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Little Kwara, Kwando Lagoon, Kwando Lebala, Nanzhila Plains, September 2011


Safaridude

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Safaridude

 

September 2011 Itinerary:

 

Little Kwara, Kwara Concession, Okavango Delta, Botswana

 

Kwando Lagoon, Kwando Concession, Botswana

 

Kwando Lebala, Kwando Concession, Botswana

 

Nanzhila Plains Camp, Kafue National Park, Zambia

 

Guide: Benson Siyawareva

 

 

Little Kwara

 

The Kwara Concession is several kilometers downstream from Wilderness Safaris’ Vumbura (Quedi) Concession, which I have visited, on the Delta’s northeastern edge. Just as at Vumbura, magnificent jackalberry and sausage trees frame the floodplains at Kwara. Kwara, however, appears to be more endowed with acacia species, such as candle-pod acacia and knobthorn, the latter blooming with creamy flowers at the moment. Pula, which fell months ago on the Angolan highlands, is still dictating things around Kwara, as some normally crossable channels are not to be tried, and just a few are negotiable via creaky, temporary wooden bridges. Fire also enters the fray. Smoke partially obscures the eastern sky, but no one at Little Kwara seems to be worried – yet.

 

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Zebras

 

I am guided by the incomparable Benson Siyawareva for the third time. The term, “encyclopedic knowledge”, is often overused in the safari business, but not in Benson’s case. He knows everything – not just mammals, birds and reptiles – but also spiders, soils, flowers, herbs, history… you name it. His ease with the Western culture lulls you. It is easy to forget that he grew up in a poor rural village in Zimbabwe with none of the trappings of the West.

 

We head toward the smoke our first afternoon. There had been a big fire (possibly a separate one from the current smallish one) east of camp, and many grazers are gathered there relishing the new growth. Lots of impalas, zebras, wildebeests, and tsessebes are gathered close to an old hunting camp area called Splash. Signs of predators are everywhere, and in an embarrassment of riches, three leopards are found within a hundred meters of one another – most likely a mother leopard and two old cubs that are just beginning to explore independence. It is a typical leopard sighting with all three revealing little, holed up on their respective trees – until one of the youngsters breaks out of the branches just as the light fades.

 

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Leopard

 

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Giraffe

 

Benson has ambitious goals for the next day. Three leopards in one area beg for proactivity. A 5:00 am wake-up call is proposed. And in typical Kwando Safaris style, no one bats an eye. Sooner or later in this report, my shameless plug for Kwando Safaris is bound to occur, so let’s just get it over with. It is the one safari company that truly goes above and beyond. Kwando Safaris is all about making the client happy at all costs – while wearing a smile (and a genuine one at that). Nothing else matters.

 

We are off in the chill of pre-dawn morning and rewarded with a good viewing of the mother leopard in a tree. Nearby, three lions are on a zebra carcass. Later, a lioness and cub. This recently burned area seems to be the “hot spot” for the moment. Five young sable bulls are seen near the airstrip on the way back to camp, a rare treat for this part of the Delta.

 

Jackalberry trees are fruiting at the moment, and elephant bulls find them irresistible. Three bulls feed on them all night each night around my tent. Somehow, I sleep soundly despite their rumbling noises.

 

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Elephant

 

Our second afternoon, we boat to a known heronry. For whatever reason, yellow-billed storks, marabou storks, open-billed storks and various herons chose a particular floating island near Xakanaxa to breed. We swoon for an hour with a sundowner in hand simply watching the goings on of hundreds of birds exhibiting their nesting behavior. It is a quintessential Delta moment.

 

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Yellow-billed Stork

 

The following morning, we head northwest, away from the smoke. Suddenly, two male lions (one with a dark mane and the other with a blonde mane) are on the run. The two are headed for the rest of the pride that is on a fresh zebra kill. A third male lion (also with a dark mane) is with the pride already eating his fill. Then an unusual scene: the blonde-maned lion suddenly stops shy of the pride. The blonde male stares at the male who had been on the kill, slumps into a submissive posture, and begins to retreat. The Kwara Concession has been known for a coalition of seven male lions for some time. It is a loose association, as the seven males split up periodically. Apparently, the two male lions seen running together had been separated from the rest of the pride for awhile, and the blonde male, likely a low-ranking male, was warily reestablishing his association with his pride members.

 

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Lion

 

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Lion

 

Our last afternoon at Kwara, we press for Four Rivers, a particularly scenic area known for good cheetah sightings. Due to flooded channels we have to negotiate around, this journey would be an hour longer than usual for this time of year. As we cross the last of the temporary wooden bridges, we notice that the wind has shifted and the fire is on a beeline toward camp. What a ridiculous concept to be concerned about fire with so much standing water around us. But we can now hear the crackling of the fire and can see the soot flying around. Benson tells us that fire can jump over a flooded lagoon if there are enough exposed grass tips above water to fuel it. With some unease in the backs of our minds, we reach Four Rivers. There would be no cheetah today, but Four Rivers is certainly one of the most tranquil spots in all of the Delta and particularly rich in zebra, wildebeest and tsessebe.

 

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Tsessebe

 

Upon returning to camp in darkness, we learn that the fire had been beaten back by the camp staff. Literally beaten back that is… the staff defended the last lagoon by wading into it, forming a phalanx and warding off the oncoming flames with moistened palm leaves. It’s business as usual at camp. Smiles everywhere at dinner… as if nothing ever happened.

Edited by Game Warden
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madaboutcheetah

Oh Wow ..... Groovy!!! Can hardly wait to read the rest ..... scary with the fires....

 

Having met Benson a few times on safari, needless to say - he is such a gentleman! and his mere presence in camp just about creates the perfect atmosphere!!!! One day, i hope to visit Zimbabwe with his guiding services.

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wilddog

Loved the first installment/chapter. Really looking forward to the next ones.

 

It is so great to be able to read about fantastic safari experiences, with lovely images, when many of us are stuck in the northern hemisphere with dull days, long nights and not an elephant (or other) in sight.

 

Keep it coming

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twaffle

Exciting start Safaridude, with lovely photos. :)

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Atravelynn

Beautiful colors in the leopard shot. Great running zebra legs. Even I'm worried about the fire, just sitting at my computer. Had a similar experience once at Duma Tau. Excellent Yellow Billed Stork shot.

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ZaminOz

... Superb ones too... :unsure:

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Safaridude

Thanks everyone.

 

Hari, yes, Benson in Zim would be outstanding. As you may know, cheetah sightings have been unusually strong in Hwange.

 

We ran into Spencer at Kwara... talk about another incomparable guide.

 

Hot, napless afternoons were spent looking at your photo books at camp, Hari. Thanks for that!

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks, Safaridude..... Happy New Year 2012!!! Have a great year ahead.....

Best,

Hari

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Sangeeta

Wow on those photos! Just wow.

 

Dec. and Jan clearly shaping up to be Bots months on ST.

 

About the fires, the Kwara fire sounded like a natural bush fire. But do they also set artificial fires in the delta? Is there a particular time of the year when natural/artificial bush fires are very prevalent in Bots? The controlled burning in the Serengeti bothered me this past summer, so was wondering when the fire season subsided in southern Africa. Or is this something the concession owners decide differently from one year to the next?

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madaboutcheetah

Sangeeta, with tall grasses nowadays fires could start as early as end August ............. there are villages in the periphery areas where they do controlled burning. Obviously also in places like the Caprivi Strip in Namibia (causes a lot of haze in the greater Linyanti concessions). Concession owners will do a fire break in some areas, so that there is no serious threat of fires during really dry times. This helps keep the fires off of camps etc etc.,

 

It varies year to year ..... My guess would be September would be the height of the fires. Could impact you in October/November at times...... never know!

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Sangeeta

Thanks, Hari! This information makes Dec or January even more attractive to me. No smoke, no single supplements, and truly good prices.

 

But I bet Safaridude is soon going to report on some remarkable dry season sighting that will have me singing a different tune :)

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Safaridude

Kwando Lagoon and Kwando Lebala

 

The place for wild dogs? The Kwando Lagoon Camp has to be in the running. The resident pack has denned every year near camp as far as one can remember. Of course, this year just had to be different. Due to a flood earlier in the year around its normal den site, the Lagoon Pack denned deep in the mopane, more than an hour from camp. As we check into camp, we learn that a convoy saw the pack the previous day – yelps very active but still at the original den site – though today no vehicle made the effort to go to the faraway den.

 

We spend the afternoon taking it easy nearby. In the terminalia belt just west of camp, we luck into a tame old sable bull going for a sundowner at a pool. Otherwise, it would be a quiet afternoon other than a few impalas and kudus.

 

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Sable

 

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Knobthorn

 

We are off to the dogs before sunrise. More than an hour into the deep mopane, we finally reach the den. Unfortunately, it’s deathly quiet. The second vehicle in our convoy pulls up, and the young guide gets out of the vehicle and gingerly walks around the den. Looking baffled, he walks around it again. His shoulders droop as he exhales a deep sigh. He then lets out a soft “oh, no…”

 

The dogs had moved off. Lion activity? Inadequate prey in the area? Whatever the reason, the pups were just old enough to be mobile, and the pack decided to leave. While chuckling at our bad luck, we see a single wild dog, the alpha female, appear out of nowhere and circle the abandoned den. She sniffs intently all around and then vanishes. Apparently, she was double-checking to make certain that no pups were left behind in their move to the new den. Of course, this is nothing but a perfect tracking opportunity for Kwando’s guides. Our tracker, PD, jumps off his tracker seat, and with the intensity of a bloodhound, follows on foot the trails of the alpha female. PD sets his eyes on the ground, and Benson, with his head on a swivel, drives the vehicle right behind PD, “covering” PD against potential dangers he might not be able to see from ground level. The effort pays off in an hour as the pack is found lazing around its new den. The pups come out of the den to play, tussle with each other, hassle the adults, and generally try to look cute for the camera. The alpha female is napping on a termite mound. Every so often, she rises and circles the entire pack, checking to ensure everyone is okay, and then goes back to the elevated spot to nap. Say this for the alpha female wild dog: she is in charge.

 

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Wild Dog

 

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The Lagoon Pack

 

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Pup

 

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Alpha Female

 

That evening just a few hundred meters from camp, we find two leopards in a thicket – a mother and a youngster. The youngster has captured a tortoise but is mystified by it. For half an hour, we watch it trying to get at the meat inside the shell but unable to crack the problem.

 

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Leopard and Tortoise

Edited by Safaridude
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Safaridude

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Hyena

 

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PD, our tracker

 

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Giraffe

 

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Elephant

 

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Dry Skin

Edited by Safaridude
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Safaridude

Transfers to and from Lagoon and Lebala are typically done by vehicle. The hub is at John’s Pan, roughly half way between the two camps, where we are picked up by a Lebala team. During the transfer, we are treated with a sighting of a herd of eland (a rare sight in northern Botswana). One of the remarkable features of the Lebala area is the lovely and extensive leadwood forest. It is a remnant of an ancient river course. These leadwoods, unlike those in the Savuti Marsh, are very much alive. Silvery branches shimmering in the noon day sun in an orchard-like setting gives the Lebala area a unique look. One morning, a roan antelope herd is found watering at Nare Pan set in the midst of the leadwood forest.

 

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Eland

 

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Roan

 

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Zebras

 

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Wildebeests

 

However, the thinness of plains game compared to my previous visit in August ’08 is noticeable. The prevailing explanation is that the Selinda Spillway, which in times of great rains links the Delta with the Linyanti River, is flowing after many years of relative dormancy, and the game has dispersed that way. Predators are busy exploring this “newly opened” area near the Spillway. The three cheetah brothers who normally patrol the floodplains of the Kwando Concession are spending more time near the Spillway; the resident lions have been following the big buffalo herds roaming back and forth; and the Lebala pack of dogs crossed the Spillway earlier in the year and are unlikely to cross back until their pups mature enough to handle the crossing. In fact, the only large predator we would see at Lebala would be the spotted hyena.

 

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Buffalos

 

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Hyena

 

Such is the ebb and flow of game in northern Botswana. It makes one realize that northern Botswana is essentially a giant living organism itself. It will be fascinating to follow how Pula and the hydrological changes will command this area in this current wet cycle. Great game or merely good, what a privilege it is to follow the ebb and flow from Kwando Safaris’ camps.

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks again, Safaridude!!! Awesome report.

 

Those cheetah boys gave us the goose chase in August. They have been spending a lot of time in the mopane woodlands too ...... trust me, we spent a heck of lot of time trying to track them down and kept trying to get info from the Selinda guides who were doing their pick-ups at the Lebala airstrip back then. Finally, got to spend the very last couple of days with them (inactive, but, still awesome to spend time with them).

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stokeygirl

I was at Lebala in July 2010 for 2 days, and we also didn't see any large predators except hyena. They said the lions they usually see had gone to Selinda, but we did see the cheetah boys down at Lagoon.

 

I am going to Selinda in April, perhaps I will see them then. I wonder if Pangolin saw them on his recent trip?

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Safaridude

Apparently, their (the 3 cheetah boys) movements used to be very predictable (?) There was a pattern of their patrols, but now with the Spillway being flooded, it's anybody's guess. It's great that you found them. I saw 3 cheetah males at Lebala in August '08... I am assuming they are the same boys we are talking about?

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stokeygirl

The guides spoke about them as if they were "regulars" and I've heard many mentions of the Kwando 3 cheetah brothere, although Kwara also has a 3 brother coallition which is a bit confusing. So I assume they probably were the same ones.

 

However, I see Selinda are now talking about "our band of cheetah brothers" so it looks like they might have moved over! See http://www.greatplainsconservation.com/bushbuzz/?p=3460

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madaboutcheetah

Stokeygirl, the kwara cheetah coalition is a different 3. To the best of my knowledge, the heart of the lagoon 3 is well north of lagoon, that's where they are from. Remember that back then, the coalition from savute were dominant at lebala and selinda. I do hope you get to see them in April. Their movements were very predictable until 2010.

They are also spending a lot of time in the woodlands in the west, where there are very few access roads. Also, possibly plenty of grumpy elephants?

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Pangolin

I saw no cheetahs at Selinda in December. Bummer.

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Atravelynn

The leopard with the tortoise is an amazing sight and presents beautiful patterns in your photo. The hyena eye is both haunting and artistic. The delta as a living organism a great observation. Fantastic stuff, Safaridude!

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