Tag Archives: Okavango Delta

Only fools and elephants

Having lived in a region where there are lots of elephants, I do tend to blog about them rather a lot.  Forgive me for this indulgence, but they are such beautiful animals and I have such a great respect for them.  I noticed in a newspaper report last week that two Asian visitors to the Kruger National Park in South Africa had their vehicle trampled when they were charged by an angry elephant.  This is always a danger when humans encroach on the space of wild animals and especially elephants.  The sad thing is that humans always come off second best in these encounters – except when the poor elephant is shot for the sins of the visitors.

A regular visitor to our campsite

Fortunately I wasn’t around to see if these tourists provoked the elephant into charging, but they must have done something to annoy it because they are now both in hospital and their vehicle is in the scrapyard.  When we were staying at Xakanaka in Moremi, Botswana, we saw how foolish people can be when they are on holiday in the wild.  We were staying in an unfenced campsite on the edge of the Okavango Delta and had elephants around us daily.  We always retreated when we saw them, feeling so privileged to share their space.

Happily grazing in the swamp nearby

For almost a week a big bull elephant wandered in every day and waded into the swamp next to our campsite.  In fact we woke up one morning and found ourselves eyeball to eyeball with the elephant.  It was quite scary and poor Rob had to make a hasty retreat out of our rooftop tent to a safe spot.  The elephant was not concerned with our presence and grazed the entire day just meters from our campsite.

Waking up to company

Imagine our annoyance when ‘our’ elephant was disturbed in his peaceful grazing by a group of four tourists who walked right up to the waters edge and provoked him into coming after them.  Once they had his attention and he was seeing them off, the husband positioned himself with his camera to get a shot of the elephant going after his wife.  Fortunately for the lady concerned there was a tree behind which she could take refuge, because the elephant was clearly annoyed.

Hoping to get a photo of a death

They then all came over to our campsite and lured the angry elephant towards us, not only endangering us, but putting our vehicles and campsite set up in danger of being trashed.  When we told them how stupid they were, they said they knew all about elephants and there was no danger when a male elephant was feeding on its own.  Maybe one day those famous last words will be on their gravestones.

Happily grazing in the swamp nearby

If you happen to recognize these silly people, perhaps you can talk some sense into them while they are still alive.  We certainly couldn’t.  The Africans have a good name for these kinds of folks – Mampara’s!  Which means ‘idiots’.

 

African wild dogs in Moremi Game Reserve

One of the highlights of our visit to the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana’s Okavango Delta in September was a wonderful sighting of a pack of African wild dogs.  It’s not that common to come across these unusual animals, so when one does it’s a great privilege for game viewers.  We’d been driving around for a while without seeing much activity when we saw a flurry of movement in a clearing of Mopani woodland.  With great excitement we counted at least seventeen wild dogs in the pack, most of which were young pups chasing each other playfully around the area.

African wild dog near Xakanaka, Moremi

The adults, more sedate, lay down under the trees keeping an eye on the activity of the youngsters as they jumped over logs, ran through water or just chased each other around joyfully.  It’s great to be able to enjoy this sort of spectacle and even better to be ready, with cameras on hand, to capture it in detail.  It wasn’t long before we were joined by numerous other game vehicles, all jostling for the best situation for photography.  Fortunately the dogs weren’t phased by the onlookers and they continued to play as if no-one was there, or as if we didn’t deserve their attention!

If you go down to the woods today ....

Wild dog enjoying the water

The African wild dogs that we saw were within a few kilometers of our campsite at Xakanaxa.  With an abundance of small buck in the area, the dogs are never short of food to eat.  A few days before this we saw an alpha male run across the road in front of us with a blood-stained face – obviously having just partaken of a nice juicy meal.  We were disappointed that we didn’t have enough time to photograph him, but the pack of seventeen more than made up for that.

African wild dog near Xakanaka, Moremi

Botswana wildlife authorities spend a lot of time researching these unique animals and they are sometimes collared for tracking and monitoring purposes.  They are particularly concerned about them crossing busy main roads and it is not uncommon to see warning road signs as you near the game reserves.  We were glad that none of our dogs had collars on them – it kind of detracts from a wildlife photograph.

Look out for Wild Dogs

If you’d like more information about African wild dogs, click here for a blog we did on them about two years ago.

Young wild dogs playing

So, what could YOU get for a bread crumb?

Quite often when we are camping we toss a few bits of bread into the grass around the campsite to see what local  residents we can attract. Usually we get a few sparrows, weavers, bulbuls, finches, starlings, and hornbills dropping in for a feed; the more precocious of the local birds. Perhaps an occasional squirrel. And usually it’s a bit of a bun fight. Fly in (well, the squirrels run), gobble as much as you can and scram. Grab a beak-full before your neighbour gets it all.

But just sometimes the plot unfolds differently.

Coppery-tailed coucal

Our campsite at Xakanaka in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana was close to the thick undergrowth at the edge of the Okavango Delta, and we tossed a few bits of bread nearby. The usual birds were quick to arrive (and also a group of less usual birds – Yellow-throated petronias). But then, at a few minutes after four o’clock in the afternoon, out of the undergrowth strode a majestic Coppery-tailed coucal (Centropus cupreicaudus), one of the usually shy, skulking birds that is heard more often than it is seen, and when it is seen, it is most often glimpsed through a thickness of reeds or bushes into which it vanishes by magic.

But after a cautious initial look around, this fellow strode out into the open with supreme confidence. Ignoring us totally, he picked up a piece of bread, but instead of eating it as we expected him to do, he paraded with it in his bill along the edge of the bush.

Coppery-tailed coucal

Now we know that many courting rituals involve food, (even human rituals – many a courting couple’s first date is at a restaurant), but we were still surprised when a female coucal emerged from the dense undergrowth and joined him and his trophy in the relative open.

Her appearance brought the male’s display to an abrupt end. Without any further ado he proceeded, bread in bill, to mount her, handing over the bread mid-way through the performance. She accepted the bread and held it in her bill until the deed was done, after which she disappeared back into the bush from whence she had come, still clutching the bread.

Coppery-tailed coucal Coppery-tailed coucal Coppery-tailed coucal

The male walked a little way through the campsite, not quite as haughty as he had been earlier, and presumably his appetites were satisfied for the moment as he showed no further interest in the bread.

Coppery-tailed coucal

Go with the flow – in the Okavango Delta

No visit to Botswana is complete without experiencing a mokoro trip in the Okavango Delta.  Whilst the national parks enthrall you with their abundant wildlife and scenery, gliding through the narrow channels of the delta is equally spellbinding and quite literally a way to massage the soul and spend some time being completely ‘in the now’, with all the worries of the everyday world set aside for a couple of hours.

Mokoro - delta transport

Every year, millions of cubic meters of water rush down from Angola and flood the Okavango River, filling the thirsty channels and grasslands of northern Botswana, to make it the world’s largest inland delta.  The Nxamaseri floodplain, as it is also known, absorbs only a minute proportion of all this water into its ground reserves, the rest being lost to evaporation.  It’s an annual road show that feeds not only the ground and the animals, but swells the coffers of the tourism sector and boosts the economy of Botswana.  Lodges abound on many of the islands and guests from around the world get to experience some of the country’s finest nature moments.

Delta - early morning

From ancient times the locals have carved wooden dugouts (mokoros) from Sausage trees (Kigelia pinnata) and these amazing boats are ideally suited to float through the reeds and long grass covered by the floodwaters.  The mokoro sits very low in the water making it seem perilously close to being inundated.  If you’re lucky, it sports two legless plastic chairs for you to sit back on, if not, you sit on straw on the bottom of the boat, which can be a bit uncomfortable until you get used to it!

Typical delta scenery

Sometimes as you go along, the reeds and long grass softly brush your face, or you break the gossamer thread of a spider web; other times the way ahead is clear and you glide through the narrow channels unimpeded.  Sometimes you see the maroon under-leaves of the water lilies and other times you see the muddy bottom of the channel through crystal clear waters.  Mostly there is a deep silence, broken only by the gentle splashing of the wooden pole (the ngushi) as your friendly guide propels you through the calm water.  A peace descends as you sit back and let the hypnotic rhythm of the boat bring you to a state of total relaxation.

Nile crocodile

Nature puts on a magnificent display for your delta experience, as you float quietly past a pod of hippos, a crocodile or any number of beautiful birds that make their home amongst the reeds.  You could see elephants and Red Letchwes wading in the water, or catch a glimpse of an African  Jacana walking on the lily pads fishing for food, a Black Crake making its way busily along the bank or a colourful Malachite Kingfisher perched on the papyrus.  If you’re very lucky a Fish Eagle might swoop down and catch a fish in front of you.  We came across a puff adder swimming in the channel, which our guide passed rapidly, not wanting to take a deadly and uninvited passenger on board.

Black crake

Lunch time brings an opportunity to stop on an island and have a walk around to stretch those cramped legs and see the abundant birdlife.

Mixed bird party on the island

You can also learn so much if you share your lunch with your guide and quiz him on his spiritual beliefs, traditions and superstitions, which differ so much from your Western culture.  He will take great delight in telling you his much-loved stories and will feel honoured that you have shown an interest in him and his life.

Edward, our friendly poler

When you are safely deposited back on land after your delta experience, you will be the one who feels truly honoured and grateful to have had such a magnificent day out and fond memories will linger long after you have left this awesome country.

Bird of the week – Week 7 : African fish-eagle

Bird of the week – Week 7 : African fish-eagle
Picture this. Reclining on a sofa-bed in the open air pub at Oddballs Camp in the Okavango Delta, beer in hand, looking out over the water in the late afternoon sunshine. In the distance the classic cry of the African fish-eagle, one of the most easily recognizable sounds of the African bushveld. The next cry is a somewhat louder. The bird appears, flying low above the water; it swoops and in split second it has a fish firmly gripped in the vice of the talons of one foot. In a few more seconds it has disappeared from view, leaving Jane and me with a powerful and enduring memory.
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The African fish-eagle features on the coat-of-arms of Namibia and is also the national bird of both Zimbabwe and Zambia. They are found, usually in pairs, on most of the larger rivers, lakes, pans and dams of Africa, south of the Sahara, and also in many coastal lagoons and estuaries.
They are big birds, the females slightly larger than the males, being up to 73 cm in length and with a wingspan of over 2.3 metres. They are most often seen during daylight hours perched on tall trees near water.
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The well-known call is most commonly heard at dawn, with the male and female sometimes performing a duet, but they call at any time of the day, often while in flight. As described above, they stoop to catch fish, usually of less than 1 kg in weight, with their feet, usually taking them within 10 or 15 cm of the surface without even slowing their flight
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Rather less dramatically, fish-eagles also eat carrion, eggs, nestlings and even occasionally adult water-birds, frogs, terrapins, insects and rarely even dassies and monkeys.
The fish-eagles mate for life and their nest, which they re-use from year to year, is an untidy bowl of sticks, lined with grass and leaves, high above the ground, usually in the fork of a tree near the water. Most commonly two or three eggs are laid, but often only one chick will survive.
(3)
The scientific name of the African fish-eagle is Haliaeetus vocifer; haliaeetus being from the Greek words “hals” meaning “salt” or “the sea” and “aetos” meaning “eagle”, and vocifer from the Latin “vocifero” meaning to “cry out aloud”. Hence “the Sea-eagle that cries out aloud” – Perfect!

Picture this. Jane and I are reclining on a sofa-bed in the open air pub at Oddballs Camp in the Okavango Delta, beer in hand, looking out over the water in the late afternoon sunshine. In the distance we hear the classic cry of the African fish-eagle, one of the most easily recognizable sounds of the African bushveld. Then a second cry, somewhat louder. The huge brown and white eagle appears, flying low above the water; it swoops and in split second it has a fish firmly gripped in the vice of the talons of one foot. In a few more seconds it has disappeared from view, leaving Jane and me with a powerful and enduring memory. What a wonderful moment!

African fish-eagle

The African fish-eagle features on the coat-of-arms of Namibia and is also the national bird of both Zimbabwe and Zambia. These classic symbols of Africa are found, usually in pairs, on most of the larger rivers, lakes, pans and dams of Africa  south of the Sahara, and also in many coastal lagoons and estuaries.

They are big birds, the females slightly larger than the males, being up to 73 cm in length and with a wingspan of over 2.3 metres. They are most often seen during daylight hours perched on tall trees near water where they spend much of their time.

African fish-eagle

The well-known call is most commonly heard at dawn and at dusk, with the male and female sometimes performing a duet, but they call less frequently at any time of the day, often while in flight. As described above, they stoop to catch fish, usually those of less than 3 kg in weight, seizing the fish in their powerful talons while their legs are thrown well forward, usually taking those within 10 or 20 cm of the surface of the water without even slowing their flight.

African fish-eagle

Rather less dramatically, fish-eagles also eat carrion, eggs, nestlings and even occasionally adult water-birds, frogs, insects and rarely even dassies and monkeys. They are very agile and are quite capable of taking birds in flight. They are also not above stealing fish from other birds, including pelicans and storks. Kleptoparasitise, if you want the correct word for this chicanery.

The fish-eagles mate for life and their nest, which they re-use from year to year, is an untidy bowl of sticks up to 1.5 metres in diameter, lined with grass and leaves, located high above the ground, usually in the fork of a tree near the water. Most commonly two or three eggs are laid and they hatch after an incubation period of about 45 days, but often only one chick will survive. Life expectancy is estimated to be around 20 years.

African fish-eagle

The scientific name of the African fish-eagle is Haliaeetus vocifer; “haliaeetus” being from the Greek words “hals” meaning “salt” or “the sea” and “aetos” meaning “eagle”, and vocifer from the Latin “vocifero” meaning to “cry out aloud”. Hence “the Sea-eagle that cries out aloud” – Perfect!