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Following the Waters of the Savute Channel


Alex The Lion

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Alex The Lion

This was my first mobile safari in Botswana, and I must confess, it was not a true mobile. I flew into Savute, then camped at one of the BOGA sites for a week, before flying out. Whilst I did not change camps, the setup is one that you would find in a normal mobile operator.

 

I went with Alwyn Myburgh, who is the former manager of Lebala. Having know him for a good number of years, we were discussing this trip in detail for quite a while. (think 2008) We looked at rainfall and all different variables, then plumbed for February. Even if the water was not that close to the Marsh, we felt the El nino may bring the herds back early.

 

Overall, it was an excellent trip, with some very good sightings. We did not have the greatest of weather at all times, though that is the Botswana green season for you. On arrival, Savute was bone dry with the grass drying out, when leaving, the roads were flooded.

 

I opted for the cheapest option with Alwyn, which was a camp hand and long drop toilets. We were rarely in camp, so I feel this was the best option for myself. He does offer a range of safaris, though the cost does increase with the more luxury that require.

 

He has recently purchased a new Vehicle, which was great for photographers, lots of bars to attach clamps to.

 

If you want any more details on the costs or logistics, feel free to ask. I am planning a second trip later in the year in combination with Kwando Safaris.

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Alex The Lion

Why Savute?

 

It has a mystical appeal, with its erratic flow documented since the time of Livingstone. Dynamics on the Marsh depends on the small shift in tectonic plates that change the gradient of the area, allowing water to flow from the Zibidanja Lagoon. Having spent time with Clive Walker, it is an area that has always appealed to my sense of adventure.

 

On hearing that the water was flowing even closer to the marsh, I knew it would become a place I will be returning to lots over the next coupld of years. Based on what I saw in Feb, game viewing will be incredible once predator populations rebound to the huge game concentrations that will soon be present. There was even evidence of a large buffalo herd in the area.

 

This aerial image, taken on the day the water reached the Marsh, the first time in 30 years, allows you to see this wide, expansive plain.

 

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Day 1

 

 

Leaving Kwara, we flew up to Lebala and then down the length of the Savute Channel. It was great to see so much water about. Unforunately, the heavy storm from the previous night was still lingering, so the light was not that great.

 

The meandering Savute Channel;

 

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The Channel narrows at is pushes towards the marsh

 

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Flying down the Channel; (apologies about the quality, this is more for record and I can't be arsed to edit it)

 

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Once I had arrived, Alwyn and I wasted no time in heading out on a drive. It does not take that long to dump your bag in a tent. I was prepared was lower quality viewing as I could not offroad, and more birding. I had concentrated specially on predators at Kwara.

 

What is the first thing you naturally do when at Savute? When went to check on the progress of the Channel. We found the headwaters not too far from our camp. Around 3km from the Marsh;

 

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For those that are not too familar with the Savute Channel, this photo was taken when the headwaters were about 13km downstream from the Zib Lagoon, which feeds the Channel.

 

The channel is far wider here and the banks not so prounced. The river was historically a lot wider here than it currently is.

 

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Game wise we first came across a relaxed European Roller;

 

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We were seeing bull elephants and pockets of game, though I spent quite a lot of time with a new Bird for me.

 

Zebra were dotted in small groups all over the place

 

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New bird, the Pallid Harrier, a summer migrant.

 

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Our vehicle was also swarmed by a number of Carmin Bee Eaters, looking to feed on the insects we dislodged. As it was my first attempt, I was still trying to use my 500. Managed to get one reasonable shot, but most of the time, these guys were too close!

 

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Next on the tick list was a good secretary bird and Korhaan

 

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We then bumped into one Savute's relaxed bull elephants, before heading in the direction of camp

 

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On the road back into camp, we came across the Wild Dog pack. We knew they were in the area, but had been sleeping and not risen until close to sunset. Poor light limited our photographic opportunities, but it was great to watch them.

 

The large pack in the area split last year, with this pack having 6 members. They appear to be seen on a regualr basis.

 

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One of the females was in heat, though we were not sure whether she was the Alpha female.

 

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Some Wild dog interaction

 

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Alex The Lion

Day 2

 

We headed out early to try locate the Lion pride that were hanging around one of the pans towards the bottom end of the Marsh. The morning had an strange feel to it, with a a lingering fog across the Marsh. We came a across a couple of interesting subjects to snap some images of;

 

An impala through the mist.

 

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A single tusk elephant on the Marsh

 

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We quickly caught up with the lion pride, which compromised of two males, three females and three cubs.

 

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They moved off into the Kalahari Apple Leaf, so we left them to it, no offroading here. Although Brad from Earth Touch did follow on (they have offroad permits)

 

We spent the rest of the morning concentrating on Carmin Bee Eaters. Most of these shots were taken at 98mm, which is a very wide angle. Driving along the main marsh road, I photographed from the moving vehicle.

 

The problem is, if you stop, they fly off, if you drive to slow, they do not follow you and if you are too fast, it can be difficult to get good images.

 

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We then spent the afternoon with a leopard, following a tip off from the Earth Watch team. Another incredible sighting;

 

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The Leopard then settled down, so we headed back towards the Lions. We could not find them to start with, so had some fun with some of Savute's relaexed bull elephants at the pumped pans. Just before dark, a single lioness emerged, who seemed to be babysitting the cubs.

 

We could see a large storm moving across the marsh, with the wind really picking up when we reached the lions.

 

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Kudu Hill at Dusk, one of the rocky hills that are prominent on the Savute Skyline;

 

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Alex The Lion

Day 3

 

Through the night, we got hit by a massive storm. It rained for a good couple of hours and the sky was still dark and overcast as we set out. We reached the leopard sighting and the Earth touch team were already there. The light was poor, so I took a couple of videos just to record the scene.

 

Want to learn how to pluck an impala?

 

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We then headed back to where we had left the lions. They were laying in the same spot we had found them the morning before.

 

Not great light, or photos!

 

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THe pride was then alerted by something in the thickets and started calling....

 

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There was not much else to report, so he had a slow drive back to camp. One thing we did notice, the number of zebra was starting to pick up...was the migration returning?

 

In the afternoon, we headed up channel. We watched a large storm start to blow in, before we sat with a rather wet leopard. An early night for me, out of the rain.

 

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twaffle

Russell, I know you have lots of days to come, but just wanted to say how wonderful the aerials look and how magnificent the area is.

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Pangolin

In a few days, I'll be getting around to posting my report for the Savuti portion of my trip. Looking forward to the rest of yours, Russell.

 

Not sure if we saw the same dogs or different ones.

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Atravelynn

Day 1 from the aerial water shots to the birds to the mammals was most impressive.

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Russel, your pictures of the Pallid Harrier are gorgeous! Looking forward to the rest of your trip report.

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Going Africa Safaris

Thanks Russel,

 

Soon I will be there also. You made me longing even more. Can't wait to see this unique sight with my own eyes.

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egilio

Amazing you took those sharp carmine images on a moving vehicle! What ISO, diafragma and shutterspeed did you use?

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Game Warden

Awesome photos mate... can't wait to see your keepers :P

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Alex The Lion
In a few days, I'll be getting around to posting my report for the Savuti portion of my trip. Looking forward to the rest of yours, Russell.

 

Not sure if we saw the same dogs or different ones.

 

They would probably be different dogs. These reside in the Marsh area, stretching up to the Ghoha Hills. It is around 100kms from Savuti camp to the Marsh.

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Alex The Lion
Amazing you took those sharp carmine images on a moving vehicle! What ISO, diafragma and shutterspeed did you use?

 

I say moving vehicle, it was quite slow.

 

Camera info;

 

ISO 320

1/3200 @ F5.6

EV +2/3

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Alex The Lion
Awesome photos mate... can't wait to see your keepers :)

 

:P

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Wow, Russell - great report and your photos just keep getting better. I love the video of the leopard plucking the antelope - I had a lab once who did that to pigeons. The bee eater shots are gorgeous!

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Alex The Lion
Wow, Russell - great report and your photos just keep getting better. I love the video of the leopard plucking the antelope - I had a lab once who did that to pigeons. The bee eater shots are gorgeous!

 

Thanks Ellie, I was just quite lucky with a number of my sightings.

 

Unfortunately it will be a couple of weeks until the next update.

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pault

Day 2 pictures are just great - quite a day! The animals in the fog are different and special. Very nice report and I look forward to the next installment.

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egilio
Amazing you took those sharp carmine images on a moving vehicle! What ISO, diafragma and shutterspeed did you use?

 

I say moving vehicle, it was quite slow.

 

Camera info;

 

ISO 320

1/3200 @ F5.6

EV +2/3

 

Thanks for the info! Never thought that was actually , but I guess it helped a lot you were shooting at only 98mm instead of 300-500mm.

I love the colors on those lionpictures too!

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PeterGermany

Hi Russel, I am really enjoying your trip report from Savute (as I am doing for all the reports from location where I have been over the years). Another chapter of the Savute area is unfolding here with the channel flowing again. I have been in Savute in September last year, in the middle of the dry season. For me it was a magical place, knowing about the history from several books and documentaries, esp. because of the high number of big bull elephants and their interaction on the few artificial water holes. And because of the lengendary Savute lions.

 

To that end it is great to hear that this pride is catching up in numbers again. The lion population has come down from not less than 6 lion prides in the early 80's, the famous elephant hunting pride of 30+ lions in the 90's, a pride of 12 lions until 2008, to a core group of 2 new males and 2 aged females from the original pride last year. There was another splinter group of the pride of 12 (after the take over of the 2 new males) in the area, an old male and a female with a sub-adult male.

 

Based on your report another female has joined the 2 males and the 2 females we saw in September last year. Is there any information you can share if this is the female we saw with the sub-adult male (and what happened to him).

 

We were lucky to witness the mating of the more dominant of the 2 males with one of the females (the one with the broken canine). I could well be that the 3 cubs are the result of this.

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Game Warden
I am really enjoying your trip report from Savute (as I am doing for all the reports from location where I have been over the years)

Hi Peter, welcome to Safaritalk. It looks like you owe us some trip reports: I look forward to reading them... :)

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