Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bird Photos

Birds Of Southern Africa

We have been in Africa 50 days and the list of identified bird species sits around 170, plus all the rest that escaped unidentified. From the mighty ostrich to the tiny and beautiful blue waxbill, the diversity and number of birds here is quite amazing.

Perhaps my favorites are the weavers, of which there are a number of varieties. They build intricate nests which are completely enclosed by weaving grasses and other bits of plant material together. The finished product tends to look like a woven egg hanging from the end of a branch. An exception to this generality is the sociable weaver. These birds work together to weave massive apartment-like nests which hold dozens of birds in separate compartments.

Wherever we camp there generally appears a troop of birds, usually startlings (brilliant metallic blue), hornbills and francolins (grouse-like birds) that mill about and mooch food from us. They also tend to make sure we do not sleep in by raising a large racket at or before sunrise.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Moremi Game Reserve Photos

Mokoro (dugout canoe) ride.

Who brings the baby storks?

Cape Buffalo.  Definitely mean-looking.



Water Monitor.

Elephants grazed near the vehicle, but when someone in the vehicle behind us sneezed, they left.

Too close for comfort?

Nesting colony for Storks, Cranes, Herons, Cormorants.

Okavango Delta sunset.

Typical Okavango Delta scenery, with hippo.

Appropriately named Dead Tree Island.

Young Vervet Monkey.

This youngster seemed to be trying to impress us.

Our boat captain was very careful around these critters. 

Moremi Game Reserve

We spent five days in the Moremi Game Reserve, which abuts the Okavango Delta. The scenery was beautiful, nice to see so much water after being in dry country fo so long. We did see lots of game although there is so much water the animals are more dispersed. By now we were so spoiled seeing large concentrations of animals it seemed that here we were not seeing much game. After a morning of driving around Tana commented that we hadn't seen much, until I noted that we had actually seen hippos, a crocodile, zebras, giraffe, elephants, a water monitor, and several types of antelope, not to mention a wide variety of birdlife.

During our stay here we did not see any lions or leopards, but did see a large hyena waiting patiently just outside the light of our fire - they are big dogs indeed! The last morning we found lion tracks near the toilets, about 20 meters from our tents. (We had heard them roaring in the night but not that close) When we drove out we followed many lion tracks on the road for a few km but never spotted them.

We did get some good time in with the local elephants on two occasions. The first time we came across a group of 20 or 30 animals drinking and bathing in a pool adjacent to the road. We stopped and they moved around us, grazing and eating branches from trees. The next day we found the same group in the forest near the road. The first few we came across were shielded by some bushes and I drove too close, surprising them - they were not too happy about that and let us know with some loud blasts from their trunks and what can only be describerd as some dirty looks. After they moved off we proceeded up the road a bit and came across the main herd. Again we parked, for about an hour, and they milled around us while grazing and eating from the trees, a couple coming within about 10 feet of the vehicle. There was also a vehicle parked behind us. Surprisingly when the driver began coughing the elephants got a little spooked and moved quickly away.

Some nights were full of interesting sounds.

The first night in Moremi we were camped at North Gate campsite along the Khwai river. About 4AM we were awaken by some sort of moaning or wailing sound, very loud, not very close. It continued for some time, gradually fading away. As it died down there arose a great collective howling of canines from all directions - sounded like dozens if not hundred of dogs - except when we passesd through the small village the day before we did not see any domestic dogs! At this point even the birds joined in, then we heard voices from the village - seemed like everything was now awake. We are still not sure the source of the sound, or what exactly was happening.

The last night in Moremi we were camped at 3rd Bridge campsite, which is adjacent to water, which has many hippos. First we could hear them bellowing at each other, then they splashed out of the water and came up on the lawn near the vehicle and began grazing on the grass. It sounded like we were in the midst of a heard of cows, except when the hippos grunted. By daylight they were all back in the water, and we were short some sleep, as we had also heard some elephants and lions along he way as well.

We also saw a bit of the Okavango Delta from the water, taking two sunset boat rides and a brief mokoro (dugout canoe propelled by poling) trip one day. It was a completely different world out on the water, with a maze of channels among the grasses and reeds. We visited a couple of nesting areas for cranes, herons, and cormorants. There we saw eggs in nests, small and not so small young birds, and a crocodile waiting under the trees for the young ones to fall from the nests. We also saw a few hippos - quite large and scary. The boatmen treat them with great care and caution. Out guide told us amazing stories of 30 day mokoro trips through the delta, but after an hour on that seat my backside was plenty ready to get back to land.

Will post photos when possible.

Driving From Chobe NP to Moremi Game Reserve

After Savuti in Chobe NP our next destination was North Gate of the Moremi Game Reserve, which abuts the Okavango Delta. It was an interesting trip. From Savuti we proceeded approximately 70K south to the Mababe Gate of Chobe NP. This was a generally uneventful plowing through deep sand. We saw many many fresh elephant tracks, but no elephants. About 20K from the gate the Land Rover stalled without reason, but started right up again. A few km later it stalled again, but started again no problem. We continued through the gate and the track proceeded up and over a sand ridge, which was very tough going, especially since the vehicle began to stall more frequently. This was making me quite nervous, as we were in quite a remote area, and not where I would choose to have mechanical problems. Eventually we made it over the sand ridge, and came upon a waterhole with several large elephants, two of which were fighting a bit in the water. The track then dropped down into the Khwai river valley, which is the easternmost edge of the Okavango Delta. Quite suddenly the scenery was lush and green. The river was flowing, filled with green reeds and grasses, water lilies blooming and elephants standing all over the place. It was stunningly beautiful, and I wish we had spent more time there - but I was quite eager to keep moving while the vehicle was still running, so we continued on. The water in the delta had been extremely high this year, the highest in about 40 years. Because of the high water we were forced to take many detours from the track that the GPS was trying to take us on. Eventually we got to a sign that said "North Gate 14 km" and pointed directly into the water. Not having driven this vehicle through water, and not haveing any other vehicles around to help, we decided to follow the track farther and see if there was a better way to go. A few minutes later we were turning back from yet another water crossing when a large truck came up behind us, and also turned around. We asked them if they were going to North Gate, they said no but they would show us where to cross. We proceeded a bit up the track, and they pointed to a water crossing. They then got out of their truck and waded in to find the shallowest part, and directed me to start across. I did get a bit concerned when the water started coming up over the hood, but it came no further and we made it through with just a bit of water coming in under the bottom of the doors. We happily shook hands with the fellows and gave them 100 Pula (about $15) for their trouble. (Thankfully by this time the land rover had stopped stalling, so hopefully that problem is behind us.) From there we followed what we thought was the main track and found our way to the Khwai village, which is across the river from the park gate. Here we found a massive road projet underway, which made navigation confusing once again, but we found a way through without incident, proceeded across the rickety wooded bridge, entered the park and drove to the campsite. More than enough adventure for one day, thanks very much!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chobe NP Photos

Papa and cubs.

Papa and cubs.

Sometimes you just need a tree to lean on.

Elephants sparring.

Vultures patiently waiting for the leopards to be done eating.

Looking from our camp across the Chobe River to Namibia.  Nobody sked these Buffalo for their passports when they swam across.

Always yield to elephants!
Water Monitor snacking on a huge catfish head.

We saw many many elephants in Chobe NP.
Vervet Monkey.

Lounging hippos.

One that didn't get away.

Cape Buffalo near our campsite - lonesome, ornery, and mean.

Chobe National Park

Chobe National Park is located in North-eastern Botswana. The northern boundary of the park is the Chobe river, which also is the border with Namibia's Caprivi strip. We visited two sections of the park, the Chobe Riverfront and Savuti. Unlike Etosha NP in Namibia, there are no fences here and you are out there with the animals.

During the dry season many animals come to the riverfront area as there is no other water around. (Strictly no swimming unless you are a fan of hippos and crocs) This works well for the human visitors as it is easy to see many animals, which we did. There were herds of impala, zebra, water buffalo, hippos, and many many elephants. We also saw a pride of lions and a leopard. The highlight for me was the afternoon we spent watching dozens of elephants come to the river to drink and swim. When they left the water they walked right by our vehicle (a car length or so away). Quite nerve-wracking when a large elephant starts looking your way from this distance!

The Savuti area has in the past had a water channel flowing to it, but is presently dry. There are a few waterholes that the animals come to - mostly we saw very large bull elephants with massive tusks. They also came fairly close to the vehicle, but no harm was done. We saw two of them do a bit of fighting, which was quite impressive. At night we heard elephants and lions - one night there were lions in campsite 4, we were staying at campsite 6. We visited a bushman rock art site, and while stopping for a break at a nearby baobab tree, we were joined by a safari tour group, very nice people from America. As we were chatting a lone impala ran past. The guide commented that often when an animal is running like that there is something chasing it. Sure enough about a minute later a pack of 8 wild dogs came trotting past about 5 meters away - too quick to fetch the camera! We felt very fortunate as wild dogs are in decline all over Africa and becoming quite rare.

Will post photos when possible.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Khaudum National Park Photos

Leopard tortise.
Khaudum NP Headqurters.  Note warning sign.

Elephant butts.
Herd on the way to water, quite in a hurry.

Elephant watching.

Following elephant tracks.

On the road to Khaudum NP.

Khaudum National Park

Khaudum National Park is located in eastern Namibia along the Botswana border. It is a very remote and wild place, where there are no fences and the animals are free to go where they like. We spent two days there and saw maybe 5 vehicles, one of which was owned by the park service.

Unlike Etosha National Park, the animals here are not used to having people around and are quite wary of them. We found that the animals stayed much farther away from us, except at night when they may come straight through the campsite. Also unlike Etosha, you are allowed to get out of your vehicle and be outside the camp before sunrise or after dark - if you dare.

Each day we saw a group of 2 to 3 dozen elephants come to a waterhole to drink. We also saw some Roan Antelope, which are relatively rare and very skittish, as well as some spotted hyenas. At night we heard large wild animals very near the tent - happy to be sleeping on top of the Land Rover!

Nhoma Camp Photos

Hunter tracking his prey.

Thoughtful hunters.

Making arrows.

Is this straight? Later his companions said they did not think so.

Chopping down a honey tree.

Digging out a tuber, a source of water in the desert.

Playing the Porcupine Game, similar to rock, paper, scissors.
Village women preparing to play a game with a grapefruit.