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Botswana, september 2008


Jochen

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Jochen

Right... I wrote these reports on another board but that is far less alive than this one so... about time I copy them here. I'll start with the trip report of Botswana 2008.

Please note that it's pure copy-paste so the texts may be a bit awkward (as it may sound as if I'm just back from the trip etc).

 

Comments appreciated ;)

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Just back from so far the best safari yet (for me, obviously. YRMV). Some general info to start with follows. If you are interested in knowing more about this trip, or plan to do anything similar in the future, please check back later. I will add more detailed info later on, on a "one day per post" basis. I will then also include pics.

 

 

- Local company providing all services: Masson Safaris. Their web page is probably being revamped right now as it is out. But here's some info: http://www.massonsafaris.com/safaris.htm

 

- Type of safari; private tented camp, non-participating (ic the customer does not need to do any camp chores at all)

 

- Length of stay; 30 August -> 16 September

 

- Camp helps; 3.

 

- People in the jeep (including guide); 5. Introducing...

 

Frans R, aka "man dala";

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Mira "I hate crocs" VDE, my wife;

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Johan "Welk?" DB;

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Ewan "Oh Dear, sorry for that" Masson;

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And Jochen "thingie" VDP, yours truly;

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- Price; 4500€ per person, including 6 flights (Brussels->Frankfurt / Frankfurt ->Jo'burg / Jo'burg->Maun and return flights the same way). Excluding day trip to the Falls, border costs for Zimbabwe, and tips for guide and staff at the end. This is not to brag or anything. We are far from rich, but save up all we can especially for these trips as they are worth every cent. I mention the price as it is very relevant info here; I intend to make some eye-opening comparisons between lodge-safaris and this type of safari. Hence...

 

- Animals seen; 171 types of bird (our real count is higher but we did not take time to identify the LBJ's, nor most of the weavers as they were not in breeding plumage) and 53 types of mammals. I did not count reptiles, but of course we saw crocs, monitor lizard, lotsa small lizards etc too. And also 3 snakes. Nor did I count insects, lol. I'm actually not a fan of lists, but Johan dragged me into it a bit. So I ended up checkmarking in my Estes guide, and my Sasol bird book. A complete list of birds and mammals follows later.

 

- Predators seen; 54 individual lions (that's is INDIVIDUALS, yes. Some we saw on both morning and afternoon drive, or again the next day etc ), 4 wild dogs, 4 leopards (read below), 4 honey badgers, one cheetah, one African wildcat, and a few jackal and hyenas.

 

- Shots taken; bruto 6100+ (me + Mira). That's actually not a lot considering the fact that we each had our own camera. I'm sure both Frans and Johan have taken more (individually). I tried to lay down the camera more often, and just enjoy the sights. I managed to do so sometimes, but certainly only with sightings that were not a first time (for me). :wink:

 

- Camera gear; one Canon 20D with 400L (fixed focus) and teleconvertors (1,4x, 2x) if needed. This one was obviously for tele shots. And one 5D with 17-40L for landscapes or with 35-350L for inbetween shots. A 70-200L was never used, a Peleng fish-eye only occasionally, and mostly for fun (as seen above). Both cams had battery grips, and 2 spare batteries per cam (so 8 in total). Recharging using the 12V cigarette lighter in the jeep went perfectly, as expected. I did not use a storage device but bought plenty of CF cards (60Gb+). After all, CF is getting cheap, and those HDDs in storage devices are a SPOF.

 

Next post; a small list of exeptional sightings (to make you curious a bit :twisted: )

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Jochen

Right, so just a quickie about some important sightings we had. How about this...

 

- A family of leopards (mom, dad and cub).

 

- 7 lions devouring a zebra (and having a drink too).

 

- a cheetah with impala kill (from the kill itself until the "I cannot move now as my belly drags on the floor" stage).

 

- 1000+ elephants at one waterhole, in a time span of about 3 hours.

 

 

No, I am not exaggerating about that last sighting. I got plenty of pics to prove it. It's actually even more unbelievable than this; we found out that not even the park rangers knew about that place!

Hard to believe huh? You'll get more details later (patience is a virtue). I'll make it even more hard to believe for you. There's a reason I mention those lion/zebra & cheetah/impala sightings here, even though those might not sound so special to someone who's done a few safaris...

 

If I told you we had all these sightings only to ourselves, for as long as we wanted, would you believe me?

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DAY 1: EXODUS

 

Our flights all the way to Maun were uneventful. FYI, that's not a complaint, that's how I like them. In time (at least enough to get to the next flight) and WITH luggage.

 

Believe it or not, it's the first time in three years that our luggage was able to keep up with us. Hats off to Lufthansa, South African Airways and Air Botswana (yup, right on shedule, but no biltong treat). And the middle finger to TAP Portugal and KLM. Make that two middle fingers to KLM.

 

At the airport, zfter a drink in the Bon Arrivée bar, we were transferred to Motsentsela lodge nearby. It was our only night in a lodge, before our trip with Masson safaris. After a night without much sleep (airplane), we thought it would be a good idea to have one night like this. Just to start off with our batteries loaded to the maximum (I'm not talking about photo gear).

 

The lodge was A-OK. Johan said there's nothing better to be found near Maun, and I have no reason whatsoever to doubt him. Big elevated tents with hardwood floors, behind the bed a bathroom with double sink, bathtub and toilet. And behind that an open air shower.

 

Mira felt at home immediately.

 

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Well, so did I. I used that shower right away. Just one of those things we do not have at home. I could build one, but my nuts would probably freeze off.

 

Anyway, the lodge was booked to rest a bit. To get a good night's sleep. But we arrived at noon. So after lunch (and after having digested our food while stalking every creature around the bird bath), we went for a small walk. Motsentsela lodge used to be a farm, and the farmland is now mainly a wild area. It's rather big actually. Big enough to put three walking trails in, and a lot of animals (giraffe, kudu, eland, blesbok, gemsbok, impala, ...). We did the small tour that afternoon, as we were rather tired. We did not see much. Well, some of the aforementioned species, but all from rather far away. Our best sighting was a rock monitor. We sursprised it a bit, but it got quite relaxed after a while.

 

Here's one of the guys that hang around the main building of the lodge. Well, you see those so much in Botswana it's hard NOT to get a picture. In order to get them out of your shot, you might need to throw your lens at them...

 

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Here's one of the birds (arrow-marked babbler) at the bird bath:

 

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Other species we saw; red-billed and grey hornbill, red-billed wood hopoe, blue waxbill, grey lourie, african firefinch, blackeyed bulbul, ...

 

I'll post some more pics of the animals on the domain tomorrow. Note that the domain is fenced to keep the animals in. Plus, there's a 2nd fence, just around the lodge and tents, to keep unwanted visitors out.

 

Maybe that is the only negative news for Motsentsela; I'm affraid it has not been spared from the plague of thefts that seems to haunt Maun. They had one visit, and some luggage was stolen from a tent. Since then, they warn people not to leave valuable stuff in the tent (unless in the safe of course), and we also saw a guy with a dog and a torchlight patrolling around the fence at night

.

That evening, we had lunch with some other people, and two of those were a couple that were "on their way out". She had worked in a lodge in the delta, and he had been in construction (lodges? I forgot t ask). This evening at Motsentsela was a "farewell treat" or something.

We discussed the thefts around Maun with them, and if I'm not mistaking it was them who told us that everyone suspected one particular guy of being behind all these thefts. Everyone was almost sure it was him, they said, but nobody dares to speak out. In fact, if you mention his name in a bar in Maun, people will shush you, saying "you might be next on his list". I asked them why police did nothing but got a very vague answer. We concluded that this guy must either have some connections "high up", or must posses some seriously compromising info on some VIPs.

One last thing I know; the guy is apparently not from Botswana but from Cyprus. Altough he's been there for more than 20 years or something. Anyone got any idea who he might be?

 

 

EDIT 02/2009: the guy is arrested and behind bars now!

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DAY 2: MOREMI (Xakanaxa)

 

After a long night's sleep and a good breakfast (or was it the other way around, me and Johan opted for another "walk in the park". The longer route this time. Our goal was to see more animals than the day before (we hadn't seen many), and especially the 5 giraffes they have. We'd like to try that "approach by laying down", which can result in great giraffe-pics. As any photographer who reads this might know, it's not easy to take a picture of a giraffe that stands out.

 

Well, we got almost all we wanted. Almost.

 

First, we say giraffe, and then blesbok. Then we managed to approach some eland, and came as close as 20 meters. Here's a pic:

 

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At one moment we were taking photos of an ostrich-couple, while all of a sudden a whole herd of impala rushed by, followed by a herd of gemsbok (oryx). Here they are:

 

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And then finally we found the giraffe, but they were rather skittish. We managed to come close a couple of times, but before we could even try the belly-trick, we were interrupted by a couple of German tourists that were doing the same "tour" as us. Oh well, time to head back to the lodge.

 

At the lodge, while waiting for Ewan Masson, we stalked the bird bath some more. I've got full-frame shots of African firefinches (using a 400mm lens with a 2x teleconvertor, and manual focus) and a grey lourie (aka go away bird) with his crest up.

 

At exactly 12AM Ewan came walking in. Time to hit the road!

 

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Soon enough, we were pas the buffalo fence and into Moremi. You can never guess what our first sighting was. At a small pond next to the road, a martial eagle was having a drink! Aargh! Our gear was still packed, so no shot. But still; what a start!

 

After that, we had an Ostrish family on the road (mom to the left, pops to the right, and about 10 chicks inbetween). Then a tree monitor. And then... wait a minute, I'm not going to mention every animal here. From now on, I'll stick to mentioning the most important sightings. With that I mean; not necessarily the most exceptional stuff, but also any sighting of a (maybe) common animal that showed itself in such a way that it allowed a good look into it's life (with pictures to prove it or not). Maybe a better description would be "all sightings that were FUN".

 

So here goes; that afternoon, the most fun sightings that afternoon; a group of velvet monkeys showing off. WE kinda went shutter crazy on this one.

 

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And then two lion cubs, waiting for their mom(s) to return from the hunt.

 

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Shutter crazy ould be an understatement here.

 

Also seen that day; grey heron, croc, pelican, spoonbill, Egyptian geese, banded mongoose, giraffe, and herd of elephants, etc... not a bad start. And an incredible diversity, for just one evening gamedrive.

 

Time to get to camp, and have a look at our tents. That evening, we stayed at private camp site number 7. "lucky seven"? We'll see...

 

Here's our tent;

 

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It had two beds on either side, and was actually big enough to stand in (in the middle, of course, and I'm 1m88, by the way). In front of the beds was space enough to put our bags, and at the other end of the beds were two small tables with some stuff on (flashlights, wet wipes, etc... we hardly used all that since we had our own stuff. The tent was about 3 by 3 meters.

 

Behind the tent was another enclosure of about 2 by 2 meters. In it were two small wash basins and a chemical toilet.

 

I'll give more info on camp stuff the next days.

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DAY 3: MOREMI (Xakanaxa & Godikwe lagoon)

 

We woke up and it seemed everyone had heard different animals. Most of us had heard hyenas (they paid us a visit, apparently), some elephants, some lion. I heard all three, but still slept very good.

 

The next morning we drove off at 6AM (as usual) to look for the parents of the two cubs we had found the dat before. We soon found out that they were following a herd of buffalo, and also found their tracks ...but no lions. We did find the buffalo herd though (of course).

 

Other interesting sightings that morning; waterbuck, and two very old giraffes (with faded skin patterns). Also good pics that morning; coucal and carmine bee eater.

 

Today, we were supposed to get to Godikwe lagoon. Most people who visit this area go there in the morning. That is: unless they are staying in a lodge from which it is not too far to reach the lagoon. Well, we normally would have to go in the morning as well (as we need to get back to our camp site). But Johan did not want that; he knew that the light would be all wrong in the morning (ic directly in your face). So he arranged (beforehand) that we could camp on an island nearby (more on that later). This way, we could visit the lagoon in the afternoon.

 

The boat station is quite a long drive from where we were so soon enough we left in the direction of it. On our way ove there, we found two male lions that had killed a buffalo...

 

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.. and were protecting their unprocessed hamburgers fiercely against every other hungry creature, which gave some nice interaction:

 

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We stayed for a while, but when the lions started dozing off, we left for the boat. After a pick nick, we hopped on.

 

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We had a little trip, first in a narrow channel with reeds one either side, then it became wider, smaller again, wider, left, right, right, left... to be honest, if anyone would ask me to get back to civilization, I'd had a serious problem. On our way to Godikwe we saw hippo, plovers, etc... and a pied kingfisher with a catch in his mouth.

 

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We soon came to the lagoon and proceeded right away to where the birds were nesting. Most were yellow billed storks, marabous and sacred ibisis. But there were lots of them, so plenty of photographic opportunities. They were sleeping, fighting, building nests, or just flying overhead. Some other boats paid a visit too:

 

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When light started to fade a little bit, all other boats left. Like the one in the pic above. If I remember correctly Johan told me it is the boat from Kwando lodge and it needs almost an hour to get back to camp so they need to leave while it is still light.

 

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Well, we had our best photo opportunities when all others were gone. The light was just perfect. I got about a zillion shots of birds flying overhead. Most of them full frame. Some birds had nesting material in their beaks, imho that makes the shot even better.

 

When the sun had set it was time for us to leave too. Surprisingly, our "island" was just two minutes away from where the birds were. Just on the other shore!

 

Normally, we would sleep here "under the stars" (ic without a tent, but just under a mosquito net). But another team had set up camp there the day before, and needed it again the day after we left. So they were too lazy breaking up the camp for that one night and instead offered us to use their tents. Well, my wife was glad for that. But to be honest I was a bit dissapointed. I'd love to have experienced that sleep under the stars... oh well maybe next time. Here's a pic og the tents; they looked almost exactly like ours:

 

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The night was rather quiet there. We heard hippo (of course) and some elephants in the far distance. That's it.

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DAY 4: MOREMI

 

That morning, it was time to get back to the jeep. We did a small tour around the "bird island" and we saw indeed that the light was now precisely in our face. Ugh.

 

On our way back; we made a few detours, just to "soak it all in". We saw lotsa hippo, cormorants, egrets, and took great photos of a green pigeon, and malachite and woodland kingfishers:

 

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We also made a side-trip to a spot where there might have been sitatunga, but no luck there. By noon we were back at the jeep. Another great pick nick lunch, and off we went, back to Xakanaxa area etc.

 

We had a good gamedrive that afternoon, although nothing we hadn't seen the day before. Except for a pale chanting goshawk and wattled cranes. And a bateleur, and a little bee eater (both full frame, yes!), and... wait a minute... come to think of it the drive may have been one of our best, just without big cats. But so what?

 

We also found out that our guide doesn't like to cross water unless he's quite sure he won't get stuck. And he has a special way of finding out how hard the underground is.

 

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;)

 

Easy to pass or not, that doesn't mean nothing can go wrong, as Frans found out. He enjoyed a mudbath to make an elephant jealous. The seat in front is mine, but I had just skipped to the other side. :lol:

 

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Something I forgot to mention until now; some times we could clearly see that in the far distance some huge fires were turning whole fields into ash; the smoke from those fires made the sky less clear, and the sun less bright. It's the season, apparently. Everyting is dry and fires start very easily, and get out of control very easily. Sometimes fires start from natural causes, but lotsa times it is by some fool just tossing his cigarette out of the window. Or it's done on purpose (could be lots of reasons again; burning grass makes new grass shoot up, which is good for cattle, for example. Or it's just to scare animals into the arms of poachers).

Johan was often complaining about this. He always had one eye on the sky, so to speak. Well he's been there lots of times so he knows when the sky is OK and when it is not. Apparently it often was NOT. We just made the best of it (we had no choice now didn't we?).

To be honest; that smoke had downsides, like no dark blue skies but often a pale blue or even white, and the fact that the "golden hour" was hardly usable. But it also had upsides; actually the sun being less hard made for much softer shadows, so I guess you could say we got three "golden hours" instead of just one!

Another example were spooky landscapes. At one point we ended up at a place called "Dead Tree" (we wee looking for the buffalo herd and the lions again), and there the smoke was coming down. The place looked like some scene from a science fiction movie.

 

After "Dead Tree" we decided to head home; Light was fading fast anyway (especially because of the smoke). While driving back to camp we passed a lot of lodge vehicles that were going back to their place as well. One jeep, full of Asian tourists, was just finishing sundowners. And about ten minutes after that (we stopped to get a shot of the setting sun at a pool), we ran straight into...

 

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..four wild dogs (yes I can count, only 3 out of 4 are in this pic). A first for me, and hopefully not my last. One of them was collared. They were on the move, but not "full speed". Although they were certainly hungry as they were very interested in the red lechwe on the other side of the pool. A croc saw them, dissapeared underwater and slid towards them. At that point one of the dogs started growling at it, just like any other dog would growl.

 

There were only two other vehicles with us, and they had to leave to get back to their place in time. But we left them as well; the light was completely gone after a while. All in all, I guess we spent about 45 mins with the dogs.

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DAY 5: MOREMI TO KHWAI

 

All right! On with the show!

 

That day started with a bit of a bummer; we left camp early to look for the dogs again, hoping to pick up their trail of footprints somewhere. But then one hour later we got the message that they had just walked RIGHT THROUGH OUR CAMP! Aargh!

 

We hurried over there, but they were gone. Some things are not ment to be I guess.

 

Oh well, on with the game drive. We saw lotsa stuff again; a herd of elephants crossing the road in front of us, waterbuck from closeby, a troup of baboons including some very cute babies, ... I also got full frame shots of impala heads, a drongo (!), saddle billed storks, and hamerkop. I actually also have the hamerkop in flight and also pied kingfishers hovering. Then there was this spoonbill that we could approach rather close.

 

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Ewan took another shot at finding the buffalo herd and more importantly; the pride of lions that were following them a lot. This time it was rather easy; unfortunately we were not alone; a lot of cars were hanging around the lion pride (11 individuals if I'm not mistaking, including a very beautiful male with dark manes, and two cubs). The buffalo herd was nearby.

 

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Too much vehicles though. What a circus! Now I understood why Ewan said that in this area of the park things can get rather crowded if all lodge vehicles are out.

 

Soon enough, some vehicles left though. I guess it was time for lunch or something. At one point Ewan decided to get ahead of the pride and the buffalo herd. We looked for a spot where we could see the herd easily, with a good chance of seeing the lions hunt. If they were thinking of doing so; we were not entirely sure but they WERE definitely on the move, which is not their normal state at that hour; they should be resting or sleeping ...what cats do best, lol.

 

We ended up circling the herd completely and ended up on a road going uphill, the herd to the right of us, the lions coming from the left. A filming vehicle was at the opposite side of the "scene". Neither of us got in between predator and prey, off course. Time for some good pics. The male decided to have a short break (I guess he was waiting for the lionesses to do the hunting part, hehe).

 

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See the two cubs? :lol:

 

We thought all other vehicles were gone, but one came over the top of the hill, and parked... RIGHT IN BETWEEN LIONS AND BUFFALO. Another jeep followed behind them. The lions decided; to hell with hunting then, let's lay down here for a while.

 

;)

 

At this point I would like to open some people's eyes; there are a lot of rookie guides out there that really are sub-par. They are almost always employed by lodges (I think a private business like Ewan has would not last long if it were run by this type of people; their customers would often be dissatisfied). Note that I'm not drawing this conclusion out of this one event. I'll give you more examples later.

 

Anyway, this guy had even failed to instruct his customers on how to behave when close to lions. The male moved into the shade of their vehicle (side note; I know lots of guides allow this but Ewan said he most of the times does not allow it as lions can get under the car, and then you cannot move your car even if you get into a dangerous situation), and his customers stared taking pictures with their little cameras.

 

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No problem so far, were it not that they started moving a lot, to get a clear shot. Or maybe it was because they were Italian (hard to suppress the hand & arm movements)?

Well, at one moment the male lion detected the movement, clearly recognized "another animal", and straight away his head shot up to investigate. I've never seen a situation go from "fun & entertaining" to "frightening" so fast. Except maybe in a movie. We could really see the terror in the eyes of the woman next to the lion. The lion's head was a mere 50cm away from the woman's leg. She dare not move. This situation lasted SEVERAL MINUTES.

All the while, their guide did not even have a clear view of the situation as he was at the other side of the vehicle. The guy from the filming vehicle warned the guide, using his radio. But apparently he replied "no problem". At that point, Ewan got on the radio as well, stating that the tail of the lion was under the tire of their jeep, which made the guy from the filming vehicle say out loud "so you DO have a problem". That came out so loud that all the Italians could hear it. I guess they got the scare of a lifetime.

Anyway, Ewan told their guide that the lions head was right in front of the exhaust pipe. So when he flicked his tail away from the tire, Ewan told him to start the car right away. The smoke from the exhaust made the lion look away.

 

Well, that was fun! (for us)

 

We left the circus, to have lunch, and to try our luck elsewhere. We were not lucky on predators, but that afternoon the birds more than made up for that. Fantastic shots of Bennett's woodpecker, lilac breasted roller, blue waxbill, ground hornbill, bateleur, etc...

Well, I admit the LBR shot is not that difficult. Anyone can get one of those. We started calling them ABRs after a while (another bloody roller).

 

At one point we came out of the woods, and saw this great scene; at the other end of a swamp, a huge herd of buffalo was grazing and drinking. About 50 of them. The light was perfect too. But before we could even take a shot, a car (a self-driver) came from the left and just drove way too close to them in one go, and way too fast too. The ellies got a fright and ran for the woods. Ewan and Johan were furious. Both of them spend a lot of time in the bush, so I guess they had every reason to be mad. I must admit I was a bit annoyed as well. What a great shot that would have been.

 

First the incident with the lion, now this. A lot can be said about inexperienced people in the bush, I guess.

 

After that "lost opportunity" we came across lechwe showing off, some slender mongooses (idem), and then... a warthog enjoying a treatment by oxpeckers.

 

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This may seem silly, but it quite fun and entertaining to watch.

 

We finally came to our campsite near the Khwai river (but still IN the Moremi reserve), which had water on three sides. Here's a small pano:

 

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That night we enjoyed the sounds of thousands of reed frogs (I'd have given my last cent for a recording device!!), and also by elephants trumpeting in the distance and splashing in the water. And also; hippo! At one point we could hear them grazing near our tent.

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DAY 6: KHWAI

 

As usual an early wake up call for our morning gamedrive. Before I forget to mention this; our campsite near Khwai river was "number 5"...

 

That morning we had an extremely good drive. It started with a black backed jackal, just resting near the side of the road. Got up close shots, before it decided to move.

 

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Then zebra in perfect light, kicking up dust. Gnus, hippo, marabou stork flying overhead...

 

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Then we found a ground hornbill's nest. It was in a hole in a big tree, about 5 meters from the ground. The bird flew to it using branches at various heights. Another one followed. They both went into the hole, then out again. Then to our amazement, a third one popped out.

 

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Our drive ended with a view of our own camp, from the other side of the river. We drove back there to have lunch. By the way; the last kilometer of driving towards the camp just gave me the creeps every time. It was clearly slightly uphill, and next to the road was this little stream ...not moving at all! Perfectly still water, while to me it should at least have shown a little movement "downhill". I still don't get it. This flattish land with tectonic movements pushing plates around ever so slightly... weird.

 

OK, after lunch the highlights were; full frame shots of grey lourie, warthog, open billed stork, and...a honey badger couple.

 

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This whole day now, we have not shared any sighting with another vehicle. Equally so with the last sighting of the day. We passed a herd of impala, and Ewan noticed right away that they were all looking in the same direction. We stopped, and further away, we saw more impalas, some were making warning calls (that sneezing thing they do). Those were also looking in that same direction.

By the time our eyes had found the impala in the far distance, Ewan had already spotted not one, but two leopard. We drove over, and to our amazement they were THREE. Mom, dad, and cub. The female clearly showed signs of coming into estrus, hence why the male was following her so closely. Ewan judged the cub to be 6 months if I recall correctly. A bit young to be expelled by the mother, so he hoped her coming into season was "false alarm". Then it would last another 3 months before the female would look for male companionship again, which would be perfect for the cub. Here's a pic:

 

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Maybe you guessed this already but of course I am not showing my best pics. In fact so far I have not shown any pic that I intend to print or use for some local photo contests or expos. The latter is the most important reason for not showing my best shots. Hope you understand.

 

We stayed with these three for a long time. They were on the move, but were not at all in a hurry. And they were quite relaxed. Unfortunately light was fading fast. Most pics were taken at ISO 800 and then ISO 1600. But in the end the light was too weak for pictures. We enjoyed the last 15 minutes with them almost without taking any picture at all, but still enjoyed that very much. Perhaps even more.

 

Finally, we headed back to camp. We spent almost an hour with them! And... no other cars around at all.

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DAY 7: KHWAI

 

That morning, right after having left camp, we ran straight into a pride of seven lions. They were obviously not planning on doing much. Filled bellies, etc... So they started doing what cats do best.

 

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We really felt like getting out of the car and lazying with them. Caress them behind the ears, rub their bellies etc. Just like our cats at home. Cats really made an art form out of sleeping.

 

Today we were actually driving out of Moremi, following the Khwai river (so we drove through the Khwai community area), and then into Chobe NP, to the Savuti area where our next campsite was.

 

At the Khwai bridge, right before passing the park gate, we saw black crake and purple gallinule (immature).

 

Passed the town, we got some great shots of zebras (including a very young one). Then we started following the Khwai river. We were hoping for some hippo interaction, but they had other plans. The best "interaction" we got was an African Jacana "island hopping".

 

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We ran into multiple herds of elephants quenching their thirst, and also saw a fish eagle and waterbuck. And pied kingfishers hovering, but too far away.

 

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We also came across a spot that the elephants clearly used as a beauty salon. Well, at least the mudbath part.

 

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After that, we passed Chobe NP gate, and started a long, hot and uneventful drive to Savuti. The road had some very bad parts. Very bumpy, Mira was thrown out of her seat once. That made us all laugh very hard (including herself).

 

All we saw on that road was mopane. Mopane, mopane, mopane. Not real trees either, rather bush-like. Typical elephant country, and in the upcoming days we'd see far more of this type of this vegetation (no surprise, as Chobe is known for having a lot of elephants). Ellies spend their time betwezn drinking at the water and eating grass and mopane. Hence why most of those bushes never get higher than about 1m50; they get "trimmed" by ellies all the time.

 

Wait, I lie. Just after having stopped for a pick nick, we did see another animal; another family of ostriches, including lotsa chicks.

 

We finally came to a series of three artificial waterholes. The pump of the middle one (apparently the one that pumps up the most water, albeit very salty) wasn't working, so we stuck to the other two.

 

Both waterholes had a lot of elephants. Almost all solitary males, or "bachelor herds". They kept coming and going. We took lotsa shots. The best ones (in my book) were of elephants approaching (especially when they come up in a single line, next to each other, like a bunch of cowboys up to no good), and of course when one decides to show he does not like our presence and starts flapping his ears.

 

The holes themselves were not that easy for beautiful pictures. All you see is elephant's butts, actually.

 

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Luckily, at some points they gave us a glimpse of what they were doing there. Well, we know of course; drinking! But you know what I mean. It was kinda fun to see their trunks all reaching for the holes where the water comes out. The water hardly had any chance of "escaping". The slurping sounds were hilarious at times.

 

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When the sun had set we left for our camp. It was "campsite nr 22", a very sandy affair, and hot too. Almost no shade at all. The very few trees that were there had no leaves. I guessed we were going to sweat a bit the next day, certainly at noon.

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DAY 8: SAVUTI

 

We went back to the waterholes hoping to spot some predators but they were deserted. Except for zillions of doves.

 

Not much to see so we set out for the grassy plains, hoping to spot some cheetah. Nature doesn't come on command though, so no luck there either.

 

However, we did manage to approach a steenbok very closely. Great shots there. It was standing in some type of purple vegetation. A herb of some kind, that was really smelling fantastic. Another one of those things that you cannot take home, I guess.

 

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We also saw lotsa big birds. Kori bustards, black korhaan, secretary birds, and in one tree; three different types of hornbill.

 

So while we may not have seen a cheetah, it still was a very enjoyable morning. Here's us on the plains:

 

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Ewan took us to some hill in the distance. It was actually quite rocky. At the base of the hill was an enormous baobab, and a bit further we got out and walked to some bushman paintings on the wall. Here they are (Frans stands next to them. Ewan is enjoying the view.

 

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We went back to camp for lunch, and a siesta. But boy was it hot. In our tents, you barely could keep your hands on the canvas! I managed to get a bit of rest anyway, but was glad I heard we were going to leave for the afternoon drive. A bit of fresh air in the jeep; sounded good to me.

 

We went back to the waterholes for more ellie sightings, but also...

 

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Yup, roan antelope. Normally they run off by the time you have spotted them. But not these guys. We had a few that were rather relaxed. This one has panty's made of mud, lol.

 

Lots more elephant shots too, but I cannot show these here as it would get boring, and our most beautiful sightings ar still to come anyway. Got some shots of some fairly big tuskers though. Well, Ok just maybe one more then. This guy didn't like us:

 

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When the sun had set; back to the campsite for another marvelous meal and a good night's sleep!

 

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DAY 9: SAVUTI TO CHOBE RIVER

 

We left "campsite 22" for the last time that morning. Getting out was easier than getting in; in the morning the cold sand was not that difficult to manage. The car had more difficulty with the hot sand in the afternoon...

 

That day started with lion tracks on the road, near the waterholes, and not far from camp either. We followed those and sure enough; there they were! Two beautiful males. Here's one.

 

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They each went their separate way. One went into the bush in a direction of which Ewan knew he was going to be hard to spot. We followed the other one. It went to one of the waterholes so we waited there a bit. At the hole were warthogs, and again a roan. Another one than yesterday, but not shy either. The lion never came.

 

We had to leave as we had quite a bit of driving to do. It's a long way to the Chobe riverfront. So after another ostrich sighting (again with chicks), Ewan put the pedal to the metal. Well... in 2nd gear, as faster would have been impossible. Lotsa mopane again. You leave the park at one stage, then there's a "big road" like this...

 

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...and then you enter the park again.Finally, there it was, the Chobe river. At the river's edge; huge herds of zebra, some elephants and impala, a croc, and lots of kudu. We took great shots of kudu posing, of males showing off their horns, etc...

 

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On the other shore were huge herds of domestic cows. That is the Namibian side, and not a national park. We also saw some Namibian fishermen. We had a picknick at the river.

 

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After that we continued our drive and saw lots of fish eagle. Every tree had one, so to speak. I've got fantastic full-frame shots of them. Even an immature one, and several with a catch.

 

Frans had a bit of trouble with the heat and started doing crazy things. Like going for the most crazy pictures.

 

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Ewan did not stop him as (his words) "well he's old so he had a life, besides if he gets caught by lions it'll make great pictures".

 

... just kidding, Franske!

 

Of course, as was expected at the Chobe riverfront, ellies were stealing the show. We followed a big herd (females and youngsters this time) for quite a while. They were having a drink and having a mudbath. Quite fun to watch. I could easily do this all day. Anyone need some help on an elephant monitoring project?

 

The shots of that herd weren't the best though. light was a bit harsh. It got a bit better with a 2nd smaller herd that were finishing their drink and moving off into the mopane, as by then the sun was setting behind us.

 

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This was one of those smoky days again, so the golden hour came an hour early, but soon enough shutter speeds became too slow. One great last sighting were the greater blue eared starlings around a buffalo corpse. They were after the flies, of course; an easy mal. Apparently the buffalo died of anthrax. There were no predators nor scavengers around it. We saw a couple of corpses like that, and not only of buffalo.

 

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Time to head to our new camp. It was uphill from the river. Apparently, it had number 9. Here, we had elephants walking through camp. This is camp (and Mira):

 

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...and in the middle of the picture are elephants. Hard to see on this small version, so here's a crop:

 

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To be hones we got quite relaxed and confident after a while. No matter what we heard at night, we'd love it. Ellies, hippo, hyena calling, lions, owls... we'd listen to them, but they would not keep us up. We really slept very well every night. Also, we started rolling up the "blinds" on the outer side of the tent. We only kept them down during the day to keep the sun out, but at night it was easier without them as in the moonlight we could often see animals without them seeing us.

 

Here's a fish-eye pic of the inside of the tent, in case you're wondering what it looks like. This was actually during the day, so the "blinds" are down.

 

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INTERMEZZO: THE LISTS

 

About time for those birds and mammals lists that I promised. So here you go:

 

1. BIRDS

 

Little grebe

Reed cormorant

African darter

Great white pelican

Goliath heron

Purple heron

Grey heron

Yellow-billed egret

Great egret

Little egret

Cattle egret

Squacco heron

Slaty egret

Rufous-bellied heron

Black-crowned night-heron

Green-backed heron

Yellow-billed stork

Marabou stork

Saddle-billed stork

Openbilled stork

African spoonbill

Hamerkop

Hadeda ibis

Glossy ibis

African sacred ibis

Spur-winged goose

Egyptian goose

Knob-billed duck

White-faced duck

African pygmy-goose

Southern pochard

Yellow-billed duck

Red-billed teal

Hottentot teal

Lappet-faced vulture

White-headed vulture

White-backed vulture

Hooded vulture

African fish-eagle

Bateleur

Brown snake-eagle

Black-chested snake eagle

Lesser spotted eagle

Tawny eagle

Martial eagle

African hawk-eagle

African march-harrier

Southern pale chanting goshawh

Dark chanting goshawk

Yellow-billed kite

Black-shouldered kite

Gabar goshawk

Greater kestrel

Red-billed francolin

Swainson's francolin

Crested francolin

Helmeted guineafowl

Common ostrich

Harlequin quail

Small buttonquail

Common moorhen

Purple gallinule

Black Crake

African Jacana

Wattled crane

Secretarybird

Kori bustard

Black-bellied korhaan

Red-crested korhaan

Northern black korhaan

Black-winged stilt

Three-banded plover

Kittlitz's plover

Crowned plover

Long-toed plover

African wattled plover

Blacksmith plover

Ruff

Common sandpiper

Wood sandpiper

Common greenshank

Marsh sandpiper

Collared pratincole

Water dikkop

Temminck's courser

Grey-headed gull

Double-banded sandgrouse

Burchell's sandgrouse

African mourning dove

Red-eyed dove

Cape turtle-dove

Laughing dove

African green-pigeon

Emerald-spotted wood-dove

Namaqua dove

Meyer's parrot

Gret lourie

Coppery-tailed coucal

Burchell's coucal

Verreaux's eagle-owl

African barred owlet

Pearl-spotted owlet

Rufous-cheeked nightjar

Red-faced mousebird

Giant kingfisher

Pied kingfisher

Malachite kingfisher

Striped kingfisher

White-fronted bee-eater

Southern carmine bee-eater

Swallow-tailed bee-eater

Little bee-eater

Lilac-breasted roller

Racket-tailed roller

Purple roller

Southern ground-hornbill

Trumpeter hornbill

Bradfield's hornbill

African grey hornbill

Southern yellow-billed hornbill

Red-billed hornbill

Redbilled wood-hoopoe

Common scimitarbill

African hoopoe

Greater honeyguide

Crested barbet

Bennett's woodpecker

Bearded woodpecker

Sabota lark

Chestnut-backed sparrowlark

Grey-backed sparrowlark

Red-breasted swallow

Wire-tailed swallow

Common house-martin

Fork-tailed drongo

Arrow-marked babbler

Southern pied babbler

African red-eyed bulbul

Dark-capped bulbul

Kurrichane thrush

Arnott's chat

African stonechat

White-browed robin-chat

Grey-backed camaroptera

Long-billed crombec

Zitting cisticola

Marico flycatcher

African paradise-flycatcher

African longtailed shrike

Tropical boubou

Swamp boubou

Brown-crowned tchagra

White-crested helmet-shrike

Southern white-crowned shrike

Greater blue-eared starling

Cape glossy starling

Burchell's starling

Meves's starling

Red-billed oxpecker

Yellow-billed oxpecker

Southern grey-headed sparrow

Red-billed buffalo-weaver

White-browed sparrow-weaver

Spectacled weaver

Red-billed quelea

Red-headed quelea

Long-tailed paradise-whydah

African firefinch

Jameson's firefinch

Brown firefinch

Blue waxbill

Rock bunting

Golden-breasted bunting

 

Note: this list is in the same order as in the Sasol "birds of Southern Africa" guide.

 

Mammals are for tomorrow.

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MAMMALS LIST:

 

Baboon

Vervet monkey

Scrub hare

Tree squirrel

Leopard

Cheetah

Lion

African wild cat

Black-backed jackal

Wild dog

Spotted hyena

Honey badger

Yellow mongoose

Slender mongoose

Banded mongoose

Dwarf mongoose

Giraffe

Zebra

Elephant

Hippopotamus

Warthog

Buffalo

Wildebeest

Blesbok

Tsessebe

Springbok

Impala

Waterbuck

Red lechwe

Steenbok

Common duiker

Kudu

Bushbuck

Eland

Sable

Roan

Oryx

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DAY 10: CHOBE

 

Today we slept a little later as we were booked for a boat trip on Chobe river. We took the long road to the lodge though (= through the park's smaller road towards the east gate, instead of the main road. That main road also goes towards the same gate, but as someone staying in the park you're not supposed to take it I think as it is like a regular road going though the park.

 

What lodge you ask? I forgot the name. It was almost right next to the gate. Boat trip started at 8AM. Johan and Frans were clearly in the mood.

 

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Right... we saw so much that morning, I can't summarize it all. It comes down to this; the boat guide did not have to go very far, as about every 10 meters (on average) there'd be a new species and/or a great sighting. I think we upped our bird list with about 20 to 30 species that day. Greatest pics include sacred ibis in flight, hadeda ibis, great egret, wattled plover, malachite kingfisher, slaty egret...

 

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... darter, jacana, goliath heron, wire-tailed swallow, pied kingfisher, squacco heron...

 

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...and so on. But it was not just birds that stole the show. We had great sightings of monitor lizards, a small green snake, and hippo. The hippo was great as it got annoyed with a darter on it's back. We also came very close to a fairly large croc, and Mira really took a fright. I knew she hated them, but did not know it was that serious. It really is an irrational fear though, as an animal with the brain the size of a wallnut just sees a big boat, not the people in it.

 

After that we had the greatest ellie sighting ever. Well, not EVER, because it will get surpassed later even on this very trip, lol. Anyway, we approached drinking elephants very slowlt and came very close.

 

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When they had drunk enough, the decided to cross the water right in front of us. I got the greatest pictures of this, like close ups of the tip of the trunk floating above the water to keep breathing. At one stage one elephant decide to put it's front legs on top of another's back. That was really showing off. We went shutter crazy. Or how about this pic, with his trunk high up?

 

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After the elephants more great bird sightings. Top shots; swallow-tailed bee-eaters, carmine bee-eaters, giant kingfishers, and of course fish eagles.

 

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Ewan was waiting for us at a picknick spot, so as it was already way past noon, we ate lunch there. In the afternoon, we took another drive to the western part of the river bank. We heard lion were spotted on an island, chasing buffalo. "Island" is a bit silly, although it is reached by crossing a dry riverbed (used to be part of Chobe river). There's an (off limits) army camp on the far end. We found the buffalo all right. A fairly big herd. But no lion. Much more fun were the yellow-billed kites flying overhead with nesting material.

 

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On our way back to camp; six or seven giraffe on the plains, a white-headed vulture, but other than that nothing special or new (to us).

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DAY 11: VIC FALLS

 

That morning, the wake up call was again a bit later as usual. This time we did not take the "green" route to the gate, but drove straight to the asphalt road (woops, we broke a rule! Quick! Sue us!)

 

Masson had arranged a day trip for us to Vic Falls. I added this day, in favor of another day on the water, for two main reasons. First of all, Frans had never seen the falls, and as we were this close to them, plus he is almost 82 years old (I said ALMOST, Frans! ALMOST!), I figured this may well be his one and only chance to see them. Secondly, me and Mira had been there, but at that time with inadequate photo gear (the early years of the digicam era...).

 

They seemed two valid reasons but in retrospect it might have been the wrong decision. Maybe it was because we were no longer used to being among so many people (having spent 10 days in the bush without seeing many other people). Maybe we had been pampered too much by Ewan. I don't know, but the day trip seemed like a complete rip-off to us, a tourist trap. Ah goddammit no matter what way you look at it, let's face it: it WAS a tourist trap. I guess Johan was better off (he took another boat ride).

 

First of all, they crammed us into a minivan, smaller than our jeep, but now with 10 or so people in it. Just enough seats for the number of people. Somebody should explain once and for all that Japanese minivans are made for JAPANESE people. What I mean is; one row of seats is 4 people. Four people! While that van was no wider than an average car. Now how the hell can four Europeans fit on those seats? Idem with leg room, by the way. Anyway, on top of that the driver was extremely rude. I mean, I give everybody the benefit of the doubt, but the way he spoke to his customers, time and time again. Bossing them around, etc.

 

"No, wait here. HERE! YOU! WAIT! HERE! I'll explain later. LATER I said!" And so on...

 

A complete A-hole with capital A. How that guy had managed so far without getting his teeth punched out is still a mistery to us.

 

To be fair; Ewan's team knew nothing of this. They just looked for a lodge that sold day trips. He certainly noted down never to use that lodge again for day trips. The lodge was called Kubu lodge. To be honest the place looked great though, and contradictory to their day trip prices (more on that later), it seemed reasonably priced.

 

Border crossing was a pain too. We lost about an hour and a half there. Really silly. There basically was ONE guy checking everyone's passports and meticulously going over all the details of that little paper everyone had to fill in. Then finally a zillion stamps. Plus you have to pay 30$ for a tourist visa.

 

Such a poor country, and giving tourists that much trouble to get in. Good plan, Bob, good plan!

 

Our companions were two Spanish people, two Italian people, and some South-African people. The Italian guy started showing off his "spotting book".The most silly touristy thing I've ever seen. I wish I could have shown him the guide books we had brought. He also started mentioning a few good sightings, but went silent when I mentioned what we had seen so far. Even though I left out most of it; I did not want to come across as a person who likes to brag or anything. I actually hate that kind of people myself. But it got really painful when he said "too bad they do not have zebra here". He had not seen any yet! So I told him there certainly wee zebra in Chobe, but further away from the east gate. Big herds too. I showed him a pic... Ewan told us about this: the lodge vehicles are all in the same area. They cannot drive far, as they need to be back in time for breakfast, dinner, etc... As a result one end of the park is overcrowded, and the other end is a great place to be at.

 

When we arrived at the falls, our A(-hole) class guide literally pushed us into the entrance gate of the falls, to keep us away from the shops outside, that were selling souvenirs, drinks and food. He simply wanted to get rid of us ASAP. Once we were in the gate, and on our way to the falls, he could relax! At that point we also found out the entrance to the falls was not included. So 50$ per person for a minivan ride and a meal eh? Good profit margins!

 

He told us we were running late. It was already about 11:30 AM. So he wanted to give us 1h30mins max to visit the falls, then go for lunch, then visit a "curio market". Well, we have had to do the falls equally fast the previous time we were there, to then spend ages at some silly "bush town replica" afterwards. So we did not agree, of course. We were there to photograph the falls extensively, and to take our time doing so. We were not there to buy trinkets made in China.

 

However, the other tourists, being REAL tourists (ic the "follow the guide, shut up and listen" type of people, who were - for lack of a better word - USED to this) did not mind. Little did they know 1h30mins was not enough. In the end the guide stuck with his plan, but told us he'd pick us up separately one hour later, and then take us to where we were going to have lunch.

 

So lunch at 14:00, and we had eaten at 6AM. Better buy some snacks then, before heading to the falls, right? Well that's when we found out they did not sell food in the park, and there was only one vending machine for soft drinks in the park, at the entrance, which was six times as expensive compared to the drinks offered outside the park (3$ for a coke, or 50 cents outside). Dammit, if that guide had not pushed us into the entrance... Getting out and back in was no option either; then you had to pay again. The guards would not hear of it.

 

Tourist trap. And we ran into it, eyes wide open.

 

So no snacks! We bought some coke (sugar in it...), and Frans had an apple and some sweets! Ah well we were not going to starve. We set off for the falls. It was a fun walk, and they were exactly as I remembered them (we had visited in about the same season). What I had forgotten though, is that there are in fact not many great viewpoints. They keep you rather far away from the edges, except for the part on the right, were there's hardly any water coming down. As a result, my pics look no better than the ones I took 4 years earlier. Except these ones have lots more detail (the megapixel race...). Plus this time I could take some panos:

 

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And also a first for me; this time we saw one of those groups going for a swim at the edge of the falls.

 

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Seems like a fun thing to do.

 

We really took our time, and I took a lot of pano's (longer than the above one). I'll certainly post some later on my blog (see the post of the scenery at Dead Tree in Xakanaxa-Moremi to get to my blog and panos). All other people of our group were going way faster than us. As a result, I know they took no time to observe the trumpeter hornbills...

 

 

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Nor did they see the female bushbuck:

 

 

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And they missed the troop of baboons that passed us by. Here's a pic of me and a baboon;

 

 

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I'm the one holding the camera. :P

 

It was a fairly large group, with some youngsters too, and a baby clutched to it's mother tummy. I got pics of the falls with baboons in front, that makes them a bit special I think.

 

When we got to the entrance, we saw that some other people had either not made it in time to leave for the restaurant at 1PM. Or they decided "to hell with it, we're taking our time", just like we did.

 

Well, the guide was there with the van at 2PM, and once we were on it, he explained that lunch was at the Victoria Falls Hotel. The most fancy hotel around. And that lunch was NOT included. So it's 50$ now, just for a minivan ride. Great. Also, we got only half an hour to eat.

 

Well, we ate the most expensive hamburger (20$, not much else available as a quick snack) in the most expensive hotel in the poorest country in Africa. The absurdity of it brought a smile on our face. The reality did the opposite.

 

 

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After that, off to a "curio market". Some people of our group were already there for more than an hour. My wife bought something. I just pointed to my wife everytime. "I have no money! She's the bank!" It didn't work. They wanted my shoes, hat, shirt, even my socks and underwear. Actually, if I had had spare clothes, I would have given it to them. Except for my Australian hat. I intend to be buried with it.

 

Back home. Border crossing went much more swiftly this time. Wonder why that is?

 

At the lodge, Ewan was waiting for us. Quick! Into the bush again! Away! Away from it all!

 

In retrospect, the day had cost us 240$ for two people. Way overpriced. Certainly for what we got. Lesson learned, I guess.

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DAY 12: CHOBE

 

Today we were going back to Savuti, but before starting the long drive, we did a quick tour near the river. We found some lion tracks, and the lions to whom they belonged easily. They were strolling our side of the river, laying down to rest at regular intervals, while a herd of impala on the other side of the river was not quite at ease. A funny sight.

 

Next, we found a couple of tawny eagles. One had caught a guinea fowl and the other first complained a lot because he wanted some food too, then finally moved in and took over.

 

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Time to start the long drive to Savuti. Ewan was not pleased with the elephant sightings we had had at Chobe (although we were). He said there were too little, and his guess was they were either scared by the fires (news had reached us that a large portion of Chobe had gone up in flames), or that there was still a lot of water at some places far away from the river. Or a combination of both.

 

Well, our next camping spot was at one of two waterholes we were going to visit that day. Both were places hardly visited by regular tourists. So we were going to find out soon enough if he was right about those elephants.

 

We crossed the asphalt road that dissects Chobe, and soon came across huge areas where all grass had been burned. The mopane bushes & trees were not burned that much though. I guess the fire went too fast for that, and that the area will recover.

 

We drove for what seemed like ages with black soil on both sides of us. Not a pretty picture. Hardly any animals. At one point, we ran into our camp guys. They had taken down camp and while we were still at the waterfront they went ahead of us to set up camp at our next campsite. Apparently, they were helping a vehicle from the wildlife department, which had a flat tire, and no spare! The pick up truck contained volunteers to help put out the fire. Botswana apparently has a volunteer fire fighter program, a way to give unemployed people in the villages a source of income. These people had spent the night in the bush, without food and water, waiting for help to arrive! Since they were not used to being out in the bush, and apparently did not have any extra clothing items nor blankets, Ewan assumed they must have had quite a cold and scary night!

 

At one point we came close to the flames (we really could see the clouds of smoke going up), and there the road took a bit of a right turn, which meant we soon were driving in unburnt mopane bush again. Then we came to the first waterhole...

 

What we saw there was hard to describe. Our jaws just dropped. Even Ewan was speechless. He had never seen such a thing in his entire life. The waterhole contained so many elephants that they were almost impossible to count. Herds were moving in and out constantly, from all directions. Even from behind us. Luckily they just circled around us, and did not attempt to scare us away. Apart from some "serious ear flapping" two or three times, we saw no signs of aggression at all.

 

One picture cannot do justice to this scene. A pano perhaps can, but it would be far too little if downsized to fit on these pages.

 

I tried to count the number of elephants on a pano I made from the scenr and came to about 300, but I only counted the ones that I can clearly see. Ewan said there is only one way to count; count the legs, and divide by four. :P I think everyone will come to a different count!

 

We parked the jeep under a tree some distance away, and Ewan said "this is a perfect picknick spot". To our surprise, he actually ment it!

 

 

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At that point, a jeep approached us. From the wildlife department! Ewan was really surprised to see them this far into the park, and thought for a moment they were going to complain about the pick nick. But actually, they were there to ask for more info about the waterhole. They had never been there, only came there to put out the fire, and admitted that they did not even know the place existed!

 

After lunch, we stayed a couple of hours, while herds of elephants (some big, some small, some females and calves, some bachelors, ...) kept coming and going. On average, I we saw a new herd every three to five minutes! Ewan and Johan attempted to do the math and figured that in total we must have seen closer to a 1000 elephants.

 

Well, one count I can give you; I shot 537 images there. Here's some. I hope you understand I will not show them all. :D

 

 

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After a while, it was time to drive on to the second waterhole. Ewan said it was too bad the guys had already built camp there, because if he had known sooner, he would have camped at the first waterhole. Again, he actually meant it. Well, he hoped there'd be some similar action at the other waterhole (apparently an area called "Mobabi"), but this one was almost deserted, even though there was also still plenty of water (and Ewan knew this one was also very deep). On our arrival, four elephants were moving away from the water, there were four gnus and one giraffe. That's all! Hard to understand, isn't it?

 

Well, camp was ready, and so was dinner. During dinner we did get two surprises. The first was two dagga boys (old buffalo males) circling us to get to the water. The second was a hyena who was very hungry, as he had difficulty waiting until we had finished dinner. :roll:

 

Here's a pic of camp at dusk:

 

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Notice the elephant trail going right through it. We did not get any elephant in camp though. But we did get the dagga boys on their way back. At 3AM, I woke up and had to take a leak, but heard right away that something was grazing right next to our tent. I slowly raised my head and saw one of the buffaloes standing at about 3m from me. So I laid back down (slooowlyyy, lol), and waited for it to go away. It took ages, or it certainly felt like that because of the full bladder.

 

Luckily, Ewan had advised us to close the window covers to about half way; if we left them all open (like I had done every night so far), the buffalo might have seen me laying on my bed (almost full moon, so plenty of light). He told us it was not very wise to keep the windows completely open at this place, certainly not when the moon was out.

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Jochen

DAY 13: CHOBE TO KHWAI

 

That day we had quite a long drive again, with some fairly boring stretches a long the way. So, to be able to cope with that, we did a small tour to the Savuti waterholes first. It was much the same like it was a week ago; the 2nd waterhole (the salty one) still being out of service. At the last waterhole, a few jeeps were gathered around a tree. The reason;

 

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The leopard came out of the tree and all vehicles followed it. Except us. We left the circus.

 

After that, one last pic of the waterhole and the elephants (I assembled that elephant skull for the shot, I admit. And almost hurt my arms in the process; that jaw was rather heavy)...

 

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...and then it was time to leave. Before the real boring part we had some minor sightings but nothing worth mentioning. So let's skip to the part where it gets interesting again. When we were getting close to Khwai, we ran into mongooses that weren't shy at all.

 

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I even took some head shots. That was a great sighting. After that, great game again, with the birds really stealing the show; saddle-billed stork, snake eagle, sandpiper, African jacana, carmine bee-eater, ...

 

In the afternoon, we arrived at our new campsite. This one is owned by the Khwai communuty, and borders the river.

 

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In the afternoon, Frans and Johan went with Ewan to check out the river, but me & Mira stayed in camp as we were really beat. They saw some lions, but rather far away from the road. At the river, there was some stuff to see as well; dragonflies were posing for shots, a hippo got into the water at the opposite shore, and we saw great interaction between quelea (a huge tree full of them) and an unidentified raptor. The quelea made a lot of noise, then suddenly stopped doing so (I guess because they saw the raptor approach), but then started again but this time out of pure panick. They flew away while the raptor dived in and grabbed one.

 

After that; time for a shower in our super-de-luxe bathroom!

 

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Damn, I really miss that bathroom...

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Jochen

DAY 14: KHWAI TO MOREMI

 

That day started rather slow, with a dive along the Khwai river. The usual suspects were there (I'm not going to bother you with similar pics again). What we were really looking for, however, were hippo showing a bit of action. There are a few places where hippo seem to flock together, but none of them were very active. Too bad.

 

We did see some herds of elephants that were nice.

 

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After that, we passed the village. Oh my, so many people! Even a huge shopping center!

 

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And then came the gate (and the bridge), the entrance to Moremi.

 

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We stayed near the water (well there was lots of water anyway) and had a few great sightings, like spoonbills, open billed stork, red lechwe...

 

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...but the hippo still did not bother to move much.

 

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We drove to our new and last campsite for the next two nights, to have lunch. That camp was "campsite no 3" by the way, and it was close to the Khwai river (IN Moremi, the other side being the Khwai community area).

 

After lunch, we set out for a drive along the river, and the plan was to up our bird count a little. Not that it mattered much, it was just for fun, and basically we were just looking for species of which Johan and Ewan thought they should be easy to find. More in particular, we were looking for the African Snipe (hence the name of Johan's post on Fodors). Well, it proved impossible to find. But we did see other species, of course. But not much new stuff.

 

At one point we had followed the river so far that we were almost out of the park (the community area still being on the other side). We had crossed some deep water a couple of times to get that far (deep = nothing serious though; the bonnet remained dry).

 

We stopped the car, to take some shots of a small bird. I think it was a sandpiper but I'm actually not that sure anymore. While all of a sudden there was a lot of noise behind us; warning calls from a guinea fowl and a vervet monkey. We drove a bit further to investigate, and found an impala standing under a bush, with a bit of blood running from its thigh. Huh?

 

The next moment, the impala fell down, and only then we could see the cheetah around it's neck. It was suffocating the impala. After a couple more minutes; mission accomplished! The impala was dead, and the cheetah rose up. It was a beautiful, big and muscular male, but it was badly out of breath. Apparently it had had to chase the impala for a long distance. It took him more than 15 minutes to catch his breath before starting to feed. All the while it was scanning the area for other carnivores. The monkey and the guinea fowl just did not stop making noise, and we too were afraid of other predators showing up. We would like to see the cheetah eat.

 

Luckily, nobody showed up (nor any other cars either), and we witnessed the cheetah devour the impala. It started by the rectum (anyone reading this while having dinner? :twisted: ), and opened up the belly. It made sure to not puncture the stomach, as that smell would certainly attract other predators (smart guy).

 

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(Still enjoying dinner? :P )

 

We left it after about an hour, but decided to come back the next day.

 

On our way back to camp, we saw three more lions, sleeping/resting. Well, that's what my pictures tell me anyway. It is apparently the only thing we saw after the cheetah, and in all honesty I cannot even recall how we found them and how long we stayed with them. I guess the cheetah made quite an impression.

 

That night, after dinner, we were enjoying bush TV, while all of a sudden Ewan shone his flashlight straight ahead and said "scops owl". We were all looking in the distance, where his light hit the tree line, but it was actually sitting 2-3 meters away from us on a stick, very close to the campfire. I was the only one with camera gear and was able to take one picture before it flew off. The pic is not sharp so I'm not going to show it here. But it's sharp enough to be kept i my private album as a memory.

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Jochen

DAY 15: MOREMI

 

We set out once more, this time going the other way, always remaining close to the river. The plan was, yet again, to look for hippo and new birds. We were a bit more lucky as we found a hippo out of the water. Still, no hippos fighting or anything like that. Then we drove straight towards two lionesses having a drink (from the water in road tracks next to the river). One was almost completely covered in blood, the other didn't look much better. A kill was made nearby, that's for sure!

 

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When they were done drinking we followed the lionesses back to their kill. In total, there were 7 lions feeding on a zebra. Still holding in that dinner? :D

 

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We also found out why some lions were that bloody. They literally crept into the zebra to feed.

 

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(how about now? :P OK OK I'll stop)

 

One lioness crept onto a termite mound, one dozed off on top of the carcass etc... just to say we had plenty of photo opportunities again. So we stayed with them a long time.

 

Nearby, we also saw an elephant standing on his hind legs to feed on a tree. After that, time for lunch and a siesta.

 

The afternoon drive; we drove to some pans with marshland, and saw white-faced duck, saddle-billed stork (with catch), hadeda ibis, more hippo, pied kingfisher, red lechwe (running through the water), waterbuck...

 

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...and to top it all off a croc in a very photogenic spot in the middle of a pond (this is a close up):

 

Bots89.jpg

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Jochen

INTERMEZZO; the stuff I forgot

 

Damn, upon reading this, I realized I forgot to mention quite a lot of the good stuff.

 

One of those things I forgot are most of the water crossings. Most were not that spectacular, bt one was. Water was as high as the hood of the car, and it was coming in to the doors in the front part of the vehicle. Me & Ewan were up front so our feet got wet. When we were out of the water, we opened the doors to get rid of the water.

 

Another thing was this strange guy that we met somewhere on the road between Xakanaxa and Khwai. He was driving a small Japanese-type pickup truck, and was wearing bright blue sunglasses (not the glasses just the frame), which made him really look funny. Well in fact the way he looked, the way he spoke, etc... he was so out of place.

 

We met him on the "main road", where he asked us "is this the road to Xakanaxa?". Ewan responded affirmative to which he responded (with a real panicky voice) "but it's flooded!" Well, yes it is but you can still cross.

Anyway, we drove on, but he started following us, away from the main road, while we were on a regular gamedrive! And we had not said we would escort him or anything. Ewan got quite fed up with him rather fast (we tried to stay away from other cars as much as possible to improve sightings), so he decided to "lure" him back to the main road. Once there, he still followed us, so Ewan crossed some water (took a real deep "lane"), and the guy followed, without 4x4! He was really lucky to have passed. Well then he left us, apparently satisfied of having crossed that water. We drove back, took the "lane" next to the one we used just before, and found out it was not even half as deep, lol.

Well, this whole story just to say that our running gag then became "is this the road to Xakanaxa?" We asked that to Ewan whenever we had no idea where we were. And Ewan always responded "yes, it is". One time, my wife said to Ewan: "you are lost, aren't you", to which he responded "a man is never lost, only temporarily unaware of his position".

 

Meeting this silly man also triggered more silly campfire stories. Ewan has loads of them (a you would expect from a guy who has spent more than 20 years in the bush), and some subjects had already passed the revue, like incredible sightings, and stories about the time Ewan worked in the lodges. But now he started with a load of stories about other strange people he met, just like the guy with the blue glasses. I won't go into the details, so you'll have to go on safari with him to hear them. One tip when you do; ask about the naked Germans.

 

"Famous people" were also discussed. He has driven Frans Lanting around, and knows plenty more famous people. At one point we saw one of those two guys from AnimalPlanet. That mad Mike & Mark program, the guys who tried to get way too close to wild animals. I forgot which of the two it was, but he was outside of Moremi, in the Khwai community area, and so was his camp (Ewan recognized the tents). He was doing a gamedrive with only one customer and had apparently lost his license to guide IN the parks. Ewan said that one of the two guys is actually a great guy, but he was dragged in by the other one. I don't know if he was talking about the guy we saw, or the other.

 

I also forgot to mention quite a lot of animal sightings. Like most hyena's. Apart from the ones already mentioned, we saw one with a broken leg just before we saw the three leopards, and another one on our last morning gamdrive.

And I completely forgot our 2nd honey badger sighting. It was again a couple, and to be honest I completely forgot when it was (as I took no pics). I think it was in Savuti though. I know Frans has some pictures, so I will find out later.

 

If there's more stuff that pops up in my lousy brain, I'll add it here later.

 

Next; the last day, and a conclusion.

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DAY 16; GOING HOME (AND A CONCLUSION)

 

The last day we slept a bit later as 1) it was going to be a long day and 2) we were going to have a rather sleepless night after this one (while flying home).

 

We did a small tour, and saw a hyena just outside camp. We had heard them a lot, but had hardly seen them, apart from the one with the broken leg, and the one that came to visit while we were still eating (at our last campsite in Chobe). and again luck was not with us. Too damn dark for pictures. So we drove on. Luck was not with us that morning; we hardly saw anything. It must have been the slowest game drive yet. It was as if Africa was telling us; you have seen enough, now go.

 

We started the long drive home; the boring "main road", then the asphalt, then civilization. I must say it felt strange. It even felt "too busy" in Maun, at the bar across the street from the airport. Sallie came to visit at the bar. We had a last drink, a last conversation (alas too short to get to know each other a bit better), we paid a small visit to the shops, and then it was time to go.

 

We checked in our bags, and said goodbye to the Massons and to Johan as well (his flight to Xigera was leaving). And then we started the long flight home. Air Botswana to Joburg. Joburg to Frankfiurt. Frankfurt to Brussels. All flight were uneventful (the way I linke it), on time, and we had decent leg room (with a length of about 1m90 I often experience the opposite). And our luggage arrived! So thank you, Air Botswana, South African Airways and Lufthansa!

 

By the way, the famous bookshop at Joburg was still closed, but we managed to buy plenty of good stuff anyway, at the other shop. But unfortunately at that shop they did not have any of the more unusual books (some of which are great finds). Well... reason to go back.

We learned later from Johan that the sho was not being redecorated (like we thought). Apparently it has moved to another location in the airport building. The new terminal, if I recall correctly.

 

CONCLUSION.

 

Having done a number of trips in Africa now, and having done even far more Eco-trips elsewhere, I think I am entitled to say this: this way of traveling (non-participating private tented camps) is the best so far.

 

We've done it all; lodges in concessions, lodges in national parks, lodges outside parks, hotels, renting a small house, you name it. Idem with group size; in big groups, in small groups, with family, with friends, individually, and so on. And idem with mode of travel; by rental car, by bus, sharing a jeep, a personal jeep... And also for these criteria I can say that there is nothing better out there: you really need a vehicle not shared with "strangers", and the size of your party must not bee too big.

 

To top it all off, we had the best guide imaginable. 20 years+ of experience, and as enthusiastic as day 1 in his guide-life I'm sure. And also very considerate and flexible. Frans & Johan got separate tents after 3 days (without asking for it). And we left when we wanted and came back to camp when we wanted; Ewan did whatever we agreed upon.

I must admit our most difficult task was actually that: agreeing among us what to do when. More in particular, keeping up with Johan's tempo (whom I can now really classify as an absolute safari-freak) was quite a task. Off course there's a difference; he can come home "tired", we have to come home "rested".

 

If I think back of all the sightings we had, and the QUALITY of those sightings (more than often being the only vehicle around). And then the roads we took, often going where lodge vehicles could not get (not enough time). Also, when I consider the number of hours we were out there enjoying the sights (being out before sunrise, following tracks on the road not spoilt by others tires, and only coming home when all vehicles were already long gone again)

And if I think of the gorgeous food we had. And the sounds & smells at night. I'll take canvas over brick walls any day of the week.

 

...my mind is absolutely made up: this is the best yet. And it will be hard to top.

 

Were there downsides? Hardly. I can only think of three little things that Ewan can do to improve his "product".

Firstly; the beds had had their best time, certainly for a guy big like me. Although I must admit I only knew the difference with a new bed after I slept in one on the island in Godikwe lagoon. And it's not as if I slept bad either. Quite the opposite.

Secondly; a little wooden floor board next to the chair in the shower would have helped. It was not an easy task keeping the sand away from your freshly washed and wet feet.

Thirdly; a little (closeable, to avoid "monkey business") cupboard in the enclosure behind the tent would have made a difference for me and Mira. We are both wearing lenses and need to take these out at night and keep them in little containers with cleaning fluid. Those containers must not topple over in the middle of the night. Well, finding a safe spot for our containers IN the tent took a bit of organizing.

 

Admittedly, these are rather small issues. :P

 

So here we are, I think I wrote it all now. So...

 

 

THE END :D

 

 

If anyone wants more info, you know were to find me.

 

Ciao,

 

J.

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Jochen

There. Completely copied.

 

Tomorrow, or at least in one of the upcoming days, I'll post our trip report of last year too (Kruger area and Moz).

 

Nighty night all.

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Atravelynn

Thanks for posting over here in the lively spot. I'm glad you limited the distorted fish eye shots to your faces.

 

You always have wonderful, enviable adventures. And I don't even know the details of the Naked Germans story.

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twaffle

Thanks Jochen, I remember reading this report from when you first posted it and I definitely remember the million elephant pano!! :P I opened it up in its full glory and was amazed by the detail and quality. In fact, it is one reason not to visit Botswana as that is what I'll expect. :D

 

One question. If the strange man following you had got himself stuck in that deep water crossing, would you have left him there? And if you did rescue him (following the law of the bush), you would have wasted lots of time. Wouldn't it have been better to have told him to p*** off?

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