Namibia, Botswana and Zambia Aug 07—23, 2010

Posted by Geoff Lockwood

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Geoff Lockwood

Geoff Lockwood's interest and involvement with birds dates back to his early years at school and forms part of a wider interest in the biodiversity of the Southern Afri...

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This year's tour to Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia proved to be one of the most rewarding ever, with the list of birds and animals recorded reflecting much of what these special countries have to offer. Highlights were many, but three in particular will stand out in the minds of everyone in our group!

Etosha's waterholes are justifiably famous for the incredible wildlife spectacles that they offer, and our visit to Goas waterhole near Halali shows just how good it can get! Goas is an artesian spring which rises and fills a large, shallow pool and then seeps downhill through a marshy area to form a second body of open water. As we arrived, a herd of springbok were milling around near the lower pool. They were obviously alert, and we initially thought that it was the single spotted hyena feeding on the remains of a black-faced impala that was causing their concern. However, a scan towards the top pool soon located the real reason. A pride of at least 8 lions were enjoying the early sun and lay scattered around the area in the typical sprawled poses that only these contented big cats seem to manage. Meanwhile, at the lower pool, a hungry black-backed jackal and two optimistic Bateleur Eagles watched as the hyena made short work of the lions' leavings.

A solitary black (or hook-lipped) rhinoceros was enjoying a quiet drink at the top pool—either oblivious to or unconcerned by the proximity of the lions, and we decided to drive closer. No sooner were we positioned when a small breeding herd of 10 elephants appeared and made a beeline for the pool in front of us. Their route took them very close to the dozing lions, and suddenly a group of very wide-awake cats were heading for cover! For the next ten minutes we were treated to the antics of the elephants as they drank, played, and sprayed themselves with cooling water and mud. Throughout the bustle, a stream of brightly colored small seedeaters ran the gauntlet of a hunting Southern Pale Chanting-Goshawk and a Shikra to snatch a few precious sips of water. The elephants slowly moved off into the tree line…while down at the lower pool a procession of greater kudu, black-faced impala, and springbok came in to slake their thirst, all the while keeping a wary eye open for any threat!

Xakanaxa in Moremi National Park in Botswana's Okavango Delta has always been good to us on these tours, but this year it certainly outdid even our wildest expectations! The flood season this year has been higher than in the past forty years, and many of the access roads were flooded. As a result, we took a different route from the airstrip into camp. Our driver, Ollie, noticed fresh leopard tracks crossing the road and, looking around, noticed a pair of these exquisite cats high up in a large jackalberry tree. The female soon left, "flowing down the trunk of the tree like honey," leaving the male draped over a branch. After a few minutes she was back however—shimmying effortlessly up the tree to rejoin her mate. She nuzzled his face briefly before prostrating herself on the branch in front of him and allowing him to mate with her. After a brief pause, the process was repeated—we were close enough to hear his growling, and then both animals slipped effortlessly down the tree and disappeared into the grass. WOW! This was Frances' fifth trip looking for leopard, and she had seen her first (and second) actually mating! And we hadn't even reached camp yet!

After our incredible sighting on our drive into camp, I was worried that the rest of our stay could be something of an anticlimax, but our luck continued on our game drive that afternoon. Superb sightings of a female Saddle-billed Stork, and then a pair of statuesque Wattled Cranes right next to our vehicle kept the bird flag flying…and Terry happily snapping away. We had stopped next to a large pool to enjoy our sundowners to the sight of a herd of swamp-loving red lechwe antelope, when the raucous calls of some Meves's Starlings drew Ollie's attention to a serval—a first on these tours—walking through the long grass. I quickly set the scope and the group was able to enjoy several great looks at our second spotted cat of the day as it lay down in the grass and proceeded to wash itself thoroughly. A pair of side-striped jackals feeding on the fallen fruit of a jackalberry on the way back to camp wrapped up an amazing day!
 
The rest of our stay brought yet more new birds including a stunning Verreaux's Eagle-Owl (our eighth owl of the trip) gruffly hooting from a mopani tree, and a party of four comical Southern Ground Hornbills striding purposefully through the grass next to our vehicle. A pride of 8 lions on a fresh buffalo kill right next our vehicle, plus another view of "our" leopards on our last game drive wrapped up a spectacular visit!