Photos of this trip are viewable at www.flickr.com/photos/neiljulianthomas/sets. We had long planned to visit Botswana, one of the main hopes being to see African Wild Dogs (an ambition, sadly, not to be realised), and it quickly became apparent that for anyone who is not a premier league footballer or an A list celebrity the only possibly affordable way of doing this was to sign up with a company offering a camping tour. Botswana is expensive. In fact it is very, very expensive. The most exclusive lodges charge $4000 a day, but even run of the mill accommodation will be $500-$1000 per day.
In contrast the tour we booked through the Adventure Company (www.adventurecompany.co.uk) was a snip at £2509 including flights. The trip was actually run by a South African operator called Sunway Safaris. The companies pre-tour information gave a pretty accurate view of what to expect and it was clear that viewing wildlife would be a big focus of the tour, although equally clearly it was not a birding tour. This means that finding and ID of birds would be up to us, and a little gentle arm twisting of other tour members would be needed to get them into the frame of mind where they are happy to stop for us to view and photograph birds. The most effective way is, of course, to give people scope views of colourful species, so we would like to give a big thanks to Lilac-breasted Rollers and Little Bee-eaters. August is a prime time for viewing mammals, for as the dry season intensifies they concentrate around water sources, but it is certainly not the best time for birding. Palaearctic and a variety of intra-African migrants are absent, and birds like Bishops, Weaver-birds and Widow-birds are in their anonymous non-breeding plumage.
We arrived in the early morning in Johannesburg, the temperature being -2’C, with clear skies and a hard frost, which was something of a shock to the system. However it soon warmed up to the pleasant low twenties as we settled into the adequate Rivonia Road Lodge and planned a trip to the Florence Bloom Bird sanctuary in Delta Park (details given in World Cities by Paul Milne) The taxi fare there was exorbitant but there seemed few other options so to avoid a wasted day off we went. Our chatty and appalling driver had great problems finding the site, although it should have been a simple task, but we were eventually dropped off at the Environmental Centre (closed Saturdays), where a car park attendant was kind enough to show us a roosting Spotted Eagle Owl, making a good start to the day. There were two small artificial lakes surrounded by papyrus and marsh, with small areas of planted trees, and in this essentially urban environment a number of birds were seen – African Black Duck, Grey-headed Gulls, Common Moorhen, Yellow-billed Duck and Egyptian Geese on the lakes, with Hadada Ibis, Black-headed herons, Cattle Egrets, Helmeted Guinea-fowl, Blacksmith Plovers and Crowned Plovers on the grasslands. A Black-shouldered Kite that sailed past was the sole raptor, and other birds were Cape Turtle Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Laughing Dove, African Olive Pigeon, Grey Go-away-birds, Speckled Mousebird, alien Rose-ringed parakeets and Common Mynas, Green Wood-hoopoe, African Hoopoe, Crested barbet, Pied Crow, Dark-capped Bulbuls, Karoo Thrush, Cape Robin-Chat, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Common Fiscal, Cape Glossy Starlings, Southern Grey-headed Sparrows and Southern Masked Weavers.
We even found a mammal in the form of a sunbathing Slender Mongoose along the dam.
On our return to the hotel we found an engaging pair of Black-collared barbets enlarging a woodpecker hole in a dead tree, with Cape white-eyes and Speckled pigeons to conclude a somewhat low key introduction to Southern African birding.
We met up with the rest of our tour group (12 persons in total) and piled into a large red lorry that resembled nothing so much as a fire engine. However this vehicle was only used to transport us to Botswana, where we switched to a khaki land Cruiser, that had a little more bush credibility.
Almost the entire day was taken up with a very long drive to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, two hours inside Botswana from the bridge over the Limpopo River. Here we met our tour guide Geoff. A stickler for organisation and very efficient, Geoff was a thorough professional and made sure the trip ran more or less smoothly throughout.
Leaving J’burg at 7.30 we travelled through ‘thornveld’ that became rather more arid as we headed NW. It was hardly possible to make any stops but in the town of Mokarone saw Alpine Swifts, red-winged Starlings and White-bellied Sunbird, while a roadside lunch stop gave Acacia Pied barbet, and Yellow-billed Hornbill. The remainder of wildlife sightings were restricted to drive pasts; it would have been nice to stop for a stunning flock of Blue Crane and my first Cape Vultures. Mammals seen included a splendid bull Kudu, Common Zebra, Impala, Vervet Monkey and Bush Squirrel, while other birds noted were White-backed Vulture, African Harrier-Hawk, Crested francolin, African Black Swift, White-fronted Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, Drongo, Ground-scraper Thrush, Marico Flycatcher, Cape Wagtail, Magpie Shrike, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Brubru, Burchell’s Starling, Red-billed Quelea, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Blue Waxbill, Scaly-feathered Finch and Green- winged Pytilia. It was dark by the time we arrived at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, so the planned exploration of the area was postponed until the following morning, leaving us to put up the tents, eat the first of Geoff’s excellent camp dinners and recover from the journey. During the night the temperature dropped close to freezing. This proved to be exceptionally cold for the trip, but it set the pattern of cool nights followed by clear and pleasantly warm days.
Was up at dawn in our campsite at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, with a dawn chorus of Crested Francolins. I had expected these birds to be as wary as usual with gamebirds, but they were in fact absurdly tame, together with Arrow-marked and Southern-pied Babblers, the striking Crimson-breasted Shrike, Drongo and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills that came to purloin breakfast crumbs.
We then went for a short drive around the Rhino Sanctuary, where we failed to connect with its largest resident, the White Rhino, although signs of the animal were everywhere. However a nice selection of other mammals were seen such as pronking Springbok, Gemsbok, Blue Wildebeest, Impala, Common Waterbuck, Bush Duiker, Steenbok representing antelopes, as well as Common Zebra, a Black-backed jackal and a Bat-eared Fox.
A selection of dry country birds included Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Red-faced Mousebird, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Common Ostrich, Red-eyed Bulbul, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Black-backed Puffback, Marico Sunbird, Yellow Canary and Meyer’s parrot.
It was then another long drive of 8 hours to Maun, arriving at nightfall, passing diamond mines, vast stretches of bushland used for cattle ranching and the edge of the vast Makgadkigadi salt pan, where we stopped for lunch.
Along the road we had glimpsed sightings of Yellow Mongoose and Damara Ground-Squirrels on the edge of the Central Kalahari, and most unexpectedly two huge bull Elephants crossing the road 10km from Maun. There was a surprising lack of raptors, but Greater Kestrel, 2 Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures were seen, with other birds being Northern Black Korhaan, Red-crested Korhaan, Red-billed Francolin, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Pied Kingfisher , Little Bee-eater, and Meeves’s Starling.
The arid areas adjacent to the salt pans gave Wire-tailed Swallow, Red-capped lark, African Pipit and Red-headed Finch.
Before our departure from Audi Camp (nicely sited by the Thamalakane River) I wandered around, seeing Red-billed Francolin, Swamp Boubou, Coppery-tailed Coucal and a large flock of Glossy Ibis. The plan for today was to travel by dugout canoe (mokoro) to a remote island in the Okovango Delta.
We eventually vacated the campsite and travelled along tracks through Mopane Woodland to the mokoro lauch site, noting (at last) some raptors such as Shikra and Dickinson’s Kestrel.
The loading of the mokoros seemed to take an age, and it wasn’t until 12.00 that we were finally being poled out onto the delta. The canoes are now generally made from fibreglass, which are far more durable and should help to conserve the limited supply of large hardwood trees in the delta.
The habitat was exactly as I had imagined, with clear water flowing strongly over flooded grassland, intersected with channels filled with lilies and bur-reed, and distant islands fringed with palms and acacias giving some idea of the enormity of this wilderness area.
What was disappointing was the paucity of birdlife, and in four hours poling a very small selection of birds was seen – Reed Cormorants, African Jacanas, Southern Pochard, African Fish eagle, African Darter, and Great Egret. I had expected a photographic haul that would threaten to fill a memory card, but remarkably I didn’t have the opportunity to take a single wildlife image!
We arrived at the campsite around 4.00pm and saw rather more wildlife here. The island was of significant size (20km x 10km), the interior a grassy savannah, with shallow lagoons and scattered sausage, acacia, real fan palms and mopane trees.
Two bull Elephants were seen, feeding on palm fruits, the Elephants giving the tree a violent shaking to dislodge the fruits, while out on the savannah three rich chestnut antelopes were revealed to be Red Lechwe. They had their own distinct character, resembling a cross between Kob and Impala.
Numbers of water birds flying over (more than were seen during the whole mokoro ride) included Rufous-bellied Heron, Spur-winged Goose, Pink-backed Pelican, Intermediate Egret, the threatened Slaty Egret as well as numbers of Great Egret and Glossy Ibis. A Brown Snake Eagle flew around palms, and three Spotted Thick-knee were found lurking under a bush. Towards dusk numbers of Double-banded Sandgrouse flew over.
We were out at sunrise on the grassy plains of the island in the delta, with African Hares loping in front of us, other mammals seen being bull Elephants and Wildebeest. A good selection of water birds were seen including Green-backed Heron, Rufous-bellied Heron, Saddle-billed Stork, and Greenshank. A Bateleur and a Brown Snake Eagle soared low overhead, giving great photo opportunities. There were large numbers of Double-banded sandgrouse – very difficult to spot when on the deck even in sparse vegetation, but some were located scuttling away at close range. Other birds seen were Red-breasted Swallow before we returned for a brunch. I then went for walk with Philip, one of the mokoro polers who had great enthusiasm and a good knowledge of birdlife, in spite of lacking bins (will send him a surplus pair). A beautiful lily covered lagoon held the exquisite African Pgymy Geese, with Red Lechwe and Slaty Egrets in the margins. In the surrounding scrub skulked White-browed Scrub-Robins and Black-crowned Tchagras, while Long-billed Crombecs, Jameson’s Firefinch and the surprisingly scarce Malachite Kingfisher were also on view. It was a pity a spotlight walk here was out of the question here, as we found a lot of sign of nocturnal animals such as Aardvark, Serval and Springhare.
In our final walk in the late afternoon some 20 elephants moved across the savannah, ending up around our campsite, and 200+ Openbill Storks circled overhead as we watched the sunset and the flocks of egrets and other waterbirds flying to roost.
We started the day with a short walk on the delta island, starting at 6.45 (sunrise), but our route was initially blocked by 20 elephants passing in front of us. One briefly flared its ears, but they were generally unperturbed. However it is certainly a different experience being close to elephants when on foot, as opposed to viewing them from a vehicle. The walk was otherwise fairly uneventful, with Great, Intermediate, Little and Cattle Egrets, Rufous-bellied herons, Openbill Stork and Double-banded Sandgrouse among the expected species.
It was then back into the mokoros for the journey back to Maun. After the outward trip my expectations were not high, so were broadly met with sightings of Southern Pochard, Jacanas, Egrets, Long-tailed Shags, Black-shouldered Kite, Senegal and Coppery-tailed Coucals and African Fish Eagles briefly disturbing our relaxing progress through the reed swamps.
In the afternoon we declined the option of a scenic flight over the delta – having being buzzed by aircraft for much of the day it seemed hypocritical to contribute to the disturbance so we spent the day around Audi Camp, where by the river I was able to photograph Jameson’s Firefinch, Swamp Boubou, Black-backed Puffback and White-crested Helmet-Shrike.
With camping the slight downside is the time taken to break camp as demonstrated that we didn’t depart of Moremi Game reserve until 9.20 am, having picked up our Botwana driver/guide Presse, and Abyss who acted as cook, driver of the supply vehicle and general dogsbody, probably working harder than anyone. Some 50km from Maun we passed through the buffalo/veterinary fence and then entered the community protected area (NG34), where the first mammals were seen – numbers of Impala, the odd zebra, a nice pair of two cow giraffes with young calves, Steenbok, Kudu and many Elephants. Several Bataleurs and the first Southern Pale-chanting Goshawk were seen, flying over or perched on snags respectively.
Once we entered the reserve by the south gate mammal sightings ironically ceased, but later stops by flooded lagoons gave sightings of Elephant herds bathing, Red lechwe, Waterbuck and a variety of birds, such as Wood sandpiper, Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves, Striped Kingfisher, Purple Roller, and Southern Black Flycatcher. Near to one lagoon we found a troop of those fascinating mammals, the Banded Mongoose.
A reception committee was provided on our arrival at the bush camp, with a Southern Ground Hornbill family stalking the savannah woodlands.
After a brief siesta when Bennet’s Woodpecker was seen we headed out for a late afternoon drive.
A young male Lion was found resting on the ground, nursing a serious and recent facial injury, that had come close to, but perhaps not blinding it. The series of punctures looked to me like the result of a hefty swipe from another Lion.
Spectacular numbers of Elephants were seen, mostly prime bulls, but also family groups and females with young calves. Birds seen included Shikra, 6 more Ground Hornbills and Cardinal Woodpecker.
Towards dusk a Spotted Hyena ambled across the grasslands and as we returned after dark I rather regretted the fact I had left the spotlight in camp.
At dawn African Scops Owl and Pearl-spotted Owlet were calling around the camp and I was attempting to spotlight these when a cacophony of alarm calls from the resident Impala herd prompted a lowering of the beam to reveal the dazzlingly reflective eyes of a Leopard lurking in the bushes. The Leopard duly slunk off, but shortly after we set off for our morning exploration it was clear the Impala were viewing something with extreme suspicion, and we soon had the most fantastic views possible of a patrolling male Leopard, that treated us with total disdain.
The birds of the day were undoubtedly the superb pair of Wattled Cranes found digging on wet ground, giving fantastic views at close range, but many other wetland species were found in the marshes, including White-winged Terns, Yellow-billed Stork, nine species of heron, and African Spoonbill. The airspace above one flat plain was filled with Collared Pratincoles as a Black-chested Harrier Eagle flew over.
We stopped by a lagoon sign posted ‘hippo pools’ where several loafed close to our bank, one obliging with a yawn, but on the other side of the lagoon a battle royal took place between two hippos, the animals charging at each other and clamping down on each others jaws. Eventually one Hippo broke off and was chased for a considerable distance through the water, the pursuit continuing on land with the two Hippo disappearing off into the distance. An African Hawk eagle provided the final flourish of this excursion.
In the afternoon new birds noted were Swallow-tailed Bee-Eater, and Kori Bustard but we also had good flight views of Brown Snake-Eagle, the most interesting mammals being 4 female and one bull Kudu.
We left the bush campsite at Moreni at 7.30, setting off for Savuti in the south of Chobe NP. A stop was made by a bridge over the River Kwai ! where the clear river held Hippo with Baboons along its banks and a variety of waterbirds such as Saddle-billed Stork, Jacanas, Black crake with Lesser Striped Swallows overhead. We then had an unscheduled stop as a shorting wire in the supply vehicle ignited some of the rolled mattresses, fortunately the damage being discovered before the conflagration became uncontrollable.
However I turned the mishap to my advantage as the barren plain was frequented by many Burchell’s Sandgrouse and I took some nice flight shots of this species.
Before the entrance gate to Chobe NP we could view two tiny Lion cubs sheltering in a acacia bush, while nearby two bloated Lionesses lay next to the carcass of a bull Giraffe, which had been disembowelled, with most of the internal organs and the haunches eaten.
The Lionesses were predictably inactive and really a less exciting sight than that of a Ratel trotting over the ground, to disappear all too quickly; my first sighting of this formidable animal.
Other sightings here were Shikra as well as various waterbirds, and a very large Nile Crocodile – certainly over 4m in length.
There were large numbers of Swainson’s and Red-billed Francolins, fodder for the African Hawk Eagle that circled low overhead, as did a Tawny Eagle.
We continued into the park, seeing the odd Giraffe (including two ‘necking’), wildebeest, Kudu, Buffalo and Steenbok as we travelled round a large pan.
In the afternoon rest period at the pleasant but exorbitantly priced campsite by the Savuti River we were visited by Slender Mongoose, Long-billed Crombec and Blue Waxbills, before we were out again at 4.30 pm.
The campsite is by the Savuti river, which for the past two years has been a river in more than name. Clear and fast flowing it looked as permanent as an English chalk stream, although it has been bone dry for decades.
The stately progress of two Giraffe came to a halt, and they were clearly scrutinising something in front of them. This turned out to be two male Lions lying under some bushes. To my surprise the Giraffe approached within perhaps 5m of the Lions, viewing them for a considerable time before walking round them. Giraffe are clearly not invulnerable to Lions, as witness the mornings kill, but it must be a titanic struggle for Lions to overpower such an animal. Other animals and birds seen on the drive included Kudu, Steenbok and Kori Bustard.
At the end of the day spotlighting around the campsite revealed a Springhare.
At dawn I saw a Springhare bouncing around the campsite before we set off for an excursion along the edge of Savuti Marsh, now a vast seasonal flood plain, although in recent years the area has been arid in the extreme with only artificial waterholes to attract game. It was noteworthy to see a Lechwe in the marsh, apparently an antelope not recorded in the area for many years. More predictably several hundred Cape Buffalo were spread out across the marsh, with smaller numbers of Warthog, Wildebeest, Impala, Kudu and Zebra.
The star mammal was again a Leopard that, extraordinarily to me, was hunting Guinea-fowl in long grass, hundreds of metres from the nearest bush cover. The Leopards ability to conceal itself was extraordinary, but in spite of this the Guinea-fowl detected it and began alarm calling. I was gob-smacked to see the cat hunting in the open at 11.00am.
Raptors included two Secretary Birds on a nest, while in the marshy pools waders such as Greater painted Snipe, Black-winged Stilts, Greenshank and Wood Sandpipers were seen. In the grasslands Saddle-billed Storks, Black-headed Herons, and African Marsh harriers searched for prey. The little and large of the bustard world – Kori and Red-crested Korhaan were regularly seen.
At the end of the drive we climbed up a rock face to view some bushman rock art; it was easy to recognise Eland, Sable Antelope, and Elephant.
In the evening drive we were circumnavigating a rocky outcrop when Guinea-fowl alarm calls indicated something unpleasant from their point of view was in the vicinity. The advantage of 14 pairs of eyes was clear when a female Leopard was located crouching in long grass just 50 yards away – an excellent sight, but eclipsed as the Leopard got up and walked towards us giving an unbelievable view as it passed by within 3m to disappear in a rocky outcrop. Birds seen included photogenic Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters and Fish eagles.
The day started early – at 3.30am I heard rustling from just outside the tent and when we peered out with the spotlight to find two Ratels rummaging around the rubbish bin. I watched these stocky and powerful animals for a little while before they decided there was not enough to hold their attention and they trotted off, tails held high.
I searched the campsite after this, failing to relocate the Ratels, but found 2 Spring-hares, Scrub Hare and a calling African Scops Owl.
After packing up we toured the area around Sauveti, revisiting the marsh. Mammals seen were a Yellow Mongoose, Steenbok, Kudu, Zebra, Buffalo, Warthogs and Dwarf Mongoose. Among birds the highlights were stunning close views of Secretary Bird, a Dickinson’s kestrel robbing a Lilac-breasted Roller of a frog, and a Gymnogene probing holes in a dead tree.
We then headed through Chobe Forest Reserve, along seemingly interminable sand roads through arid Mopane Scrub where little was seen – the odd Tawny Eagle and Southern Pale-chanting Goshawk plus a roosting Verreaux’s Eagle Owl before we arrived at the flood plain of the Chobe River. Along the sealed road to the park entrance it proved to be good for raptors with 3 Brown Snake Eagles, 2 Gymnogene, Martial Eagle, 7 White-backed vulture and 2 tawny Eagles.
We then re-entered the park, and after a short distance through mopane woodland we could view the breathtaking vista of the Chobe floodplain which swarmed with ungulates and Zebra. Most antelope were Impala, but there were also substantial numbers of Kudu, Buffalo, Waterbuck and best of all on the scrub covered hillside were 6 Sable Antelope with at least one magnificent bull, who later came down to drink with several bull Kudu.
The birdlife was prolific with kind of diversity and numbers I had expected to see in the Delta – hundreds of White Pelicans and a variety of ducks, ibis, storks and herons, White-winged Terns had our bins scanning in all directions.
In the afternoon drive Comb Duck, Pearl-spotted Owlet and a nice pair of Red-necked Falcons were added to the list.
At dawn spotlighted a Spotted Hyena, and later another 15 were seen in the distance disputing items from a kill. White-browed Robin-chat, Tropical Boubou, and Terrestrial Brownbul were seen around the camp and a fine Lanner Falcon powered past. We then set out into Chobe NP, skirting the flood plain of the river that contrasts so strongly with the arid scrub and mopane woodland on the slopes rising from the plain. Straight away a group of stylish Roan Antelope were found. The other impressive species that are very hard to find in East Africa – Sable and Kudu were also seen, with 5 Sable and at least 50 Kudu.
Other mammals were a clan of Banded Mongoose, very many (40 +) Giraffe, and massive numbers of Buffalo. Several pods of Hippo were hauled out in mud-plastered piles, rather than being in the water (possibly at this time of year the water temperature is less than ideal).
Birds seen included many white-backed and 2 Lappet-faced Vultures on a kill, dramatic flocks of White pelicans (perhaps 1000) flying past in wavering lines at close range, a sleek Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, and Brown-crowned Tchagra.
We then vacated the park and headed to Kasane, where in the afternoon we boarded a boat for an excursion along the Chobe River. There was a veritable armada of boats heading from Kasane to the park, but I was sure our small boat (in Australia it would be referred to as a ‘tinny’) gave by far the best wildlife viewing and photographic opportunities.
Reptiles were represented by some large Nile Monitors and many Nile Crocodiles, which if not as massive as those in Uganda or in the Grumeti River in Tanzania were still potentially lethal.
Birds viewed the skiff with a complete lack of concern and photographic opportunities seemed endless. New species were stonechat, African Skimmers (nesting on an island), and Kittlitz’s Sand-Plover. All too quickly we were viewing the sunset before a return to base.
In the evening as we ate some of the local wildlife at a lavish buffet at Chobe Safari Lodge we could view Epauletted Fruit Bats (probably Epomophorus gambianus based on range) feeding on a fruiting tree overhanging the river.
We made an early start from Kasane, but not before I had seen Pearl-spotted Owlet and a smart Grey-headed Bush-Shrike in the campsite grounds.
The border crossing to Zambia was relatively painless, and as the ferry laboured across the Zambezi I saw Osprey, Giant Kingfisher and Gabar Goshawk, as well as a few Hippo.
In the extensive gardens around our campsite at Zambezi Waterfront Lodge saw another Giant Kingfisher, as well as the localised Collared Palm-Thrush.
We then went to pay homage to the mighty drip. In spite of tourists and commercialisation nothing could quite detract from the awesome spectacle of the falls. Even on the Zambian side a nearly continuous wall of water poured over the sill, to plunge to oblivion in the gorge below, while on the Zimbabwean side a cloud of spray rose hundreds of feet into the air. It is hard to describe the impact of the spectacle without resorting to cliché, but this was one natural wonder that did not disappoint.
Apart from obnoxious and brazen Baboons wildlife was restricted to the beautiful White-crowned lapwings and Trumpeter Hornbills.
Having belatedly discovered that the activities I had planned for this free day – a days bird watching with Charles Brightman and a night drive and bush dinner were not possible as they were based in Zimbabwe we were left with the activities offered at Zambezi Waterfront Lodge. The most appealing to me was a cruise on the river in a small skiff. Accompanied by a Russian family, who appeared to be neither oligarchs or Mafiosi we set off to explore the riverine forest along a mid stream island, skirting this then passing thorough some boulder strewn fast water before returning.
This trip was quite expensive at $75, but all activities at Victoria Falls seemed to be considerably more expensive than similar activities elsewhere in the world.
Mammals seen included many Hippo, some of which showed some animosity to the boat, although or boatman treated them with great caution, one bull Elephant and a Bushbuck.
Birdlife comprised some quality with an amazing total of 7 Finfoot, viewable at cripplingly close range. Other birds were White-crowned lapwings, Water Thick-knees, Goliath Heron, Green-backed Heron, Rufous-bellied Heron, Gymnogene, African Skimmer, Black crake, Rock Pratincole, Hooded Vulture. There were also the inevitable Nile Monitors and Nile Crocodiles.
In the afternoon I hitched a life to Batoka Gorge with people going on the jet boat, and managed to score a new mammal, as a Side-striped Jackal presumably dislodged from cover by a bush fire was seen loping away from the fire front.
Batoka Gorge was scenically dramatic with arid scrub and woodland either side, savage cliffs and the swirling Zambezi below. I had hoped for Verreaux’s Eagle or Taita Falcon, but had to be content with Rock Martins, Fish Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Pale Chanting-Goshawk and Crowned Hornbills.
In the evening with a failing spotlight I still managed to connect with a calling African Wood Owl in the grounds of the campsite.
A relaxed morning with an enormous breakfast before we thanked and said goodbye to Geoff, Abyss and Presse for our mid morning transfer to the airport.
One new bird (and indeed a lifer) was squeezed onto the trip list, as a Half-collared Kingfisher sped down the river with a fish in its bill.
Overall a trouble free, well organised and reasonably paced trip with some fabulous wildlife and almost unlimited opportunities to put the Canon 7D through its paces. I had 3 new mammals and 12 new birds, but Wild Dog will have to wait for another trip.
List and nomenclature follows Sinclair et al, Birds of Southern Africa, an excellent field guide, and really all one would require for the birds of the region.
White-breasted Cormorant. Just three seen along the Chobe River on 10th August.
Reed Cormorant. A fairly common species both in the Okovango Delta and along the Chobe River, with up to 100 seen daily in both locations.
African Darter. This species has declined greatly in East Africa as it seems particularly vulnerable to nylon gill nets so it is good to see fairly large numbers in both the Okovango Delta, and along the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers with 2-20 seen daily. One was seen to catch a Tiger-fish.
Great White Pelican. Only seen along the Chobe River, where spectacular numbers flew along the river in the morning of 10/8, with probably over 1000 birds coming by at close range.
Pink-backed Pelican. Only one seen in flight at the Okovango Delta on 2nd August.
Goliath Heron. Three birds seen along the Zambezi on the cruise of 12th August allowed a very close approach.
Purple Heron. Five examples were seen in the Okovango Delta, with another along the Chobe River during the afternoon boat trip.
Grey Heron. Small numbers (2-10) seen daily in lagoons in Moremi GR, Sauveti marsh and along the Chobe River.
Black-headed Heron. A few birds seen along roadsides in South Africa, and c4 in the grasslands around Sauveti Marsh.
Yellow-billed Egret. Seen regularly in small numbers in the Okovango Delta, Sauveti Marsh and along the Chobe River, with 1-5 daily.
Great White Egret. The most common and regularly seen Egret, with up to 40 seen daily in most wetland habitats visited.
Little Egret. A few birds seen in the Delta, rather more numerous along the Chobe River with 5-10 seen daily.
Cattle Egret. Not particularly numerous, but c60 seen on the drive to Khama Rhino Sanctuary on 31/7, with several scattered flocks of up to 10 seen in other locations.
Squacco Heron. 1-4 birds seen most days in the Delta, but quite numerous along the Chobe River, with c30 seen during the afternoon boat cruise on 10/8.
Black Heron. One to two birds seen daily in lagoons at Moremi GR, and a flock of 5 during the boat cruise along the Chobe River. Fishing birds were simply stalking the shallows, not using the distinctive ‘umbrella’ style of fishing.
Slaty Egret. This localised and threatened species was seen on lagoons in the island in the Okovango (6 birds) with a single in Moremi GR. The all yellow legs were the best feature to distinguish this species from the superficially similar Black heron.
Rufous-bellied Heron. This rather skulking and sometimes elusive species was seen quite regularly, with 2-4 birds seen daily in the Delta, and it also appeared in Moremi GR and along the Zambezi during the boat ride.
Green-backed Heron. A few birds seen daily in the Delta and rather more numerous along the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers, with up to 6 seen during boat cruises, birds perched on overhanging branches would tolerate very close approaches.
White Stork. A single seen close to a bush fire along the track to Batoka Gorge on 12/8.
Yellow-billed Stork. A few birds were seen on lagoons in Moremi GR, but more common along the Chobe River, with 50-60 present daily. From the boat they could be watched fishing at very close range, shuffling their feet and waiting for fish/crabs to swim between the partially open bill.
Marabou Stork. Two seen at Sauveti, and at least 10 seen on the boat cruise along the Chobe River on 10/8.
African Openbill. Seen in fairly large numbers in the Delta, Moremi GR and along the Chobe River, with up to 300 daily, often in flocks circling round in thermals.
African Spoonbill. One seen in the Hippo Pools in Moremi GR, and c20 seen daily along the Chobe River.
Hamerkop. Seen virtually daily at all locations visited, with 1-5 seen daily.
Hadada Ibis. Common in J’burg, with c50 seen in Delta Park, much less frequently seen in Botswana with just 3 seen at our camp in Moremi GR.
African Sacred Ibis. Only a few birds seen, with 3 in the Okavango Delta, and 5 along the Chobe River.
Spur-winged Goose. This large and rather ill proportioned goose was seen regularly in small numbers in the Delta, Moremi GR, Savuti and along the Chobe River. Usually seen in male/female pairs.
Egyptian Goose. Seen in Delta park, J’burg, in small numbers in the Okavango Delta, and more common along th Chobe River with c150 seen daily.
Comb Duck. This species was seen along the Chobe River, with c20 birds seen on 10/8.
White-faced Duck. Typically seen in fairly large whistling flocks, some 50 were seen in Moremi GR, and daily along the the Chobe River.
African Pygmy-Goose. Small but perfectly formed sums up this beautiful species, 6 birds were seen amongst waterlilies on a lagoon on the island in the Okavango Delta.
Southern Pochard. Just two birds seen during the mokoro trip in the Okavango Delta.
Yellow-billed Duck. Four seen on a dammed lake in the Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary, J’burg on 30/7.
African Black Duck. Two seen in the Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary in J’burg.
Red-billed Teal. Flocks of 50 or so were seen over Sauveti marsh, and along the Chobe River.
Secretary-bird. Two birds were seen on a nest (which was a massive unconcealed structure in an acacia), and another 2 were found stalking grasslands giving brilliant views from a few metres, with another 2 seen at the Chobe River.
Lappet-faced Vulture. Two examples of this massive bird were seen at a roadside kill along the road to Maun on 1/8, and they could be viewed in a rather more leisurely way in Chobe NP. Two gave great flight shots on 9/8, and another 5 were seen, including two on a kill, where they dwarfed the White-backed Vultures.
Cape Vulture. This species was seen along the road from J’burg. Strikingly pale in flight, with a pale body, and pale honey above (but with no white back) it was fairly easy to identify, even if the pale eye and bare blue skin on the neck were hardly visible.
African White-backed Vulture. Some 20 seen on a roadside kill along the road to Maun on 1/8, with a few birds seen in Moremi GR, and relatively numerous in Chobe NP, with up to 50 seen daily, including birds feeding on a kill.
Hooded Vulture. Two birds seen along the Zambezi River on 12/8 and 13/8.
African Fish Eagle. Very much the spirit of African wetlands, this species was seen virtually daily in the Delta, Moremi GR, Savuti and along the Chobe River, with up to 5 seen daily. Robustus Bream was noted as prey, and nesting was seen in the Delta and along the Chobe River.
Osprey. Just one bird seen circling over the Zambezi during the border crossing. Should it go on the Namibian, Zambian, Zimbabwean or Botswana list?
Bataleur. One of the most frequently seen raptors, perhaps not surprisingly as it spends so much time sailing over savannahs, with 1-5 birds seen daily in the Delta, Moremi GR, Savuti and Chobe NP. Took many nice flight shots of this bizarre, almost heraldic raptor.
Brown Snake-Eagle. Singles seen in the Delta, at Savuti marsh, and three together along the Chobe River on 9/8.
Black-chested Snake-Eagle. One was seen being mobbed by Collared Pratincoles in Moremi GR on 6/8.
Tawny Eagle. A total of about 11 birds were seen on 5 days in Sauveti and along the Chobe River.
Martial Eagle. Given the abundance of Guinea-fowl in most areas visited it was disappointing to see just one perched bird near the Ngoma Gate for Chobe NP.
African Hawk Eagle. One example of this powerful raptor seen in Moremi GR on 6/8, and a pair together at Savuti on 7/8, which gave good photo opportunities.
Augur Buzzard. One bird seen along the Batoka Gorge on 12/8.
African Harrier-Hawk. One was seen in South Africa, then two juveniles at Sauveti, including one that was probing holes in dead trees with its talons, a pair in Chobe NP, and one along the Zambezi.
African Marsh-harrier. Singles were seen over Sauveti Marsh, and another during the boat ride along the Chobe river on 10/8.
Southern Pale Chanting-Goshawk. This species was far less common than in Namibia, with just two seen on the drive from Maun to the mokoro launch site, another in Chobe Forest reserve, and one near Batoka Gorge.
Yellow-billed Kite. Surprisingly only a single bird seen on 11/8 on the Zambian border.
Black-shouldered Kite. A single seen in Delta park, with 6 seen as we drove through South Africa on 31/7, with just one other seen in the Okavango Delta.
Ovambo Sparrowhawk. A number of accipiters were seen during journeys, the views too brief for definite IDs, but I had good flight and perched views of an example of this species, the photo I took clearly shows the diagnostic white flecks on the barred uppertail.
Shikra. Four examples seen in Moremi GR.
Gabar Goshawk. One seen flying along the Zambezi as we waited at Zambian immigration, showing its white rump.
Greater Kestrel. A single perched along the road as we skirted the Kalahari on 1/8.
Lanner Falcon. A fine adult that cruised along the Chobe river on 10/8 gave an opportunity to get some nice flight shots.
Red-necked Falcon. A pair of this stylish falcon flew past in typical rapid and purposeful flight along the Chobe River on 9/8.
Dickinson’s Kestrel. Four birds were seen in the Okavango Delta, with another at Sauveti marsh, that made great efforts to klepto-parasitise a Lilac-breasted Roller.
Red-billed Francolin. This was probably the most widespread and common francolin species, and it was certainly more confiding and less skulking that most francolins. It was seen in most areas visited, with the largest numbers at Sauveti, where c40 were seen each day.
Swainson’s Francolin. Singles were seen in Moremi GR, with rather more seen at Sauveti, with c10 seen each day.
Crested Francolin. Very numerous and absurdly tame at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, where up to 20 birds wandered around the campsite, a complete contrast to how wary one normally expects game-birds to be. Others were seen at Moremi and Sauveti.
Helmeted Guinea-fowl. A common and widespread species, seen in all areas with the largest numbers around Sauveti, and along the Chobe River, where c500 must have been seen daily. The vigilance and grating alarm calls of this species helped us find two of the leopards seen on the trip.
Common Ostrich. Approximately 10 birds seen at Khama Rhino sanctuary, with another 4 around Sauveti on 8/8.
African Finfoot. This normally elusive species proved to be easy to locate along the Zambezi River, during the boat ride on 12/8, with 7 different birds seen, many of which gave cripplingly close views at less than 10 metres, and we could view the birds feeding, preening and running around on the bank with surprising speed.
Common Moorhen. A few birds seen in the Florence Bloom Bird sanctuary, and 2 others in the Okavango Delta.
Black Crake. Some 10 were seen around the Hippo Pools in Moremi GR, where prolonged chasing and fighting was taking place, also seen at the River Khwai and along the Zambezi.
Wattled Crane. A fabulous, ornate and elegant bird, a pair gave fantastic close views as they probed around a lagoon in Moremi GR, during the morning drive, and in the evening another four gave equally close views, but in poor light. Definitely bird of the trip.
Blue Crane. A flock of 60 seen in flight over farmland in South Africa as we drove north from J’burg on 31/7.
Kori Bustard. Some six examples of this stately species seen in savannah’s around Sauveti.
Red-crested Korhaan. Some 20 seen along roads to Maun on 1/8, with 7 others seen in Moremi GR and at Sauveti. Quite fearless of vehicles typically gave great photo opportunities along the roadsides.
Northern Black Korhaan. About 10 were seen along the road to Maun on 1/8, with just one other seen in Sauveti marsh on 6/8.
African Jacana. A widespread and characteristic species of wetland areas, this species was seen almost daily with the largest numbers along the Chobe River.
Black-winged Stilt. Quite common along the Chobe river, with 42 birds seen over 2 days.
Kittlitz’s Plover. Just one seen on the Chobe River boat cruise on 10/8.
Crowned Lapwing. A widespread and quite common grassland wader this was seen in most areas visited, even being common in Delta park, J’burg, but not seen in Zambia.
Long-toed Lapwing. This wetland specialist was seen around the Hippo Pools in Moremi GR, and at Sauveti Marsh.
Blacksmith Plover. Another widespread and common grassland wader, but perhaps a little more tied to standing water than Crowned Lapwing, this species was seen almost daily.
African Wattled Plover. We only had one sighting of two examples of this species in Moremi GR on 6/8.
White-crowned Lapwing. This was a striking and unusual looking wader and seeing it completed my world set of extant lapwings! It was seen above Victoria Falls on 11/8, but these were distant views, but we had really close views of pairs on islands during the boat trip on the Zambezi on 12/8.
Common Sandpiper. A few seen along the Chobe River, with one at Moremi hitching a ride on a hippo.
Wood Sandpiper. Up to 20 seen daily on pools in Moremi GR and Sauveti Marsh.
Common Greenshank. Small numbers seen daily on pools in Moremi GR, Sauveti and along the Chobe River.
Greater Painted Snipe. One was seen in flight at Sauveti marsh, with a second skulking at the edge of an overgrown pool.
Collared Pratincole. Some 20 were seen on a drying lagoon in Moremi GR, with similar numbers seen along the Chobe River during the boat cruise on 10/8.
Rock Pratincole. Just one seen on a rocky island in the Zambezi during the boat cruise on 12/8.
Spotted Thick-knee. Three birds were seen skulking under a bush on the island in the Okavango Delta on 2/8, and towards sunset the trio were seen in flight.
Water Thick-knee. Two were seen along the Chobe river, but it was quite numerous along the Zambezi, with c30 seen during the boat cruise, many allowing a very close approach.
African Skimmer. The closest and best views of this elegant species were had on the boat cruise on the Chobe River, where c30 pairs could be seen nesting on a low sandy islands, with some birds seen briefly skimming. Another 7 birds were seen along the Zambezi.
Grey-headed Gull. A few examples seen in J’burg, with c100 seen daily along the Chobe River.
White-winged Tern. A single was seen in Moremi GR, with distant flocks of up to 50 seen along the Chobe River.
Double-banded Sandgrouse. This species was typically seen coming to drink towards evening on the island in the Delta, and Moremi GR, but there were many (c50) in the grasslands of the island during the day. They would flush at close range, but were very difficult to spot on the ground, although I managed some good photos.
Burchell’s Sandgrouse. A flock of 25 was seen in the Kalahari on 1/8, and on 7/8 the unscheduled stop due to the mattress fire! gave excellent views of flocks wheeling overhead, or on the deck.
Speckled Pigeon. A few birds seen in J’burg.
African Mourning Dove. This species was seen along the Chobe river and in zambia.
Red-eyed Dove. More widespread than the preceding species, this species was seen virtually daily in a wide range of habitats.
Cape Turtle-Dove. A common and widespread species, and seen daily in large numbers throughout the trip.
Laughing Dove. Another common and widespread species.
African Green Pigeon. Seen in flight over the island in the Okavango Delta, with 17 birds seen in total.
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove. Small numbers seen around the campsite at Sauveti, along the Chobe river and at Victoria Falls.
Namaqua Dove. This diminutive species of arid and desert habitats was seen commonly along roadsides as we travelled to Maun on 1/8, with c40 seen.
Meyer’s Parrot. Always seen in pairs, usually in flight, this species was seen daily in small numbers in the Delta, as well as around Savuti.
Rose-ringed Parakeet. Some 5 examples of this introduced species seen in J’burg.
Grey Go-away-bird. This species was common in Delta Park, J’burg, and very common in the dry bushland around Khama Rhino sanctuary, with parties seen in Sauveti. Up to 50 seen daily.
Schalow’s Turaco. A single example of this striking bird performed well in trees in the grounds of Zambezi Waterfront Lodge.
Coppery-tailed Coucal. One or two examples of this very large coucal were seen each day we spent in the Okavango Delta, also frequently heard calling.
Senegal Coucal. A few birds seen in Moremi GR, Sauveti and along the Chobe River.
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. A roosting bird seen along the track through Chobe Forest Reserve on 9/8.
Spotted Eagle-Owl. A roosting bird was seen just outside the environmental centre in Delta Park. This was one of a pair, the other out of sight on a nest in a hollow tree.
African Wood-Owl. A calling bird in the grounds of Zambezi waterfront Lodge was found with the spotlight on 12/8, giving good views before it ghosted away.
Pearl-spotted Owlet. Frequently heard calling, even during the day at Moremi GR, and birds seen along the Chobe River, the false face intriguing the tour group, and at Kasane.
African Scops Owl. Heard calling at the campsite in Moremi GR, and at Sauveti, where I tracked down a calling bird with the spotlight.
Square-tailed Nightjar. Amazingly did not see a sinlge nightjar, but heard this species along the the Chobe River.
Alpine Swift. Three examples seen over the town of Mokarone in South Africa, where we stopped briefly.
African Black Swifts. Five swifts seen on the journey to Maun on 31/7 could be seen to have paler secondaries as they turned, characteristic of this species.
African Palm Swift. Fairly common around real fan palms in the Delta, and along the Chobe River with 10-20 seen daily in these locations.
Red-faced Mousebird. Normally seen in very rapid flight over bushland, this species was common at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, with c30 seen, but also noted in Zambia.
Speckled Mousebirds. A few birds seen around Rivonia Road Lodge in J’burg.
Giant Kingfisher. This spectacular and noisy kingfisher was seen fairly regularly along the Zambezi, some 5 birds in total.
Pied Kingfisher. By far the most common kingfisher, seen daily from 1/8, with a maximum of c50 seen on the boat ride along the Chobe River, as many birds were nesting in sandy cliffs.
Half-collared Kingfisher. Very similar to Common Kingfisher, this was a new species for me, and seen flying along the Zambezi with a fish in its bill on the morning of our departure.
Malachite Kingfisher. Surprisingly scarce, with just two seen in the Okavango Delta, but got nice photos of a nesting bird along the Chobe River during the boat cruise.
Striped Kingfisher. Single examples of this dry land species seen along roadsides on 5/8 and 7/8.
White-fronted Bee-eater. A single was seen at the Limpopo River, with 10 birds along the Chobe River and 30 along the Zambezi.
Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. Seen in Moremi GR and at Sauveti where I got nice flight shots of this species catching dragonflies along the river.
Little Bee-eater. Regularly seen on the island in the Okavango Delta, and at Moremi GR with 2-10 birds daily in these locations.
Lilac-breasted Roller. A common and characteristic species of roadsides in bush country, with 4-30 seen daily. The spectacular rolling display seen on a few occasions.
Purple Roller. One seen in mopane woodland on 5/8 at the entrance to Moremi GR.
Southern Ground Hornbill. This impressive bird was first seen next to our campsite in Moremi GR, with two adults and a chick. Another family was seen on a drive here with 3 adults and 2 chicks, and a group of 4 was seen in Sauveti Marsh. At dawn the strange booming call of this species could be heard.
Trumpeter Hornbill. Some 7 examples of this large hornbill were seen in riverine woodland around Victoria Falls.
Bradfield’s Hornbill. This species has a localised distribution, but was very common around Sauveti with c80 seen daily.
Crowned Hornbill. A party of 8 birds seen on the slopes of Batoka Gorge on 12/8.
African Grey Hornbill. Seen regularly in small numbers in scrub and wooded savannah throughout the trip.
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill. A very common and widespread species seen virtually daily in all localities visited, with up to c200 seen each day.
Red-billed Hornbill. Slightly less common than Yellow-billed, but still a very common and widespread species. One male bird courting a female made an ill-advised attempt to land on a river and would undoubtedly have drowned if I had not fished it out.
Green Wood-hoopoe. Always a rather classy species, parties were seen in Delta park, and in Moremi GR.
African Hoopoe. An obliging and photogenic bird in Delta Park allowed a very close approach, and one other was seen on 31/8.
Black-collared Barbet. A pair was excavating a disused woodpecker hole in the grounds of Rivonia Road Lodge, J’burg, and pairs were also seen daily in the Okavango Delta.
Crested Barbet. Three were seen in Delta park on 30/7, and singles also recorded in Moremi GR and at Savuti.
Acacia Pied Barbet. A single during a lunchtime stop on the road to Botswana was the only sighting.
Bennett’s Woodpecker. A bird photographed in Moremi GR had small neat spots on its breast, as well as other features that would identify it as this species.
Golden-tailed Woodpecker. One seen at the campsite in Kasane.
Cardinal Woodpecker. One was seen in Moremi GR on 5/8. Considering the abundance of dead timber woodpeckers seemed surprisingly scarce.
Rufous-naped Lark. One seen on the island in the Delta on 4/8.
Red-capped lark. A pair seen along the arid shores of a salt-pan on the road to Maun on 1/8.
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark. Some 30 were seen feeding on the ground near one of the waterholes in Savuti on 8/8.
Red-breasted Swallow. A limited range and low numbers of hirundines were seen, a single of this species was seen in the Delta on 4/8.
Lesser Striped Swallow. A few birds seen at the River Khwai on 7/8 and near the Zambezi on 11/8.
Wire-tailed Swallow. The most commonly seen hirundine with 10-20 birds daily around the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers.
Rock Martin. Approximately 20 seen over Batoka Gorge on 12/8.
Fork-tailed Drongo. Apart from 30/7 seen daily in all areas visited, a common and widespread species.
Black-headed Oriole. Two birds seen flying over the Zambezi at Victoria Falls.
Pied Crow. Fairly common around towns and villages in Botswana, South Africa and Zambia.
Arrow-marked Babbler. Always seen in noisy groups of 8 or so birds, this was a common species of dry scrubland throughout Botswana.
Southern Pied Babbler. A rather striking species, a group of 8 in Khama Rhino sanctuary was the only sighting.
African Red-eyed Bulbul. A few examples of this bird were seen at the Khama Rhino sanctuary.
Dark-capped Bulbul. A common and widespread species.
Terrestrial Brownbul. A group of 5 seen around our campsite by the Chobe river on 9/8.
Yellow-bellied Greenbul. Some 5 birds were seen around Victoria Falls, or at Zambezi Waterfront Lodge gardens.
Karoo Thrush. This is a common garden bird in J’burg, although I had missed it on my previous brief visit to the city, this time we saw c7 birds.
Groundscraper Thrush. 10 examples of this large and quite distinctive thrush were seen along roadsides in South Africa and southern Botswana.
Arnott’s Chat. Just one seen in Mopane woodland in Moremi GR on 6/8.
Capped Wheatear. A single bird seen in Sauveti Marsh on 8/9.
Common Stonechat. Two pairs seen along the Chobe River during the boat cruise.
Cape Robin Chat. Five examples of this smartly marked bird were seen in Delta Park on 30/7.
White-browed Robin-Chat. A beautiful bird with a powerful song given at dawn, this species was quite common in scrub along the Chobe river, with c8 birds seen on 10 and ll/8.
Kalahari Scrub-Robin. This species was only seen at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, where it was common (and confiding) with c 20 seen.
White-browed Scrub-Robin. Singles were seen in the Delta, and at Audi camp, Maun.
Collared Palm Thrush. This species was seen in the grounds of Zambazi waterfront Lodge. They would investigate where tents had been lifted, as termites were often found tunnelling here.
Grey-backed Camaroptera. Three birds seen in scrub in the delta, also heard fairly frequently.
Long-billed Crombec. This distinctive, almost tailless warbler was seen in the Delta and at savuti, 4 birds in total.
Desert Cisticola. Two examples identified on the island in the Delta on 4/8.
Rattling Cisticola. A few singing individuals seen in scrub in the Okavango Delta.
Tawny-flanked Prinia. Seen in Delta park, and in the Okavango Delta in small numbers.
Southern Black Flycatcher. Just a single bird seen near the Mababe Gate in Chobe NP.
Marico Flycatcher. A fairly characteristic bird of the Kalahari, with c15 seen along roadsides on 31/7 and 1/8.
Pale Flycatcher. A single bird was seen at Victoria Falls on 12/8.
African Yellow White-eye. A few birds seen in Chobe NP on 9/8.
Cape White-eye. Two birds were seen in the grounds of the Rivonia road lodge on 30/7.
Chinspot Batis. Two examples of this neat flycatcher seen at Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
Cape Wagtail. One seen during a stop in South Africa.
African Pied Wagtail. A few birds seen each day along the Chobe river.
African Pipit. A pair seen at the edge of a salt pan on the road to maun, and another in savuti.
Crimson-breasted Shrike. A very showy species, and confiding and easy to see at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, where some 10 were on view around the campsite, and otherwise seen fairly regularly in Savuti, and other dryland habitats.
Magpie Shrike. A fairly common roadside bird throughout Botswana, and always seen in small groups. One party in Savuti was obviously mobbing a snake, that sadly, could not be viewed.
Common Fiscal. Lived up to its name, being common in J’burg, and elsewhere in South Africa, but not seen further north.
Tropical Boubou. This handsome but skulking species, whose call is one of the most distinctive African bush sounds was fairly common in scrub along the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers.
Swamp Boubou. This species was often heard calling from thickets in the Okavango Delta, but was something of a challenge to view, however, confiding birds could be viewed and photographed at Audi camp, maun.
Black-crowned Tchagra. A Tchagra played hide and seek on the island in the Delta on 3/8, but eventually gave good enough views to confirm it as this species.
Brown-crowned Tchagra. Two birds were seen along the Chobe River on 10/8.
Grey-headed Bush-Shrike. A handsome brute of a bird, one was watched dismembering prey in bushes around the campsite in Kasane.
Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike. A single bird was seen in scrub at the Khama Rhino sanctuary.
White-crested Helmet-Shrike. Parties of this bird were seen at Audi Camp, Maun, in Moremi GR and at Sauveti. They would always fly into a bush or tree, then sit quietly while intently scrutinising every leaf and twig, before pouncing on anything edible.
Southern White-crowned Shrike. A common bird along the road through the Kalahari to Maun, with 20 seen on 1/8, and also seen in Moremi GR, and on the drive to Sauveti .
Brubru. One seen at a lunch stop in South Africa on 31/7, and another along the Chobe River.
Black-backed Puff-back. Got nice photos of this crisply marked species at Audi camp, it was also seen in Moremi, and several birds at Victoria falls and surrounds.
Greater Blue-eared Starling. First seen at Khama Rhino Sanctuary this species was seen most days in Botswana, and would appear to be the most common short-tailed glossy starling there.
Cape Glossy Starling. Certainly seen in Delta Park, but not identified with certainty elsewhere.
Meves’s Starling. A common and widespread species throughout Botswana, fearless at campsites.
Burchell’s Starling. Rather less common than Meves’s Starling, but found in the same habitats, and often associating with that species.
Red-winged Starling. Apart from a single in South Africa, most were seen around gorges at Victoria Falls, with c20 seen on 11/8.
Common Myna. The ‘feathered rat’ was common in J’burg, but also seen close to the border with Botswana.
Red-billed Oxpecker. The most common oxpecker, this species was seen on buffalo, giraffe, impala and kudu in Moremi GR, at Savuti and in Chobe.
Yellow-billed Oxpecker. This species was seen on Buffalo at Sauveti, with a total of 15 birds over 2 days.
White-bellied Sunbird. Males seen nectar feeding at Mokarone on 31/7.
Marico Sunbird. A few examples seen including one at Khama Rhino Sanctuary complete a poor showing for this group of birds.
House Sparrow. Commonly seen around habitation in South Africa.
Cape Sparrow. Quite a striking sparrow, this species was seen in the grounds of Rivonia Road Lodge on 31/8.
Yellow-throated Petronia. Two birds seen at Ngoma gate in Chobe NP on 10/8.
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow. Small numbers seen regularly in most areas visited.
Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver. Flocks seen foraging on the ground, often with hornbills, in the Delta, Moremi GR, Savuti and in Chobe NP.
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver. This species seemed patchily distributed, being abundant in some areas, such as the road to Khama Rhino sanctuary after the border, but generally absent with only a few birds seen elsewhere.
Southern Masked Weaver. Birds were watched nest building in Delta Park.
Golden Weaver. One seen and photographed at Audi Camp, Maun.
Red-headed Weaver. Two non-breeding birds seen in the grounds of Zambezi Waterfront Lodge on 13/8.
Red-billed Quelea. Flocks of a few hundred or so birds were seen fairly frequently along roadsides during drives through bush country.
Jameson’s Firefinch. Small parties seen in the delta, with confiding birds at Audi camp, Maun.
Blue Waxbill. Common along roadsides, campsites and seen most days in most areas visited.
Red-headed Finch. Ten were seen during a lunch stop next to a salt pan on the road to Maun on 1/8.
Scaly-feathered Finch. A single seen at the border to Botswana, and 10 at Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
Green-winged Pytilia. Small numbers seen in Moremi GR and at Chobe.
Yellow Canary. A single bird at Khama Rhino Sanctuary was the only sighting.
Order and nomenclature follows ‘The kingdon field guide to African Mammals’ by Jonathan Kingdon.
Chacma Baboon Papio ursinus. Troops were seen on the island in the Okavango, in Moremi GR and Chobe, where a huge troop comprised well over 100 individuals. The baboons at Victoria Falls verged on being a dangerous menace.
Vervet Monkey Cercopithecus aethiops pygerythrus. Troops seen in Moremi GR, and very bold and easy to see in the gardens of Zambezi Waterfront Lodge.
Epauletted Fruit Bat Epomophorus sp. Several feeding on some fruiting tree overhanging the water made a distraction from the buffet meal at Chobe Safari Lodge.
Scrub Hare Lepus saxatalis (syn. crawshayi). One seen in the Okavango delta, and another at Savuti campsite at night.
South African Ground Squirrel Geosciurus inauris. Many examples were seen along roadsides as we drove along the edge of the Kalahari on 1/8.
Smith’s Bush Squirrel Paraxerus cepapi. This species was common and widespread, particularly in mopane woodland, seen in most areas visited.
Springhare Pedetes capensis. Four were seen with the aid of the spotlight around Sauveti campsite. It was obviously very common in the island in the Delta, with extensive areas covered with diggings.
Side-striped Jackal Canis adustas. One seen along the track to Batoka Gorge had possibly been forced to move during the day by the approaching bush fire front.
Black-backed Jackal Canis mesomelas. Only one was seen, at Khama Rhino Sanctuary; certainly far less common in Botswana than in Namibia.
Bat-eared Fox Octocyon megalotis. One was seen by its hole entrance at Khama Rhino sanctuary.
Ratel Mellivora capensis. I was very pleased to get views of this legendary animal, having failed ever to see it in East Africa. One was seen abroad in daylight at the edge of Chobe NP on 7/8, and at night two were found raiding a rubbish bin in the campsite at Sauveti, unfortunately not staying around for long enough to get any photos.
Slender Mongoose Herpestes sanguinea. One was seen sun bathing in Delta Park, while another was regularly seen patrolling the campsite at Sauveti.
Dwarf Mongoose Helogal parvula. Always seen in foraging troops, these tiny and fascinating carnivores were seen several times in Moremi GR and in Chobe NP.
Yellow Mongoose Cynictis pencillata. At least three were seen along the road to Maun on 1/8, often in association with ground Squirrels, plus a single was seen at Sauveti on 9/8.
Banded Mongoose Mungos mungo. A troop of 12 seen in Moremi GR, and about 10 animals in Chobe were the only sightings of this diurnal species. When moving they travel as a far more cohesive unit than the much smaller Dwarf Mongoose.
Spotted Hyaena Crocuta crocuta. We had very good views of a lone individual in Moremi GR on the evening of 5/8, and I spotlighted other individuals around the campsite at night here and in Chobe. A pack of 15 in Chobe could be seen disputing fragments from a kill.
Leopard Panthera pardus. We had three excellent sightings of a potentially elusive cat, each of which gave fantastic photo opportunities. The first sighting, however, was at dawn in Moremi GR, when alarm calls from Impala around the campsite led me to pick out a leopard skulking in a thicket, its eyes strongly reflective in the spotlight. One would suspect that this was the same individual we encountered later in the morning, again having been alerted to its presence by Impala, although this time they just watched the Leopard pass by. A fine male, it treated us with indifference through the savannah woodland. On the 8/8 one was found attempting to stalk Guinea-fowl at 11.30 am far from bush cover in Sauveti Marsh, but the vigilant birds detected it. Guinea-fowl had detected another Leopard on the evening of the same day, this female Leopard obliged by walking right past our vehicle, coming within 2-3 m at the closet pass. I have been much closer to Cheetah and Lion, but never thought I would have such a view of a Leopard.
Lion Panthera leo. We certainly saw Lions, but perhaps missed out on any really dramatic behaviour. A young (2-3 year) male was found on the evening of 5/8 in Sauveti GR. He had a fairly severe facial wound, that I though looked as if it had been caused by a swipe from another Lion. However I think it had narrowly avoided being blinded. On 7/8 at the edge of Moremi GR tiny cubs could be viewed in dense acacia scrub, while a short distance away two females, with grossly bloated stomachs slept next to the carcass of a bull Giraffe. In the evening of the same day at Sauveti we saw a stand off between two Giraffe and two (presumed) pride males; I was astonished just how closely the Giraffe approached the Lions, venturing within just a few yards before sauntering off.
African Elephant Loxodonta africana. The first sighting was of two massive bulls crossing the road south of Maun on 1/8, it was unusual to see elephants in this area. From then they were seen in large numbers in the Okavango Delta, Moremi GR, Sauveti and along the Chobe River with up to 80 seen daily. As it was the dry season they were often seen destroying trees, but they were also seen giving Real fan Palms a violent shaking to dislodge fruits. The final sighting was of a bull along the Zambezi during the boat cruise on 12/8.
Common Zebra Equus quagga. This species was seen in small numbers (less than 10 individuals) in several locations – Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Okavango Delta, Moremi GR and Sauveti Marsh, with by far the largest numbers in herds on the flood plain of the Chobe River, where close on 1000 Zebra could be seen grazing.
Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius. The fact that hippos are poached for meat, while Rhino are poached for horns probably explains why hippos are still fairly common and widespread and Rhinos virtually extinct in Botswana. First seen in the Hippo Pools in Moremi GR, where a serious and prolonged fight was seen, which ended with one Hippo being pursued from the water by the victor, the two animals disappearing into the distance. One was seen at night near our campsite with the spotlight. Others were seen in the River Khwai, and it was numerous along the Chobe River, with large groups hauled out of the water, perhaps 100+ seen. It was also numerous along the Zambezi, with c50 seen during the boat cruise. Having once being charged by a Hippo I was relieved our boatman moved the skiff smartly away from Hippos that began following us
Common Warthog Phacochoerus africanus. Many were seen along roadsides during the journeys on 31/7 and to Maun on 1/8. It was not seen in the Delta, but they proved to be a common species in Moremi, Sauveti and Chobe NP, with a few individuals seen in Zambia.
Giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis. Seen in small numbers in Moremi GR (where necking behaviour was seen), at sauveti, and the largest numbers were seen around the Chobe River, where at least 40 might be seen during a morning drive.
African Buffalo Syncercus caffer. A single bull was seen on the drive to sauveti on 7/8, but it proved to be very numerous in both Sauveti Marsh and along the Chobe River where spectacular herds of several hundreds were seen.
Bushbuck Tragalaphus scriptus. A single animal along the Zambezi during the boat cruise was the only sighting.
Greater Kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros. This elegant but rangy antelope was first seen in South Africa, with a fine bull by the roadside. It was seen daily in Moremi GR, at Sauveti, and was most numerous along the Chobe River, where c50 were seen each day. Many of the quite magnificent bulls could be seen coming down to the river to drink in the late afternoon.
Bush Duiker Sylvicapra grimmia. One seen in Khama Rhino sanctuary.
Steinbuck Raphicerus campestris. This impossibly cute antelope was either seen singly or in pairs, and always close to scrub, in small numbers at Khama Rhino Sanctuary (10 animals), and at Sauveti and in Chobe.
Red Lechwe Kobus lechwe. This was first seen in the grassland and in lagoons in the island in the Delta, where it was fairly scarce (just 8 seen), and it was seen in larger numbers in Moremi GR, where up to 50 might be seen during a drive. It was impressive to watch herds running through shallow water. One was seen in sauveti Marsh, an area they had been absent from for many years.
Waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus. This antelope was first seen in Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a surprisingly arid area. Small numbers were seen daily in Moremi GR, and it was fairly numerous on the flood plain of the Chobe River, with c50 seen.
Springbuck Antidorcas marsupialis. This species was only seen in Khama Rhino Sanctuary, where c50 were seen, including a group that obliged by coming past pronking.
Impala Aepyceros melampus. The most common antelope in Botswana, first seen in Khama Rhino sanctuary. It was not seen in the Delta, but was numerous in savannah woodland in Moremi GR, sauveti and along the Chobe River, with hundreds seen daily in all these locations.
Tsessebe Damaliscus lunatus. One was seen in with waterbucks in Moremi GR, the other sighting being a group of 15 in open savannah at sauveti.
Brindled Wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus. Some 30 were seen in Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a few in the Delta, and up to 40 daily at Sauveti and on the Chobe floodplain.
Roan Antelope Hippotragus equines. I had only seen this species once before, and it bolted as soon as I had identified it so it was very pleasing to get excellent close range views in Chobe, with 5 seen on 10/8.
Sable Antelope Hippotragus niger. This is definitely one of the most spectacular and impressive antelopes. I had seen this species previously in Malawi, but saw no bulls and the animals were distant. Along the Chobe river we had superb views of at least 10 individuals including some magnificent bulls. In the late afternoon they came down to the river with Kudu to drink.
Gemsbok Oryx gazelle. Only one of these powerful antelopes was seen, and a distant view at that, in Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
Nile Crocodile. Two were seen in Moremi GR, the best sightings being on the Chobe River boat cruise, and along the Zambezi, with about 30 seen on these excursions.
Nile Monitor. Some large examples seen along the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers during boat cruises.
Otherwise, as usual, reptiles proved very hard to find. One unidentified snake quickly disappeared and a few geckos and skinks was all we saw.