Abu Camp Announces Birth of New Elephant Calf

It’s a girl! The circle of life strikes again in Botswana. Wilderness Collection and Abu Camp are thrilled to welcome their newest calf to the Abu herd. Our hearts are melting! Wilderness Collection shared the following:

Wilderness Collection’s Abu Camp, located in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, is delighted to announce that Kitimetse, a famed member of the Abu herd, gave birth to her second calf on the 27th of November 2013. Her new calf, a female, was born at 1:39 a.m. on the most incredible starry night, hence her name, Naledi, meaning ‘star’ in Setswana.

Naledi_Born Dec 2013

Naledi taking her first steps under Kiti’s watchful eye

Naledi taking her first steps under Kiti’s watchful eye

Kitimetse, better known as Kiti, was found abandoned by her natal herd after being attacked by a crocodile. She was taken to Abu Camp where her wounds were treated and after making a full recovery, Kiti was slowly introduced to the rest of the herd. Her name means “I am lost” in Setswana and her estimated year of birth is 1996. Her first calf was Lorato, born in February 2008.

“We were thrilled with the news that Kiti was pregnant and have been waiting with anticipation for the birth of Naledi. Both mom and calf are extremely healthy and Naledi is settling in well. We look forward to the hours of enjoyment and fascination that she will give our guests who, by visiting Abu Camp, are given the rare opportunity to interact with a family group of elephants in one of Africa’s best wilderness areas”, said Wellington Jana, Abu Camp’s Elephant Manager.

The whole premise on which Abu Camp is based is that of elephant conservation and its strategy is therefore based on the research of key issues impacting the conservation of southern Africa’s elephants. Abu’s elephant program is supervised by Dr. Mike Chase, Director of Elephants Without Borders and San Diego Zoo Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, together with the support of Wild Horizons – a company with a long history in highly ethical elephant husbandry and welfare systems. It is one of the most progressive elephant reintroduction projects in the world and is devoted to the highest standards in elephant welfare, scientific research and meaningful guest experiences.

The Abu herd offers an incomparable opportunity to intimately engage and physically interact with elephants through varied activities. Shortly after arriving at camp, guests will be personally introduced to the herd, with the activities that follow over the remainder of their stay offering an all-encompassing and satisfying experience in the world of the elephant. Activities include walking with the herd, elephant-back safaris and participating in or just observing activities such as the elephants mud bathing, swimming or just moving and feeding through their natural habitat.

 Issued by: Wilderness Collection

We are over the moon over this new bundle of joy and can’t wait to hear more about Naledi’s adventures as she grows.

For more information on Abu Camp, please visit www.abucamp.com.

For more information on Wilderness Collection, please visit www.wilderness-collection.com.   

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Beautiful Botswana – A Photo Essay

This month’s guest blogger is Elizabeth Mackay, the lucky and very happy recipient of the prize trip sponsored by Botswana Tourism and industry partners at The International Ecotourism Society’s (TIES) annual conference in 2012. Liz is a tourism lecturer at The University of the West Indies, with a keen interest in sustainable tourism, so the opportunity to visit Botswana, a recognized leading sustainable tourism destination, was a dream come true. Recently returned, she wanted to share with us – and you – her delightful story…

Dumela! I’ve wrestled with the title to this photo essay because it lacks originality, yet nothing else comes to mind when I sit to write. Every time I think of Botswana, the word beautiful is there – its the word I use to describe my ten days traveling through the vastness of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve into the serenity and abundance life of the Okavango Delta and finally experiencing the purity of Chobe National Park. Its the word I use for the heart of the people I encountered. Its my word for the land and the landscapes and the wildlife. Beautiful is my word for Botswana. I could write lines upon lines telling you about how beautiful Botswana is and maybe I’ld do a fair job. Instead I will show you, in hopes that each image speaks to you a thousand beautiful words.

Beauty you See

Beauty you Hear
Some things cannot be conveyed in an image, like the beauty of the Setswana language and the spirit of the people, this is where video comes in. One of my favourites, is ‘Dumela’, here.

I’m welcomed warmly at Xigera, the rendition is so heartfelt and lively you would think I arrived with a contingency rather than alone, but that’s Botswana for you – we are all important, all seen, the young and the old, alone or not – we are welcomed and embraced into the family.

Speaking of family, I will not soon forget my Chobe family, nor my last dinner in Botswana. The Food and Beverage department went above and beyond – they set up private dining areas all over the property, from the stunning decks overlooking the mighty Chobe River and Namibia to the lawns and balconies of the legendary property. If this surprise (that I came to find out is not so unusual for them) weren’t enough, I was greeted with my very own personalized menu ‘Mackay and Kokomane Families’, followed by a delicious meal and roving bands of wait staff who went from table to table and serenaded us each and all.

Beauty you Feel
Special thanks are due to so many, every stop along the way held something special. Even an hour at Jao stands out in my mind and remains in my heart. It felt like I had known the General Manager, William, long before he was called on at short notice to host me for an hour due to a slight (and the only) flight delay on what was a very busy day for him. That is the beauty of Botswana that can only be experienced. It is not superficial, not a show for tourists and tourism, its in the land and the people – to whom I am deeply grateful.

Can you feel the beauty of Botswana?

Heartfelt thanks to: Botswana Tourism, Air Botswana, Chobe Game Lodge (Desert & Delta Safaris), Wilderness Safaris (Wilderness Air, Vumbura Plains, Kalahari Plains Camp), and Ngamiland Adventure Safaris (Kwetsani Camp, Jao Camp).

About Elizabeth

Liz is a real estate agent, tourism lecturer and photographer. She lives in The Bahamas with her sons and writes a real estate and lifestyle blog (www.livelifebahamas.com). Her images can be viewed on Pintrest at http://pinterest.com/LizAMackay.

 

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Our Walk through a Jurassic Park on Safari in Botswana

Our friends at Wildland Adventures recently enjoyed a safari through Botswana. They shared their story with us below. Check it out!

Our Walk through a Jurassic Park on Safari in Botswana

By Kurt Kutay, President of Wildland Adventures

Relaxed and smiling now, after our walk, but when they are leading foot safaris in the bush, Brian and Chantal are focused!

Relaxed and smiling now, after our walk, but when they are leading foot safaris in the bush, Brian and Chantal are focused!

Brian points out the leopard tracks at our feet. He kicks over a fresh pile of dung on our path where a buffalo has just passed. And, with a keen ear he listens intently to the trumpeting of a young elephant somewhere in the trees around us. “This is a Jurassic Park we’re walking through!” he exclaims in an excited whisper.

We signed up for a jaunt on foot through the bush in the Linyanti concession on our Botswana safari with expert trackers and bush guides, Brian Rode and Chantal Venter. On a walking safari I feel invigorated. All my senses come alive when I’m on foot in the African bush. For me, it’s the ultimate safari experience to get out of the vehicle and feel Africa on foot.

This is the real thing. No electric fences. No designated trails. Just us bipeds hoofing it through the bush with the most confident and competent walking safari guides in the likes of Brian and Chantal. They have made a life for themselves as wilderness safari guides providing intrepid safari travelers a closer look at the ecosystems of southern Africa. Here Brian sets forth his 5 rules of a walking safari:

Although I feel a deft sense of vulnerability, I’m not exactly on equal terms with the wildlife because between me and a wild beast are the keen eyes, ears and nose of Chantal, and the sharp aim of Brian with a 376 rifle in hand. Although in over 20 years of guiding walking safaris neither one of them have ever had to use their rifle to harm an animal protecting a guest; they are equally concerned for the protection and comfort of the game as they are for the safety of their trekkers.

Brian points out leopard prints in the sand while Chantal keeps a keen eye out in all directions.

Brian points out leopard prints in the sand while Chantal keeps a keen eye out in all directions.

They manage the animal and human interaction primarily using their keen understanding of animal behavior taking all matter of precautions not the least of which is to maintain a comfortable distance between animals and people. In fact, they always work as a pair and I noticed that while Brian was pointing out details about the flora and fauna, Chantal was always on the lookout for game that might be wandering by, ready to move us out of the way–which never happened on our 2 hour walk.

There are so many details about the bush that one discovers walking instead of riding in a vehicle. Brian found a dung beetle working over a huge elephant dropping. Throughout Africa dung beetles play an amazing role in fertilizing the bushveld. By utilizing animal feces for sustenance and egg development they spread it around and subsequently fertilize the ecosystem. Some dung beetles burrow and nest ‘in situ’ when fresh dung is discovered. Others tunnel under the soil surface and deposit dung balls they craft and roll in underground tunnels for their consumption and reproduction.

Dung beetles play a vital role in breaking down animal feces, keeping the flies down and fertilizing the habitat.

Dung beetles play a vital role in breaking down animal feces, keeping the flies down and fertilizing the habitat.

At this brief stop looking down at minutia on the ground  Brian summons the forces of the universe above to inform us of the amazing fact that dung beetles are currently the only animal, other than humans, known to navigate and orient themselves using the Milky Way!

Another thing I learned on this walking safari is that mud pans are created by elephants coming here to bathe and roll in the mud, then they walk over to nearby trees to scratch their backs depositing layers of dirt nearby.

Pans form in the bushveld when elephants congregate for a mud bath and carry it away. (Notice Chantal in the background never stops looking out for game in the vicinity.

Pans form in the bushveld when elephants congregate for a mud bath and carry it away. (Notice Chantal in the background never stops looking out for game in the vicinity.

Trees get covered in dried soil where elephants got a good scratch after their mud bath. Over years and years, and one elephant after another rolling in the mud and then walking away carry more mud on their backs the pans get formed and become larger and larger in the process.

A good scratching tree smoothed by rough elephant skin is covered in mud.

A good scratching tree smoothed by rough elephant skin is covered in mud.

Keep it wild!

Sounds like quite the adventure! For more information on Wildland Adventures, check out their safaris in Botswana here or get in contact with their Africa Program Director.  

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View Botswana’s wildlife “up close and personal” with this photo safari contributed by Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler!

We just love it when travelers return from Botswana and can’t wait to share their favorite experiences with us. Susan Portnoy, the Insatiable Traveler, returned recently from a Botswana safari with rave reviews! What made Botswana so special for her? View her slide show for a glimpse at the wildlife experiences that made her go WOW! While ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, she did add captions about her impressions… scroll over each image to reveal her thoughts about each WOW moment.

https://www.facebook.com/Insatiabletraveler?ref=hl

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Tracking Wild Dogs in Botswana’s Okavango Delta

Tracking Wild Dogs in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

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A Thirst for Adventure in Botswana

A lioness patrols the water's edge along the Savuti Channel in Botswana.

Ecologist Gordon Orians thought he’d arrive at camp with enough time to enjoy a cool beverage with the setting sun. It didn’t happen.

We flew northeast from Seba Camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta to the Chobe airstrip. A rich network of wildlife trails clearly visible from the air told us that, despite the apparent barrenness of the landscape, animals were abundant beneath us.

After landing, we quickly drove westward toward the Savuti Channel, a linear oasis in a landscape otherwise lacking surface water at the end of the dry season. The only water available for many miles, Savuti is a magnet for herds of buffalo, zebra and impala and for solitary giraffes, kudu and warthogs. Egyptian geese and jacanas graced the shoreline, African fish eagles filled the air with their ringing cries, and an osprey, a long distant migrant from Europe, dove for its fish lunch.

Our reward? Finding a pack of wild dogs with six half-grown pups resting in what little shade they could find at the bases of the leafless trees. The adults were clearly successful in capturing enough prey—probably impala—to satisfy six hungry mouths and their own.

Guided by information he received over the radio from other guides, our capable expedition leader Thuto Moutloatse spotted a cheetah resting beneath a shrub. The bush had just enough leaves to cast a streak of shade from the hot afternoon sun.

Although we were protected from the sun by the canopy of our safari vehicle, we too welcomed natural shade. In our case, it was beneath spreading fig trees along the bank of a channel where grunting hippos peered at us while we ate sandwiches.

Thuto’s keen eyes soon spotted a pride of lions resting in the bushes on a low ridge overlooking the water. A group of nine females and young males, they were clearly assessing the options for their evening hunt.

“See that solitary buffalo?” Thuto pointed out. “The lions are going to kill it tonight.”

He may have been right, and we wished we could have stuck around to find out. But our destination for the night was still a long drive away.

“We must hurry,” Thuto reminded us, but then he couldn’t resist stopping to point out another pride of lions along the way. We also repeatedly halted to let elephants cross our path. They were heading for water—their version of happy hour, perhaps?—but were indifferent to our need to reach camp before dark.

The last traces of pink remained in the western sky when we finally approached arrived at camp. We were tired and hot—and, yes, thirsty too—but none of us would have preferred to arrive earlier.

Ecologist and author Gordon Orians is a emeritus member of WWF’s Board of Directors and professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

©WWF. Reprinted with permission.

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Falling in Love with the Bush of Botswana

By Karen Loftus

Karen Loftus was recently in Botswana and Namibia on a writing assignment about the romantic appeal of Southern Africa. She shared with us why she fell madly deeply in love with Botswana. Enjoy the read!

Botswana Safari

Travel to Africa was love at first site for me. I have been a number of times now and have headed in a few different directions. This past fall I dipped in to the bush of Botswana. I decided to stray away from an all luxury level trip this time. So, I started in the lap of luxury with &Beyond in the Okavango Delta. Then I went for a rustic, authentic and immersive traveling safari with Letaka.

It’s easy to see why so many couples choose Botswana for their honeymoon or romantic getaway. Two weeks later, I had fallen truly, madly and deeply for Botswana. You will as well. This is what you can expect…

First stop:  &Beyond – Xaranna Lodge on the Okavango Delta
After a quick connecting flight from Johannesburg to Maun, followed by a bush flight, I was scooped up by the crew from &Beyond (www.andbeyond.com).  My African adventure started once we departed from the airport.

En route to the Okavango I was greeted by Xaranna’s crew who had a chilled bottle of champagne and exquisite snacks, which were served to me on the jeep. That immediately set the spoiled tone that was consistent throughout the trip.

Once there, it was easy to relax in the lap of luxury as their digs are decadent. True to the name, everything that &Beyond does, between amenities, service and aesthetics is always above and beyond. Their welcome massage on the deck of my villa was the best way to decompress after the long journey.

My game drives were a mix of morning, late afternoon and full day drives where the Xaranna crew provided full linen service and a beautiful buffet lunch in the middle of the bush. It will be hard to ever step in to a restaurant again.

On our drives we were saw herds of buffalo, female wart hogs with their babies, zebras, giraffe and vultures after a kill. Drives aside, we took full advantage of the Okavango Delta’s magical oasis of islands and waterways in the middle of the arid Kalahari Desert. Sundowners and game were also taken in from a boat as well, where pods of hippos surrounded us and snorted throughout our toast.

Riding in the small mokoro, a traditional dugout canoe, was even more relaxing. The soul sating silence and the slower pace together with their stunning South African sparkling rose wine had me drifting away in a matter of minutes.

The level of culinary excellence reached at each meal at Xaranna was one of the many stars on site. The candlelit dinners served by an exuberant crew on Xaranna’s deck together with spring bok jumping in the air, in a choreographed-like manner and elephants grazing, but a few feet away from our feast, set the safari tone. Whether on a drive, on the Okavango or on deck, the game was forever around.

It was anything but easy to leave the Delta, the Xaranna crew or my luxury villa. My return is already on my travel to do list…

Letaka Safaris – Moremi Game Reserve, Khwai Concession Area and Chobe National Park
Before I knew it, I hopped a quick flight on a plane the size of a suitcase. Letaka (www.LetakaSafaris.com) took over as we headed to the Moremi Game reserve. The bush boys of Botswana provide a slice of safari life for the more ruggedly romantic couple. It made for the perfect travel pairing with the lap of luxury that &Beyond provided.

Botswana Safari

I’ve never been much of a camper. So, a camping safari felt a bit daunting. But Letaka’s crew complete with a guide, a chef and two crew members provided seamless service throughout. Our tents came with a private veranda in front, the perfect way to experience the laze of the day between game drives. Equally important was the ensuite and bucket shower in the back, which was filled throughout by Gabriel, from our crew.

Botswana Safari

We were spoiled silly with fresh bush bread, baked daily underground by Life our chef. That, together with fresh five course meals cooked over the fire, where no two dishes were ever repeated, made the meals as much of a feast as the experience itself.

Every night after our late afternoon drive, we sat around a raging fire with beers and wine in hand. Before we were called to the table for dinner, Life would tell an unbelievable story. The simplicity of conversation, silence, stories, bush theatrics, the roar of the fire, the moon’s mood and dinner on a picnic like table surrounded by tiki torches, quickly became a delicious ritual.

Botswana Safari

There was nothing quite like a roar from the king mid-meal to remind us that we were merely visitors. Animals in camp were expected. We had buffalo snorting in a macho match below our tents, elephants making a feast of the trees surrounding our tents and hyenas waltzed in to our open kitchen regularly.

That is just the beginning as we experienced an abundance of bush theatrics in the Moremi Game Reserve, the Khwai Concession Area and the Chobe National Park on our twice daily drives.

We saw it all as no two days or drives were ever alike. Full bellied male lions looking like kings after a kill, herds of elephants, bachelor groups of impala with their white tails in the air, herds of buffalo running through the water, giraffes awkwardly and adorably dropping to their knees to gather sodium from the soil, stunning zebra romping around and observing a leopard mother dragging her kill across the bush floor to her young made for the most amazing moments of the trip. Chadrick our guide commented on how privileged we were to experience that.

Botswana Safari

Top that off with unimaginable beauty and an endless string of Botswana sunsets that had us all convinced that nature was trying to one up itself. We all got lost in the lure of Africa, the bare beauty of the bush of Botswana and that seductive safari silence.

It’s easy to see why so many say I Do to Botswana.

Botswana Safari

_________________________________________

The above itinerary was arranged by Aardvark Safaris: www.aardvarksafaris.com

You can follow Travel & Luxury Lifestyle Writer  Karen Loftus and her travels on: 

twitter facebook linked in youtube

Her Global Gallery is Lofty Photography: http://loftyphotography.smugmug.com/ and her travel blog is on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-loftus/

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Top Shot: Botswana

Botswana Landscape

We recently met with WWF Travel Manager Elissa Leibowitz Poma, an artist outside of work, who showed us her watercolor paintings made on a recent trip to Botswana. They were so lovely we just had to share one of them with you. Thank you Elissa, for giving us permission. We are delighted your visit to Botswana inspired the joy you felt and captured in this watercolor painting.  Can’t wait to see more from your next trip!

“Most afternoons at the Xigera Camp on the Okavango Delta, the other guests would retreat to their water-view bungalows to escape from the afternoon sun and rest. I took advantage of the quiet to sit on the verandah overlooking a delta channel and make this painting. The fringing papyrus is what initially attracted me. One of Xigera’s guides, Onx, soon joined me on the deck. He had never painted before, so while working on this piece, I showed him how to paint. We sat for an hour, swatting at mosquitos and shooing away the vervet monkeys that kept trying to steal items from the bar. When we were finished, we exchanged paintings. I have his painting framed and hanging in my studio to remind me of that lovely, quiet afternoon in the Okavango.”

If you’d like to see where WWF travels in Botswana, go to: http://worldwildlife.org/tours/botswana-safaris

©WWF. Reprinted with permission.

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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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Birding Adventures in Botswana- Part 3: Makgadikgadi Pans, Jack’s Camp

Hope you all started your summer with a bang! It is never too early to start thinking about summer travel and Botswana is the perfect choice. But don’t let us tell you; take it from our friend and special guest blogger Adrian Binns. He recently traveled to Botswana with James Currie and the “Birding Adventures TV” crew. Check out his posts on Chobe and the Okavango Delta. Read on below to see what happened next in the Makgadikgadi Pans!

Botswana: Makgadikgadi Pans, Jack’s Camp

Daybreak at Jack’s Camp

The wild, pristine beauty of Botswana shone brightly in the Makgadikgadi Pans, the third destination of my adventure. Contrasting starkly with the lush habitats of Chobe and the Okavango Delta, the Makgadikgadi Pans are the last remnants of what was once the world’s largest prehistoric lake, now reduced to salt plains fringed by grasslands and Mopane thickets.

Stephan the capable bush pilot dropped us into Jack’s Camp (above) in the nick of time, just before a strong afternoon rainstorm grounded most flights. The storm curtailed afternoon activities, but allowed ample time to relax in the remarkable, 1940‘s-style tented safari camp, set within a palm grove. A spacious, open-sided, pagoda-like tent served as the camp centerpiece, where we dined and enjoyed the bar. Our tents were scattered around the palm-fringed island overlooking grasslands that concealed roaring lions at night. Our host Kirsten and cheerful ranger Chuba welcomed us warmly, providing everything possible for our comfort and enjoyment.

The arid conditions of the Pans host an amazing variety of wildlife, including species not seen in our other travels. We found Rufous-naped and Sabota Larks calling from low-scrub vantage points to attract a mate. Eastern Clapper Larks and Desert Cisticolas displayed by taking to the air and calling, and Southern Anteater Chats busily fed their young fledglings. Rounding out small arid loving species were groups of Spike-heeled Larks (above), and a few Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks outnumbered by Grey-backed Sparrow-Larks.

At sunrise we paid a visit to the stars of the popular Animal Planet show, “Meerkat Manor.” This clan of 18 eagerly exited their burrow and stood on their tippy-toes to soak in the warmth of the sun’s first rays, and scan the landscape for predators. Well habituated to people, some of the Meerkats clamored onto James’ shoulders as he sat on the mound to gain a better view, while Robert filmed intently. In chain-gang style, they formed a line to excavate their burrow. Much to our delight, the last animal, the one well out of the burrow, seemed quite happy to dump sand over James’ legs, in his shoes and up his shorts!

I couldn’t take my eyes off of a particularly cute young pair of siblings, who were always together, holding each other for support and playing joyfully. We followed the clan as they scampered off in the short grasses in search of a morning meal. Interestingly, Meerkats forage only for invertebrates found just below the surface of the ground, leaving those on top of the soil for other predators. Perhaps the underground grubs are juicier? I wouldn’t know.

Our visit to the Makgadikgadi Pans coincided with the beginning of Blue Wildebeest and Zebra migration around the Delta – a lesser version of the grand scale Serengeti-Mara migration in East Africa. The calving season was almost done and we could see a number of youngsters in shorter grasslands, hugging close to their mothers for protection. At the thicket edges, male Impalas were forming harems and gearing up to defend their females for when the rutting season begins in earnest in mid-April.

There was never a dull moment back at camp, especially when an impromptu version of “Fear Factor” began with a plate full of Mopane worms. These colourful caterpillars, larger than your index finger, turned out to be a true culinary delight for natives Daws, Chuba, and South African James. Robert opted out of the live contest, but managed to down one of the cooked ones. Despite James’ cajoling, I was too squeamish to try worms prepared any style! The entertainment continued with amusing impersonations of famous personalities. We howled with laughter, pun intended, at Robert’s perfect impression of Bob Dylan’s dog – “woof, wooaf-wooaaf” in that iconic nasal drawl!

We ventured to the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans (above) to view the vast, desolate landscape stretched as far as the eye could see. Beneath shimmering heat waves, we saw a number of Ostriches, and our first Wattled Cranes a distance away. A Leopard Tortoise crossed the track in front of us. The timing of our visit meant there was little water in the pans, and the spectacle of large congregations of breeding Lesser Flamingos would not appear for another month or so. We had to make do with a hundred or so Greater Flamingos!

Scattered pools of freshwater attracted Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Hottentot Teal, Red-billed Duck and an African Spoonbill. We had the good fortune to find not just one, but six pairs of Greater Painted Snipe, a great sighting of these wetland-edge skulkers. Their plumage is striking, albeit different for males and females. The female features a rich chestnut-coloured neck and chest, while the male shows earth-toned patterning. The female Greater Painted Snipe (above), like some other shorebird species, defies conventional gender roles, in that she lays her eggs then leaves her mate to incubate and raise the chicks.

The sparse grasses of this arid, desert region is perfect habitat for small flocks of Temminck’s and Double-banded Coursers, both of whom easily outran us to keep a safe distance away. Nomadic sandgrouse also thrive in dry, sandy areas, and we had the fortune to locate a pair of beautiful Burchell’s Sandgrouse (above) showing white-spotted, cinnamon bodies.

I was greatly intrigued by the Northern Black Korhaan, a beautiful bustard found in taller arid grasslands or savannah. This bird spends much of the day, and some nights, calling raucously to attract a mate. If the call was not compelling enough, it took to the air, circled it’s territory calling all the while, then parachuted slowly back down with its conspicuous white primary feathers in full display (above) – a marvelous sight to watch, considering it’s ample size.

Raptors were well represented in this environment, including Pale Chanting Goshawks, Brown Snake Eagle and Tawny Eagles, who kept an eye on the multitude of Southern Ground Squirrels, it’s favorite prey. We followed circling vultures hoping to find a kill, but all the White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures (above) had already gorged on whatever they’d found, leaving only a small scrap of hide, and some individuals milling around on the ground digesting their meal.

Unique amongst raptors is the striking Secretarybird, a long-legged, terrestrial hunter of the grasslands. Chuba, our ranger guide, was delighted to see his first one in several months. In fact there were a pair, a testosterone-driven male in hot pursuit of a young female with a short tail. We followed the two, having a hard time keeping up as he chased her over the open landscape for well over 2 miles. Eventually he got the hint, she was just not ready, and he opted to go hunting. A Secretarybird’s long legs enable them to cover a great deal of territory on foot, in search of grasshoppers and other insects. When they find something, they employ a foot stamping technique (above) to flush and kill it. We were lucky to see this in action, when the male we were following began to stamp his foot and lift his wings at the same time. He had killed an olive-coloured snake about 3 feet in length!

A major highlight of my Botswana adventure was interacting with some native peoples of the Kalahari, known as San Bushmen. Four men generously spent time showing us various aspects of their culture and livelihood. They demonstrated game-tracking skills and hunting techniques utilizing compact bows with poison-tipped arrows (above). One man dug a tubular root from the ground, squeezed the thirst-quenching liquid into his mouth, than replanted the plant to live on. They showed us how to build a bush fire, and retrieve a scorpion from a hole, though they don’t eat them. They even played a fast-paced game of hand gestures, roughly based on “rock-paper-scissors,” but with a hunting theme. We couldn’t quite understand it all, but it ended with universally-recognized smiles and high-fives all around! One of the men spoke english, interpreting their fascinating language of clicks, sounds and sing-song inflections. Filming everything intently, Robert was shocked to feel a sharp cut on his knee when he kneeled down to focus at close range. For a moment he thought it was a poison arrow, and imagined the bushmen talking about how he was now a goner! Luckily, it was just the sharp end of a bow.

I felt extremely lucky and grateful to have experienced this amazing region of the world, and, as usual, wished we had more time to explore the vast habitats of the Makgadikgadi Pans. But I looked forward to the next and final leg of our Botswana adventure, a visit to the Moremi Game Reserve.

Makes you want to get away, right? Check out the footage from “Birding Adventures TV” here and watch as the team searches for the Secretarybird. Check back tomorrow as Adrian wraps up his four-part adventure in Botswana with a thrilling visit to the Moremi Game Reserve.

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