Trip Report: Botswana Wilderness Safari June 2018

Andrew Beck Andrew 4 Comments

This was the third edition of our popular and incredibly productive Botswana Wilderness safari. The safari combines 3 of Wilderness Safaris’s camps in various parts of the Okavango Delta with the aim of exposing our small and exclusive group of just 4 guests to the full range of habitats and environments that the delta has to offer.

Last Chance for SADC Residents!

Rates structures at the camps in this itinerary have changed for 2019 and beyond with just one space per departure being viable in ZAR for SADC residents (SADC spaces for the 2019 departures are already full). This means that our November 2018 Safari will be the last opportunity for SADC residents to experience this safari itinerary at dramatically reduced rates and priced in ZAR.

More Info

The journey began in Muan where our group boarded a light aircraft, enjoyed a flight to the south-eastern reaches of the Okavango Delta and the Chitabe Concession. A slight delay out of Maun saw us landing later than anticipated but, where you’re dealing with camps of the highest level, we found our guide ready for an afternoon drive (cooler box and all) whilst our luggage made its way back to camp.

It wasn’t long before the cameras where whipped out and a pair of Pink-backed Pelicans gave our group the ideal opportunity to stretch their photographic muscles as they posed beautifully on of some dead Leadwood trees with beautiful clouds in the background. A key lesson learnt whilst photographing this scene was just how important timing and light was as the scene changed almost by the second as clouds drifted infant of the setting sun.

Trip Report Botswana Wilderness Safari

A sundowner drink known only to the group as the “Chitabe Party Mix” was enjoyed overlooking a spectacular floodplain before making our way back to camp, interrupted only by a Serval, African Civet and one of the most spectacular Meteorites any of our group had ever seen.

This plot by Bill Gray of Project Pluto traces the east-to-west flight trajectory of 2018 LA from over New Guinea to its demise over South Africa and Botswana.

Traveling to the east at about 17 kilometers a second, the meteoroid grew into a spectacular fireball. Witnesses described it as equal to the Sun in brilliance and accompanied by thunderous explosions — good signs that fragments of the object may have survived and landed as meteorites. Needless to say, the meteorite dominated conversation around the fire that night and for good reason as this video clip gives you an idea of just how bright the event was!

We took this as a good omen and held on to the hope that more spectacular sightings, of the wildlife variety, would follow suite and they sure did.

With the floodwaters not quite reaching the southerns tip of the delta as yet we were able to cover quite a bit of ground and enjoyed good sightings of general game including impala, zebra, giraffe and elephant.

One of the highlights was an afternoon spent with a hyena clan at their den site tucked neatly away at the base of an old Jackelberry tree. The inquisitive pups put on a show in some spectacular light and gave us some good photography opportunities.

Sundowners were enjoyed on an open floodplain which is usually holding water at this time of year.

Back at camp the photography continues with a pair of palm trees lit up by the camp walkway lights provided the ideal subjects to run through settings ahead of an astrophotography session planned for the second of 3 camps in the itinerary.

At this stage of the game the big cats had managed to elude us and we set out with the intention of finding at least one of the two species as early as possible to make the most of the crisp morning light. Fresh tracks of the local lions pride (including tracks for small cubs) led us deep into the concession and, just as hope was fading, we rounded the corner and found this scene before us.

Three females and their group of 5 young cubs had just finished sulking their thirst at a nearby pan and were slowly making their way back towards the cover of the long grasses and treeline. Some handy vehicle positioning from our guide Lesh made sure we were able to shoot side, back and front lighting images before the pride settled down for the morning.

The presence of a nearby termite mound piqued my interest and I positioned ourselves in a spot where, should the curious cubs oblige, we would be in prime position to capture a scene which wildlife photographers dream off. The cub on a mound!

With our mission accomplished and very little sign of Leopard in the area, we continued onto the Gomoti Floodplain in the hopes of finding the cheetah which frequent this part of the concession. Alas, it was not be but, we made the most of the morning and ended the drive with a herd of elephants drinking at one of the permanent lagoons in the area.

The focus for the afternoon was to try and find leopard and before we knew it we were responding to sighting of a young female moving along the tree-line of dense Kalahari Apple-leaf. This young girl clearly didn’t want to be seen and did even give us so much as a glimpse of a photographic opportunity, living up to the shy and secretive nature of this majestic cats.

Luckily for us, less than 500m away across a flooded channel, another female (reportedly the mother of the young female we had tried to see) had been spotted. After spending a bit of time moving around and getting into a position where we felt she may pop out we were rewarded with our first decent photographic opportunity of leopard for the trip.

As you can see in the soft pastel tones captured above, this was well after sunset and the light was fading fast. This is the time of day where I encourage guests to make a decision as to whether they would like to fight the light or simply work with it and so we worked through various ways to capture the scenes working everything from high ISO’s and aggressive under-exposure right the way through to slow shutter speeds aimed at intentionally capturing movement.

This was in no way an easy sighting from a photographic perspective BUT it allowed the group to really get a better understanding of capability of their respective gear setup. Whilst not every sighting will provide you with killer images, every sighting is an opportunity to experiment and learn and thats exactly what we did.

The air was ripe with anticipation on our final morning as we had heard the calls of male lions to the east of camp. Less could have chosen a better route as we bumped into a majestic male lion just as the sun broke through the horizon. Choosing to stop in our tracks and rather have him approach us, we were able to work a classic delta scene at everything from 560mm to 100mm.

It wasn’t long before the coalition partner for this male was found and he was camped out next to a giraffe carcass. Who knows what transpired and why the second male left the sight of the kill but the bush always has a away of keeping an air of secrecy around.

We continued back to the area where we found the lioness and cubs the previous morning and came across a lone lioness seated next to a termite mound a good 200m away from a relaxed pair of giraffe browsing along the tree-line.

Her posture and focus made it clear that something was gong to happen and we could only assume that the other members of the pride were somehow approaching the pair who were completely unaware of any presence of lions in the area.

With some sort of action bound to take place I prepped the group on their settings and told them to be prepared.

Scanning the treeline with binoculars my words were hardly cold when I suddenly saw the unmistakeable black tip of a lion’s tail breaking through the Wild Sage bushes. It was game on!

The lioness that gave charge rushed alongside the giraffe for a couple of hundred meters whilst the other lioness which we had been watching cut trough a sage bush thicket and was perfectly positioned to take over the chase. We repositioned and managed to watch the last desperate attempt of the second lioness lunging at full stretch trying to lock onto the haunches of her quarry.

They had come so close but had ultimately failed.

Their attention shifted briefly towards a bachelor herd of impala who were caught unawares momentarily but finally caught onto the presence of the pair. With that, our time at Chitabe had drawn to a close and we were excited for the next chapter in the adventure.

Pelo Camp

A 20 minute flight to the north west of the Okavango Delta provided a completely different landscape where the Kalahari sands and dry channels of the Chitabe Concession were repacked by emerald blue floodwaters which were pushing in from Angola.

A 30 minute boat cruise from the airstrip saw us arriving at Pelo Camp, a camp which I specifically chose to provide guests with an incredible water-based safari experience.

We settled into our rooms and then prepared for an afternoon with Twist, Biggy and Less (yes, another guide with the same name as our first!) as we headed out on our first Mokoro safari.

Cruising silently through the floodplains around camp we explored several small islands and their associated roadbeds, searching long and hard for some of the smaller and more reclusive attractions in the delta.

Our attention to detail meant that we were rewarded with some great photographic opportunities of Angolan Reed Frogs, Long Reed Frogs and Dragonflies.

Our guides took us to a large fig tree where a pair of Pels’ Fishing Owl had been seen recently and, as we approached we were rewarded with an incredible view of what many birders consider to be one of the most difficult bird species to see, yet alone photograph.

Considering that this was a first time any of the group had seen this species we returned back to camp as happy campers, excited to download and see what we had captured.

There is something so peaceful about a Mokoro experience. I know that most people fear the presence of hippos and crocodiles but I can safely say that I have seen neither of these species whilst out on a Mokoro in this part of the delta. I find the ability to drift effortlessly (especially since you have a dedicated poler doing all the hard work) incredible peaceful and relaxing.

After dinner we grabbed tripods and wide angle lenses and made our way to a secluded area behind camp to photograph the night skies before calling it a day.

Our luck with the rarities continued the next morning as the guests managed to photograph another two individual Pel’s Fishing Owl infant of their rooms at first light and then, whilst out on a boring boat cruise, we snuck up on the shy and illusive Sitatunga. These aquatic antelope are notoriously difficult to see, preferring to hide in the dense papyrus reedbeds which dominate so much of the delta. We were lucky that even on a chilly and windy morning, this female chose to stack up the first rays of sunlight on the edge of a densely vegetated palm island.

We contiunud to explore the channels and waterways of the delta, spending some time with an Elephant Bull feeding on the aquatic reeds and grasses and also stopping to create unique and somewhat more creative images of the various aquatic grasses and lilies which dominate the shallow waters of the region.

Our second afternoon saw us back on the Mokoros with a single goal in mind.

We wanted Pels.

We simply couldn’t get enough of these rare and beautiful birds and, given that they had been seen right outside of the guest tents that morning it made complete sense to see if we could find them in better light.

Not even 5 minutes into our cruise we found them perched high up in a tree above room 3. We approached quietly and spent the entire afternoon with the pair.

After struggling for a while to get a good angle from the boat we opted to head back onto land and were able to get a much better angle. I think its safe to say that no two Pel’s fishing owl have ever been photographed as much as these two were.

Needless to say, the afternoon’s goal had been met and celebrating with a G&T whilst watching the sun sink below the horizon seemed like the right thing to do.

After enjoying much success with the previous nights astro-photography session at the back of camp, some of the guests opted to setup their cameras for a Star Trail. Rather than capturing a single frame of the night sky, we left the cameras to run for 40 minutes at ISO 200 and managed to capture a slightly different take on the night sky of the region.

Our final morning boat cruise around the delta and back to the boat station and airstrip was pretty productive with some great shots of Spurwinged goose, Golden Weaver, Malachite and Pied Kinfisher, as well as this Little Bee-Eater.

Our return journey back to the airstrip was halted momentarily when we came across a herd of elephant drinking at the edge of the channel. For me, this scene framed by two palm trees on the left hand side made for a quintessential delta photograph and was a fitting end to our time at Pelo Camp.

With somewhat heavy hearts balanced only by the excitement and promise of a new and exciting destination, we boarded our flight to Little Vumbura and the Kwedi Concession.

Little Vumbura Camp

Little Vumbura is a very special camp located on an island just off of the North-eastern edge of the Okavango Delta and is one of the most diverse and scenic regions in the Okavango Delta. This magnificent camp was home for the next four nights and we had high hopes in terms of the potential sightings that we would encounter here.

The floodwaters were rising on a daily basis and crossing deep channels as we traversed the road network was a daily occurrence. Our first afternoon was spent with a pride of lions and their cubs as they rested in deep shade. The playful nature and curiosity of the young cubs kept us around long enough to eventually witness a pair scale a fallen tree in what was literally the last rays of light for the day.

This was a good lesson on how not all sightings will provide you with photographic opportunities and how if you’re able to play the game, sit, wait and be patient, you may well be rewarded.

All of the guests opted to take up the offer of an additional chopper flip at dawn whilst we were staying at Little Vumbura and so, for the next two mornings, guests and I took to the skies to watch the sun rise across the Okavango Delta.

The flights were conducted in a  R44 helicopter with all of the doors removed. Both guests (flying 2 at a time) were seated on the left hand side of the chopper to enjoy unobstructed views whilst I sat in the back right, guiding them with regards to settings and working together with the pilot to identify potential; photographic opportunities, spot game and make recommendations with regards to height and speed.

The crisp light of the winter mornings and clear skies made for some incredible photography and, more importantly, some great memories for the guests!.

On our first morning, after linking up with the guests after the chopper flip, we headed to the north of the concession in search of the wild dogs. Our guide, Madala K use have a sixth sense on these things as it wasn’t long before he got the call that another vehicle with the same route plan, had found the pack resting on a termite mound.

Knowing exactly where the pack was in the morning meant that we had a very good chance of relocating them again in the afternoon as long as we got there before they started socialising and moving off to hunt and so, we wasted no time after lunch and made an early exit to catch up with the pack.

We caught them on the move and stayed with them for a while before they caught sight of an impala ram and took off at a rate of knots after him.

Sadly, in the fading light, we weren’t able to pick up on them again but we did flush a group of 3 bat-eared foxes.

The lion pride had managed to take down a massive Kudu Bull in a dense stand of Kalahari Apple leave, leaving very little interns of photographic opportunities before they handed the carcass over to a spotted hyaena on the final morning. We eventually caught up with them resting in long grass not far from the original kill site.

With the lions having been tied up in a less than optimal area, we turned our attention to a female leopard and her cub and spent countless hours trying to track them down. After nearly a full day of tracking we came to the conclusion that they too had made a kill and were tucked away deep inside a thick block of apple leaf. Our guide K was pretty sure he had pinned them down to a very small area but, these creatures are notorious for being able to disappear like a thief in the night.

Sadly the pair managed to elude us for the full duration of our stay.

With the “stars of the show” not quite playing ball we opted to focus on the rest of the cast of the Kwedi concession which were never far from sight.

Even in camp we were able to continue  photographing with a cheeky elephant bull who was insistent on “pruning” the Jackalberry an Wild Mangoustine Trees outside of room 1 taking centre stage for most of the stay here.

Finally, on our second last morning we managed to located a female leopard who had killed and hoisted her kill to the top of a large deadwood tree. Given our luck with the big cats so far it was an easy call to head straight back to this location in the afternoon and set ourselves up for either an ascent or descent sequence.

On arrival we found the female feeding high up in the dense branches and wasted no time in getting into position for the best possible images – even though we could hardly see her feeding. About 45 minutes later we were rewarded with a short burst of action as she descended, groomed and then finally, left out of the tree to the ground.

I could almost hear the sighs of relief from the guests as finally the pendulum had swung back in our way. Nature can be a cruel beast sometimes and we had to work hard to get the shots that we did that afternoon and that, will make these images all the more special in my books.

We finished off our last afternoon making the most of the magic light around Jackies Pan as herds of elephants, impala, and giraffe made their way across the open area which was bathed in the most glorious of light.

With that, our 9 nights of safari had drawn to an end.

The final night was spent sitting around the fire-deck back at camp, reminiscing on the diverse range of experiences and sightings that we had enjoyed over the course of the safari. Boat cruises, mokoro rides, scenic flights in light aircraft, open door chopper flips, game drives and more. This safari itinerary really does provide guests with an amazing series of experiences whilst simultaneously exposing them to some of the most pristine wilderness regions in the Okavango Delta.

To the group of guests that joined me, thank you for making this a memorable safari and I hope that this safari has, in some small way, changed the way you see the world!

Last Chance for SADC Residents!

Rates structures at the camps in this itinerary have changed for 2019 and beyond with just one space per departure being viable in ZAR for SADC residents (SADC spaces for the 2019 departures are already full). This means that our November 2018 Safari will be the last opportunity for SADC residents to experience this safari itinerary at dramatically reduced rates and priced in ZAR.

More Info

Andrew Beck

About the Author

Andrew Beck

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Very few people can tell you what their passion in life is. Even fewer will be able to tell you that what they do for a living is in fact their passion. My love for the bush and conservation took me on journey which would not only allow me to explore the continent which fascinates me so much, but to share my passion for photography and conservation with others. Be sure to check out my my website and instagram account.

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Comments 4

  1. Callum Evans

    Absolutely out of this world!!! The Delta really has its own special magic that sets it apart from all of the rest of Africa, a magic that I have been lucky enough to experience myself (Thank You Third Bridge)!! Still hoping to one day visit Mombo Camp, Duba Plains, Vumbara and Pelo!

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  2. Lianne

    Sounds like a fabulous trip!! Thanks for sharing your beautiful photo’s and story.
    Hope to join you one day on this safari

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