Tag Archives: Chobe River

My Photo Picks for 2018

With the new year in its first week, it’s time to select a few photos which best represent our 2018. In some cases, selection is based on the memory created, in others I just like how the photo turned out, technically and creatively  

If you have any favourites, do let me know by adding your comment!

The Places

This was an unusual year for us, in that for the first time in several years we did not journey outside Southern Africa once during the year.  But we made up for that with plenty of local trips, such as –

Champagne Valley resort in the Drakensberg

Champagne Valley Drakensberg

Annasrust Farm Hoopstad (Free State)

Sunset, Annasrust farm Hoopstad

Pine Lake Resort near White River (Mpumulanga Province)

Pine Lake Resort

Mossel Bay – our second “Home” town

Mossel Bay coastline

Oaklands Country Manor near Van Reenen (Kwa-Zulu Natal)

Oaklands Country Manor, near Van Reenen

La Lucia near Durban (Kwa-Zulu Natal)

La Lucia beach

Shongweni Dam (Kwa-Zulu Natal)

Shongweni Dam

Onverwacht Farm near Vryheid (Kwa-Zulu Natal)

Controlled burn on Onverwacht Farm

Kruger Park Olifants camp

Bungalow roof, Kruger Park

Herbertsdale area (Western Cape) – atlasing

Herbertsdale area

Karoo National Park near Beaufort West (Western Cape)

Karoo National Park

Kuilfontein Guest Farm near Colesberg (Northern Cape)

Kuilfontein, Colesberg – the drought has hit this area badly

Verlorenkloof (Mpumulanga)

Verlorenkloof – view from upper path

Lentelus Farm near Barrydale (Western Cape)

Lentelus Farm near Barrydale

The Wildlife

With visits to Kruger National Park, Karoo National Park and Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana, there was no shortage of game viewing opportunities and it turned out to be a great year for Leopards

Kruger National Park

African Wild Dog, Kruger National Park
Zebra, Kruger Park
Leopard, Phabeni road, Kruger Park

Karoo National Park

Waterhole scene, Karoo National Park
Klipspringer, Karoo National Park

Chobe Game Reserve

The eyes have it

Chacma Baboon, Chobe River Trip
Hippo, Chobe River Trip

Wild but beautiful

Leopard, Chobe Riverfront game drive
Leopard, Chobe Riverfront game drive

Who needs a horse when you have a mom to ride on

Chacma Baboon, Chobe Riverfront game drive

Oh, and the news is hippos can do the heart shape with their jaws – they don’t have fingers you see

Hippo, Chobe River Trip

The Birds

Bird photography remains the greatest challenge – I am thrilled when it all comes together and I have captured some of the essence of the bird

Great Egret flying to its roost

Great Egret, Annasrust farm Hoopstad

White-fronted Bee-eaters doing what they do best – looking handsome

White-fronted Bee-eater, Kruger Day Visit

White-browed Robin-Chat

White-browed Robin-Chat, Kruger Day Visit

The usually secretive Green-backed Camaroptera popping out momentarily for a unique photo

Green-backed Camaroptera, Kruger Day Visit

African Fish-Eagle – aerial king of the waters

African Fish Eagle, Kruger Park

Kori Bustard – heaviest flying bird

Kori Bustard, Kruger Park

Little Bee-eater

Little Bee-eater, Olifants, Kruger Park

Black-chested Snake-Eagle

Black-chested Snake=Eagle, Kruger Park

Crowned Hornbill – he’ll stare you down any day

Crowned Hornbill, Mkhulu, Kruger Park

Kittlitz’s Plover

Kittlitz’s Plover, Gouritzmond

Large-billed Lark in full song

Large-billed Lark, Herbertsdale area

Village Weaver – busy as a bee

Village Weaver, Verlorenkloof

Thick-billed Weaver – less frenetic, more particular about its nest-weaving

Thick-billed Weaver, Verlorenkloof

African Jacana with juveniles

African Jacana, Chobe River Trip

Juvenile African Jacana – a cute ball of fluff with legs longer than its body

African Jacana, Chobe River Trip

Reed Cormorant with catch

Reed Cormorant, Chobe River Trip

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Chobe River Trip

White-crowned Lapwing

White-crowned Lapwing, Chobe River Trip

 

Wishing all who may read this a 2019 that meets all of your expectations!

My Photo Picks for 2017 – Part 2

Here’s a further selection of my favourite photos taken during 2017 – from our travels, holidays and birding trips 

If you have any favourites, do let me know by adding your comment!

The Birds (Continued)

Southern Ground Hornbill, Chobe Game Reserve, Botswana
Kelp Gull, Vleesbaai, Western Cape
Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Mossel Bay
Chinspot Batis, Verlorenkloof in Mpumulanga
White-fronted Bee-eater, Verlorenkloof
Capped Wheatear, Chobe Riverfront
Yellow-billed Stork, Phinda Game Reserve in North Kwazulu-Natal
Pied Kingfisher, Phinda
Red-capped Robin-Chat, Pigeon Valley Durban
Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Chobe Riverfront
Malachite Kingfisher, Chobe River
Reed Cormorant, Chobe River
Little Egret, Chobe River
African Spoonbill, Chobe River
Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Chobe River
Long-toed Lapwing, Chobe River
Yellow-billed Stork, Chobe River
Pied Starling, Vlaklaagte near Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng
Mountain Wheatear (female), near Oudtshoorn
Hottentot Teal, Marievale Gauteng
Booted Eagle, Mossel Bay
Fork-tailed Drongo, north of Herbertsdale, Western Cape

The Reptiles

Mole snake, Delmas area
Boomslang, Bushfellows Game Lodge near Marble Hall
Skaapsteker (?) near Mossel Bay
African Crocodile, Chobe River

The Butterflies

Guineafowl (Hamanumida daedalus), Mabusa Nature Reserve in Mpumulanga
Poplar leopard butterfly (Phalanta phalanta aethiopica), Vic Falls NationalPark
Butterfly, Mossel Bay (No ID yet – can’t find it in the book)

Mauritius

Air Mauritius sunset
Snorkeling – Geraldine
Snorkeling – Moorish idol
Snorkeling
Snorkeling – the view from the sea
Sunset, Le Victoria hotel, Mauritius
Le Victoria hotel, Mauritius -early morning

Flock at sea cruise

Flock at Sea Cruise
Flock at Sea Cruise
Flock at Sea Cruise
Flock at Sea Cruise
Flock at Sea Cruise
Cape Town harbour early morning

Other stuff

Snail, Boschkop Dam near Potchefstroom
Fine flowers, Verlorenkloof
Sea shell, Mossel Bay

Wishing all who may read this a 2018 that meets all of your expectations!

My Photo Picks for 2017 – Part 1

Here’s a selection of my favourite photos taken during 2017 – from our travels, holidays and birding trips – chosen from my collection of over 2500 photos for the year. Each one has a story attached which I have tried to capture in a few words………..

If you have any favourites, do let me know by adding your comment!

The Places

Kasane Forest Reserve – lush after good summer rains
Early morning, Delmas area – on my way to do some bird atalsing
Champagne Valley – a weekend in the Drakensberg
Drakensberg grassland
Bourkes Luck Potholes – on tour with our Canadian family
Thaba Tsweni lodge – near Sabie, Mpumulanga
Victoria Falls National Park – more touring with the canadians
The bridge at Vic Falls National Park
Kingdom Hotel Vic Falls
Chobe sunset, Kasane – incomparable
Flock at Sea Cruise – back in Cape Town Harbour early morning
Sandbaai near Hermanus
Victoria Bay surfer action
Top dam, Verlorenkloof – our favourite breakaway spot
Kasane, Sundowner spot
Bronkhorstspruit area – another early morning of bird atlasing
Spring Day in Mossel Bay
Kuilfontein near Colesberg
Atlasing north of Herbertsdale, near Mossel Bay
Mossel Bay golf estate – our home for part of the year
Gamkakloof near Calitzdorp – Klein Karoo
North of  Herbertsdale

The Wildlife

Klipspringer, Prince Albert
Chacma Baboons, Chobe Game Reserve
Zebra, Chobe Game Reserve
Hippo, Chobe Game Reserve
Lions, Phabeni area, Kruger National Park
Hippo, Zambezi Cruise
Impala, Chobe game drive – M for McDonalds
Chacma Baboon (Juvenile), Chobe game drive
African Elephant greeting, Game cruise Chobe
Lion, Chobe Riverfront
Chobe Riverfront
Black-backed Jackal, Chobe Riverfront
Hippo, Chobe River
Cape Buffalo, Chobe River
African Elephant, Chobe River
African Elephant, Chobe River
African Elephant, Chobe River

The Birds

Familiar Chat, Prince Albert
Amur Falcon, Garingboom Guest farm, Springfontein
Long-tailed Widow, Mabusa Nature Reserve
Double-banded Sandgrouse, Chobe Game Reserve
Common Sandpiper, Delmas area
European Roller, Satara-Nwanetsi
White-fronted Bee-eater, Zambezi Cruise
African Fish-Eagle, Game cruise Chobe
Bronze-winged Courser, Kasane Airport perimeter
Lilac breasted Roller, Chobe Game Reserve
Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Chobe Game Reserve

Part Two includes more birds, the reptiles, butterflies and other stuff

 

Wishing all who may read this a 2018 that meets all of your expectations!

Chobe River Birding – Pratincoles, Storks and other delights

If you ever find yourself in Kasane wondering how to spend the morning, you can’t go far wrong by doing a boat trip on the Chobe River – a small boat is fine if you are alone or up to 3 or 4 people and various tour companies rent out such boats with drivers.

Last November (2016), I found myself in that position and chose to approach one of the local tour companies, based on my previous good experience with Richard as guide and driver – they were able to accommodate me early on the Friday of my visit, having assured me that Richard was available to take myself and colleague Deon out for the morning.

This time around however, the trip did not start well – we waited for almost half an hour for someone to appear at reception and were then told Richard was “not there” and David would take us out. On enquiring about his birding skills I was told “I’m a beginner”, which did not fill me with enthusiasm.

Nevertheless, we set off in the aluminium boat, comfortable and with camera at the ready as we headed in the direction of Seboba Rapids, where I hoped to find Rock Pratincole in particular, being a potential lifer for me. According to information I had gleaned from books and the internet, Rock Pratincoles are Intra-African migrants which typically frequent the rocks at the rapids from September to January, providing the conditions suit them and the river is not in flood.

There are just a handful of possible sites to see this bird in Southern Africa, all of them along the Zambesi and Chobe Rivers, so this would be my first and possibly last chance to “tick” this desirable bird.

Heading downstream towards the rapids, the first part of our trip was about as good as it gets with river-based birding, with constant sightings of birds as we glided along the smooth surface in perfect cool conditions.

Wire-tailed Swallows (Draadstertswael) and Rock Martins (Kransswael) swooped by as David steered the boat across to the opposite bank, where some large raptors were partially hidden in the long grass. I was puzzled about what they could be as they were not immediately recognisable at all, so I took numerous photos in order to help me confirm an ID later. An adult Long-crested Eagle (Langkuifarend) was nearby, perched in a tall tree, only serving to lead my thoughts in the wrong direction as it turned out.

Chobe River trip
Heading out

Later, using the time on the hour and a half flight back to Jo’burg and at home, I eventually solved the puzzle – Juvenile African Fish-Eagle (Visarend) ! Sometimes a tricky ID can really have you going in the wrong direction.

African Fish-Eagle (Juvenile) Chobe River trip
African Fish-Eagle (Juvenile)

Soon after, we approached the Seboba rapids and almost immediately found what I had been hoping for –  Rock Pratincoles (Withalssprinkaanvoël) , relaxing on the rocks on islets in the middle of the river. A lifer at this stage of my birding career is really special, particularly in such a perfect location, so I may even have let out a subdued whoop! We spent some time with them and getting good photos proved to be quite simple, as they seemed totally undisturbed by our presence, even when the boat bumped up against the islet a couple of metres from where they perched.

Rock Pratincole, Chobe River trip
Rock Pratincole living up to its name
Rock Pratincole, Chobe River trip
Rock Pratincole

Having proved yet again that a “scarce” bird that you have wanted to see for many years is suddenly common when you are in the right place, we continued our trip, checking the nearby bushy shoreline and the other islets, adding Black Crake (Swartriethaan), Pied Kingfisher (Bontvisvanger) and a juvenile Malachite Kingfisher (Kuifkopvisvanger) to the morning’s list. Yellow-billed Kites (Geelbekwou) were doing there usual low-level cruising along the shoreline, turning frequently to show their distinctive deeply forked tails and close enough to make out their yellow bills.

Malachite Kingfisher (Juvenile), Chobe River trip
Malachite Kingfisher (Juvenile)

Further along a Yellow-billed Stork (Geelbekooievaar) “crèche” was filled with what I guessed were mostly the “Class of 2016”, with just a single adult keeping watch nearby. The juveniles only obtain adult plumage after some 3 years, so these could have ranged in age from 1 to 3 years. The population in South Africa on its own, according to reference books, is only around 300 (although I find that hard to believe) so this group possibly represented a significant proportion of the overall population, even in southern Africa.

Yellow-billed Stork creche, Chobe River trip
Yellow-billed Stork creche, Chobe River
Yellow-billed Stork creche, Chobe River trip
Yellow-billed Stork creche, Chobe River
Yellow-billed Stork, Chobe River trip
Yellow-billed Stork – adult in charge

Turning upstream we hugged the river banks along the stretch which is the home of some well-known lodges – Mowana, Chobe Marina and Chobe Safari, all with lush vegetation and large trees, many of which overhang the greasy brown waters of the river. Another African Fish-Eagle, this time an adult, flew majestically overhead.

African Fish-Eagle, Chobe River trip
African Fish-Eagle

It’s not that easy to see the birds when they are ensconced in the depths of the riverside bush, but we did spot Black-crowned Night-Heron (Gewone Nagreier) , several Malachite Kingfishers and a community of nests with African Golden Weavers (Goudwewer) present. The strident, piercing call of Red-faced Cisticola (Rooiwangtintinkie) added to the birding pleasure.

African Golden Weaver nests, Chobe River trip
African Golden Weaver nests
African Golden Weaver (Male), Chobe River trip
African Golden Weaver (Male), Chobe River

From there the river widened out as we passed our favourite sundowner spot, before stopping briefly at the small cabin on a jetty where our guide signed us into the Chobe Game Reserve, while we watched an African Openbill (Oopbekooievaar) at close quarters nearby

African Openbill, Chobe River trip
African Openbill
Chobe River trip
Chobe River
Chobe River trip
Chobe River

Typical Chobe River habitat followed – flat islands covered in grass and marshy areas, inhabited by Cape Buffalo and Lechwe and in the water along the edge by Hippos and Crocodiles, all giving us the look as we puttered slowly by.

Lechwe, Chobe River trip
Lechwe, Chobe River
Crocodile, Chobe River trip
Crocodile
Crocodile, Chobe River trip
Crocodile
Hippo, Chobe River trip
Hippo, Chobe River

As usual the Egrets and Herons were plentiful, the larger Great Egret (Grootwitreier) and Goliath Heron (Reusereier) standing out above the rest. Long-toed Lapwings (Witvlerkkiewiet) were so numerous they were probably the most populous bird at that point.

Goliath Heron, Chobe River trip
Goliath Heron
Long-toed Lapwing, Chobe River trip
Long-toed Lapwing

We encountered African Skimmers (Waterploeër) a few times and marveled at their brightly coloured bill with the elongated lower mandible, which allows it to skim the water’s surface in flight and latch onto any small organism that may cross its path.

African Skimmer, Chobe River trip
African Skimmer
African Skimmer, Chobe River trip
African Skimmer, Chobe River

Collared Pratincoles (Rooivlerksprinkaanvoël) flew by, looking very Tern-like, then settled on the grassy flats of the island to join the resident Skimmers. Both of these species seem to have a relaxed attitude towards life as a bird, spending a lot of time resting on the ground with occasional sorties to find their next meal.

Collared Pratincole, Chobe River trip
Collared Pratincole, Chobe River

By this time a fresh wind was blowing upriver, creating ever-increasing wavelets. Suddenly our boatman seemed to have an inspiration as he revved the engine and headed upstream (with the wind) at speed, without telling us what he had in mind.

No problem, we thought, as we assumed he had a special spot with other bird species to show us, but no, it seems he just took us on a “joyride” – which turned out to be just the opposite when he suddenly turned the boat around and raced back. Small wavelets had by now turned into mini swells, enough to cause a bone-jarring, teeth-clenching, kidney-battering ride all the way back.  Climbing out at the jetty, I felt quite shaken and stirred – James Bond would not have approved.

Nevertheless it was a successful morning , which left us with many more memories to savour of this supreme stretch of unspoilt African river.

 

 

 

 

Touring with Canadians – Part 5 : Chobe

The Story so far..

The previous posts on this “Trip of a Lifetime” to Southern Africa by our Canadian family, covered the time spent in Kruger National Park, the nearby Panorama route and the first leg of our trip to Victoria Falls and Chobe Safari lodge in Kasane, Botswana.

Kasane lies in northern Botswana just 80 kms west of Vic Falls and has become well-known to me after a dozen or more visits over the last couple of years for a project in which I’m involved.

With our visit to Victoria Falls behind us, the transfer to Kasane including the Zimbabwe/Botswana border formalities at the border post just outside Kasane went fairly quickly and smoothly and we found ourselves settled in at Chobe Safari Lodge with time to relax for the rest of the afternoon at poolside.

Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge

Sundowners

One of my favourite “sundowner” spots is the riverside bar deck in the Chobe Safari camping area right next to the lodge and this is where I took our small group late afternoon.

Sundowner spot
Sundowner spot
Sundowner spot
Hit me again, barman

The weather obliged, making for a sensational sunset and the chance to savour our G and T’s while we watched the spectacle unfold.

Sundowner spot
Sundown
Sundowner spot
Gone but not forgotten

Later we made our way to the restaurant for the buffet dinner which was more than pleasant.

Chobe Game Drive

The game drive we had booked for the following morning started at 6 am when we met Bogatsi, our driver and guide for the morning, at the reception. With a vehicle to ourselves, we had plenty of room and we set off to the Sedudu gate just a few kms from the lodge.

Entering the reserve, we headed down the sandy, bumpy track (some call it the “African massage”) towards the river, through pristine woodland, which opens up at one point to allow a wide vista of the river in the distance. Just driving along the Chobe Riverfront route is an experience in itself, particularly for visitors from the northern hemisphere, with any game being a bonus.

Naturally, game sightings are welcome and there was enough to keep everyone interested, despite not having the added excitement of any big cat sightings, which were more than likely close by but hidden by the bush, still quite dense at the tail end of summer.

African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephants

Hippos were plentiful in the pools adjoining the main river, munching on the partly submerged grasses as only hippos can do, giving us the eye and an occasional yawn or two.

Hippo, Chobe game drive
Hippo, Chobe game drive

Hippo, Chobe game driveHippo, Chobe game drive

Other game we came across –

  • the inevitable and numerous Impalas, still enjoyable to see after so many sightings
Impala, Chobe game drive
Impala, Chobe game drive
  • Kudu
Kudu, Game cruise Chobe
Kudu, Chobe game drive
  • numbers of Baboons
Chacma Baboon (Juvenile), Chobe game drive
sChacma Baboon (Juveniles), Chobe game drive
  • Buffaloes, one of which had an interesting interaction with a Hippo emerging from a pool, the two eyeing each other cautiously before passing by and continuing with their lives.
Hippo meets Buffalo, Chobe game drive
Hippo meets Buffalo, Chobe game drive
Hippo meets Buffalo, Chobe game drive
That hippo has big teeth, think I’ll keep going

Our guide made a point of showing us the distinctive marking on the rear end of Impalas, intimating that this was where McDonalds got the inspiration for their famous “M” logo.

Impala, Chobe game drive
Cheeseburger with fries please

There was no shortage of bird sightings, but the birding tends to take a back seat (where I happened to be as it turned out) when on a game drive such as this, unless the majority on the vehicle are into birding. Nevertheless we chalked up a few special sightings :

  • a majestic Verraux’s Eagle Owl high in the branches of a tall tree
  • Long-tailed Paradise Whydah with its spectacular tail
Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah, Chobe game drive
Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah, Chobe game drive
  • African Fish Eagles seemingly every km or so along the riverfront
  • Red-backed Shrikes
  • Black Heron performing its “umbrella” shading act to help it find aquatic prey
  • Little Bee-eaters hawking insects in a small clearing

We continued along the river at a slow pace until we reached the picnic spot at Serondela, where coffee was served, after which we returned along the upper road to the exit gate and back to the lodge. It was time for lunch, some time to relax at poolside while the kids swam and before we knew it, it was time to board the river boat for the sun downer cruise.

Chobe Game Cruise

The cruise turned out to be more than I expected – having had the experience of small boat trips along the river in the past, I imagined a large boat with 40 or so passengers would not be anything like as enjoyable. Well, I was pleasantly surprised, with the boat hugging the banks of the river wherever possible and stopping for up close and personal views of everything from birds to crocodiles and hippos, as well as a group of elephants.

The weather played its part, with warm rather than hot conditions and just a light breeze causing hardly a ripple as we cruised gently along and into the Chobe game reserve, wending our way through the channels between the grassy flood plains which attract herds of animals during the winter months.

Here is a portfolio of some of the sightings ……..

Game cruise Chobe
Just cruisin …..
Crocodile, Game cruise Chobe
Crocodile, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephant greeting each other

African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe

Buffalo, Game cruise Chobe
Sacred Ibis and Cape Buffalo, Game cruise Chobe
Hippo, Game cruise Chobe
Hippo, Game cruise Chobe
African Fish-Eagle, Game cruise Chobe
African Fish-Eagle, Game cruise Chobe
Little Sparrowhawk (Juvenile), Chobe Safari Lodge
Little Sparrowhawk (Juvenile), – Not on the cruise, this one was a great find in the gardens of the Chobe Safari Lodge
African Harrier-Hawk, Game cruise Chobe
African Harrier-Hawk, Game cruise Chobe
Hamerkop, Game cruise Chobe
Hamerkop, Game cruise Chobe

The stay at Chobe Safari Lodge was just two days in extent but seemed much longer, with lovely game experiences on land and on water and enough time in between to relax by the pool. A fitting conclusion to a successful couple of weeks touring with “the Canadians”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A family of Bateleurs

During a visit to Chobe Game Reserve in April this year, I saw many of the birds that I have become accustomed to in this special slice of African wilderness. After substantial summer rains Chobe Riverfront was greener and more lush than I have ever seen it, and with the river in flood from the rains in the catchment area in Angola, the “River road” was slightly more river than road….

Road meets river in Chobe

This meant I had to stick to the upper road for most of the way, not that this detracted from the experience in any way.

The highlight of the morning was being treated to a fly past by a family group of Bateleurs – male, female and juvenile – which swooped by in a great circle above my vehicle. They were good enough to repeat this a couple of times, allowing me the opportunity to view them from my vehicle and take a few in flight shots which perfectly showed the differences between them.

What a graceful picture they present when in their element in the air, making small adjustments to their wing’s plane in flight, flying with such precision and elegance that it is like watching a cirque de soleil performance.

This species is one of the delights of visiting the larger game reserves in the northern part of our region, particularly Kruger Park where they are relatively common and often the most numerous raptor in the air.  However in all my years of birding I have never seen a “complete set” in one spot before.

The male is distinguished in flight by the broad, black trailing edge to its wings :

Male Bateleur with broad black leading edge to wings

The female can be told by the much narrower, black trailing edge to its wings :

Female Bateleur with narrow black trailing edge to wings

The juvenile has the same short tail and overall “giss” as the adults, but the plumage is in several shades of brown, seemingly designed to throw you off the track when identifying them, unless you see them in the company of the adults as I was fortunate to do.

Juvenile Bateleur

I left Chobe with the sighting of these elegant birds imprinted on my mind.

Touring with Canadians – Part 1 : The Highlights

The Planning

When “Overseas Family” come to visit us in South Africa, it is always a big occasion which is eagerly anticipated, so we were thrilled when niece Sarah announced more than a year ago that she was bringing their family from Canada over to Southern Africa for a “Trip of a Lifetime” in March 2017. Even better was the news that my sister Sheila (Sam to them) would be joining them for the trip and brother Andrew would join them for the southern leg.

Our task was to organise the northern leg of the trip, which had to include Kruger National Park with Victoria Falls and Botswana being high on their wish list. We soon had a Kruger booking pinned down, together with a short stay on the Panorama route in Mpumulanga, which took care of most of week 1 of the two-week northern leg. A while later we secured a travel package which included a couple of nights each in Victoria Falls and Kasane Botswana which filled week 2, so we were all set.

The Highlights – Places, Sights, Food

The following is a brief diary of the two weeks, which I will no doubt expand on in further posts.

Monday 6th – Pretoria

The family arrived on Sunday evening (Alex, Sarah, Cassie and Rio) and Monday morning (Sheila) so Monday was a day of recovery and orientation for their travel-befuddled and time-zoned brains. Gerda prepared a nice supper with “just enough chicken” to go around (3 whole chickens with one in the wings just in case!)

Tuesday 7th – Pretoria to Satara Camp in Kruger

We set off for Kruger in the morning, loaded to capacity in our SUV plus luggage trailer. Mid-morning we stopped at Milly’s for the customary brunch and a good coffee, which set us up nicely for the rest of the day.

The journey took more or less the whole day and included an unexpected deviation in Kruger so we arrived at Satara just as the gate was closing at 6.05 pm (more on that story in another post!)

The evening braai allowed us time to reflect on the long day’s travelling and sights seen on the way to Satara, albeit a bit rushed!

Route map Mpumulanga
Route map Mpumulanga
Millys
Millys

Wednesday 8th – Satara to Nwanetsi

We had just two nights in Satara camp in Kruger so made the most of it with a long morning game drive on the Wednesday to Nwanetsi, where we prepared a genuine Kruger brunch. The afternoon nap time allowed everyone to rekindle their energy.

Satara-Nwanetsi
Satara-Nwanetsi
Elephant, Satara-Lower Sabie
Elephant near Satara

Thursday 9th – Satara – Phabeni – Thaba Tsweni Lodge

The route to from Satara to Phabeni Gate took almost the entire day, travelling at a slower and far more respectable pace, with stops at Tshokwane, Lower Sabie and the Lake Panic hide along the way. From Phabeni it was a short drive to Graskop and onwards to Thaba Tsweni Lodge for a two-night stay. The day was filled with interesting and exciting sightings with Kruger in superb condition after the good summer rains.

The evening meal was not in a restaurant as planned (we just could not face the trip to Graskop and back at night having seen the state of the road) , but a Chef’s Table conjured up by Gerda and Sarah with all the goodies packed by Gerda “just in case”.

White Rhino, Satara-Lower Sabie
White Rhino, Satara-Lower Sabie
Lionesses, Satara-Lower Sabie
Lionesses, Satara-Lower Sabie
Lions, Phabeni area
Lion, Phabeni area

Friday 10th – Panorama Route (Lite)

Sarah’s birthday was celebrated at Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop, after a late start and a visit to Bourke Luck Potholes (the kind formed by eons of water and grit action on soft rocks) and a section of the Panorama Route. A cabbage bought for R5 from a farmer was turned into a delicious fried dish that evening by inventive Sarah.

Bourkes Luck
Bourke’s Luck Potholes
Bourkes Luck
Bourke’s Luck
Sarah's birthday, Harries Pancakes, Graskop
Sarah’s birthday, Harries Pancakes, Graskop

Saturday 11th – Graskop to Pretoria

Our first stop after breakfast at the lodge was God’s Window for a walk to the viewpoints and up the path to the rain forest.

From there we headed homewards to a “meeting of the cousins” , only stopping for lunch at Milly’s.

Gods Window
God’s Window

Sunday 12th – Pretoria

More family time as the cousins and their progeny got to know each other, interspersed with some of Gerda’s home cooking and much excitement amongst the youngsters.

Monday 13th – Pretoria to Victoria Falls

Off to OR Tambo for the flight to Victoria Falls, where we landed just after 1 pm and we were soon at the Kingdom Hotel.

We did the “Sunset Cruise” (Luxury version) which was “super-cool” in Sarah’s words, seeing Hippos and Crocs up close, followed by a meal in the local Spur.

Kingdom Hotel Vic Falls
Kingdom Hotel Vic Falls
Hippo, Zambezi Cruise
Hippo, Zambezi Cruise

Tuesday 14th – Victoria Falls

After a good buffet breakfast we walked down to the Falls and meandered along the path with heavy spray drenching us in parts but not enough to spoil the views.

We whiled away the afternoon at the poolside and dinner was at Mama Afrika restaurant with a genuine African flavour.

Vic Falls NationalPark
Vic Falls NationalPark
Vic Falls NationalPark
Vic Falls NationalPark

Wednesday 15th – Victoria Falls to Kasane

Another sumptuous breakfast and a short visit to the adjoining historical Victoria Falls Hotel, then it was time for our transfer to Kasane by small bus. There we checked into the Chobe Safari Lodge and relaxed over a light lunch and swimming at the pool.

A walk to the riverside “Sundowner Spot” was the opportunity for G&T’s and a spectacular sunset, followed by the Lodge’s Buffet Dinner to round off the day.

Sundowner spot
View from the Sundowner spot
Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge

Thursday 16th – Chobe National Park

An early morning game drive into Chobe and an afternoon boat cruise on the river took up most of the day, with enough time for relaxing in between.

Game cruise Chobe
Game cruise Chobe
Hippo meets Buffalo, Chobe game drive
Hippo meets Buffalo, Chobe game drive
Crocodile, Game cruise Chobe
Crocodile, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe
African Fish-Eagle, Game cruise Chobe
African Fish-Eagle, Game cruise Chobe

Friday 17th – Kasane to Pretoria

Today was all about getting back to Pretoria, where Gerda had a special dinner planned to end the northern leg of the Canadian’s visit.

Tomorrow they fly to PE to meet up with Andrew, their “tour guide” for the southern leg.

 

 

 

Kasane, Botswana : Chobe River Birding

 

Of all the birding experiences you can have, the water-based ones seem to be the most memorable. I had been looking for an opportunity to do a boat trip on the Chobe River in northern Botswana for a year or more and in July this year I decided to make it happen.

There are a few boat rental companies in Kasane and I chose Kalahari Tours based on a colleague’s recommendation – they were able to accommodate me early on the Friday of my monthly visit and I arrived at the reception on the stroke of 7 am, armed with my binos, camera, snacks and a warm jacket to ward off the cool wind that was coming up.

The boat was of aluminium construction, sturdy looking, hopefully Hippo-proof and fitted with 2 rows of three comfy seats with a fold-down canopy over. I took up position in the middle seat of the front row, being the only guest that morning, doing my best to look as if this was my customary position in all boats I travelled in, and spread my gear on the adjoining seats.

Richard, Chobe River Boat Trip
Richard, boatman and bird guide extraordinaire

The boatman, Richard, took us out smoothly, initially downstream and around a wide bend in the majestic river, to the Seboba rapids where the river runs faster over unseen obstacles below the water. As we approached the rapids hundreds of Cormorants, Gulls and other large water birds were heading out from their roosts to feeding areas upstream.

Seboba rapids
Seboba rapids

There were still many birds roosting in the trees at the rapids, on the banks and on small islands in the middle of the river and Richard carefully approached as close as possible to allow intimate views of the birds and their youngsters.

Yellow-billed Stork, Chobe River Boat Trip
Yellow-billed Stork
Yellow-billed Stork, Chobe River Boat Trip
Yellow-billed Stork family
Yellow-billed Stork, Chobe River Boat Trip
Yellow-billed Stork

Most visible were many Yellow-billed Storks with their fluffy grey and white youngsters crowded into one part of a tree. White-breasted Cormorants were numerous, some tending to nests in the tops of trees. My neck was already feeling the effects of trying to keep up with the action and the constant movement of the birds in and out of the trees, and up, down and across the river. We were literally surrounded by birds, in numbers second only to the masses that gather at trawlers on pelagic trips.

White-breasted Cormorant, Chobe River Boat Trip
White-breasted Cormorant

Amongst the massed Storks and Cormorants were many other species such as Purple Heron, African Spoonbill, Great Egret and Green-backed Heron.

Once I was sated with the spectacular bird life at the rapids, I indicated to Richard that we could proceed and he headed upstream, staying close enough to the banks to spot birds in the overhanging reeds, bushes and trees. His eyes proved sharper than mine as he spotted and pointed out everything from the tiny Malachite Kingfishers to their larger cousin the Giant Kingfisher, not to mention Brown-hooded Kingfishers.

Malachite Kingfisher, Chobe River Boat Trip
Malachite Kingfisher
Giant Kingfisher, Chobe River Boat Trip
Giant Kingfisher
Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Chobe River Boat Trip
Brown-hooded Kingfisher

Water Thick-knees skulking in the shade of the riverside bush are particularly difficult to spot but Richard’s sharp eyes found them easily. On our way upstream we passed by some of the well-known lodges with their decks overlooking the great river.

Chobe River Boat Trip
Chobe River Boat Trip

Wire-tailed Swallows swooped over our boat continuously and  a pair even decided that our boat would be a good vantage point as we glided along the smooth waters.

Wire-tailed Swallow, Chobe River Boat Trip
Wire-tailed Swallow gets a lift

Further upstream we entered the Chobe National Park and Richard docked briefly at a small hut to sign us in. From there we made our way slowly along the side channels with the Park on our left and the large mass of Impalila Island on our right.

African Fish-Eagle, Chobe River Boat Trip
African Fish-Eagle
Impala, Chobe River Boat Trip
Impala

With the water having subsided from its post-summer highs, the island was now occupied by many Buffalos – a safe haven for them away from the big cats.

African Buffalo, Chobe River Boat Trip
African Buffalo

Here and there we saw Hippos and a couple appeared in the river just ahead of us, causing Richard to give them a wide berth – Hippos are one animal you do not mess with in the river, or on land for that matter.

Hippo, Chobe River Boat Trip
Hippo – best avoided

A mid-sized Crocodile on the bank drew us nearer to have a look and we literally peered down its throat as the bow of the boat bumped up against the bank just in front of it. While admiring its rows of teeth and taking photos I was looking for any signs of movement as, by my calculations, one lunge would have seen it land in our boat, but fortunately crocs are content to just lie there (most of the time) and regulate their body temperature by opening their jaws wide. Must remember to take dental floss next time.

Crocodile, Chobe River Boat Trip
Crocodile up close and personal

The island was home to many bird species – Lapwings (White-crowned and Long-toed), Squacco Herons, Geese in large numbers (Spur-winged and Egyptian) African Openbills, all the “White” Egrets except Cattle Egret (Great, Yellow-billed and Little), Ibis’s galore (Glossy, Sacred), many White-faced Ducks and larger waders such as African Jacana and Black-winged Stilt. A veritable feast of birding.

Chobe River Boat Trip
Chobe Game Park
Long-toed Lapwing, Chobe River Boat Trip
Long-toed Lapwing
African Openbill, Chobe River Boat Trip
African Openbill
Red-billed Firefinch, Chobe River Boat Trip
Red-billed Firefinch

A smallish sandbar pretending to be an island was home to the bird highlight of the day – 50 or so African Skimmers using it as a roost in between sorties over the river, allowing a close approach to view these unique birds with their vivid colours. Their black and white plumage contrasts with their bright red bills, which look out of proportion but are perfectly designed for their function of skimming the surface of the water in search of small prey.

African Skimmer, Chobe River Boat Trip
African Skimmer
African Skimmer, Chobe River Boat Trip
African Skimmer

African Skimmer, Chobe River Boat Trip

African Skimmer, Chobe River Boat Trip

Pied Kingfishers are common throughout Southern Africa but never in numbers as we came across them along the river. I would guess we saw more than 100 during the trip and there were signs of them nesting in the sandy banks, where they occurred at a rate of one every 5m or so.

Pied Kingfisher, Chobe River Boat Trip
Pied Kingfisher

The return trip was along the main channel, by now rippled by the fresh wind which had come up, but not enough to cause any discomfort. Along the way we added Red-billed Teal and Knob-billed Ducks to our sightings as well as a lone Red Lechwe in long grass on a waterlogged plain.

Red Lechwe, Chobe River Boat Trip
Red Lechwe

Amazingly, three hours had passed without me noticing and we returned to the jetty where we had started – what an outing!

Kasane, Botswana – Seboba Nature Park

Ever wondered what it would be like to have your own private Nature Reserve – one you can explore at your leisure, with a major African river on its doorstep?

That seems to be part of the deal when you visit the Seboba Nature Park in Kasane, northern Botswana. Introduced to it by a colleague, I have been fortunate to visit this idyllic spot a few times this year and each time I have been the only visitor. Clearly it is not always as quiet, particularly when school and other groups visit – it was probably a question of being lucky in choosing the times we did.

Seboba Nature Park is a small nature reserve located on the outskirts of Kasane, bordered on the one side by a stretch of the Chobe River and on the other by the tarred road into Kasane,  and was developed by the Botswana Government to support tourism in the area – by all accounts it has proved to be successful up to a point, but I would say it needs the support of tourism companies to persuade more tourists to visit.

The notice board and map near the entrance spells out its origin and some of the attractions, which include cultural villages, information centre, curio shop, dance arena and walking trails :

Seboba Nature Park Kasane

Seboba Nature Park, Kasane
Map of Seboba Nature Park, Kasane

There are paths from the parking area that meander down to the river’s edge and to the top of a low hill, called Commissioner’s Kop, which has a deck with tables and chairs and magnificent views up and down the river.

Deck on Commissioner's Kop
Deck on Commissioner’s Kop
View from deck over Chobe River
View from deck on Commissioner’s Kop

A raised boardwalk leads off the reception area and meanders through the riverine forest and bush, creating opportunities to see some of the variety of bird life and a few animals.

The boardwalk
The boardwalk

The boardwalk ends at the picnic site, but paths take you further through the dense bush should you want to be a little adventurous – it’s best to have a ranger accompanying you from here as the chances of “bumping into” wild life increase.

A small deck at the end of the boardwalk allows you to view the part of Chobe River known as the Seboba Rapids – a section of river with faster flowing water and small islands, some bedecked with trees and favoured by hundreds of birds for roosting and nesting.

Chobe River
Chobe River
Chobe River
Chobe River

Seboba is not a game park as such, but a wildlife corridor to the river has been maintained by leaving openings in the fence between the adjoining road and the park, which is regularly used by elephant and other wild life to gain access to the river, as they have for millennia in all likelihood.

One of my visits turned into a bit of an adventure and reminded me that the area is very much “Wild Africa”…….

After parking near reception, I slung my binoculars around my neck and my camera over my shoulder (two items which have become part of my outfit when birding) and headed down the track to the river. I could not help noticing the fresh-looking elephant tracks in the sand and equally fresh-looking elephant dung, which I had to step around in places, bush signs which had my senses on high alert.

The river was not far, so I carried on to the river bank and started birding, while looking around carefully all the while. Just then, one of the rangers came down the track to tell me there were elephants in the bushes to my right and suggested, with a hint of urgency, that I move away . I could see the elephants through a gap in the trees and decided the ranger had a point, so I followed his further suggestion that we head along the river, the ranger in front and me behind. We stuck to the river’s edge, which was flowing high, wide and strong from the rains in Angola some weeks prior.

We were now walking away from the elephants, so I was feeling a tad more relaxed and enjoying the solitude of the river and the adjoining thick bush – until I started thinking about crocodiles, having seen the warning notices. Besides that, we were now literally on the edge of the Chobe River, even treading in the water where the steep bank caused my shoes to slip here and there.

At least they warn you
At least they warn you

I casually asked the ranger whether crocodiles were present and he nodded to say yes – not a minute later a loud splash ahead of us announced the first croc as he was scared off by our approach. Further ahead we spotted a croc about 50m away, lying in the shallows next to the bank – we approached slowly and cautiously and as we got closer the croc slid silently into the river, swam behind a partly submerged tree and eyed us as we passed.

A croc is spotted not far ahead
A croc is spotted not far ahead
He has not seen us yet
He has not seen us yet
The croc slides into the river
The croc slides into the river as we get closer

All in all, an eventful and exciting walk that I had not planned for at all – Africa can make you feel very small and vulnerable at times!

The Birding

My primary purpose in visiting Seboba was, of course, to do some birding and the park did not disappoint. My first sighting on my first visit was Collared Palm-Thrush on the reception building’s roof – a most desirable species for Southern African birders. This set the tone for what could be expected and as I explored further the list grew, including a pleasing number of “specials” –

Along the boardwalk –

  • Grey-headed Sparrow, not scarce by any means but interesting because Kasane is one of the few places in Southern African region where both Southern and  Northern species occur. This one turned out to be the Southern species
  • Noisy Arrow-marked Babblers
  • Trumpeter Hornbills with their eerie “crying-baby” calls echoing through the woodland
  • Bradfield’s Hornbill
  • Broad-billed Roller
  • Woodland Kingfisher, its position  given away by its trilling call
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
Woodland Kingfisher, Seboba Nature Park - Kasane
Woodland Kingfisher, Seboba Nature Park – Kasane

Commisioner’s Kop viewing point –

  • African Golden Oriole in its bright yellow plumage
  • African Green Pigeon – good at hiding behind foliage
  • Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove
African Golden Oriole, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
African Golden Oriole, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
African Green Pigeon, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
African Green Pigeon, Seboba Nature Park Kasane

Down by the riverside –

  • African Jacana
  • African Darter
  • Yellow-billed Stork
  • Pygmy Goose
  • African Openbill in the shallows, probing for molluscs
  • Reed and White-breasted Cormorants in numbers
  • Water Thick-knee, flying away low over the river when disturbed
  • White-crowned Lapwing, also prone to flying off but often landing a short distance further
Reed Cormorant, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
Water Thick-knee, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
White-crowned Lapwing, Seboba Nature Park - Kasane
White-crowned Lapwing, Seboba Nature Park – Kasane
Reed Cormorant, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
Reed Cormorant, Seboba Nature Park Kasane

Hillside and open areas –

  • White-browed Sparrow-Weaver
  • Blue Waxbill
  • Little Bee-eater
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Seboba Nature Park - Kasane
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Seboba Nature Park – Kasane
Blue Waxbill, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
Blue Waxbill, Seboba Nature Park Kasane

This small park is well worth a visit even if for just an hour or two – the variety of habitats in a concentrated area can be covered in a short time, although the longer you can stay the better … oh and don’t wander around too much unless there’s a ranger nearby (which they tend to be)

Special thanks to Derek Thomas for showing me this spot, and others, in Kasane.