Side note: I’m finally getting back to finishing my travel blog! With over a thousand photos a day, it has taken me some time before getting around to culling. =) In any case, enjoy!!
Saturday, February 8th, 2014 (Day 11)
Chitabe Camp, Day 2
We woke up at the typical early morning safari time of 5am this morning. Someone from the camp staff is tasked with coming by to wake us up. However, I was already awake for about 10 minutes. And of all things, the sound of a particular bug outside woke me; so now I call that bug’s sound the alarm bug. We both slept very soundly, though, through the night.
Breakfast is at 5:30am and the game drive starts at 6am. These luxury safari’s tend to be all about feeding the guests plenty of food and breakfast was no exception. We are eating well for sure. The sky was just turning those first shades of midnight blue when we went out for our game drive. Sadly, the sky was still full of clouds and the first couple hours were misty here and there, but nothing like the rain we had last night!
There are only 4 of us guests here today as we are here during the rainy season and the not-so-busy season. The other couple here, Robin and Jill, decided to sleep in this morning and instead join us later on in our drive. So for the first 2ish hours we had a private game drive. The guide seemed to drive slower today which was good because I didn’t need to hang onto both of my cameras quite so tight. I rented a Nikon D600 to use with my 24-70mm lens. This was my wide-angle and scenery camera set-up. Since the Nikon D600 is a full frame camera, the lens is so much wider than I’m used to on my D300 and I was very pleased with the results. I’m still trying to figure out the menu and options of the new camera though. Then, I rented a 200-400mm lens to place on my own Nikon D300 body and used this as the main wildlife camera. I did also rent a 1.4 teleconverter as well, but so far I haven’t felt the need to use in. Instead, I’m more missing my 70-200mm lens as that’s the range I’m missing and that seems to be the best range for photographing the larger animals. Everything is a little bit of give and take. =)
We noticed a lot more water on the ground today since yesterday it rained during the night and many of our routes were either incredibly muddy or flooded. But the safari vehicle handles it all perfectly! I was very impressed with how the guide was able to maneuver around. I’m certainly not used to riding in a 4×4.
We always start out by sighting all the various types of birds on the way to finding larger animals. But we were excited when we found the back of a hippo. He wasn’t very far off the road, and he was almost completely submerged which was amazing to me since the water didn’t seem that deep.
It turns out that we are allowed to drive off road as we found out yesterday and the guide turned off and headed right for the hippo. Well the hippo didn’t like that, so he stood up and complained. He opened his mouth and showed his teeth and made noises at us. It was still dim lighting and the guide started backing up the car to get out of the path of the hippo that looked like it was now going to charge us, so it was all I could do to hold my 8 pounds of camera in front of me, much less get a good photo! But I managed to snap off a few. It sure was exciting though.
We passed some kudu but didn’t stop and we saw plenty of impala this morning. They do move out of the way of our vehicle when we drive up to them, but we did stop to watch several young male impalas run past and then turn around and look at us. They were grunting quite a bit at each other and we found that the parents use the grunting to communicate with the young.
There is a bird that most humorously runs in front of our vehicle along the road like crazy instead of running off to get out of our way. This is the red-billed francolin. The guide also calls it a road runner. We are highly amused every time we come across one of these.
We came across a black-backed jackal walking along the road in front of us and he stopped and looked at us and posed for photos. While we were watching the jackal we were listening to the nearby helmeted guinea-fowl making quite a large racket. They make all this alerting racket to both alert and hopefully annoy the predator who might be nearby.
I told the guide how much I enjoyed watching giraffe and soon after we came across several feasting on an acacia tree. Giraffe are definitely some of my favorite African animals to watch. They just seem so graceful as they both eat and move. Or perhaps I just have inner dreams of becoming tall like they are. In any case, we found them this morning and saw several more as the morning went on.
We drove on to the tree where the leopard was sitting yesterday and after some keen spotting found that she was still in the tree watching the area. She had moved up a few branches, but I can’t believe she was still there! She looked quite content to stay there, so we moved on and found Robin and Jill being driven towards us.
They transferred over into our vehicle and mentioned that they only thing they had seen that morning was a mongoose.
As the morning progressed we were very happy to see many different elephant herds passing by, in front of, and around us. The guide is trying to teach us to tell the difference between the males and the females by the slope of their heads. He is even starting to quiz us even!
We are interested to see just how shy the elephant are here in this park at least compared to our experience in Zimbabwe. The elephants are running away from us at first sight rather than trying to stand their ground.
We also found a new-to-us antelope (amazing there are so many species of antelope!) This one was the tsessebe and is quite interesting in looks. It is a much darker brown than the impala, and has diagonal black, thick stripes on each of their four legs that wrap around the leg and shimmer in the sun as they run. Also, the guide tells us they are the fastest of all the antelope. We found some shy ones earlier, but now we found a herd of about 8 that let us just sit around and watch them. There was a male trying to find a ripe female, but having no luck. And there were even several young with them.
We started to hear the call of a monkey and the guide mentioned that this definitely meant there was a leopard in the area. However, the grass is at least 4 feet tall, taller in other places and very green and dense. Plus all the trees and bushes are green and dense, so our only hope is finding one in a tree. We kept chasing around where the monkeys were but did not find the leopard. Instead, I was content to sit and watch the vervet monkeys play while one stood watch. The male with the blue scrotum stood watch while the young played and we even saw a baby still hanging on to its mother’s stomach.
Meanwhile, today, I’m having quite the allergy attacks. I didn’t really think about it this morning, but with so much grass around spreading seeds, I really need to be diligent about taking my allergy meds. Boy was I sneezy today!! To keep the allergens out of my eyes I put on my sunglasses even while it was cloudy out. However, the sun did eventually peak through the clouds and we had some very nice landscapes as we drove around. I became more bold asking the guide to stop to take photos of a measly tree, or the grass or the water. =)
With all the rain bringing the green growth, every single log on the ground with scraggly branches looks like an animal and you have to watch it carefully to see if it moves before you exclaim that you found something interesting. Mark was staring at two logs with ears for a while before decided they were indeed some warthog and we went over to have a look. We also found a strong male zebra in a field that on closer inspection had a huge gash on it’s shoulder from a lion’s claw. It survived the attack by kicking and it will heal. We found a side-striped jackal in the distance while I was photographing a palm tree.
We stopped for tea about 10am which was good for a break from the vehicle and also some snacks because breakfast was hours ago. The front of the truck folds out with a little table and we looked underneath the front and found it was completely full of grass seeds and insects! No wonder I’m so allergic! I backed away from those nasty allergens and Mark looked closer to find all sorts of praying mantises of all sizes, various worms, spiders, and assorted insects all down there. We are driving along a double-track road where the center is usually just tall grass, so the Land Cruiser is picking up all sorts of treasures.
As we headed back home to camp, we came across a beautiful bird larger than the typical colored birds and found out it was a coppery-tailed coucal. It posed very nicely for photographs.
We learned that secretary birds have armored feet and legs so it can’t get bitten while it is hunting snakes. Also, we found an African fish eagle in the distance and I was reminded of one that we watch go fishing in Mana Pools.
Back at camp, our lunch was ready, though they called it brunch and served us made-to-order omelets, various tasty pastas, meats, and other goodies. The watermelon sorbet at the end was delicious. So, on safari we are barely walking at all and eating extremely well. Hrm….
From noon to 4pm is our siesta time. We used the time to type up our morning and then take a nap.
We did pack light for the safari portion of our vacation and stored most of our luggage at the hotel in Cape Town where we are going back to. I do not have my laptop with me, but I’m typing the blog on my bluetooth keyboard and cellphone. It works okay for just typing.
I also spent some time learning the settings on the rented D600 and fixing the mount on the rented telephoto lens so it will actually fit in my tripod head. It’s actually good to have this break because until now we’ve been a little rushed since we arrived.
After our siesta time, we met back in the common area for snacks, drinks, and chatting with other guests before we headed out again on safari. The sun was out and it was a glorious day! Our afternoon safari was packed with animals as well. The most exciting was probably the hippo we found in a pond of water. When it saw us it raised up out of the water opening it’s mouth wide open in protest and shaking it’s head about making all kinds of angry grunting noises at us. It was displaying dominance and was amazing to sit and watch. I spent the entire time in Zimbabwe a few years ago waiting for the perfect photo of a hippo with it’s mouth open, and here on Day 2 of our Botswana safari, I had perfect photos of an angry hippo! Not only that, but it was angry with us for a long time and spread its jaws multiple times until we finally drove off. As we started backing up, Mark looked behind and saw a hippo running behind the vehicle. It happened at the same time that the jeep hit a brush underneath and made a loud noise. So the 5 of us were very amused when Mark said, “watch out for the hippo!” We thought he was joking because it sounded like we hit something bigger. But actually, he was not and there was a hippo running behind us. We all had a good laugh.
We also drove out and spotted a group of wattled cranes. The are a very rare and endangered species. Our guide was so excited to see such a large group; apparently it is rare to see such a large flock together like this. We counted over 10 of them. I knew they had to be special because the guide was pulling out his point and shoot camera to take some photos. I don’t normally see the guides taking photos. =) With the beautiful afternoon, we found plenty of wildlife around a watering hole and the evening sun lit up many animals in a nice golden light.
For our evening tea break, or sundowner as they call it, we stopped near a heard of wildebeest to have our snacks before our evening safari drive back to camp. At camp, dinner was smaller without celebrating our arrival or Mark’s birthday, and some of the guests from last night had left too. I was surprised that there were just a handful of us guests at the lodge. There were just the two of us couples there and then the camp staff. It was a lovely evening, but I found out my flaw in wearing my shorts to dinner. I wore shorts for our evening excursion because it was hot out. When we got back to the lodge, I didn’t make it back to the cabin to change because it was after dark and you have to be escorted everywhere by camp staff after dark. It turns out that the mosquitoes live under the dining table and I obtained an incredible amount of uncomfortable bites that night. From now on, no shorts to dinner!!!
Animals spotted during our afternoon, and observations:
- Cape Turtle Dove, the most common dove in Botswana area
- The common blue/black bird we’d been seeing every day was a Buchell’s Glossy Starling.
- The drive was partly cloudy and warm. It hadn’t rained for the afternoon so the pools of water on the road were starting to dry up.
- African Fish Eagle
- Warthog on the road. It typically lives in former ant-eater burrows and can be vicious to unprepared lions as it comes blasting out of its hole and stabs them with its tusks. The smarter lions will remain above the hole and pounce on the warthog as it exits.
- Grey Hornbill, identifiable by its extra casque on the hornbill.
- Lone Bull elephant followed by a large family of elephants with young.
- Two zebras.
- Joanna spotted a large male kudu sitting right off the road just as we passed it. The kudu was well framed by the trees and posing perfectly for pictures before moving on.
- Two more Zebras hanging out with an impala family. There was lots of grunting and strange noises from the impalas as they were regathering.
- Hammerkop duck with its hammer shaped head.
- Two grey go-away birds on a tree just off the side of the truck. They typically make loud calls that alert nearby prey animals to flee the area, but these birds weren’t alarmed by our presence.
- Bateleur Eagle, a scavenger eagle.
- Next to the go-away birds was a Dwarf Bittern, a green bird with a long neck.
- Pearl-Spotted Owlet – very tiny owl
- Small baboon family hiding in the grass.
- Yellow billed hornbill did a courtship dip.
- Cape Buffalo, an old male on his own. ‘Old Dugga Boy’
- More Cape Buffalo and some cattle egret were hitching a free ride on the Cape Buffalo.
- Drove up on a pond with four hippos. A few of the hippos did a dominance display bearing their mouth off for us and one flinged his poop around too on the lake water. One of the older hippos had a torn ear from fighting.
- A small family of Egyptian Geese were sitting on the shore behind and watching the Hippo show.
- While backing up the Land Rover in the shore area next to the watering hole we hit a small tree just as Mark saw a hippo walking behind the truck.
- Marsh sandpiper walking along the shore of the watering hole.
- Spur-Winged Goose w/ several Egyptian Geese
- In an open prarie there was a Giraffe wandering in the background and a wildebeest in the foreground with some blue storm-clouds in the distance.
- Yellow Billed Stork
- Saw a large group, eleven, of Wattled Cranes, an endangered species in Botswana. Very rare to see so many of them together like that.
- As we stopped for sundowners we passed by four black-backed jackals that were not at all concerned by our presence. They were very small and reminded us of dogs with their behavior sitting or curling up on the ground.
- The sundowners area was filled with lots of flies that didn’t seem to care about the bug spray we were all wearing.
- As dusk fell we passed an Eagle Owl.
- On the drive back as the light fully faded away the Guide, Antony, was driving the Land Rover on the twisting path, and scanning the sides of the road with a bright red spotlight. We didn’t see any more animals beyond a small frog hopping across the path and a fish in the water.