Botswana: Dreaming on the Delta – Part Three

Continued from
Botswana: Dreaming on the Delta – Part Two

When you hear the word “delta,” images of water generally come to mind. But in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, rivers and ponds compete for space with dry land.

And on this open land full of grasses, gnarled bushes and strange trees, you’ll see incredible wild animals just about everywhere — walking, running, sitting, nuzzling, perching, loping away…or staring right at you.

We were soothed by the light, the land, the trees: we’d never seen anything quite like Botswana. The colors reminded us a little of California — wheaty gold, burnt orange, lilac, grey, pale and deeper greens — but the arrangements were entirely different.

Different landscapes of the Okavango

While on safari drives, we’d sometimes ride in silence, scanning the plains/marshes/termite mounds from the glassless window of the truck and trying to spot a creature before our well-seasoned guide, KB, or his scout, Moffatt. We got pretty good at finding giraffes and elephants (what with their being huge and all), but more often than not, KB and Moffatt would get very quiet, point out a bent twig, a fresh track in the dirt, a rustle in the grass and bam — there a beast would be. Gotta say, it was thrilling every time.

On a few occasions, we were on a nice, calm drive when suddenly, we were alerted via CB radio to the presence of a rarely seen animal a fair distance away; off we excitedly went, bumping and trying not to speed too fast in the direction of big (photography) game. In a private safari concession, someone’s always on the lookout.

Near Nxabega, we loved seeing leopards in two different locations. First, we saw a female from way across a field, stealth-stalking through tall grass between termite mounds to get a better view of her potential killing ground. The next day, we’d see her two half-grown cubs, treed and bored, waiting endlessly for their mother to return with dinner.

The different types of antelopes in the Okavango were astonishing. Big brown tsessebes, the fastest antelope on Earth; little steenboks, who were always watching with a big black eye and who can easily out-bound a large feline; the distinctive red lechwe, which have tall curvy horns and can run faster on water than land; and ubiquitous impalas, known as “McDonald’s” for the distinctive, black M markings on their rear-end…and their popularity with hungry predators.

Clockwise from left: red lechwes, a tsessebe, impalas and a steenbok

Our favorite antelope was the enormous, doe-eyed kudu, peaceful, strong and well-camouflaged. Not sure when you last spent 20 minutes watching an animal munch its way through a grassy field, hide in a tall bush and then gingerly step its way off into the distance, but I swear — it’s good for what ails you.

We learned the names for different groups of animals: a parade of elephants, a troop of baboons, a journey of giraffes, a dazzle of zebras. The zebras’ name makes particular sense when you see them all clustered together, no two set of markings alike; zebras tell each other apart by their different hind-quarter markings.

We never thought we’d get excited about angry-looking baboons or fugly warthogs, but we did. Close up, baboons look like they’re weary from thinking weighty thoughts. They look out for their troops by perching atop tall termite mounds, and appear to have all the time on Earth to wait for something to happen. Warthogs prance quickly on their tough little legs, trotting like show dogs, manes flopping and radio-antennae tails straight and high in the air.

One morning, we were gobsmacked to come across two lions — and I do mean come across, as they were just hanging out by the roadside.

Y’know, like you do…when you’re a lion in Botswana.

These two brothers, about 5 and 6 years old, are often spotted near &Beyond’s Nxabega Tented Camp, half-snoozing after a long night of defending their perimeter. KB pulled up within 30 feet of these cats, almost to the point of unease. But he knew what he was doing: this pair had seen safari vehicles their entire lives, and weren’t troubled in the slightest by our presence. That is, as long as we stayed in the truck.

Seeing lions and leopards and warthogs (oh my) on a daily basis was epic, but the greatest surprise of Africa for me was how much I loved the birds. It’s not like I’d never noticed birds before — Adam and I hear them every morning in our backyard garden — but on safari in Botswana I suddenly saw them. I wanted to know their names, their habits, and where to find them. And I remembered everything I learned, which is something that, much to Adam’s chagrin, I can’t say about anything electronic item that I’ve ever owned.

In short: I’m now a bird nerd.

My particular aviary obsessions:

-the gray-blue, plume-crowned “go away” bird (so called for its distinctive cry)
-the hammerkop (kop means head in Afrikaans, while hammer means…hammer)
-the francolin, or bush chicken, which moves like a tall quail, followed everywhere by a line of its tiny, tiny babies
-the rolla, usually lilac- or blue-breasted, which in flight reveals turquoise wings designed to attract flying insects
-absolutely any type of hornbill

Clockwise from top left: little hornbill; the biggest hawk we ever saw; a lilac-breasted rolla; a "go away" bird; a baby francolin

Our most surprising bird-based experience: turning into a clearing just before sunset, we saw hundreds of scarlet bee-eaters swooping in a huge circle, scooping gajillions of bees into their hungry beaks. To take a breather, the birds would fly into a nearby baobab tree and rest. Their breast feathers glowed an orange-gold against the sky, and we just gaped. KB, who had then worked for almost eight years in the Okavango, had never seen this many bee-eaters in one place.

Scarlet bee-eaters resting in a baobab tree

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Continued in
Botswana: Dreaming on the Delta – Part Four

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See also
Off to (a Birthday Safari in) Africa
Africa: Turns Out, It’s Really There
Logistics of an African Safari

South Africa: From Plains to Mountains
Southern Africa: A “Spafari” Adventure – Part 1
Southern Africa: A “Spafari” Adventure – Part 2

and
TWT Travel Binder: South Africa
TWT Travel Binder: Botswana
TWT Travel Binder: Tanzania

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