Wild Dogs – Afternoon Safari, Lebala, Linyanti – Kwando, Botswana

August 27, 2016

The afternoon drive starts just after 4PM. We’re just 4 in the vehicle, us and another couple, and one other vehicle with a family of 3. Way below the 22 guest capacity of the camp.

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Lebala

Possibly a Puku. Please leave a comment if you know what this is.

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Like at Little Kwara the area turns out to be much prettier than from the air with good wildlife viewing from the start – zebra, impala, red lechwe and elephants.

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Stopped at a pond crammed with hippos beautifully lit.

We go very far north towards the Lagoon sister camp, a fire had burned this area recently.

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The guide had seen vultures in the area and wanted to check it out. Not much going on with the vultures, just finishing off a red lechwe carcass. A few scuffles with the Malibu Storks.

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We get a call from the other vehicle that they are following wild dogs and go to track them. The dogs are spread out. Amazing how close they get to the vehicles yet not seem to be bothered by us.

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Some of them have cornered a warthog in a burrow. A skirmish ensures with too much dust to really see well. I just keep shooting, not really sure what I’m photographing. The dogs eventually back off and the warthog lives to see another day. (This is what I wrote that evening, but my photos captured a clearer picture than I could see at the time.)

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It’s getting dark past sunset.

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The dogs have spread out again. We follow one group on the way back to camp. The other vehicle follows the others and observes them take down a female impala. We get a call to ask if we want to see the devouring. It can take less than 10 minutes for dogs to finish off the carcass. We catch the tail end of the devouring with the light getting very, very low, nearly dark.

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When the cameras could no longer focus in the darkness we start the long drive back to camp. Not much game. Hippo crosses the road. The guides here do not shine spot lights on the hippos.

Get to camp at about 8PM and go straight to dinner.

Beef fillet, potatoes gratin, gravy, baby patty pan squash, red cabbage, cheese cake for dessert.

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Arrival at Lebala Camp, Kwando-Linyanti, Botswana

Aug 27, 2016

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Okavango Delta

We leave Little Kwara at 11AM for the one hour flight to their sister camp, Lebala, on the far northern edge of Botswana. Near the Linyanti Swamp, the Kwando Concession is known for predators, especially wild dogs and lions.

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Shinde Airstrip

We make a short stop at Shinde to pick up other passengers. They turn out to be the same 3 we dropped there 3 days earlier on our way to Kwara.

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Between Kwara and Shinde the flight is so short that the plane doesn’t reach its normal flying altitude giving you a better chance to observe wildlife.

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The flight to Lebala passes over desolate landscape. I can just make out an elephant or two in some of the drying mud holes.

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Lebala Camp 

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When we land at the Lebala airstrip we are met by the guides. We make sure that the plane takes off OK before we drive the 10-15 minutes to camp.

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From the plane we saw a river in the distance but on the ground the area looks more desolate with lots of dry bushes and small trees. Bali, one of the guides, explains that they have not had the normal flood waters for the last two years.

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The camp is set up much like Little Kwara, a compound of wooden structures with thatched roofs – common areas, dining room and fire pit.

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The tented cabins are bigger and nicer than at Little Kwara with high rafters and open walls, but otherwise the same set-up with the bathroom in the back.

Brunch was just Don and I as the others had already eaten. OP, one of the staff managers, sits with us while we eat.

The selection includes: a cheese and vegie casserole, meat pie, cucumber with mint, citrus and hot chili, rice, fruit, cheese and crackers, fruit punch and/or coffee to drink. In general the food is same recipes and preparations as Little Kwara, but somehow the food tastes better at Lebala.

The wind has picked up and it could be quite dusty, still a pleasant temperature in the shade albeit warmer than at Kwara. We rest up before the afternoon.

For more information on Kwando Camps and arrival in Botswana see the previous post.

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Logistic and Other Matters  – Little Kwara,  Okavango Delta, Bostwana

August 24 – 27, 2016

Now, after a couple of days of animal photos, I can discuss some of the more boring details about safari for those planning a trip.

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Little Kwara Camp is a high-end tented camp, although you could spend more. The Okavango Delta is one of the most expensive safari destinations you could choose.

Little Kwara

This is an intimate camp with just 5 guest tents. The large semi-tented structure with a huge bed overlooks a large porch and is well appointed while retaining a rustic charm.

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The dressing area is behind the bedroom with a bathroom in the back, including a bathtub and both an indoor and outdoor shower.

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Common areas include – a lounge where the charging station is located, fire pit area, and dining area where brunch and dinner are served.

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Baboons sometimes hang around the common area and get somewhat aggressive but run when I pull out my camera, especially the mothers with young ones hanging on.

In terms of quality and services offered I would consider Kwara on par with the high-end tented accommodations of the Northern Serengeti, albeit at a much higher cost per day, around $1,000/night per person. The difference is that in Botswana the number of guests in an area is strictly limited. You never have more than a couple of vehicles at a viewing site.

A note about cost and booking accommodations. Generally for safari you need to go through a travel agent as they have relationships with the various camps, and the camps don’t have the staff or systems to deal directly with the public through the booking process. That said, it is very difficult to get a fixed price on any one camp because the agents all sell safari packages and get discounts on a package rather than an individual room booking.  Therefore you often can get a discount if you book related safari camps. For instance, Kwara and Lebala (our next destination) are both Kwando camps. This is not particular to southern Africa. We found the same situation in Tanzania both in terms of needing an agent and available discounts.

Meals

A light informal breakfast is available at 6:30AM by the campfire and generally includes cooked porridge and baked goods.

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Brunch is buffet style served after you get back from the morning drive around 11AM.

Brunch 1 – Vegetable quiche, potato salad, carrot salad, Greek salad, eggs to order, fruit, cheese and crackers. Nice selection of French-style cheeses from South Africa.

Brunch 2 – Chicken casserole, pasta salad, quiche, eggs to order, Greek salad, vegie salad, fruit, cheese and crackers.

The evening meal is served semi buffet style, i.e. the first course and desert are served at the table while mains and side dishes are self-serve. They try very hard to serve gourmet fare. Alcoholic beverages including wine with dinner are included. Considering you’re in the middle of nowhere with infrequent access to fresh produce they do an excellent job. Just don’t expect what you would in a fist tier city.

Dinner is by candle light with all the guests and some of the camp managers and guides seated at a large table. I found this approach a great way to find out more about the local culture and the lives of the people that live here. The staff work very long hours, spending as much as two months at a time away from their families.

Drinks are served by the fire before dinner.

Dinner 1 – A mushroom puffed pastry to start. The buffet included – pork stroganoff, mushroom risotto, zucchini, a mixed bean dish with chili seasoning and canned fruit for dessert.

Dinner 2 – Roast lamb, roasted potatoes, eggplant parmesan casserole, green beans, mixed vegetable medley and ginger cake for desert.

Dinner 3 – Chicken stir-fry, brown rice, cheese cauliflower. I’m sure I left some dishes out.

Weather – In late August it was quite cool in the morning and at night with pleasant daytime temperatures.

Entering Botswana:

We spent a few days in South Africa adjusting to the time zone before connecting on to Botswana. If you have the time I highly recommend this. When you are paying such high prices for safari days you want to be at your best.

Johannesburg, SA is an easy 65 minute flight from Maun, gateway to the Okavango Delta. Although OR Tambo (Johannesburg) is a large airport it is relatively easy to manage, nothing surprising or weird.

We arrived in Maun on time. Passport control is slow but there aren’t many passengers making the wait about 15-20 minutes. The smart one ones fill out the required forms while standing in line. Bags were waiting for us, just on the other side of passport control.

When we exited, Erica from Safari Specialist was waiting for us with our flight voucher that listed all our flights for the coming days. We never needed to show this voucher for any of the flights. She informed us that all of our carry-on luggage was fine to take on the plane. We had worked hard to get our camera bags down to the 5K limit each and as such had the remaining gear, the non-fragile stuff, in a separate bag that I was planning on putting in the hold of the small plane. She said it was not necessary and no one checked the weight on any of our luggage. Actually not for any of our flights.

Maun Airport

After passing through a security checkpoint we waited to be called for our flight. A little disconcerting as they don’t post flights anywhere. They seem to know who you are and tell you individually when your flight is ready.

Maun Airport

When our turn came they called our names along with other groups, a total of 7 passengers for the small 8 passenger plane. They bussed us to our plane at the far end of the runway, passing rows of small aircraft.

Maun Airport

They had us check that our bags were both on the bus and on the plane when they loaded it into the hold.

Okavango Delta - Flight to Little Kwara Lodge

Leaving Maun

Okavango Delta - Flight to Little Kwara Lodge

Maun is at the bottom of the map

Okavango Delta - Flight to Little Kwara Lodge

We were to make 3 stops. Ours was the second. Pretty views passing over the delta, mostly brown in late winter, green around the waterways.

Okavango Delta - Flight to Little Kwara Lodge

Okavango Delta - Flight to Little Kwara Lodge

Elephant

The occasional elephant could be seen, a mere speck on the landscape. First stop was Shindi, 30 minutes into the trip.

Okavango Delta - Flight to Little Kwara Lodge

Airstrip

They don’t even stop the engines to unload the passengers and were up again for the 15 minutes to Kwara.

A car was waiting for us to drive us the 10 minutes to camp.

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Outside our tent

An elephant enters camp just as we arrive. After a short orientation talk, Charles sees us to our tent, number 5, where the elephant is waiting for us right outside the front porch.

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Island Nature Walk, Little Kwara, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Aug 27, 2016

For the morning activity we are just 4. We have a flight to catch at 10:55 to go to the next camp and need to be ready to by 10:30. The other couple, which turned out to be just Aiden as Beckie was having allergy difficulties, wanted to do the mokoro lagoon float which we’ve already done. Since I wasn’t crazy about another ride in a wobbly canoe with my camera gear, we decided on a compromise to take the mokoro to the island for the nature walk.

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This turned out to be a nicer mokoro ride as you go along the edge of lagoon like before and then through the reeds along the hippo trails to the island.

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Pretty and peaceful with the hippos staying at a distance.

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Out of the brush a bull elephant appears, crossing in front of us as he strolls from the island to the mainland.

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A little unnerving in the wobbly boat, but no worries. He just gets a drink and continues on his way.

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The nature walk is with an armed guide in front, another  guide in the rear and the guests walking single file in-between.

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We stop from time to time as the guide tells us about the area or various plants – blue bush used for cleaning teeth, a type of basil that smells like menthol. We also discussed animal tracks and droppings. A different and more intimate side of safari than driving around and photographing big game.

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Kwara Camp

 

On the way back to the vehicles the hippos are a little more active, splashing about in the water just off Kwara Camp, the big sister to Little Kwara.

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Not much activity on the drive back to camp – a few elephants and the usual impala, zebra in the distance.

Back at camp we gather our gear quickly, say our goodbyes and drive the 10-15 minutes to the airstrip to meet our plane.

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Waiting area looks like a bus stop. Plane arrives on time, drops two passengers and we board.

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Boat Safari, Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango Delta, Botswana

August 26, 2016

Little Kwara Day 3 Moremi Reserve-2

Today’s afternoon activity is a motorized boat ride through the Moremi Game Reserve. Unlike most of the landscape, at this time of year it is very green along the waterway. The sleek motorboat has an upper viewing area, much better for observing the birds, but only accommodates two. Normally with four guests on board we would have to take turns but Beckie and Aiden have no interest in the upper deck.

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The trip starts as a pretty boat ride into the sun through the grassland’s narrow waterways that open on to a large lagoon or river confluence. I can’t tell which.

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Green Backed Heron

The wildlife activity starts slow. The boat scares off the birds before you can get very close. I’m only using the 70-200 lens as the boat isn’t stable enough to use the 400.

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About an hour plus in we reach a rookery where various species are nesting this time of year. Now this is my kind of bird watching!

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Malibu Stork with Cormorants

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Cormorants and Egrets

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Malibu Stork

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Great White Pelican

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Yellow Billed Storks

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The light is getting low but it is still easy to blow out the shot with so much white in the birds. It’s difficult to capture the scale of these massive birds.

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Heading back we watch the birds fly with the boat.

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Along the channel we stopped for sundowners. Gorgeous sunset over the water.

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As soon as the sun was gone we pack up and Wagu speeds off along the channel.

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This is part of the public reserve so you’re not allowed to be on the water after dark. Beautiful light behind us and a face full of midges facing front. It’s best to have a scarf or midge net, or just face backwards.

The beautiful light continues into the night drive on the way back to camp. Not much activity other than a serval cat at a distance.

 

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Day 3 – Morning Drive, Little Kwara, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Aug 26, 2016

The morning routine is the same as the morning before with a 6AM wakeup call followed by a light breakfast by the camp fire.

Little Kwara Day 3 morningA Pel’s Fishing Owl at camp gets the birders excited.

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LBJ

We are the same six in the vehicle this morning as the previous evening. It’s the Scottish couple’s last morning so we focus on birds for their benefit, spending more time than I would like on LBJs – little brown jobs.

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African Hoopoe

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Hornbill

This is the downside to sharing a vehicle with other guests. You may have different objectives and interests. New guests tend to want to stop for just about everything. Birders spend lots of time chasing little brown specks. Photographers spend more time at a stop than others might like. It generally works out with guests being considerate of other guests’ wishes.

The morning highlights:

Kudu near the vehicle

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Waterbuck

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Crossing the waterways

Jackals lazing in the sun

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Lone lioness sleeping in the grass

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Giraffes

Ostrich

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Coffee Break

Zebra at the lagoon

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Day 2, Little Kwara, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Aug 25, 2016

Woke to rustling in the trees outside our tent. Must be the elephant that was hanging around the previous day.

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6AM it is barely getting light. We have just enough time to get organized and enjoy a light breakfast at 6:30 before heading to the lagoon for a mokoro ride.

We leave camp shortly after 7 and immediately are told that a leopard has been spotted and would we mind taking a detour on the way to the lagoon.

Okavango Delta Aug 25We find her before I even have the camera gear all sorted. She is coming down the tree just as I get my lens up. We spend the next 30 minutes following her. She doesn’t seem to mind the vehicle following her, a movie star showing off her brilliant coat in the early morning light.

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Our day was made and it wasn’t even 8AM.

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Other distractions on the way to the lagoon.

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Okavango Delta Aug 25-12A ride on a traditional mokoro through the delta waters is one of the quintessential Okavango experiences.  However, deciding what camera equipment to use on the wobbly boat is another matter. I decided not to use the 100-400 lens as I wouldn’t be able to hold it steady enough. Instead we used the 70-200 and the 18-135 lenses.

Okavango Delta Aug 25-14With the rest of the camera gear in back packs between our legs, I’m fearful we’ll end up in the drink as the mokoro rocks back and forth.

Okavango Delta Aug 25-13The hippos roaring in the middle of the lagoon don’t ease my mind. Other than that it was a peaceful float through the grasses at the edge of the water.

Okavango Delta Aug 25-15Great for bird lovers.

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Back on shore a few more animals before coffee break.

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And a few more on the way back to camp.

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Afternoon and Night Drive

With the addition of another couple from the US, Beckie and Aiden, we are now 6 in the vehicle. Each couple gets a row.

Started slow without much activity.

Okavango Delta Aug 25-27The leopard from this morning is sleeping in the tree. This is how we’ve seen leopards in the past.

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Mostly birds before sundowners.

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As we look for a spot for sundowners an elephant mock charges the vehicle with the baby following behind, charging along with mama.

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Somehow we find ourselves surrounded, albeit at a distance, by elephants. We finally find our way back to the water for sundowners.

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Gorgeous sunset reflected in the water.

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The night drive highlight was a serval cat that stayed by the vehicle squinting into Matt’s bright search light but otherwise posing nicely for us.

Okavango Delta Aug 25-35Okavango Delta Aug 25-36Okavango Delta Aug 25-37Ended with hippos scampering around the vehicle in the dark. Spooky, their large bodies move more quickly than you imagine they could. Matt tries to avoid shining the light in their eyes.

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