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Nxai Pan, Lebala & Lagoon


Hunting Dog
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This is my first attempt at a trip report so please be gentle with me!

 

I'm not a particularly good photographer so don't expect too much on that front - also the pics that I've included are to illustrate the story and aren't necessarily the best quality ones (honest guv)

 

The trip was 8 nights, 2 at Nxai Pan, 2 at Lebala, 2 at Lagoon (all Kwando properties) from 23rd to 31st March 2012, and is my excuse for not getting to the London meet up...

We had pre-arranged a private car throughout but not a specified guide.

 

Nxai Pan

 

Nxai Pan is in a National Park so no off road driving or night drives are allowed. We actually found that made for a more relaxing start to the holiday than the typical crashing through undergrowth in search of dogs as is the norm in the northern Kwando concessions. Not being allowed off road did reduce some of the photo opportunities (lots of cheetah 'sightings' which were dots on the horizon) but did also reduce the anxiety level around "could we have gotten a better photo by trying to get 5m closer" or "would we have gotten a better photo if we stopped 5m earlier and didn't scare X off" - hence the more relaxed feeling to the drives. Our guide was 'Vasco' and tracker Kering.

 

There is a water / mud hole about 100m away from the lodge which seems to have a resident collection of large bull elephants, photo taken from lodge;

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General game viewing was very good with large numbers of zebra and springbok and some groups of Oryx, including this group with two youngsters. We'd not seen Oryx elsewhere so were very pleased to see these;

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The lodge setting wasn't quite as stunning as I'd hoped but the huge flat plains in the adjacent areas are wonderful;

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On our full day we took the trip out to the Baine's Baobabs, that was interesting in terms of seeing the landscape changes on route, and one of the nicest experiences of the stay there was on route we drove through a nesting area for Red Billed Quelea, the photos of them didn't work particularly well but the experience of being surrounded by many hundreds of calling chicks on what must have been about 50 separate tree nest sites was wonderful;

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Lesson on why you should take your spare lens out with you:

On our last morning we spent some time with a fairly relaxed Jackal, then moved on, we'd been messing about attempting to photograph birds in flight by focusing on them whilst they were perching and then attempting to pan and track them when they flew off. We saw this Roller close to the road took some shots of it and then tried to wait for it to fly off.

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I was holding my 100-400 L IS lens focused on it with the stabiliser running for long periods thinking the bird was about to fly... it outlasted us in the end and remained resolutely on the twig.

 

I'm not sure if keeping the lens running was really the problem or possibly just a final straw but anyway the 100-400 is no longer speaking to the camera body and seems to only want to work at all if set on 4.5 aperture :(

 

Not having realised yet that the lens problem was terminal we continued on a waterhole in the middle of the pan. There we saw a herd of zebra approaching from a distance and waited at the waterhole for them to come and drink;

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While we were looking at them and I was trying to get my lens to work our tracker pointed out 3 dots on the horizon, which were the 3 cheetahs (mum and 2 adolescents) that we'd seen previously at a distance, this time they were coming towards us and the zebras. The zebras spotted them a bit later and ran off, then the cheetahs came up the waterhole opposite us and started to drink. My other half did manage to get some good shots of them with his 70-200 L IS lens and extender combination, but I've included here my shots with a wide angle lens, which was by then the only thing I had working (having left my spare telephoto, a bottom of the range 70-300, back in the room) - the photo is included so you can appreciate my frustration at this point....

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To add insult to injury whilst the cheetahs were drinking our tracker noticed another dot on the horizon which turned out to be a male lion coming to drink - cheetahs exit stage left - lion enters stage right, I'm still swearing at various bits of camera equipment and taking occasional wide angle shots

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The next appearance was a jackal that was following the lion around and came up to the waterhole to drink when the lion left - jackal was too small to be visible with the wide angled lens so I gave up photographing completely at that point.

 

The entire sequence, zebras, cheetahs, lion, jackal, all drinking, and mostly in good light, had occurred over the space of less than an hour, without us moving at all.

 

 

 

Overall we thoroughly enjoyed the two nights at Nxai Pan - I think that March was definitely a good time to go - there were other people staying at the Kwando property but hardly anyone else was around at the campsites in the park so we very rarely saw any other vehicles on the roads. Apparently it gets much busier in the official dry season and I'm not sure I'd want to go then.

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Lebala

 

We'd included 2 nights at Lebala to spread our bets with Lagoon and maximise the chances of seeing wild dogs (you might guess from the user name that dogs are a bit of an obsession)

 

Our guide at Lebala was Stan - he's a freelance guide who's done a lot of work for Kwando filling in when they're overloaded, as we'd booked a private car they'd ended up needing an extra driver. Stan transfered to Lagoon with us later too so we were with him for the rest of the trip, he was very informative about a lot of stuff related to the general landscape, trees and grasses that we hadn't learnt about from previous guides so we were very happy with the arrangement.

 

As I think has been mentioned elsewhere Lebala and Lagoon have been quiet for a while in terms of large quantities of game and other predators. We did some general game and quite a lot of birds. The only birds who posed nicely and close enough to the car for me to get reasonable shots with my limited photographic skills (and now only the spare old 300mm zoom) were various varieties of hornbill;

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We did see various different groups of giraffe, this mum and youngster were probably the nicest of the sightings;

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On our first evening at Lebala we heard over the car radio that the dogs had been found, as we raced to see them the Uri stalled and refused to restart, we were only about ten minutes from camp so one of the mechanics was soon with us - he swapped the carburettor for another one but the Uri still refused to go so we swapped into his Uri and left him working on the dead car...

We raced off to find the others and the dogs and found them just leaving a waterhole;

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We followed the dogs around - somewhat erratically as the mechanic's Uri had a gearbox problem and wasn't totally co-operative... he eventually got our Uri going and came and swapped cars back. We stayed with them till the light went, they looked as though they wanted to hunt but didn't achieve anything. One dog attempted to chase a large warthog but the warthog went to ground.

We left them near the boundary road (Selinda boundary);

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The next morning we searched the Lebala/Selinda border area but couldn't find any fresh signs of the dogs.

 

The second evening we searched a large part of the South Western area and eventually ran into a couple of the dogs coming towards us down Boundary Road, we followed them into the bush and found the rest of the pack (this is the group of 3 adults and 8 sub-adults), by the time we found them unfortunately the sun had gone behind clouds;

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We followed the dogs as they moved around - saw one near miss as an impala ran back towards the pack chased by one dog, leapt a large termite mound and disappeared. We shared this sighting with two of the Selinda cars as it was in the boundary area... the other cars from Lebala didn't join the sighting - apparently after having spent an hour or so with the dogs the previous day the occupants of one of the cars specifically asked the guide not to bother with the dogs again (they wanted to see a lion kill instead, so I suspect they weren't going to have a lot of luck!)

 

As the lighting wasn't particularly good, but the dogs did keep going back to the road area, I was holding out hopes that I might get a "dogs going off into the sunset" shot, unfortunately it didn't come off, but the idea and anticipation was there;

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Edited by Hunting Dog
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Lagoon

 

We had four nights at Lagoon as it is other half's favourite camp - I like it too but have been put off on previous trips in September by the aggressive elephant breeding herds. We arrived with high hopes of seeing either the Lebala/Selinda pack of dogs again or the larger Lagoon pack, when we got to the camp we learnt that the large pack was last seen heading north and no signs had been found for about 5 days.

 

We hadn't had any good Hyena sightings for a long while so when we learnt that a hyena den site had been found we had high hopes of seeing them, but as it turns out the only hyena sighting was this chap on the road on our transfer day, he was really much too tired to move but did look up at us occasionally;

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On our first evening drive the weather had deteriorated and the sky was full of dense cloud, we had some general game and bird sightings but it was too dark to see much or successfully photograph anything.

 

The next morning was wet so we delayed the start of the game drive till the rain cleared, we saw some very nervous Roan and Kudu during the early part of the drive. The Lagoon Uri developed an unusual problem and decided it didn't want to turn left... or at least not at an angle of more than 20 degrees, so poor Stan had quite a struggle with it, especially as the gearbox was also a bit dubious and hard to get into reverse! (the turning was fixed later - gearbox not so...) Anyway about 3/4 of an hour out the heavens suddenly opened again and we had a panic trying to protect camera gear... Other half's camera had the 2x converter on the 70-200mm lens, at which stage it won't fit back into the camera bag so he was trying to cover it under the Kwando poncho - the ponchos and the rest of the rain gear we took don't seem to be 100% waterproof under very heavy rain so we decided it was better to retreat back to Lagoon than continue and risk messing up more camera equipment! I was also rather cold and soggy by that stage as quite a lot of water had reached me via the neckhole of both the poncho and the 'waterproof' mac I had underneath!

 

The second night we drove up the road to the north where the dogs were last seen heading but couldn't find any signs. We did see a (thankfully) very calm large breeding herd of elephant, they were walking back from the river into the bush and processed slowly past us, we didn't realise how many of them there were at first as the bush either side was quite dense, but the procession kept coming, and coming, so we think there were more than 100 in the herd;

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We had sundowners by the river and a large group of hippos. It was dry whilst we were out but rained heavily overnight.

 

The next day our tracker (PD) had heard from Lebala that tracks for the 'Lagoon' pack had been found in the north east of the Lebala area so we set off in that direction. The drive down was interesting as there was a combination of mist and dew on the grass seed heads which made for some unusual landscape views;

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We had some elephant and giraffe sightings and saw dog tracks but no dogs despite searching.

 

The evening was similar - drove south - saw dog tracks - no dogs.

 

Third morning, we drove south again and spotted the pack of 20 dogs just as some were leaving half-way pan having had a drink there... We followed them in to the bush. After about 10mins they all ran off and we heard some excited dog noises, and less happy noises from something else. We attempted to follow but had another Uri moment where all the electrics died, problem was fixed by tracker bashing something with the wheel wrench. When we caught up with the dogs we found them eating impala remains;

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We thought initially we'd missed a dog kill but then heard some more commotion and 'growling' from some of the dogs - following the noise we found they'd trapped a young female leopard in a tree (pic included just for scale - couldn't get a good photo at that stage);

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We realised then that the dogs had stolen the impala from the leopard and 'treed' her. We waited watching dogs and leopard and two more Lagoon cars joined us. The leopard obviously wasn't going to get out of the tree with the dogs around, despite being stuck on a rather too small branch, and the dogs couldn't reach her either.

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Eventually the dogs left, the three Lagoon cars stayed to see what the leopard would do, initially we assumed she'd be shy and make a run for it having been traumatised by the whole experience with the dogs. When she did come down though she was totally relaxed and set about trying to find any bits of impala that the dogs may have missed. At that point (inexplicably to me) the other two Lagoon cars left, so we then had about half hour on our own with a very relaxed leopard in good light...

 

Here she's eating some less than appetising bits of impala innards;

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Here she's walking around the stationary car;

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On our last evening drive we decided that as the dogs were probably still a long way away we'd just have a relaxing dawdle around instead of going in search of them again, as the light was likely to have gone by the time we'd have any chance of finding them, and the weather by then was too hot for it to seem like a good idea to insist on setting off early. We drove north east as that was the direction with least cloud looming. Saw various hippo, kudu and baboon. Did the very touristy thing and stopped for sundowners by the river near a very large group of hippo - cue "hippo at sunset" shots;

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The last morning we headed south in search of dogs - we spotted one, Bali had spotted one some distance away, the guides concluded the rest must be in the middle somewhere & set off to find the pack. We found them all together moving around in good light;

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They wandered around for a while then settled down in the bush in shade so we said our goodbyes and went off to catch planes.

Edited by Hunting Dog
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Welcome back! sorry we missed you in London but I think we would all have happily swapped places with you.

 

Writing a report is not easy but we all enjoy reading them as you will know so don't apolgise for anything. We are not all expert writers/photographers and it is your experience of your safari that matters. So far the pictures and text capture the story to date really well and am looking forward to the next sections.

 

How annoying about your camera. Is it totally bust or has it started to work again now you are home?

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Awesome trip!!! Thanks for sharing - two packs of dog!!! Looks like you saw the Lagoon pack as well.

 

From your giraffe image, appears like the grass is long albeit drying out already?

 

You mentioned the other car wanting a Lion kill - were the Lions around?

 

The Lagoon pack i think got a Leopard up a tree at John's pan recently - either yesterday or the day before hearing reports from someone who saw it.

 

Any luck with the cheetah brothers this time?

 

Thanks a lot for your report - very exciting indeed!!!!

Regards

Hari

 

Edit: It appears you have the image of that Leopard up the tree from John's Pan ........ just saw that. Awesome!!!!

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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Welcome back! sorry we missed you in London but I think we would all have happily swapped places with you.

 

Writing a report is not easy but we all enjoy reading them as you will know so don't apolgise for anything. We are not all expert writers/photographers and it is your experience of your safari that matters. So far the pictures and text capture the story to date really well and am looking forward to the next sections.

 

How annoying about your camera. Is it totally bust or has it started to work again now you are home?

 

Thanks for the comments. No the 100-400 lens is still dead, I need to get a more accurate diagnosis on it and see if it's worth fixing - if it was the first time it'd gone I'd be more convinced about getting it repaired, but it already had some of it's electronics replaced a few years ago, so I'm starting to wonder if it's just had too much abuse.... and the push pull zoom doesn't seem to be a particularly good idea for dusty safari conditions.

 

Awesome trip!!! Thanks for sharing - two packs of dog!!! Looks like you saw the Lagoon pack as well.

We have been embarrassingly lucky with dogs on most of our trips - 1st trip to Lagoon was 2003 when they had a static den site and young pups, and we were there in 2008 when they had two packs, one on either side of Lagoon..

 

From your giraffe image, appears like the grass is long albeit drying out already?
Yup, long grass is drying, there's short green grass around and it is still raining some..

 

You mentioned the other car wanting a Lion kill - were the Lions around?
No none at all in Lebala/Lagoon so I'm not sure what they found instead of the dogs, but one individual in particular kept going on at dinner about how boring the dogs were so I'd lost sympathy by then!

 

The Lagoon pack i think got a Leopard up a tree at John's pan recently - either yesterday or the day before hearing reports from someone who saw it.
added that bit now :D That was the 30th (unless they're making a habit of it...)

 

Any luck with the cheetah brothers this time?
No sorry, and no recent reports from the guides of anyone else seeing them :(. We'd seem them in the past too so were hoping we might find them again.

 

btw. I did see a rather nice book of photos at Lebala by someone called Hari ! :) Very, very nice photos!

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Thanks a lot for all the info - Yes, I remember the double dog den in 2008 (one was near that half way Pan that year, and the other near Lagoon camp). Glad you saw the book :)

 

I just heard about the leopard up the tree yesterday. It's probably that same sighting........

 

Those cheetah have been in the woodlands a lot for the past year or so! They were very difficult last year -

 

Thanks

Hari

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Thanks for posting ! Nothing better then a good trip report and don't be to modest, your photography is pretty decent :-)

I know the feeling regarding broken lens...luckily for me it wasn't on safari,

anyway will take my 100-400 and 300 f4 + extenders on my next trip in may, just to be on the safe side :-)

Looks you had a great time !

 

 

greetz,

 

Ruben

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