Birding Adventures in Botswana- Part 4: Moremi Game Reserve, Chitabe

Welcome back to the final chapter of Adrian Binns’ adventure in Botswana. Adrian, James Currie and the “Birding Adventures TV” crew traveled to Botswana to take in the sights, check out the birds and have an unforgettable adventure or two! If you missed any of Adrian’s recaps, feel free to check out his posts on Chobe, the Okavango Delta and the Makgadikgadi Pans. Read below to learn what the team conquered in the Moremi Game Reserve!

Botswana: Moremi Game Reserve, Chitabe

The last big stop on my tour of Botswana was on the border of the Moremi Game Reserve, in the southeastern part of the Okavango Delta. The lovely pristine wilderness featured a wide variety of habitats, with a corresponding diversity of birds and animals. Groves of dead Leadwood trees, likely killed by drastic changes in water levels, protruded from a mosaic of acacia and mopane bushveld, riverine forests and freshwater pools.

As our plane flew in for a landing, we were greeted by Giraffes feeding along the airstrip, perhaps unaware of the Red-billed Oxpeckers hitching a ride on their backs, and large numbers of Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, Comb Ducks and White-faced Whistling Ducks (above). We saw Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe, and Green-backed Heron in nearby ponds.

We had a relatively long, winding drive to our camp, fording streams and narrow plank bridges along the way. To our amazement and delight, we got clear views of a Lesser Jacana, a secretive species, feeding amongst some lilies as we crossed one of the bridges. Red-billed Francolins darted in front of our vehicle, unable to decide whether to go left or right to avoid being hit. We saw Burchell’s and Meave’s Long-tailed Starlings drinking from a small puddle of water along the track. We stopped to watch a male Southern Red-billed Hornbill (above) fly to it’s nest in a tree hollow. The cavity was nearly completely sealed except for a small slit from which the female took a katydid offered by it’s mate, likely to feed hungry youngsters inside.

Our luxurious accommodations at Chitabe camp featured spacious, comfortable tents built up on stilts, connected by a long, elevated boardwalk spread out along a narrow island. We congregated around an open, thatched-roof dining and lounge area that overlooked the picturesque floodplain.

This tropical savannah region teamed with wildlife of all kinds. Of raptors, we encountered Bateleur, Gabar Goshawk, Steppe Buzzard, and Yellow-billed Kite. A solitary Dickinson’s Kestrel (above) was seen well, a new species for me. Colorful kingfishers included Woodland, Brown-hooded and Grey-headed. Lilac-breasted and Broad-billed Rollers perched conspicuously. Little, Southern Carmine and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters foraged actively. Nervous Jacobin Cuckoos flushed from trees, briefly alighting on shrubs before moving on. At dusk one evening, we inadvertently flushed a half-dozen Dwarf Bitterns from the reeds beside the track, while fording one of the many watercourses around Chitabe.

Botswana is home to expansive herds of Red Lechwe (above) living in perennial swamps. Being the wet season, the antelopes were not visible in large numbers, but we did see a dozen crossing a marsh. The local pools were filling with water, and hippos guarded their stakes with snarling tusks.

While “Chitabe” means zebra in the local setswana language, it is Wild Dogs that have made this destination famous. James and Robert were eager to film these critically-endangered carnivores for an episode of Birding Adventures TV, but the pack had traveled beyond the concession boundaries, and out of reach. Our crew remained cheerfully flexible, and focused on other subjects to film.

Five Wattled Cranes (above) feeding in shallow wetlands provided a reasonable photo opportunity – of course we wished them closer! Of all of Africa’s cranes, this handsome species is the tallest and most vulnerable. With an estimated 8000 individuals remaining, the Okavango Delta is one of their last strongholds, and we were thrilled to see them.

Big cat activity is always exciting, and we were thrilled with our encounters here at Chitabe. One afternoon, our driver Ebs received a radio call and promptly turned us in the right direction. We soon reached a spot where a pride of eight lions were laying close to a Wildebeest kill, having just eaten their fill. The lone young cub was busy investigating the beast from all sides. He crawled into the carcass belly, climbed onto the top, and licked blood off of various places. Finally he tumbled over to his aunts and promptly fell asleep. Patiently waiting Hooded and White-headed Vultures edged a step closer to the kill, as the pride started to slumber.

Notably, this experience was observed by parties in three vehicles – ourselves, plus two others – the most number we had seen at one time in all our safari travels. Three vehicles is the maximum allowed in Botswana’s remote concession lands, and we were all here together at this scene. Such low visitor quotas help maintain the pervasive feeling of serene, pristine wilderness in Botswana’s parks and reserves.

Another fascinating scenario unfolded when we followed two lionesses and their offspring, a male and female. The juveniles, nearly full-grown, tussled with each other, and gave Robert a scare when they approached from behind, unbeknownst to him. Unexpectedly, the adult lionesses began roaring, a deafening sound at close range. Male lions roar to communicate with their pride, and keep rival males away – why were these females roaring? Perhaps they had wandered into new territory and were proclaiming their presence, saying “don’t mess with us.”

Tracking Leopards proved to be as exciting as actually seeing them! Both Ebs and James (above), having spent extensive time in the bush, exhibited remarkable tracking skills when they spotted fresh Leopard prints running parallel to tire marks on the sandy road. James observed that this was the sign of a mother and her male cub, whose paw mark was slightly larger than his mother. Leopards are solitary animals, only coming together for mating, so this was not likely an adult pair. We saw drag marks on the sand, a sign that they had made a kill of something small. While on foot, James caught sight of the kill in tall grass, and immediately felt danger as he knew that the Leopards had to be hiding close by. He and Ebs retreated slowly back to the vehicle where Robert and I had been watching the scene unfold. We drove up to investigate, and sadly saw that it was an African Wild Cat, which Leopards recognize as competition and eliminate at any opportunity. The creature was stiff with rigor mortis, and we knew the kill must have occurred hours ago.

The tracking continued expertly, with Ebs and James following signs, losing the trail, then picking up on them again, often through grasses and mopane thickets. This went on for close to two hours before the alarm calls of a Red-billed Francolin (above) gave away the Leopards’ location.

Lying in the shade of a tree were the mother, her son and a nearby carcass of a freshly killed male Impala. We observed, photographed and filmed this amazing experience for a long time!

Our last sundowner was bittersweet, but set the tone for a wonderful evening. A giraffe ambled over to see about our gin and tonics, as the sun set over spectacular delta scenery. In high spirits, Robert and Daws led an impromptu sing-along of Hotel California on the way back to camp. There, a campfire crackled as we devoured a delicious dinner.

Evening entertainment included a concert and dance by the staff choral society (above), and Daws with his guitar. James jumped up to join the dancing, showing some hilarious moves to accompany the lively rhythm.

Marluce (above), the jolly, portly camp manager, claimed to be the fastest runner in the area, and challenged James to a foot race. Enthusiastic banter and hype peaked as the details were discussed in earnest… the start time, distance, footwear, etc. Alas, Marluce’s doctor finally claimed he couldn’t participate for health reasons, but it was all great fun while it lasted!

Elephant herd at a watering hole in the Okavango Delta

Flying out of the Okavango for the last time, I could see a noticeable increase in the amount of water that had spread across the Delta since I first arrived over a week ago. It will take another 3 months before the majority of this wilderness is covered in a lush mosaic of green and blue waterways. The dry season, when it stops raining in Botswana, begins in about 2 months, though water levels continue to rise, being fed from the river 600 miles north.

It was an incredible experience to explore the pristine, wilderness areas of Botswana. I enjoyed every minute of my adventure, including brilliant birds, wonderful wildlife, luxurious lodges and amazing people at every turn. I am extremely grateful for the support and opportunity provided by Birding Adventures TV and the Botswana Tourism Organization. I look forward to exploring more of southern Africa in the future!

Want to see more? Check out the “Birding Adventures TV” episode where you may just witness a remarkable phenomenon whilst the team was watching lions!

We want to thank Adrian for taking the time to share his adventures with us. What an unforgettable journey. If you want to read more about Adrian, please check out his blog.

Along with Adrian, TV Host James Currie and “Birding Adventures TV” set out to explore the wide range of exotic birds. Currie’s travels and adventures throughout Botswana will be highlighted in a four-part series currently airing on NBC SportsNetwork through June 19, 2012. If you don’t get a chance to catch the episodes, check out Birding Adventures’ Youtube Channel which now features the four-part series:

Epsiode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Thanks again to Adrian, James, and the “Birding Adventures TV” crew. We can’t wait for your next visit!

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