By Marie-France and Denis Rivard
March 23, 2016
In the fall of 2014, our journey in southern Africa ended with a visit to Botswana, known as one of Africa’s great destination for ecotourism. This is a place where birds and wildlife are abundant and can be seen at close range in their natural environment. Botswana’s conservation and protection programs have been successful in the battle against poaching and its policy of low volume/high cost tourism (also described as high yield/low impact) has helped to preserve its wilderness. Our tour brought us to the Kwando River, Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve and Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta. Most of the locations we visited were reached by jeep, a 4x4 adapted for African safaris, except for our camp in the Okavango Delta which was reached by small plane. Traveling in Botswana has its challenges with the heat, dust, and deep sand that can bring your vehicle to a full stop, all adding a taste of adventure to your experience of the wilderness.
Arriving from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, we first stopped for a boat tour on the Kwando River near the town of Kasane. We have rarely seen such a variety of birds during a boat tour! The sun was perfect for the occasion. We saw 42 species of birds in a short time, including kingfishers, herons, storks, bee-eaters, lapwings, jacanas, eagles and kites. We saw five species of kingfishers perched on branches above the river actively looking for prey. Some, like the malachite kingfisher, have spectacular colours. Others, like the pied kingfisher, are not as colourful but quite fun to watch. White-fronted bee-eaters also like to perch high over their territory and a pair of them did not seem to mind our presence as our boat passed very close to them.
Malachite Kingfisher (Martin-pêcheur huppé) on Kwando River.
Pied kingfisher (martin-pêcheur pie) after a dive.
White-fronted Bee-eater (guêpier à front blanc).
Crocodile on Kwando River near Kasane.
Long-toed lapwing (vanneau à ailes blanches) along Kwando River.
Lioness in Chobe National Park.
Chobe National Park is well known for its pride of lions which have specialized in preying on elephants. We had seen documentaries on this pride of lions but “seeing it” is something else. Indeed, as you enter the park, it is difficult to miss the skeletons of elephants along the trail. Lions were soon to be seen and the news of a fresh kill during the night spread rapidly among tour operators. Vultures and jackals were also aware of the kill and were attempting to get their share. A lioness (see photo) feeding on the carcass suddenly left her prey to chase vultures who had ventured too close to her meal. Such action can only be captured on stills with the camera being already set to burst mode.
As we drove from our camps to new destinations, we always packed the camera gear in a protective bag to protect against dust and vibrations. However, we never left the equipment too far as the road is often full of surprises. A pack of African wild dogs was seen along a trail while driving from our bush camp. It was mid-day and they were peacefully resting on the ground giving us a chance to examine the colour of their fur. They looked so tamed and well behaved in the heat of the day that it was difficult to believe that they are pack hunters and feed on a wide variety of animals including medium-sized antelopes, wildebeests, zebras and warthogs. They are very social, inherently curious and in constant interactions with other members of their pack.
African wild dog (lycaon), also called African painted dog.
Southern lechwe (cobe de Lechwe) in Moremi Game Reserve.
Carmine bee-eater (guêpier écarlate).
Broad-billed roller (guêpier violet).
On that day, the afternoon safari was dedicated to the search of a leopard as one had been seen in the area the previous day. Leopards are not easy to find but it was our lucky day! We found him at the end of the day resting peacefully on a fallen tree, close to the trail. We were able to get several nice frames as he posed for us. Soon, his attention focussed on a guineafowl on the ground nearby. It did not take long before he left his resting post to chase the bird… who gracefully (or as gracefully as a guineafowl can be) escaped his attempts.
Leopard in Moreni Game reserve
Crested barbet (barbican promépic)
On Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta, our safaris were done on foot after a short ride in a mokoro, a small boat made of an hollowed tree trunk (see photo). Amazingly, each boat can hold two passengers in addition to its operator. Mekoro (plural for mokoro) are pushed with a pole while standing on the stern and are well suited for shallow waters. They are also vulnerable to attacks by hippopotamus, which were abundant in and around our bush camp. We could see and hear them throughout the day from our tents set up on platforms above the marsh. Our trip started in a narrow channel, too shallow to present any risk for our group. However, to get to the island, we had to cross an open area where water was deeper. As we quietly approached the open area, our guides paused to inspect the water surface for the presence of hippos. An “all clear” signal was given and they rapidly pushed the dugout canoes across the open water to reach the other side. The crossing was so silent that we could hear our hearts beat.
Two mekoro in Okavango Delta.
On the last day at this camp, our guides told us that they had located the pearl-spotted owlet in a tree close to the observation tower. The tower brought us high enough to get at the same level as the owlet, which was standing in the shade on a branch. This was the last observation for our trip to Botswana, bringing the overall count of bird species to more than 100.
Pearl-spotted Owlet (Chevêchette perlée), Okavango Delta.
Sunsets in Africa are magical and Botswana was no exception in that regard. Amongst the countries we have visited, Botswana is certainly on top of the list for providing opportunities to see wildlife at close range. There is a rough edge to the experience as trails or roads can be challenging and the heat can be intolerable at times. Therefore, activities are typically carried out early in the morning and in late afternoon. Accommodations can be rudimentary, somewhat unexpectedly given their high cost. While we handheld our equipment in these safaris, note that some tour operators on the Kwando River offer boats equipped with tripods or camera mounts to attach your photographic equipment.
Sunset at Three Baobabs Camp.
The authors visited Botswana in October 2014 to explore nature with a focus on birds and wildlife. For the photos presented here, they used a Sigma 150-500mm lens attached to a Canon 70D and a Canon 100-400mm lens mounted on a Canon T3i. The headshot photo, made during a field trip to Colombia (see links to other articles below), is a courtesy of Marcela Zuluaga.
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