morning, we started near a flood plain and saw a number of waterbirds: saddle-billed storks, African spoonbills, sacred ibis, and numerous herons and egrets. Then we rounded a corner and found a dry, grassy savanna, full of zebra, wildebeest, and tsessebe. We rounded another corner and there was a large pool with several hippos.

 

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Hippos are amazing creatures. You can look at a pool and think “that's too small to hold any hippos”, and then suddenly there are heads of ten hippos, then more. Another amazing thing about hippos is that they seem to be able to be at any level in the water that they want. I didn't see any walking on water, but I'd see water with no hippo, then just the eyes and ears, then the whole head, then the back, then the whole hippo down to the middle of its body. This is all without the hippo having moved from that same spot. So if it's deep enough that he can be completely submerged, how can he rise high enough to get most of his body out of the water?

 

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After that we saw a marabou stork (the only one I saw), more zebras and wildebeest, and watched two zebras sparring – not fighting seriously, just practicing. This mostly involved them trying to bite each other's forelegs, resulting in them getting down to ground level. After that we came upon a herd of impala, and again saw two square off to spar. Amusingly, they soon found that they had gotten their horns intertwined and had to break off the fight while they figured out how to separate.

 

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After a bit we drove off and saw a giraffe staring fixedly at something a small distance away. Ebs decided to see what he was looking at and drove off the road and around a bush, then stopped suddenly. There, behind the bush and about 15 feet away was my first wild lioness.

 

One thing I was constantly amazed by was how the predators completely ignored the Rovers and the people in them. That was the case here; the lioness simple looked at us for a bit then went back to sleep. She was wearing a radio tracking collar; Apparently someone to the east of the camp area is doing some lion research.

 

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After she went to sleep, we headed off and encountered a pair of black-backed jackals on either side of a large dried up waterhole. We watched them for a while. Unlike the larger predators, they would allow us to come only so close. When we got too close, the one we were near got up and trotted off to see its mate(?), and when we followed, they both trotted back to the starting point.

 

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Following this we saw more giraffe, more waterfowl, more hippos, but I was getting a little perturbed. My favorite African animal is the elephant, and we had seen neither hide nor hair. This absence was all the more frustrating in light of the fact that there was elephant dung everywhere. It seemed like there was a pile of dung about every 10 feet, in every direction. It was hard to understand how there could be so much dung with no elephants! So I was watching hard for an elephant hiding in the trees (among the trees, I mean, not literally up in the trees. Don't be ridiculous.) As we drove along a long narrow pond or watercourse, I was intently watching the trees on the other side.

 

I haven't mentioned the termite mounds yet. Termites are clearly the most populous animal in all of Botswana, and probably all of Africa. The termites build these large mounds which rise out of the grass or shrubs wherever you look. Some mounds are only a few feet tall; others are taller than the Land Rovers.

 

The reason the termite mounds are relevant to my elephant hunt is that I kept seeing elephants that turned out to be termite mounds. But finally, I was sure I saw a real elephant, but didn't say anything in case it turned out to be another mound. Finally, we rounded the thicket it was next to, and I shouted out “Elephant!” I was very proud of seeing him as neither the guide nor anyone else had seen him.

 

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My first wild elephant

 

After this we spent the rest of the afternoon with a large troop of baboons. There were several babies in the group, some of which were quite young, and like all youngsters, they enjoyed a good climb on a jungle gym.

 

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This one hadn't quite got that walking thing figured out.

 

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Shouldn't lift both legs on the same side...

 

While watching them a couple of enormous male kudu came walking through.

 

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Then it was back to camp for a delicious meal.

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Wednesday October 21, Chitabe

 

The next morning started with a sighting of a large herd of buffalo. Well, I don't know if it's large by some standards, but there were 40 – 50 buffalo milling about in tall grass under some trees at dawn. A nearby watercourse gave us sightings of yellowbilled storks, white pelicans, more spoonbills, white-faced ducks, Egyptian geese, spurwinged geese, yellow-billed ducks, and redbilled teal.

 

Back on dry land we got our first sighting of an amazingly colorful bird, the lilacbreasted roller. Lots of plain black or plain white birds are probably wondering “why did he get all the colors?”

 

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Even the parts you can't normally see are intensely colored (and a different color than is elsewhere on the bird).

 

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Then we watched a male saddle-billed stork prancing about in the tall grass and shallow water. He'd stick his open beak into the water, then reach forward with one foot and stir the water next to his beak, hoping to scare something tasty between his jaws. We also saw a reed cormorant.

 

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Ebs then spotted a pride of lions finishing off the last of a tsessebe.

 

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We followed one female as she walked over to get a drink after gorging themselves. How she squeezed any water into that over-full stomach is beyond me.

 

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The lions then dragged the skin of the tsessebe under some bushes and began the lion's favorite task – snoozing -- so we motored off. Ebs had heard there were leopard tracks in the area, and we drove around some trees looking eagerly up into the trees. No leopards. Then we started following some ostriches around an open grassland area (did I mention that the terrain changes quickly at Chitabe?) when Ebs stopped the car near a small bush. I looked all around but didn't see what had caught his attention, until someone pointed right next to the road. There was our leopard, sleeping peacefully in the shade of the bush, no more than 10 feet off the road.

 

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He rested for a while longer, then got up and started across the grassy plain to a stand of trees.

 

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We followed him into the trees, where after a bit he settled down again. As we sat watching him, I was struck again and again by what a beautiful animal he was.

 

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Finally, he shifted again to a spot where he was protected from photo-mad tourists by undergrowth on three sides. When we decided to leave him alone, he stretched his head out to watch us go, as if to say “Where're you going? I was getting used to your company.” From fifteen feet away, he was nearly invisible.

 

After our morning coffee, we snapped a vervet monkey posing for us in a tree.

 

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After lunch and a nap, we drove back out and found a warthog fresh from a wallow. Usually, warthogs run away, but she just decided a snack was in order after such a nice mudbath.

 

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We found a couple of bachelor elephants after that, also wet from their baths. Then we found the Cape buffalo herd from that morning, now spread out comfortably in a floodplain.

 

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After that we found a hippo pool and watched some youngsters sparring – not a real fight, but more exciting than the usual eyes and ears display.

 

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Then we went to find our lion pride from the morning. Sure enough, they were in the same spot, still looking comfortably full.

 

On the way back we passed some more elephants; a bachelor herd enjoying the evening sun.

 

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Lovely report, Beau Gust ........... Can't wait to read more and to view your lovely photos!

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Thursday October 22, morning, Chitabe

We'd had some pretty good times in Chitabe over the first two and a half days, but the final morning brought a couple of special treats.

 

Right off the bat, Ebs found some wild dog tracks. He got out of the Rover and followed them for a little bit, then turned and came running back to the car, saying “I hear them”. A short time later, the dog pack came running past the stopped car in one and twos and threes.

 

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“They are coming from a kill, Ebs told us, and some had bloody faces. We turned and followed the pack down to a large open field next to a floodplain. Some of the dogs laid down, others regurgitated food for the younger dogs who hadn't gotten their share, and others began a series of games of chase, keep-away, and a sort of free-for-all wrestling.

 

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Some came over and looked right into the car. I never got the sense that the lions or leopards saw humans as separate from the Land Rover, but I guarantee this dog saw me.

 

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We probably spent a couple of hours with this wild dog pack. There was never a dull moment – one group would settle down and then the games would start somewhere else. The pack had about 24 members, more or less 50/50 adults to sub-adults. Must have been a very successful pack to have so many youngsters.

 

That sighting was good enough to make the whole day a success. We finally drove on along a waterway where we saw numerous herons, egrets, hammerkops and other smaller wading birds. Then we drove past a pod of hippos, and one decided to chase us out of the area. He followed the car for a while and then we went around a bend - leaving him behind - and found a larger pod of hippos in another pool. I'm not sure it was the same one that followed us , but a hippo came from the first pool and entered the water where the bigger pod was. This turned out to be a bad idea, as the resident dominant male took offense at his trespassing. The day before we'd seen a mock fight, but there was no doubt that this was the real thing.

 

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The fight went on for 10 – 15 minutes, and ended when the trespasser was driven off to the next pool in the waterway.

 

We watched the hippos for a while longer, the began to drive off. A hippo came charging up to drive us off (very brave, since we were already leaving). He gave a final headshake, as it to say, “And I mean it!”

 

 

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On the ride back to camp, we got our first good look at red lechwe, some not-so-good looks at a bushbuck and a reedbuck, and saw a knob-billed duck along with the usual gang of geese and white-faced ducks.

 

 

That's as much as I have written so far - it just covers the first three days stay at Chitabe camp. Over the next week or so I'll write up the three days at Little Vumbura, and eventually get the whole trip. To see the whole album, click the thumbnail below. Click any of the pictures to see them full size (you'll be in the album and have to click them again to get the full size shot). Please let me know what you think of the report and the album, and feel free to correct any erroneous identifications.

 

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Very cool! Love to read those first impressions of a first-time safari-traveller.

And I hope you realize how lucky you were with seeing Wild Dogs on your first drive!!!

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And I hope you realize how lucky you were with seeing Wild Dogs on your first drive!!!

 

As a matter of fact, I do. But Lucky must have been my nickname on this trip. More good luck to come in Little Vumbura.

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Very nice experience & report, Beau...

 

beau gust

This was my first trip to Africa, but I hope it wasn't my last. I spent some time before the trip trying to lower my expectations to avoid disappointment. This turned out to be a complete waste of time, as this trip exceeded all my expectations and came very close to exceeding my wildest dreams.

 

I felt much the same way about my first trip. No doubt, while this may have been your first it will quite likely NOT be your last!

 

The first picture I took in Botswana

 

The leopard as your first picture is a great privilege!

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Thanks Beau Gust, sounds like you had a wonderful safari and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your report.

Have started looking at the photos, but will have to finish later.

 

Leopard before reaching camp … fantastic! :)

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Thanks a lot Beau gust, lovely report. What a start to see a leopard right away, I´m still waiting for a good view in daylight. And then wilddogs... Great to hear that the pack seems to be doing so well, interesting to see if they stick together.

 

And great pictures, not the first time you use the camera. Amazing action pictures of the hippo fight!

 

Looking forward to more!

 

/Tom

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Cracking photos and trip report: what a great first safari.

 

Matt

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What a fantastic start to your safari, Beau Gust! I eagerly await your next episode.

 

 

Jan

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Dogs and a leopard right away. Wow!

 

I guess you'll be going back................

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Great start yo your trip report, looking forward to more photos!

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Your enthusiasm is wonderful. That was a beautiful leopard for Photo #1! You are right that the action just didn't stop. Quite the hippo battle! Such young baby baboons. First drive and wild dogs, wow! Nice job on spotting the elephant. Funny how such big creatures can elude everyone in the vehicle, including the guide. Outstanding bird photos. Welcome back.

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Great start yo your trip report, looking forward to more photos!

 

Ditto ......... and really can't wait to read your Linyanti segment. You've got some lovely images - my favourites so far are the Kudu bull (the full frame) and portrait of the young Leopard.

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beau gust, diffidently a memorable first pic. of a leopard!

Great pics and report, thanks for sharing!

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excellent report. enjoyable reading.

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Thank you all for your encouraging words. It's your own fault that here's another installment, covering our second three days on aafari.

 

October 22, afternoon, Little Vumbura

After lunch, we drove to the airstrip – but saw no leopards on the way out. After a short flight on a little plane, we landed at the airstrip for Vumbura. On the drive from the airstrip, we saw several individual and small groups of elephants. Saw more ellies on the drive from the airstrip than we'd seen in three days at Chitabe.

 

Little Vumbura camp is on an island, so we boarded a 9 seater flat bottom boat for a short (2 minute) ride through a papyrus swamp to the camp. Little Vumbura has only six tents, and we were once again in the farthest tent. The tent was on the edge of a floodplain, with separate room-ettes for shower and toilet. The double doors were at the back of the tent, and led onto a raised deck, onto which we were allowed to go after dark, since it didn't connect to the open walkways.

 

Once again, right after arrival it was time for the game drive. Three other couples had just arrived, and we were grouped with two of them for the drive with Rain (Botswanan name: Pula). We rode the boat back to shore and loaded up into the Land Rover. Around the first bend we encountered another ellie, then around behind it were a pair of bachelor buffaloes.

 

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Then Rain led us to a small pride of lions – 2 adult females, two subadults, and a younger cub. They were just lying around so Rain took us hunting again.

 

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We encountered a bad of about a dozen banded mongooses.

 

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We met up with a small herd of Cape buffalo. They were pretty relaxed, and let us drive to the edge of the herd. One looked at me like he'd had a tough day.

 

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We saw a number of new birds, including a redbilled francolin, a grey hornbill, a little bee-eater, gray lourie, and yellow-billed hornbill.

 

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After this, as the sun got low, Rain found us a pack of wild dogs. (Ho-hum, dogs again... (just kidding)). These dogs, a pack of 10, were just starting to hunt, when one of them did something that I can only describe as “pointing”. He didn't raise a paw or anything, but his entire being was focused on something out of sight to our left. After holding the pose for a second, he took off into the tall grass, kind of pronking through the tall grass. The other dogs followed, and so did we. Within 40 seconds, the dogs had caught something, and we were right there! Turns out it was a steenbok, and 84 seconds after the first dog “pointed”, this was all that was left.

 

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In less than two minutes, there were no visible remains. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Steenbok are small antelope, maybe a little smaller than a dog, but to go from spotted to devoured in under two minutes was simply amazing. (I've got lots of pictures, all bad, but the timestamps tell me that it actually happened that fast.)

 

We all caught our breaths, including the dogs, and then they went hunting again, and we followed them again. The dogs ditched us in the scrub, and we drove on. The sun was almost down when we found 3 or 4 impala. I told my wife the dogs ought to come here for a decent meal, and about 2 seconds later, there they were. One dog spotted them, gave a single bark to get the other's attention, and took off after them. The impala started running with that first bark, and we followed the dogs through a grove of trees. When we got to the other side, the impala were nowhere in sight, and the dogs were milling around, keeping their distance from a small group of wildebeest. Then one dog kept creeping a little closer to the beests, and finally they had enough and began chasing the dog off. Suddenly we had a set of five or six wildebeest chasing around the ten dogs. What a day!

 

Driving home in the dark, Rain was working the spotlight and found us a baby bushbaby on the ground, then a gennet low in another tree. We came upon a herd of buffalo near the “garage” where the rovers are parked, and got a glimpse of a civet cat nearby.

 

Back in camp we had a great meal and retired early. My wife woke me during the night because she heard something outside the tent. I shined a flashlight through the windows and saw some kudu browsing in the trees.

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What a day! Glad that you're encouraged to continue. Those dogs are something else!

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Wednesday, October 23, Little Vumbura

The next morning, we had arranged for a mokorro trip through the swamp, so we got to sleep in a little later, to give the hippos a chance to get settled. There were a couple of red lechwe in the “back yard” before breakfast.

 

After breakfast, it was down to the water for the ride in the mokorro. For anyone who doesn't know, a mokorro is a dugout canoe that is moved by a poler. This was not truly a dugout tree – it was a fiberglass copy of a dugout tree. We each sat in a plastic shell like the seat portion of a stackable chair. They were not fixed to the floor of the mokorro; this was good so that we could adjust them back for legroom, but it was bad because the basically provided no back support.

 

One mokorro went out ahead with Sam, our guide for the rest of the stay. We followed, getting a nice frog's eye view of the reeds and papyrus. I've forgotten the poler's name, but he spoke very clearly, and had great control of the mokorro. It was impressive how he could basically slide the bow of the mokorro between any two reeds he chose.

 

After a short time, he showed us a long reed frog.

 

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That was followed up by a painted reed frog.

 

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The interesting thing about painted reed frogs is that they change color as the day warms up. We saw lots of these frogs, and no two were exactly alike. Here's a few more.

 

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The poler told us what each of the types of reeds are used for in his home village, identified hippo highways and elephant highways through the swamp, showed us tilapia (fish) nests, and even a small green water snake. We also learned about water lilies (day and night), water shields, water striders and how the islands in the river are formed.

 

We stopped on another island for our morning tea. I let the poler I really wanted to see a malachite kingfisher if he could turn one up. Sure enough, on the way back, he found us a malachite. It's a tough job to take a picture of a malachite from two feet above the waterline when the reeds are six feet above the water. But the poler eased us through the reeds, staying close and able to follow the brilliant blue bird as he flitted for place to place until we finally got some open water between us. What a beauty!

 

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We also saw numerous african darters, cormorants, jacanas, yellow-billed kites, and some squacco herons.

 

So, no big game was sighted except a few lechwe and an elephant on an island, but it was a very nice and educational ride, and I saw the malachite kingfisher!

 

Because of the smaller number of guests at Little Vumbura, they spread the tables out in the shade of the big tree growing in the center of the deck, and we had a nice lunch while looking at the Heuglin's robins and Burchell's starlings trying to snatch food from the lunch buffet. A black crake climbed up onto the deck around the fire pit.

 

Following naptime and afternoon tea, we were ready for some more mammals, so it was back to the game drive. Sam drove us to see some reedbuck (hiding in the reeds, natch), and some waterbuck (not in the water). Then we rounded a bend and found another small pride of lions, who had managed to kill two Cape buffalo calves, and so were having themselves a feast.

 

One lioness had already eaten her fill. A young male lion was still working on his share of one buffalo, well back in the bushes. The other lioness and her cub (year old, maybe?) were sharing the second. As we watched, the lioness pulled a bit of the skin back to open up another avenue of attack. The cub moved in to eat from the new spot, and mom was not amused! She lashed out with a paw and smacked him on the side while snarling at him.

 

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When junior didn't back off right away, she actually bit it on the snout.

 

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Not too hard, I guess, because it continued to plead for the right to eat from the new spot.

 

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Eventually, mom said, “okay, you can have a little” and went back to chewing on the skin. Junior had just a little then came around to the other side to pose for the family portrait.

 

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Coming away from the lions, we found some carmine bee-eaters.

 

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We also saw an open billed stork, a small crocodile (the first we'd seen), striped kingfisher, and more lilacbreasted rollers. Then we came upon the dog pack again. (Four days, four sightings of wild dogs, two different packs. Did I mention this was a great trip?) The dogs were napping, and we found a spotted hyena waiting a little ways beyond the dog pack.

 

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He was apparently waiting for the dogs to go hunting again, as he too snoozed, but kept raising his head and checking out the dogs. As it was almost sunset at that point, we found a spot for sundowners and then headed back to camp.

 

That night, as we readied for bed, we heard strange noises coming from the mainland. In the morning I found out it had been the calls of hyenas, but we never saw another one.

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Thursday October 24, Little Vumbura

Thursday morning we arranged to do a “walking safari”. Sam drove us and several others out to a place he preferred to walk, probably because it had no tall grass or thick bushes to hide predators. On the way, we passed a middling maternal herd of ellies, and saw our first little ones.

 

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Sam showed us much of the plant life and told us of the uses each kind was put to by the local people now or in the past. We saw some ant lion traps (didn't manage to stir up the ant lions tho), so I've seen one of the small five as well as four of the big five by now. He warned us about getting too close to aardvark holes, gave us some details about termites, explained the difference between dung and poop. The only animals we saw were a grasshopper, and some giraffes in the far distance.

 

As we were leaving the walking area we passed a group of elephants standing on a termite mound, resting in the shade, and found that some of the elephants were lying down. Everyone was somewhat surprised to see this, as we had all assumed that they sleep standing up, like horses.

 

After afternoon tea, we went out again. One of the first things we saw was a black bellied korhaan. He was pretty amusing. He starts his mating call with his long neck fully extened. He gives a long whistle as he draws his neck down to his shoulders, pauses for several seconds, then adds a pop, like a cork coming out of a bottle.

 

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We drove around a savanna, seeing loads of elephants, mostly solitary. At one point, about 15 giraffes came sauntering by in twos and threes, all apparently headed for a small waterhole that I couldn't even see through the short grass. This led to a bit of a traffic jam.

 

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The afternoon drive continued with numerous small elephant herds with small calves, and a tsessebe mother and her small calf.

 

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In a small herd of zebra, two males were fighting over mating rights to a female. We'd seen zebras sparring before, but this was a serious fight.

 

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It looked like skinny stripes was winning, but its hard to say for sure. Eventually, they wandered too far to see.

 

It was time for sundowners, so we found the usual open spot, a little distance from a grove of trees and a pool. Another rover chose the same spot, and we were drinking and snacking and talking when one of the guests, looking over the guide's shoulder towards the trees, said, “There's an elephant behind you.” Sure enough, a large male elephant walked out of the trees and headed past the cars down to the waterhole. Sam looked over at him and said, “if he comes this way, get behind the car”, but the ellie just wanted a drink. He even pointed with his trunk as if to say, “don't worry about me, I'm just going down to get a drink.”

 

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Eventually a second male followed the same trail. This was one thing I'd been really hoping for – some up close and personal (sort of) interaction with elephants.

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Friday October 25 morning, Little Vumbura

Our last game drive in Little Vumbura started with a male waterbuck and a bachelorette herd of impala. These were followed by a family of warthogs who stood their ground and continued browsing while we watched. We watched a giraffe for a while.

 

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That picture reminds me of something I wanted to mention for any other newbies like me, who might be reading this to find out what to expect. You see the giraffe is swarmed with flies. We saw several animals with flies crawling all over their faces. Yet we were remarkably unbothered by bugs during the drives, neither flies nor mosquitoes, even when they were swarming nearby animals. The first few days we wore lots of bug repellent, but as time went on we started just bringing it with us in case we needed it. So, at least in late October, the bugs weren't a big deal. They were a little more of a problem at dinner, but even then, well, I've had worse bug attacks in my backyard.

 

Driving through the mopane, we found some buffalo who kept their distance, and then another small pride of lions – the same group we'd seen the first night. After that, a group of five female kudu with one young male, and a couple of large raptors: an African hawk eagle and a bateleur. There was a hammerkop, and near a red-billed buffalo weaver nest, we saw a red-headed weaver (no buffalo weavers tho).

 

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On the way to the airport, we passed a pair of wattled cranes.

 

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Stay tuned for another update as we travel on to more fun at Duma Tau.

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More excellent reporting beau gust. I can only hope my stay at LV in February will be as good.

 

By the way, is the sign proclaiming "Vumbura International", along with instructions for pilots and passengers still at the airstrip? I'll be showing it in my 2004 retrospective when it looked almost new. In 2006 it looked a bit worn. I'm hoping to catch it even further aged in 2010.

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I'm not sure. I'm entirely capable of being oblivious to a sign like that. I didn't see these until someone else pointed them out. Maybe this is what you are talking about? In any case they were good for a chuckle.

 

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By the way, anyone wondering what Vumbura International airstrip looks like, this is it:

 

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