On our Botswana safari, we drove along the Chobe River on our first morning in Serondella area of the Chobe National Park. In April we saw a lot of wildlife along the river. Later in the dry season, the animals increase near the river as the surrounding land dries up and the game migrates to the waters of the Chobe River.
In the first light of dawn, these hippos have sunlight reflecting from their ears.
Seeking wildlife, we drove on a dirt road covered by the river. See the crocodiles in the river waiting for thirsty animals to drink in the morning.
And, of course, the obligatory African fish eagle and a lilac-breasted roller.
Giraffes are vulnerable when they bend over to lick salt or drink.
In the early morning, this elephant extended its trunk toward us, to better sniff us.
We saw two Burchell’s zebras nursing. Found in southern Africa, Burchell’s zebras have a light gray stripe between the black stripes on their flanks.
And a baby giraffe.
Look at the closeup below to see a wound and scab on the left rear leg, and a bird hidden behind the tail.
A yellow-billed stork perched on a termite mound.
A female kudu.
At the end of the day, we headed back to camp early because we weren’t seeing much.
During heavy rain, low spots in the dirt roads fill with water. The game warden in the photo below tried to drive through the puddle and got stuck. He’s getting his bag from his truck before we give him a ride to the warden office. The next day our camp crew got his truck out. Dirt roads can become impassable in the wet season.
At night we heard lions calling loudly. I tried recording the lion roar using our iPhone, but both Voice Memo recordings were silent.
To start our morning game drive we drove nearby, but our guide only spotted fresh lion tracks on the road. In the morning, cheetahs lay in wait for a springbok to wander close enough to give chase, but the springboks kept their distance. As it warmed up, the cheetahs gave up and walked to shade.
Jackals usually keep their distance, but this black-backed jackals paused briefly to pose for us.
Yet another pretty bird. Birds with such long tails need to be careful where they land, so that their tail doesn’t get caught in the thorns or leaves.
The steenbok is a small antelope.
In the afternoon we saw Deception Pan. It looks like a lake with water, but it’s actually dry. The vegetation helps sell the notion of a lake: a band of red vegetation near us, a band of green vegetation, and the dark patch that looks like water.
At dusk, after we returned to camp and were cleaning up, we heard “Lion in the camp! Stay in your tents!”. I looked outside but didn’t see a lion.
Stanley, one of our guides, was cleaning his vehicle when he saw a lion walking next to the land cruiser. The lion had walked past the dining tent next to the vehicle, and one of our safari members was having a smoke in the dining tent.
“Get in the truck!” said Stanley, and Elise climbed into the truck. Stanley yelled out the warning for the rest of the camp. As you can see, the road isn’t very wide. Our tents are within 50 m of the truck and dining tent. Eating dinner in the dining tent that night was more exciting. We still hadn’t see the black-maned lions of the Kalahari, and we would leave the Kalahari in the morning.
During our safari in late February, the great migration is normally in the southern Serengeti. But so far there has been little rain so the wildebeests and zebras came, ate the grass, and moved to the north, where there was more rain and grass. We had seen few wildebeests and no herds of wildebeests.
On our second day at Serengeti camp, we woke early for a long drive north to see herds of wildebeest and zebra. We would enter the Serengeti National Park, where we would have to stay on roads.
Early in the morning this giraffe was eating its favorite food, acacia leaves. Acacias have long thorns. We see how giraffes use their long, dexterous tongue to grab the leaves while avoiding the thorns. The giraffe’s tongue is wrapped around the branch to strip the leaves.
Here’s a closeup with more detail. See the long thorns to the left and right of the giraffe tongue. The thorns are a lighter green than the leaves and branches. At 7:18 am, the light was dim. Like the night before, the ISO was maxed out and the lens wide open, and there still wasn’t enough light. Learning my lesson, I increased the exposure from 1/400 to 1/250 second, while shooting at 400 mm. The rule of thumb is that the exposure time is less than or equal to the inverse of the focal length, or 1/400 second for a 400 mm focal length. The photo looks clear enough despite the longer exposure. See the giraffe’s eyelashes?
A half hour later we stopped to see this jackal. We were far away — these photos were taken at 400 mm.
A couple minutes later we learned why our guide stopped and waited.
Here’s a closeup. It looks like the jackal’s eating a bird with long black feathers, perhaps a secretary bird. Breakfast before 8:00 am.
When we entered the Serengeti National Park, we stopped to file papers. This superb starling was in the parking lot. The iridescent top feathers and orange breast are very pretty.
At noon we finally found herds of zebras and wildebeests. Not the million animals that we had read about, but many herds of animals.
We were happy. Our safari was nearing the end, and we had not seen a leopard. The leopard completed our seeing the big five animals. As it turned out, this was the only leopard we saw. It was almost 2:00, and we headed for a late lunch.
But of course we had to stop to see these baboons on the side of the road.
After lunch we drove along a river and saw hippos. There was much more water here than at the Alamana hippo pool, so these hippos were more comfortable.
Here’s a closeup of the hippo jaws. Note the hippo’s enormous mouth and sharp, ivory canine teeth. Hippo teeth are sharpened during use, and the canines can reach 20″.
We started the long drive back to camp. We had started early, and we were all tired.
Our guide saw some vultures landing and taking off in the grass so he stopped to look where the vultures were landing. No other vehicles were stopped. We didn’t see anything where the vultures landed. Finally he told us to look to the left, far away. We finally saw some brown spots in the grass. Still in the National Park, we couldn’t drive off-road to get closer. The following photos are with a telephoto lens at 400 mm. Here’s the initial photo.
Soon there was some movement.
And a closeup of the lion.
Looks like a wildebeest. Our guide told us that the lions had probably killed the wildebeest and dragged it away. The vultures were landing at the spot of the kill. Our guide is amazing at finding animals.
At dusk we saw these storks roosting in a tree.
Back at camp, we heard a loud elephant trumpet as we got out of the vehicle. A large elephant was walking between two tents, about a hundred meters away from us. The elephant was taller than our tents. The guide said to climb back in. After the guides said it was clear, they drove us back to our tents.
We later learned that this adult elephant is a frequent visitor to the camp. Our lead guide saw it and shined a flashlight into its eyes. The light in elephant’s eyes ruins its night vision, so it moved away.
We drove all day from the Alamana Camp to the Serengeti Camp. In the morning we saw two kinds of antelope: a Coke’s hartebeest and a male impala.
A group of giraffes were walking, and then they galloped past our parked trucks. These 3 photos were taken with a zoom lens at 135 mm, a short telephoto length. See the dust being kicked up in the third picture.
As we neared camp, a herd of elephants walked by. Note that the baby is much smaller than the adult elephants.
Here’s a baby elephant nursing.
Close to sunset, we drove past an alkaline lake with various birds.
From Ngorongoro we drove to Olduvai Gorge, then north to our camp in Alamana. It would be a long day of driving starting at 8:30.
Driving west down the Ngorogoro highlands, giraffes browsed in the acacia woodland. Do you see six giraffes? We played see and count the animals with our guide, and he always won. The first person would say “I see a giraffe at 2:00!” “I see two!” Our guide would say “I see six”, and we’d eventually see the six.
Almost every tree or shrub we saw was an acacia, all with thorns. Giraffes browse on acacia buds and leaves despite the thorns.
Driving across the savannah, we saw some diagonal lines in the distance.
At first, I couldn’t tell whether these were animals. Watching them longer, they moved, confirming they’re animals. The neck and legs are long and thin — giraffes. The necks lean the same direction, so they’re walking or running together. Traveling in a single file, they’re migrating. Giraffes migrating across the Serengeti plains — we’re in Africa.
The plains are brown and dry. Although we visited between the short rains and the long rains of the wet season, rainfall has been scant, so there’s no grass here for grazing wildebeests and zebras.
At Olduvai Gorge, streams cut through several geologic layers, exposing old formations.
From Wikipedia, “Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world and has been instrumental in furthering the understanding of early human evolution. This site was occupied by homo habilis approximately 1.9 million years ago, paranthropus boisei 1.8 million years ago, and homo erectus 1.2 million years ago. Homo sapiens are dated to have occupied the site 17,000 years ago.”
We listened to a talk, visited a small museum, and walked through the gorge to the excavation site.
After lunch, we drove north cross country across the short-grass plains, until the acacia woodland, where we turned to head for camp. Cross country means no roads. We drove off-road for three hours across the Serengeti, navigating by bearing and mountain landmarks. We saw no fences, no rivers, no walls, no roads. Africa is a vast land.
On a game drive, the three cars drive parallel and radio the others when they spot something interesting.
In the acacia woodland, another car spotted a cheetah and radioed us. As our car pulled up, the cheetah ran. Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land animal, accelerating to 60 mph in 3 seconds. I had time for only one picture before it disappeared into the brush. (400 mm, 1/1600 sec, f/9) We searched for the cheetah, but it had vanished.
Here’s a higher resolution image cropped from the photo.
We also saw a tawny eagle and Coke’s hartebeest.
We pulled into camp at Alamana just before 6:00 pm — a long day on the Serengeti. But we would be at camp in Maasai lands for four nights before moving on.