There are few wildlife destinations as iconic and recognizable as the Chobe River in Botswana. The open flood plain and characteristic white soils are so distinct and make for fantastic photographic opportunities. The sunsets here are even more spectacular, with rich golden light engulfing the entire river.
As my guests and I landed in Kasane for our Wild Eye Chobe Photo Safari the excitement was near tangible. We simply knew we would be in for a fantastic time. This time of year is great for game viewing as temperatures are warming and the available land-water is drying. The rainy season typically starts towards October and November.
This means that if animals wanted to drink they usually had to walk all the way to the river to quench their thirst. This would bring straight to the waters edge and hopefully right into the frames of our cameras.
We once again made use of Ichingo and Ichobezi River Lodges. They offer fantastic accommodation and top class river guides! For 3 of our 4 nights we stayed on a spacious and comfortable houseboat just on the opposite side of the Chobe National Park. This means that we are right there within the action. Typically one would need to travel some time to reach the park from your chosen destination. Not us. We could get out earlier in the mornings, well before sunrise, and stay out till well after sun set. The perfect setting for an awesome safari on the Chobe River.
My guests all had a passion for photographing birds. There are not many places more suited to bird photography than this beautiful river, most especially the aquatic type. With this in the back of my mind we focused largely on Chobe’s prolific bird life.
If birding is your passion then the Chobe River is undoubtedly the place for you. Wherever we looked there was some form of bird hunting, preening, resting or flying.
Some of the highlights included the often seen species such as Goliath Heron, Giant Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Black-crowned Night Heron, African Fish Eagle and many more.
Some specials included Black Heron, Slaty Egret, Rufous-bellied Heron and African Skimmers.
The beauty of viewing wildlife within the confines of a dedicated photographic boat is that you approach animals slowly and without much sound. This allows you to get within meters of your subject, and it also allows you a striking low angle when photographing them. The boat can host 6 guests and are equipped with custom-made mounts strong enough to hold your heavy telephoto lenses. The chairs are uber comfortable and lets you focus on your photography.
Thanks to this we were presented with some fantastic photo opportunities in the field.
African Fish Eagle
Goliath Heron sunbathing
Hunting Little Egret
There were also a few interesting birds to be seen. Black-singed Stilts are fascinating birds. They can often be found along the rivers edge, and more often than not are found in pairs as they are a monogamous species. An interesting fact about them is that they have the longest legs proportionate to their body size of any other bird in the world. It literally looks as if they are wading on stilts.
immature Black-winged Stilt
Adult female Black-winged Stilt
Adult male Black-winged Stilt
The young bird looks very similar to the adult female, whilst the adult male is black on the wings and very distinct.
Another fascinating bird we encountered was the Black Heron. This stealthy hunter uses a very, still rather misunderstood technique in order to hunt for its prey.
He forms an umbrella with his wings and dips his head underneath them, striking at any fish that he spots. It is widely believed that fish take cover below his wings thinking that is is shade, giving the bird the perfect opportunity to strike. This behaviour is highly instinctive though, with a captive bird observed doing this over food in a plate.
It is no secret that the African Fish Eagle tops the list of just about every birder as a favourite. It is by no means a scarce species, but by all means one of the most striking birds in Africa.
They are abundant along the Chobe River and the the photographic opportunities here are unrivaled. The nests are roughly 400 to 600 meters apart and adults can be seen perched on large trees on the banks of the river, or on the banks itself. Seeing these birds in action only takes a little patience and perseverance.
Pictured above, an African Fish Eagle landed right behind our houseboat with a large tilapia it had just caught!
For those amongst you who are not so “avian inclined”, the river offers plenty more! A diverse array of wildlife can be found along the rivers bank. Large pods of hippo are around just about every corner, and elephant flock down for a drink in large numbers. The park has a population of over a hundred thousand elephants, more than enough to suit any loxodonta lovers needs.
Plenty of general game can also be seen. Lechwe and Puku inhabit the islands, and impala, warthog and waterbuck are very common on the shoreline.
Our guests had a very special sighting of Sable antelope, a rather not-so-often-seen animal. A herd of 37 came down for a drink right infront of our houseboat whilst we were having lunch. We hopped onto the smaller photographic boat and were able to get some amazing images of the herd.
Elephants are always a great attraction in the exact bay that the Sable had a drink from. The descend on the bay in massive numbers, especially during the heat of the day. Our guests enjoyed fantastic sighting of elephants at play, and at very close quarters.
We also witnessed several occasions where elephants crossed the Chobe River in order to feed on the opposite banks. During the day they would cross over to Namibia, and in the evenings they would casually swim back to the safety of the national park in Botswana.
A frequent crossing point was the exact same spot where our comfortable houseboat was docked. On man y an occasion we would sit and watch them cross whilst enjoying a hearty lunch and a gin & tonic.
On on afternoon the wind picked up and game viewing was slightly affected. I spotted a troop of baboons along the rivers edge. These social animals frequent the shoreline and provide endless entertainment. My guests had a field day watching the antics of the troop.
There’s always something to find found on the river. Wether you are a photographer or not, the Chobe will leave a lasting impact on you.
Being out on the river on the dedicated Wild Eye photographic boat is such a refreshing change from the back seat of a land rover. It gives you a new perspective and allows for exciting photography and game viewing.
A trip to the Chobe River is something everyone should experience atleast once. It is a special corner of Africa and will change the way you see photography.
You will not regret it.
Marlon du Toit
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