Green season excursion to Botswana's and Zimbabwe's northern wilderness areas

March - April 2013

Sometimes in life, no matter how much you wish for something to happen, no matter how close you think you may be getting and no matter how hard you have been trying, what you desire so much just remains out of reach. And when you realise you find yourself in such a situation, all that matters is how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. -

Looking back on this excursion today firmly reminds me of this fact of life in many ways. A humbling experience.

To me, the most valuable side effect of experiencing remote wilderness areas is the inerrable and uncompromising process of putting back into perspective myself, as well as all of the thoughts preoccupying me at work and in my daily life. Taking a few steps back and literally being engulfed by nature helps me to clear my mind, to re-focus and to build up energy and creativity. And again this time, some of the wild encounters I had (especially in Mana Pools) were so incredibly intense and fascinating, they actually had the effect of a reset button. Once pressed, only the most important thoughts, sentiments and ideas remained imprinted in a crystal clear, unfiltered and extremely focussed manner. This would be a fantastic foundation for me to return home and to pick up things where I had left them three weeks earlier.

So how did this trip go?

It got off to a late start. 12 hours before my flight was scheduled to leave, my iPhone playing the call of a Greater honeyguide informed me of having received a text message. It read: (LX288/11MAR) SWISS FLIGHT INFO - YOUR FLIGHT IS POSTPONED ONTO THE NEXT DAY. NEW DEPARTURE TIME ZURICH 07:40H. NEW ARRIVAL TIME JOHANNESBURG 19:10H. WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE. REGARDS SWISS. There it was. Simple and straight forward. Oddly enough, I had arranged a buffer night for the start of this excursion, to be spent in Maun before heading off into the Okavango Delta the following day. But now I would spend a night in Jo'burg instead, buy a new ticket from Jo'burg to Maun and change the departure time for my light aircraft charter from Maun to Kwara, my first destination in the Delta. Once all this was sorted out, I could actually relax and start looking forward to my first daytime flight across Africa in 15 years. Swissair, at some stage operated a daytime service from Zurich to Jo'burg and I had always preferred this arrangement over the night flights. The flight was smooth, the night spent at InterContinental O. R. Tambo Intl. Airport equally so and sometime just after 13:00h the next day I stood in front of the immigration officer at Maun airport. "Dumela Morena, I will be staying in beautiful Botswana for one week and I will leave via the Kazungula border to Zimbabwe." My passport received its stamp with the usual impressive determination and off I was to collect my bag. There was just enough time for a quick dash into a curio shop and then an ice cold Windhoek Lager at Bon Arrivée, the little roadside cafe opposite Maun's airport building, before I was greeted by the Moremi Air pilot who would take me to Kwara in a GA8 Airvan.

A final right turn as our GA8 Airvan approaches Kwara airstrip:


Little Kwara
Travelling towards the end of the rainfall season I had prepared myself for cloud cover and thunderstorms. Instead, the sky was a deep, clear blue and the afternoon temperature read 38° C. Hobbs and Mike, who would be my guide and my tracker for the next four days welcomed me at Kwara air strip. These two Batswana gentlemen turned out to be a fantastic duo. Hobbs has been guiding on the Kwara concession for 13 years. This means he literally knows every single square foot of land at Kwara and since he is not at all shy to max out on the off-road capabilities of his Toyota Land Cruiser 4.5 petrol, spectacular sightings await any one touring with him. Another huge plus is the fact that Hobbs is into photography, too. He knows about light and perspective and about positioning the vehicle in a best possible way. Meanwhile Mike provides great tracking when it comes down to the fine details. In general I had the impression that Kwara's guides form an excellent, tight-knit team with great guest focus.

Not surprising, we were fortunate to find lions, witnessed three wild dog hunts and managed to catch up with the famous coalition of three male cheetahs, at different locations, in varying light and on three consecutive days. Kwara is a fantastic stretch of land. To the south, its expansion is limited by the Khwai River, enabling boat cruises all the way down to Gadikwe Lagoon. To the north, riverine hard wood forests open up to vast grass plains, some of which are seasonally flooded. Then there are more elevated areas of dry savannah, an impressive sand ridge and, of course, there are beautiful patches of Mopane forest. Perfect habitat for common reedbuck, red lechwe, impala, tsessebe, kudu, zebra, giraffe, elephants and many more of Southern Africa's smaller herbivores. Closely followed of course by wild dogs, lions, leopard, cheetah, hyena and other species with a healthy appetite for game. Few places I have seen portray nature balancing out perfectly the way Kwara does. This place is so remote and pristine, the only thing missing are rhinos. Kwara would be the perfect location for a reintroduction program.

Hobbs and Mike removing some obstacles in dense Mopane:

It was here where the first of what was going to be a series of humbling experiences occurred: On an afternoon drive that had started out quiet, we stopped underneath an ebony tree, as a Woodland kingfisher was nicely perched on a low branch. I got the camera ready and tried to focus on the bird, when I noticed from the corner of my free eye some movement among the zebra and impala that had been grazing in an open patch, some 200 - 300 metres away. The movement didn't stop, so I took down my camera, trying to figure out what was going on. Too late. The impala were now at full blast racing towards us, dead quiet, hind legs high up with every jump. This could only mean hunting dogs, and in an instance Hobbs shouted "GET THAT SHOT", we saw a subaldult impala full speed flying past our vehicle within 5 metres, closely followed by two dogs. The hunters and the hunted with expressions of absolute determination in their eyes, the dogs so close behind the impala that I would have called this a 99% chance for their imminent success. We immediately turned the car, gave chase and tried to catch up. But the bush was too dense, so we circled and tried to find them from the opposite direction. No luck, they had disappeared and judging from the lack of sounds from the impala being taken down and the absence of other dogs, I would guess that this young buck may have just been the one that got away.

 


Red in tooth and claw: Witnessing a kill

Witnessing a kill is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Depending on predator and prey, it can take a long time for an animal to die. It is an agonizing struggle on both sides: The struggle to live on one side, the struggle to feed on the other side. It is about survival, life or death for all and this is why I find the moment when a predator gets hold of a prey animal to be a very, very intimate one. I have heard the stories at Duba Plains (where lion - buffalo interaction can be observed) about people applauding the lions for killing a buffalo and high-five each other for observing this. In dependence on Dereck Joubert: The moment when the energy that is life departs from a living being, the moment when this transition of energy takes place is something immensely powerful and it is nothing to cheer about. An animal dies, so that other animals can live.

This interaction is as old as life itself. It is what keeps all life on our planet in balance; from the tiniest levels to our megafauna. In nature, (almost) no organism takes more than what it needs to survive, and this demands our utmost respect.

Few experiences teach us about life and death as does witnessing a kill in the African bush. It is often overlooked that throughout human evolution, until a mere 500 generations ago, almost all people on the planet lived as hunter-gatherers and had only one task to achieve every single day of their existence: Taking the life of another being to survive.


 

Tent No. 5 at Little Kwara

On the concession, I stayed at Little Kwara camp, which offers just five tents in an intimate, bush camp like setting. The team is great and the tents are well equipped and comfy, with outside showers and everything else the seasoned safari traveller's heart desires. To me, this is for example having a pair of Verreaux's giant eagle owl and a Scops owl calling all night long nearby. Lions calling in the early hours, a Fiery-necked nightjar at dawn and African hoopoe and several Woodland kingfisher chanting through the afternoons. 74 bird species I managed to identify in the four days I spent here. Among the less frequently seen were Bennett's woodpecker, Broad-billed roller, Fawn-coloured lark, Olive bee-eater, a Secretarybird and some Wattled cranes.

Little Kwara was a wonderful experience, to arrive in the bush, to unwind, find my bearings and to get into things. Hobbs, Mike, Cassie and team watch out: I will be back in the winter / spring season!

It was here where my new Canon 600mm f/4 II and the EOS 1D X could stretch their legs for the first time. As expected, the camera is fantastic. I love the new autofocus system, but I will have to spend much more time to understand how to put it to use perfectly. But the lens is just from another world. It is far superior to its predecessor in every single aspect and it outperforms any lens I have ever owned. However, the 600mm takes some getting used to, especially with larger objects. To my surprise it is quite a difference from the old 500mm f/4 I used until last year. Now all I need is a nice, new design 100-400mm f/4 - 5.6 or so, with the latest generation image stabiliser and glass coating, to cover my closer ranges and then I'm sorted for teles. Apparently something in this direction is brewing at Canon. let's hope it won't take too long to turn into reality, as the soon to be released 200-400mm f/4 will be too big and heavy to accompany the 600mm lens. Or will it be...?

Selinda
My flight to Selinda was scheduled for 11:30h on the last morning and when our plane landed (same Moremi Air pilot again), I was extatic to hear that we had two passengers that needed to be dropped off at Savute airstrip. This would be a 45 minute detour in midday heat, but ever since the Savute Channel had filled up with water again in 2010 (after having remained dry for over 30 years), I had wanted to return to or fly over this area. It was perfect: From Savute we followed the channel in a northwesterly direction, all the way to Linyanti, across the Zibalianja lagoon and down to Selinda airstrip. A fantastic flight, with many great sightings of wildlife along the channel.

Savute channel in flood:

After touch down I was met by Mokopi, who took me to the boat station on the Selinda spillway, from where it now is a relaxing 15 minute cruise into camp. It's simpy unbelievable seeing all this water here now. Just 9 years ago, in August 2006 I self-drove to Selinda from Savute and I had no problem crossing the Savute channel at Zibalianja lagoon and the Selinda spillway later on. Today, these water bodies are over 50m wide and considerable pods of hippos swim where the crossings once were.

Arriving at Selinda to me feels a bit like coming home. I love this place and I am full of respect and appreciation for the people who have made it their duty in life to look after this concession. To preserve this marvellous wild habitat now and for future generations. Lizzy and Koke were the first ones to welcome me and instead the usual safety brief, I just got a raised finger and a "...you know the rules. Behave." Of course, just like all camps in Botswana, Selinda is not fenced and it is not uncommon to have animals moving through, especially at night. After dark, guests are required to only walk around camp accompanied by a guide. There is some safety in numbers, I suppose, especially with hippos.

It wasn't an hour after my arrival when my dear friend Humphrey reached camp. We had arranged to meet here after he finished guiding a safari at Hwange National Park, across the border in Zimbabwe. So for the next three days, Selinda would be ours. Lizzy cornered me and offered a private vehicle, at extra charge, to be driven by Josh Iremonger, the lead guide for Selinda Canoe Trails. This quickly turned into a proper boys outing now, with lunches delivered to the vehicle while we were chasing after wildlife for full days on end.

It is also where the second reality check took place. When a large cat moves, the bush gets into alarm mode. Birds, squirrels, impala, kudu, etc.: Every animal catching a glimpse will call out. To us, these calls reveal the presence of a major predator in a certain area and the direction in which it is moving. It was easy enough to understand that something was going on when we reached the forest patch near Tshwene channel and indeed, within minutes we found a lioness criss-crossing the bush in stealth mode. A closer look revealed that she was lactating, so she would be hunting just for herself and her cubs. In theory, this would be a picnic: Just follow her, wait for a kill and then follow her some more as she would return to the young ones. Reality, of course can look very different. We first had to change a tire before catching up with the lioness. She then missed some attempts on warthog, baboons and impala, we lost her, found and lost her again, and again and then lost her for good.

Stopped by a small piece of Mopane wood: So hard, it will easily put holes in heavy-duty truck tires:

And this was when the third truly humbling experience of this excursion occurred. About an hour before sunset we were called to a leopard sighting some 10 minutes driving away. It was a gorgeous subadult female, an absolute beauty, and apparently she had been very flirtatious with Kops, who found her a bit earlier. No more than 100m to the west of the bush where she was hiding was a little palm island. No grass, just powdery white Kalahari sand, some termite mounds and fallen trees... the perfect playground for a young cat waiting for her mother to return. Sure enough, the leopard took off in the direction of this island, now drenched in perfect golden hour light. In my heart and mind I was getting ready for a spectacular sighting and hopefully, some fantastic photographic opportunities. Would the mother return while we were still there? Perhaps to playfully interact with her daughter in the beautiful light just after sunset? - When leopards move, they do so with an elegance and grace unmatched by any other living creature. To observe this cat walking through the tall grass, jumping onto a log, turning and jumping down again was fantastic. We were a few metres behind her, trying to keep the moving vehicle as silent as possibe. But then it happened: The leopard simply disappeared from our sight, right in front of us, right there. Gone. We stopped and checked with binoculares, then started circling, backtracking, checking again for tracks in the sand, but no luck. This young cat had literally vanished from underneath our noses. It was unbelievable, but all Josh, Humphrey and I could do now was to head up to the island, pour a Gin & Tonic, stand there, somewhat lost for words, and look out over this beautiful land under the setting African sun.

The evening included a wonderful dinner set under the stars, a lot of Setswana song and dance, and the exchange of legendary stories, thoughts and ideas with fantastic people who are profoundly connected to this place and the African wilderness.

Fresh tracks of a leopard dragging an impala carcass:

We hadn't really gotten over the previous afternoon's leopard episode and this being our last morning game drive at Selinda, we wanted to give it our best shot to find the young cat again and decided to extend our game drive so it would end at the air strip. If this wouldn't be crowned by success, it certainly wasn't going to be for lack of trying. The African bush is of course not just about large predators and for this trip I had hoped to get a good picture of a little bird with a beautiful song: The Rufous-naped lark. At this time of the year they are quite frequently seen. Usually perched on top of bushes, singing out across their little territory. So far, however the opportunity hadn't arisen and I was very happy when just a few metres outside camp we came across an individual perched right next to the path. I slowly got up, rested the camera on top of the vehicle and managed to capture some beautifully clear shots of this singing bird with a soft, green background. The few minutes we spent there, I thought later on, may have been a deciding factor in what followed. But first we circled our little palm island from the previous evening before carrying on towards the Selinda spillway. Suddenly we noticed very, very fresh tracks of a leopard dragging a carass along the path. Tracks so fresh, the cat must have crossed within minutes before we got there (remember the lark?). There were quite a few big trees further down in the direction the drag marks were leading and we decided to follow these tracks, but lost them in tall grass. Checking tree after tree after tree with no success, we were slowly running out of time and eventually decided to call off the search and make our way to the airstrip.

Just as we got there we heard the radio calls... the leopard with impala had been found, 20m from where we had driven past just minutes ago, near an abandoned hyena den. Still waiting for our plane to arrive we could follow the unfolding events over the radio: The leopard had now been driven off the kill by a hyena, but a few minutes later it gathered its wits, came in to smack the hyena hard, grabbed the carcass and dragged it up into a tree. All in perfect light and visibility. - There it was again, the mixed feeling of standing in the middle of paradise, but just having missed a larger-than-life event. As every experienced traveller knows, there is only one solution to this problem: I will have to return to Selinda and spend more time there.

 

Selinda - Kasane - Victoria Falls - Bulawayo
The time had come to leave Botswana and get ready for two weeks in Zimbabwe. Our flight from Selinda to Kasane took a good hour. We went very low along the Linyanti and then the Chobe river front as the area was full of wildlife. Some fantastic sightings of elephants, herds of buffalo and other animals that gathered along the water. The water is now standing very high and on the Namibian side, we could see entire villages fully submerged. Humphrey had left his vehicle at Kasane airport and before crossing the border, I quickly bought my last Windhoek Lager on this trip. We then cleared Kazungula and were hit by the only few rain drops on this entire three week trip, en route to Vic Falls. Grabbed a bite to eat at Vic Falls and quickly dashed into the Elephant Walk curio market, to say hello to Pinias Sibanda at Prime Art Gallery, where I enjoy buying the odd pieces of African art. Not this time, though as we had the 440km long and potentially hazardous road to Bulawayo to cover and we wanted to get as far as possible before dusk. The drive was easy, we swapped the wheel at Halfway House and got to Bulawayo at 22:00h. The next day was spent getting camp ready and Humphrey finished some office stuff at the Tailormade Safaris HQ. Now we were set for the real adventure to begin.

The Selinda spillway, after take-off for Kasane via Kwando Lagoon Camp:

Bulawayo - Gweru - Kwekwe - Chinhoy - Kariba
It was in May 2009 when I last drove this route. And it was quite different then, as the economic meltdown caused by the transition from Zimbabwe Dollar to US Dollar as legal tender had just become a harsh reality for Zimbabweans. I remember shops with empty shelves, closed hospitals, endless queues in front of petrol stations and a lot of hardship for very many people. What a difference it was now. There was quite a bit of traffic on the road and there was food, fuel and lively activity everywhere. It is amazing to see how the people on the ground just managed to pick themselves up and get things going again. SADAC have initiated investment programs in Zimbabwe and so all the major highways are currently upgraded to  4-lanes. I was also surprised to see brand new, proper toll gates being erected, soon to come into operation. The 670km drive was interrupted by a fuel stop and by a lekker boerewors roll at Lion's Den. We got to Kariba after 15:00h and a short while later we were cruising across the lake in a speedboat, bound for Rhino Island.

Cruising from Kariba towards Matusadona National Park:

Rhino Island, Matusadona National Park, Chura
Seeing the Kalahari, the Magkadigkadi, the Okavango Delta, the great Namib Desert or the mighty Lower Zambezi Valley are truly fascinating experiences. However, Zimbabwe holds an additional, very special safari destination: Matusadona National Park, on the southern shores of Lake Kariba. This park is so fascinating because of the geological profile along the lake, with its many little bays, islands, the dead trees that stick out of the lake, and the creeks and river beds that lead inland. There are not many places where herds of impalas and elephants, or a crocodile can be observed against the backdrop of a dark blue lake. And "Matus" also holds rhinos. We only had two nights at Rhino Island, as the objective of this visit was to check out the Chura concession that had recently been granted to Tailormade Safaris in a tender process. What we saw was fantastic. 48 bird species, among them the elusive African pigmy kingfisher, the Rock pranticole and the Pennant-winged nightjar. Our two visits to Chura, one by Land Rover and on foot, one by boat and on foot were very intersting. The bay is as fantastically beautiful as ever and the land towards the park is full of wildlife. Spectacular birding, lots of antelope, elephant, and two black rhino waited for us there. We swiftly put the boat to shore and started tracking the rhino, but could never find them again as at this time of the year, the vegetation is rather dense. But standing next to a bush and hearing the rhino in there chewing on twigs is an amazing experience to start off with. On the way back to the boat we further came across fresh lion tracks. Chura is all alive.

An ice cold Zambezi Lager is the perfect companion for a sunset on the lake:

Rhino Island camp is very basic and comfy. It is a place where you can come and just park off. Take a good book, enjoy the boat cruises, the game drives, the fishing and then spend some time in camp reading or just listening out to the voices of the bush. The place is full of wildlife. Service and food is great and for those who really can't resist: You can pick up a cellphone signal from Kariba town. Compared to many other places, this is also a very affordable destination right now.

After a short morning cruise, we headed back to Kariba, packed our vehicle and started driving towards Mana Pools, where we were to meet the Tailormade Safaris mobile camp game drive vehicle at the parks gate.

 

 

 

Chitake Springs & Mana Pools
The last part of this excursion would include a lot of walking. Just like Matusadona, Mana Pools is special in that it is possible to walk with plenty of dangerous game around. There is no other wilderness experience that comes close to this and, as we would see, this visit to Mana Pools would prove once again to be a magical one.

It was my first trip to the Lower Zambezi Valley in the green season. As opposed to the Kalahari with its sandy grounds, Mana Pools has some extensive patches of black cotton soil along the flood plain that are close to impossible to navigate through after a cloud burst. This soil just turns into a black, slippery soup and even the most experienced, best equipped off-roaders will have to winch out their vehicles when they hit wet ground here. However, and unfortunately so, when we got there, Mana Pools hadn't seen rain in three weeks. The bush was green, but it was much too dry for the season. There wouldn't be any rain in the following week, which basically means that if no extensive rains arrive now (the rainfall season is over), it will be another very dry year for the plants and animals there. Read up here on the rainfall patterns for Zimbabwe.

"Road" to Chitake Springs after the rains:

It was getting dark as we reached the turn off for Chitake Springs. I know that road well and Humphrey must have travelled it a hundred times. Yet we overshot by a few metres as the vegetation was so dense now. We must have been the first vehicles to enter this part of the park since the rains and it took us a while to make our way to the legendary Chitake 3 camp site. When we did, it felt like a fairy tale forest. The place that I know from the dry winter months now was a green, lush tunnel. Since it was just us boys, we pitched a "light" camp and the camp team, consisting of Sidney, Kim and Edmore got the kitchen going. Good thing was that Humphrey and I had picked up some steak pies in Kariba, enough for every one, enough for an early night.

Paging through the legendary sightings at Chitake in August 2012 gives one an idea of what this place can be like. Now, however Chitake was quiet. The animals were around, we saw impala, buffalo, kudu, elephant, warthog, baboons, bushbuck, as well as to our surprise, a hippo, and lots of birds, but right now the wildlife is able to find water in pans away from the Chitake river bed. So no need to risk the steep descent down into the channel. We put our two days there to good use, though, going for extensive walks for hours on end, up the channel, past the ancient Baobab grove and down to the large fig tree overviewing the spring. Thanks to my new ThinkTank camera bag setup, I found it easy to carry around the 600mm lens, a tripod with Wimberley head and a backpack with a second 1D body and some shorter lenses. After all, this is good excercise. Before we got to Chitake we had decided on a plan to extend our stay beyond two nights if the area would be busy, but to leave for the Zambezi river front in case there was not much action. So on the third morning, we packed camp and relocated to the Mucheni private camp sites. Our initial booking was for Mucheni 4, but the place was inaccessible due to high water (two flood gates were open at Kariba dam). Mucheni 1 was no problem to reach and this was where we put up our camp for the last few nights.

The flood plains
The park was almost empty. Some self-drivers from South Africa, camp staff from Stretch Ferreira's place (Goliath Safaris), Craig van Zyl (Classic Africa Safaris) with his kids. That was it. On our game drives we found impala, kudu, zebra, eland, buffalo, elephants, waterbuck, hyena, baboons, vervet monkeys, lots of hippos and crocodiles, warthogs and one black mamba. Fresh leopard tracks and not so fresh wild dog tracks told a few stories. The highlight, however was the pride of lions we so closely observed last year in August. These lions would later provide a very rare, if not a once in a lifetime sighting.

Keeping the right distance, so animals observed won't alter their behaviour:

When we saw these lions last year, I captured some beautiful images of the four subadult males that were part of the pride. We now found them again, on their own and with badly scratched faces and the odd gash around their necks. Clear signs that they were being pushed off by the pride. Next we found the big dominant male, current king of the area between BBC and Ndungu camp sites, Long Pool and Zebra Vlei. Leaving camp well before sunrise one morning we reached the BBC area just as the first rays of light were kissing the branches around us. And that was when we came across the fresh tracks of large crocodiles that had obviously been moving in on a kill. We left the vehicle and soon found the area further along to be full of fresh lion tracks. Certainly a scene worth investigating. The vehicle was properly parked and we got ourselves ready for a hike (firearms, radios, backpacks, water). No ten paces next to the road we found a kill site, with lots of blood and substantial stomach content. A large animal had been taken here and there were no traces of the carcass. Except for a drag mark, which we could easily follow through the dense grass and bush, as it was very wide and clear. Following lions dragging a kill into dense bush is a special experience. It requires patience and crisp sharp attention to detail. If tracked properly, the reward may be a fantastic on-foot sighting of a pride of lions feeding. It was too early for this, though. Carefully moving in, we found the big male lion fast asleep under a shrub. He had taken over the kill and wanted to be the first to feed. We sat down and as we started to get the cameras ready, this lion woke up and gave us a serious growl, before relaxing, not considering us to be a threat. When heard from ground level close up, this growl resembles thunder, rather than living creature vocalising. It is very impressive. The lion got up and started moving the carcass of what we now saw was a large kudu bull further away from us. We followed for a few steps, just to look at the layer of the land and try to anticipate where he would drag the carcass to. Then we headed back to the vehicle.

What followed was a beautiful game drive through the acacia plains further downstream, past main camp, where later we caught a glimpse of two lionesses with very young cubs. Judging from the way they immediately went for cover it can be assumed that those were lions from the nearby Nyamatusi area, not used to people and vehicles. Sunset in front, full moon rising behind we headed back to camp. Through Humphrey's GPS we knew that the kudu carcass was exactly 4.5km away from our camp site at Mucheni (as the Tsetse flies). Lion interaction could be heard the whole night through.

Sidney from the Tailormade Safaris team is ready for an early start:

Again we headed out very early the next day. This time, as we were approaching the place where we had left the male on the previous day, we could hear several different types of growls. Our move in was so careful and quite, we actually surprised a hyena that was also scouting around the place. Foot by foot we edged in closer, until the bush right in front of us was full of movenent and growls. From there it was another 30 minutes shuffling on the ground, moving inch by inch, until we sat about 10 metres from a pride of 8 lions finishing off the kudu. What an amazing experience. Especially if like in this case, it happens without altering animal behaviour. The lions did notice us and there was the odd growl at first, but they immediately returned to their frenzy and to the order dictating whom got what. Around us, the air was crisp clear, at sunrise the bush was alive with calls of Cape turtle dove, Emerald-spotted wood dove, Woodland kingfisher, Arrow-marked babbler and tree squirrels. Later on, a large elephant bull strolled up behind us to investigate the commotion. After observing this spectacle for about an hour, we started to retreat very carefully, leaving the pride to finish off their meal. -

Absolutely amazing, speechless, heart jumping. And to my knowledge, this is something that can be experienced at Mana Pools only.

Ready for departure to Harare:

 

In all this excitement I had forgotten for a moment that this was my last morning in the Lower Zambezi Valley. My bags were packed and for me, this game drive would end at Mana Pools airstrip, where a Cessna 206 Stationair would soon land and then take me to Harare International Airport. Still on a high from these intense impressions I got on the plane and enjoyed the 70 minute flight through some cumulus cloud, across a green landscape with dams filled to capacity. I can't wait to return to Zimbabwe.

The birds
Mana Pools and Chitake Springs at this time of the year have higher variations in bird species than during the winter months, as some migratory species move here to breed. We identified 79 species, among them the African golden oriole, Green-winged pytilia, Kurrichane thrush, Long-tailed paradise whydah, Monotonous lark, Red-faced mousebird and the Southern red bishop. I was hoping to find a Narina trogon, but no such luck. Will have to try again along South Africa's East Coast one day.

Travel information
This excursion was arranged through Tailormade Safaris, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Many thanks again to Rosemary for immaculate planning and organisation, especially when things turned pear-shaped with my flight from Zurich to Jo'burg. The long haul flights I booked through Swiss Int. Airways. Besides the delay on departure, everything worked perfectly. The Johannesburg - Maun segment I booked on SA Airlink. Although the flight was ok, I will book Air Botswana again next time. Reason being that I had discussions about carry-on luggage and I definitely won't give away my hand luggage with all the photographic equipment at Johannesburg airport. If it doesn't go in the cabin, I won't travel. It's that simple. The Harare - Jo'burg segment I booked through British Airways, operated in Southern Africa by Comair. I really enjoy flying with this airline and I will include them in my travel plans whenever possible. Excellent service, punctual, no issues with cabin luggage, great food and a fantastic Bloody Mary :-)

 

Patrick Meier - April 2013