It's come to be an exhilarating feeling: the first day back on safari. I keep saying, and it's dead true, that there are so many places on this planet I'd like to see, I really can't just keep returning to Africa to safari ... I have limited funds and time, especially the funds. Yet I keep doing it, and there is a particular giddiness about being back out in "the field" on the first day of a trip. And this time I was in the Okavango Delta, a region I have wanted to see for myself for ages after watching so many television nature shows that were filmed here. So, it was rather exciting, indeed, to finally be here. On a four-park tour, Moremi was our first stop (traveling again with Ulinda Safaris, as I did to the Kalahari region the previous year).
I am not typically a very early riser, but on safari, we get up before dawn and are on the road when the sun begins to creep up into the sky. And of course we are not the only ones! Animals take the human roads, too. (they are, after all, pretty posh compared to slogging through thorny bushes and dense grass .....)
There are quite a number of things I expect, or at least hope, to see on safari, but a massive rock python snake has not been on my list. Check out this guy who was out for a morning stroll. For a sense of scale, look at the tire tracks and you can see that the snake's body is almost as tall as a truck tire is wide. Maybe he just ate a tourist!
One animal I really hoped to see in the Delta region was the African wild dog, also known as "painted dogs." But the best way to safari is to have zero expectations, for no animal sightings of any kind can ever be guaranteed. So I was thrilled when I spotted my first wild dog only shortly after we arrived in the Delta in Moremi! I was super happy to cross the painted dogs off my list after seeing these guys. And by "super," I mean, SUPER! But little did I know what lay in store for me a few days later! Look at how tattered the poor ear is of the little guy lying down.
Part of what makes the Okavango Delta region unique is the degree of seasonal flooding (can be quite extreme) and the channels of water that exist year-round in large marshy areas. We took a short boat ride through some of these water channels. I'd never seen scenery quite like this, with the mega-tall marsh grass reflecting on the water.
The grasses and trees were rife with birdlife, large and small, ranging from majestic fish eagles to these very small but colorful malachite kingfishers.
Plenty of "ordinary" birds, too, like ducks and egrets, but I always find egrets to be an elegant bird, and I liked the water dripping off this one's foot for a picture.
I had hoped we might spot more hippos, but only a few raised their eyes above the water. This is no great pic below, not even good focus, but what I like about it is the reflection in the hippo's eye. Often I capture myself reflected in the eyes of a subject, either animal or person I'm photographing, but in the hippo eye you see the landscape behind me with the orange sun about to set below the marshland horizon.
But the most unique creature we saw during our boat ride was the elusive sitatunga. We were told this was a special sighting, indeed. Even our guide, who runs the channels pretty nearly every day, said he hadn't seen one in the Delta in five years. It's an antelope species particular to the Okavango Delta, and it reminds me of the kind of composite animals I used to draw from my imagination as a kid, which were simply amalgamations of different animals into one creature. So this diminutive antelope has the size of a small steenbok or a duiker, horns similar to a kudu in their corkscrew shape, and facial coloring similar to waterbucks and nyalas with the placement of the white patches. Sorry I don't have a better pic, it was tough through the tall grass; you can Google the sitatunga to see it better. :-)
Closer to our private bush safari camp, we passed other small ponds each day in our outings, such as these, with saddle billed storks and elephants enjoying them.
Some other types of birds we saw were the ground hornbill ... not exactly somebody who's concerned about being camouflaged in the grass!
The red-billed hornbill is a very common bird in southern Africa, but I like them; to me they're still exotic in spite of their commonness here. Unlike Mister Red Siren above, this fellow is quite adept at blending into his surroundings, more of a Mr. Incognito.
One bird that I was super excited to see, in fact it was the one I wanted to cross off my list, like the wild dogs, for having seen photos of them but never in person: the southern carmine bee-eater. I wish these pics had come out crisper, but you can still see they're eating an insect dinner -- not bees this evening but a delicious dragonfly!
And I always enjoy the ostriches, though I find them very hard to get a good photo of -- the camera never focuses very successfully on their heads, I don't know why. There is something special about the lone ostrich wandering across the land ... if you see a wildebeest or a zebra or an impala alone in Africa, you think nothing of it. At home, if I see a deer or elk walking alone, I think nothing of it. But to see this animal taller than a deer or zebra strolling along, and then realize it's a *bird,* always tickles me. It's just so Jurassic.
Another bird I always enjoy seeing, not so much for what they look like as birds, but for their behavior which so often lends a comical or at least caption-able flair to any other animal. So actually, I doubt I've ever taken a picture of one just hanging out in a tree or on the ground, only ever when they are meticulously cleaning the fur or catching a ride on another animal -- the oxpecker. Like this row of oxpeckers using a zebra taxi.
We watched some zebra in this wooded area of Moremi in some fun behavior that I'd never witnessed before. It was like they'd been watching roller derby on TV and decided to try something similar. In a little herd, side by side they'd sprint through the woods and around a tree, then over to another tree and around it. Then maybe stop and hang out for a bit, nip at each other here and there, then start up the derby again.
Baboons and vervet monkeys can always be counted on to provide entertainment and silly antics. I could watch these guys for ages, so remarkably human in a lot of their gestures, facial expressions, behaviors. And always grooming, grooming, grooming. I'm fine with having this behavior deviate from humans -- I'm not super keen on picking bugs off my mates. The poor vervet in the bottom pic in time-out against the tree trunk must have been a naughty monkey, indeed.
Now, I love all the African animals (well, that can be expanded to say I love all animals!) (except black mambas) (and komodo dragons) (and spiders) (and, well ok, there are a few others I'm not keen on), but some of them are definitely more entertaining than others. Giraffes and antelope species, for example, are beautiful to see, but they're seldom doing anything particularly interesting, just standing and grazing or browsing. Though when the antelopes spar, that's definitely a good show! But elephants, like the primate creatures, are usually *doing* something compelling. Even if they are only eating, it's more compelling to watch than almost any other dining mammal because of their brilliant trunks. I just never cease to be fascinated with them, how flexible and useful they are ... like a Leatherman tool attached to their face.
And I think it's hilarious that baby elephants have to learn how to control them and use them. When they are young, they just flop their little trunks around like a toy on their face. This little fella was so darling scratching his ear, stretching and posing his trunk.
Elephant ears are also more interesting than the average animal ear ... the way they flop them around, cooling themselves off like have a giant fan on their head, and the topography and patterns in the ear itself is a nice artistic touch by Mother Nature.
As we were just speaking of giraffes and antelopes, this post wouldn't be complete without a few photos of them, right? One of the most fascinating things about the giraffe is its freakishly long tongue. It certainly isn't the longest in the animal kingdom, but it is impressive for both size and for how it can wrap around acacia thorns as if they were soft as mozzarella sticks.
One of the antelope species common to the Okavango Delta but not very common otherwise in Africa, only to a few other regions, is the red lechwe. I had not seen one before (since I'd never been to the Okavango!). But the cutest things about them, I thought, were their little black boots and socks, and especially the way that their tails wagged back in forth in unison when they were in a herd.
Wildebeest are always so difficult to get a good photo of because of how dark their face is, and they're usually on some open plain with bright light behind them. So I was pretty pleased with how this one came out. It's a blue wildebeest, I have never seen a black wildebeest. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, "but it's not blue." Well, it's called that anyway. Also known locally as a gnu.
And this photo below, I confess, is maybe my favorite in this post's collection. I love it because of the multiple species (you may know by know that's a favorite of mine) going about their different lives. The main subject, the female waterbuck, is one of my favorite antelope species, probably second only to the kudu. Directly behind her head is an impala grazing. And two little baboons are running through the weeds beside her on the left, and one on the right. I think somehow the action of the baboons is really what makes the scene more compelling than if it showed different critters just all eating or standing. But the baboons are on a mission somewhere while the antelopes calmly hang out. (right-click on it to check it out larger) To me, it portrays more accurately the dynamic landscape that is always in motion, even when you can't detect it.
I realize that not everyone who comes to this page will make it all the way down here to the end ... it's a long post, but it's my blog, and I want to share all of it! haha. But for those of you who HAVE made it down here, I share with you the most special moment of our time in Moremi. Our awesome guide, Scott, was disappointed in the paucity of wildlife we were seeing on our last morning in this game reserve, so he decided to drive all the way over to another section of the park with a different, much more wide-open landscape, to try our luck over there. Well, the camera gods may not have been with me, but that's OK. You can still make out basically what it is ... a serval, which is quite rare to encounter, and she's holding a kitten in her mouth. She was very far away and running quickly, we surmised moving her kittens to a new den. The weeds were thick. This was taken through my 600 mm lens which I barely gathered my wits in time to even get off this shot. I was too beside myself with excitement, first at "serval!" and then amplified by "with a kitten!" It was a pretty damn cool and rare sight for a safari-goer to witness.
OK, my dear readers, you've just been to Moremi Game Reserve, hope you enjoyed the safari. :-)