Botswana is a magical place! Having traveled extensively in South Africa’s parks, and many other countries, Botswana offers a sense of wildness and wilderness that is quite special and different and I really love mobile camping – so we got to combine wildlife, camping in the wild and photography over two weeks through Botswana’s amazing northern parks!
We started our adventure in Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) before heading south into Botswana and down to Nata Bird Sanctuary where our camp team had already established our camp. We spent the latter half of the afternoon at Sua Pan, where seasonal congregations of birds can be immense – most notably flamingoes. There were thousands of lesser flamingoes and some of their larger species out in the pan and keeping their distance from the shoreline, a little far for a photo opportunity but an amazing place to watch the sun set over the pan. It was an ice-breaker to get into our safari and get to know each other and 'warm up' our gear.
The next morning we headed for Nxai Pan National Park and at around midday we arrived the iconic Baines Baobabs – made famous by painter Thomas Baines, who ‘discovered’ them in 1862 en-route to Victoria Falls. I love these historic, natural landmarks that must have been important to early explorers, I can almost feel the sense of time and all that has gone on beneath those trees over thousands of years! With that in mind I try to capture that sense of timelessness, and because it is such a harsh light environment it lends itself to black and white imagery.
Further on to Nxai Pan we drove that day, where we camped for 2 nights on the edge of the pan. This harsh and dry environment has water pumped at two or three waterholes, so most of the activity is centered around them, and it offers some interesting photography opportunities with a flat landscape where the sun sets low in the horizon. We saw lions, elephant, giraffe, springbok, ostrich and many other species all visiting the waterhole at different times of day.
From Nxai Pan we passed through Maun for a night, a small town which serves the tourism industry, and we had a chance to relax, download and recharge before heading into MoremiGame Reserve. We spent 4 nights at two different locations in the park, firstly in the west and then in the east. Xakanaka is a very beautiful part of Moremi, with open floodplains and established, tall mopane forest. The first of two highlights for Xakanaka was a fantastic wild dog hunt. We found the pack of 17 African Painted Dogs (as they are now called) before sunrise and stuck with them for an hour and a half as they moved through the woodlands looking for suitable prey. They eventually came out at the local airstrip where a herd of impala were grazing. The lay down for a while to rest before exploding onto the open area. As always, it is a frenetic sight and the dogs and impala dashed in every direction. By the time things had calmed down and we relocated them, they were finishing off an impala. It wasn’t an easy scenario to photograph but an amazing morning.
The second highlight at Xakanaka was a boat trip in the delta, up the Munachira Channel, to the Gudikwe Lagoon where there is an established nesting site for hundreds of storks, herons, ibises and other species. There were plenty of birds with nests and chirping youngsters and the coming and goings of the adult birds provided some great opportunities to shoot birds in flight. The trip up the channel is really beautiful and also provided a wonderful opportunity to photograph a big bull elephant who was almost submerged in the channel and feeding on the aquatic vegetation.
From the western portion we then moved east to the Khwai River region of Moremi where we saw a male lion paying close attention to two females. Later that morning, in soaring midday temperatures we found a young female leopard. She was still active and moved across a floodplain to some shrubs on the edge of the marsh. After some time she spotted a tree squirrel and with little warning she scrambled up a flimsy tree and knocked it down before jumping on it and eating it – a measly meal but one of the ways leopards are able to survive under harsh circumstances. Later that afternoon we came upon another leopard, closer to our camp, laying on a termite mound. She was about 100 yards from the Khwai River where a herd of red lechwe were feeding on the floodplain. It was hot, the lechwe seemed far away and it appeared to be a low chance of a potential hunt. But then a lechwe is a substantial meal and she had some perfect waist high grass to stalk behind. As the lechwe moved along the floodplain they came slightly closer and she began to stalk. It wasn't long before she ran in and there was a cloud of dust left by the departing lechwe, all except one which the leopard was hanging onto! We got in closer just as she wrestled the lechwe down and suffocated it. An amazing sight!
From Moremi we continued our journey to Savuti, famous for its big elephant bulls and large lion prides! We arrived at the first of two waterholes at midday, the heat was intense, and there was a large gathering of elephant bulls, densely crowded at the waterhole while others waited their turn in the shade of trees nearby. It was another extreme light scenario with bright surrounds and dark grey elephants in the shade – just made for black and white in my eyes.
The following morning we drove in the Savuti Channel where a small waterhole, dug by elephants, had drawn a pride of lions. Thousands of doves were clambering to get to the water but the lions lay close by. A dove is no meal for a lion but the exercise of hunting them was not lost amongst the younger members of the pride. For an hour or two we watched as the sub-adults stalked, chased and caught doves around the waterhole!
From Savuti our final big game destination was the Chobe River where our campsite was set beautifully under some tall trees. That afternoon we found a pride of lions, famous for hunting buffalo on the floodplains, who were just beginning to move and find some more shade. There is no shortage of elephants on the Chobe River and especially under the hot and dry conditions one can expect to see hundreds along the river – and we did!
The following morning we drove the floodplain west, and followed tracks of a pair of leopards for some time before eventually finding another female leopard up in a tree. After descending she moved along the tree-line giving us a couple of good opportunities to capture her feline grace.
That afternoon we headed for our boat trip on the Chobe River; it is such a rich environment and a good opportunity to get close to crocodiles and hippos and of course plenty of elephants!
By now we were all very happy in our tents and had found a comfortable routine! While the days were hot, the nights cooled down to a very pleasing temperature – I even put on a sweater some mornings! Camping out in the wilds is a real privilege. Hyenas visited our campsites every night along with honey badgers and many other creatures of the night! We ate well, made friends, chatted and had a laugh over numerous topics before heading to our tents. We were reluctant to head back to civilization and our guesthouse in Victoria Falls for our final night.
Victoria Falls never fails to impress me, it is again one of those historic places and I just love the atmosphere around it. The falls is like the ocean to me, they always have a different mood and appearance each time I see them and I am always captivated by the sensory experience – the sound, the moisture and the visual feast. The view points over the falls had recently been cleared which was a major help in getting good perspectives of the falls, the low water also enabled us to see down to the bottom of the falls. I went in the afternoon and again the next morning – trying to capture a few of those different moods!
A huge thanks to my guests, now friends, it was a pleasure traveling with you all!