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Okavango Photographic Safari, Dec 2009
Just prior to the Christmas holidays, I had the pleasure of co-guiding a photographic safari with my good friend and colleague Shem Compion…
Landing in Maun, we had some time to kill and Maun, not exactly a buzzing metropolis, meant that we walked across the road to a small pilots café for a soda. While sitting whiling the time away, the group suddenly became excited and most notably Eric and Lesley! I swung around to see what was causing the excitement and sitting upon a lamppost were two rather common Pied Crows? I immediately realized that my traveling companions were not the usual shutterbugs interested in only hunting down the ‘big and hairies’!!!
This was perfect as most photographic safaris run during the winter time when the big game concentrates around the last remaining water pools and although this is a good time for the predators and mammals, my favourite time in the bush remains the summer time when life abounds in all its forms!
Looking back, the 12 day safari certainly was a celebration of life and this indeed in all its forms! The first camp that had the pleasure of hosting us was Kwara in the northern reaches of the delta! With Summer in full swing, the cicadas were singing so loudly that their friends in the south of France would have been able to hear them! There were so many special and unique moments on the safari that it is impossible to share them all?
For me, the highlight at Kwara was certainly not the beef (tough as hell), but rather following a pack of Wild Dog through the bush! When I say through the bush, I literally mean through the bush!!! It was such a privilege to follow a truly wild pack of hunting dogs as they simply went about their frantic high-paced daily routine. The dogs would turn to and fro unperturbed by the thickest thickets of Kalahari Appleleafs! How our drivers managed to not get lost I really do not know? Our poor safari guests had to duck and dive to avoid random branches striking them in the face or perhaps even knocking them clean off the vehicle! At one point I became concerned and glanced back only to see John merrily performing some in-camera editing while branches tore all about him? He seemed not the least bit concerned about his health and in hindsight the tangible energy and excitement of the dogs rubbed off on us all. Other highlights from Kwara were spotting a rare Serval and enjoying two of the most spectacular sunsets of the year!
After three pleasant nights, we enjoyed some duty free shopping at Kwara International before taking a lengthy 10 minute flight to Camp O! This camp is water based and all our activities were on boats of sorts! The first afternoon saw us whizzing along narrow channels that bisected waterborne Papyrus forests. Without the slightest forewarning, we happened upon a large hippo pool and spent the next hour photographing! Well that is too say, all, except poor Pauline who suffers from hippophobia! We were unaware of her chronic condition and tried our best to avoid hippo for the rest of the safari, which included removing the hippo-shaped butter dishes from the breakfast table! Although the birdlife at Camp O was disappointing, our bird list was indeed creeping up as the camp gardens graciously offered us sightings of Kurrichane Thrush and Barred Owl. A highlight at Camp O was no doubt the mokoro canoe trip, which gave us opportunity to get close and personal with the tiny yet gorgeous Painted Reed frogs!
From Camp O, our next stop was Lebala, North of the Delta and in the Linyanti region. This was a most beautiful tract of pure wilderness with two distinguishable highlights:
The first being the spotting and subsequent photographing of a beautiful leopard amid lush grass and termite mounds! To see Africa’s most striking predator amidst the superb green foliage of the summer bush will remain a highlight for some time to come! Another very special sighting saw us enjoying our morning tea on the banks of a small lake. An elephant herd appeared out the bush on the opposite side of the lake and proceeded down to the water’s edge. Gazing back at the brush line, we were surprised to see another herd making its way down to the water and then another and another and another. The elephants just kept coming until an entire clan lined the lake fringe leaving some of us spellbound and the rest of us frustrated, at not being able to capture the immensity of the sighting on camera? Even Brian, who is no stranger to photographing immense Antarctic panoramics, seemed overwhelmed?!
Our last stop of the trip was at Lagoon Camp and although the weather stopped playing ball, we still managed to end on a high note with wild dog sightings almost every day as well as a superb cheetah sighting. As I mentioned at the beginning however, our group was not just about the big five and we enjoyed getting down low and personal with velvet mites and fungi! Avery special sighting at Lagoon was finding a Whalberg’s Eagle on a fresh Yellowbilled Hornbill kill!
The food throughout the safari was exquisite but perhaps none more so than at Lagoon Camp where they provided additional protein in the form of flying ants (termites actually)! Who can forget my bush-whacking colleague (Shem), walking up to the lantern aloft the dinning table, grabbing a flying ant and gulping it down with a look of glee upon his face?
When all is said and done, the safari was a sublime experience that offered up not only many memorable sightings of wild dog, cheetah and elephant but also many unique, smaller and more peculiar sightings. My only regret to the entire safari was promising Eric and Lesley 200 bird species, only to land in Jo’burg on 198 species! Glancing up at the airport terminal I was hoping to see a Rock Pigeon and a Little Swift but alas my time was up!
Thank you ever so much to my traveling companions Eric, Lesley, Brian, Fiona, John, Harry, Pauline, Maggie and Peter. It was a pleasure hosting you and I hope to do so again in the future!
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