Southern Africa Bush Tails

Photographic Exploration Safari to Botswana guided by Ona Basimane November 2015

Trip overview of our AAC Group Photographic Exploration Safari to Botswana 

In the words of Ona Basimane….

“Being the first for me photographic guiding, the trip was a major success. All AAC clients had been to East Africa, and Jim Kubalik had also been to Botswana before. They were all interested in photography and were willing to absorb and apply a few tricks and tips I shared as we went along. The camps complimented each other well in terms of game offering at each unique location.

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Toka Leya Camp/Victoria Falls sightseeing

I met Mr. Edward Novotny Jr and Mrs. Cheryl White at Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport and we proceeded to cross the border to view the Falls from the more picturesque Zimbabwe side. Once on Zimbabwe side, our guide took us on a walking stroll along the Falls and both Edward and Cheryl were impressed and took a lot of pictures. We spent about two hours and then headed back to the Zambia side and back to Toka Leya Camp. We got to camp late in the afternoon and the guests were enthusiastic to head out straight away to track the resident herd of white rhinos. This worked out well, as it was possibly the only camp on the itinerary where we stood a chance to see these magnificent animals. The guests thoroughly enjoyed the experience of approaching the rhinos to about 150 meters on foot and took a lot of pictures. We were the only guests back at camp that night and the atmosphere was great. We flew to Kasane the following morning to do a boat cruise in the Chobe River.

Chobe River boat cruise

We arrived mid-morning in Chobe and we were picked up on time to do a boat excursion. Sightings included elephants, buffalo, hippo and numerous crocodiles along the river. We also had lunch in the boat; which was great as we were going to fly to Linyanti after the boat activity.

 

Kasane International airport to Linyanti

We arrived on time to pick up Jim from his international flight to join us from this leg of the trip and onwards. I quickly introduced him to the other guests who were looking forward to meeting him, and they got along well from this point onwards. We left the airport around noon and arrived at Chobe airstrip almost an hour later. The flight took us over a long stretch of the Linyanti fault line as well as the Linyanti River. This helped the guests to visualize the geography of the area before we landed.

Linyanti Tented Camp

As to be expected at this time of the year, the area boasted big herds of elephants. We were treated to spectacular numbers of elephants not only during the game drives, but around the camps as well. The three nights here certainly were one of the most intense wildlife viewing experience I have ever had as a guide. Besides the big herds of elephants, we had a leopard on an impala kill on the first morning. When we arrived at the leopard sighting, she was high up the tree and photography was a challenge. We watched her for a short while and then went off to have a coffee break. On coming back about half an hour later, we found her on a different branch, with a better view. Things improved even more when she decided to come down and lie on the shade, next to a termite mount. Our patience paid off as the leopard now provided us with ample opportunities for photography. This also provided me with the opportunity to interpret behavior and help guests anticipate and be ready to photograph her every move.

 

On our way back to camp, we had a big herd of Sable antelopes. We had numerous sightings of Roan antelopes here as well. The following day, we picked up two female wild dogs which appeared to have just dispersed from their natal pack and were searching for males to establish a pack. We picked them up again the following and they provided great photographic opportunities. On the last morning, we went out in search of a newly discovered brown hyena denning site. This mission was side swept when we found a small bachelor herd of buffaloes at the spot and then four young male lions also appeared out of the bushes and started stalking the buffalo. The small herd of buffaloes saw the lions and ran away. This ended the somehow full-bellied lions’ half-hearted attempt at hunting. This summed up a great stay at the camp. However the game viewing did not end here as we had a great Sable bull sighting on the way to the airstrip as well a newly born elephant calf with the mother as some of the highlights.

 

Gomoti Camp

The Acacia savanna that makes up the Gomoti area is usually dry at this time of the year, with the acacia woodlands providing great browse for the antelopes. Such conditions delivered unique sightings such as honey badgers, bat-eared foxes and black-backed jackals. We also had a few raptors as we went along. The resident wild dog pack came to camp’s waterhole everyday and guests had a treat of photographing young pups. On the last night, I offered guests a short night drive as a surprise and the one hour excursion was worthwhile as we spotted three different African civet cats, numerous Springhares, a white-faced owl as well as a young male lion. On the last morning, we tracked down a big male leopard, which had been sighted at the waterhole by staff members while they were setting up morning tea and coffee. We followed him for half an hour before he proceeded to lie down. Save for a few glowing eyes at night by the waterhole, we had not had a good sighting of hyena on the trip. However we were treated to a big female who we found lying by a pan next to the road. She was very relaxed and allowed close approach, which was good for photography.

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An African wild dog pup watching his littermates playing at Gomoti Camp waterhole

Jacana Camp

We took a short flight from Gomoti Camp to the Jao concession to start the last leg of the safari. Besides the beautiful, classic Okavango delta landscape, Jacana offers great sightings of birds such as the Wattled cranes. At this time of the year, the Jao floodplains are dry which allows for extensive game drive routes. On our first morning drive, we encountered a pride of five lions that had been seen by other vehicles the previous evening. The lions must have been on a rampage the previous night, as they had four Red lechwe carcasses with them. In display of power and strength, we witnessed two lionesses dragging different carcasses to the shade.

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A lioness dragging a lechwe carcass to the shade across the floodplain at Jacana

We watched them for about two hours and the guests came away with great photographs. The following morning, the scenario was a different one as we found three new males with the pride. To top it all up, one of the males had isolated a young female and was mating with her while the other two males kept a short distance away. This provided great photographic opportunities and we spend a great morning with them. The pair eventually disappeared into an Ivory palm thicket and we headed back to camp, loaded with great photographs.

We met for high tea that afternoon and the camp had organized for staff members who weave and sell baskets to come and demonstrate the art to guests. Cheryl particularly enjoyed this as she loved baskets and had been buying some at the previous camps. We then had a boat cruise and encountered some hippos in a lagoon. The ride back towards camp allowed for some great sunset images.

On the last morning, we wrapped the trip up with a mokoro excursion. I had heard a Pel’s fishing owl calling through the night from an island opposite the camp. I asked the mokoro polers to take us there and see if we could find this Okavango special. We were lucky and found the bird roosting in a big Jackalberry tree. While photography was a challenge because of thick foliage, we had a great view and guests managed to squeeze a few shots. Besides the lion experience, it was another highlight of the trip to walk into the island with the guests and watch the Pel’s fishing owl, a rarity mainly found in the Okavango delta.

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A mating pair along the Jao floodplains

Conclusion 

This trip was a major success and the guests enjoyed not only the comfort of the camps, the food offering, the warmth of the staff at each camp, but also the fact that they had a photography guide with them. They noted the difference such a set up made to their overall experience. I set up PowerPoint lectures on photographing various subjects on possible offer at each camp and this certainly helped improve their photography skills. While I carried a portable screen projector with me throughout the trip, I decided to use a laptop for such presentations, as we were a small group. This way, the presentations were more personalized, intimate and allowed for easier discussions back and forth. For a bigger group in the future, we will certainly use a projector. We also had monopods on offer and Jim used one throughout the trip to support his Canon 500mm lens. This helped for stability when taking pictures. While Edward and Cheryl had small compact cameras, compared to Jim who carried quite a big camera gear, they were not intimidated at all and I also ensured they also utilized their cameras maximally.

Going forward, it was great to see the appreciation of the guests about the trip. Like me, they felt it was a definite success and would do it again. Since all the guests had been to Africa before, they all felt there was something different about this kind of trip and that they would recommend it to others. There is nothing I would change about this trip. The camera gear the guests bring, their previous Africa experiences, and their knowledge on wildlife photography will always dictate any changes if need be.

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Sundowner tonic; An African Wild dog contemplates crossing the Linyanti river during our stay at Linyanti Tented Camp

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