Savuti Channel, Day One

On the first morning at Savuti Channel on our Botswana safari, we found a pride of lions with their zebra kill.

lioness and zebra kill
lioness and zebra kill
lion feeding
lion feeding

Less than a mile away, this zebra was bloody but walking without a limp. Perhaps a lion bit the tip of the zebra’s tail, and the zebra managed to escape. The zebra’s legs and rump are bloody where the zebra’s tail would touch when the zebra wags its tail.

wounded zebra
wounded zebra

A lone elephant in the distance, across untrampled grass. This is Africa.

lone elephant
lone elephant

As we pulled up to a water hole, this elephant ran out from behind a bush.

elephant came out from behind a bush
elephant running out from behind a bush

Elephants came to the waterhole to drink.

One of our favorite birds, a lilac-breasted roller.

lilac-breasted roller
lilac-breasted roller

We visited the lion pride, and they were still at it.

We visited the Savuti Channel and found a pod of hippos.

hippo in the Savuti Channel
hippo in the Savuti Channel

In the afternoon we encountered this elephant in musth, where the male elephant’s testosterone levels are increased and they are more aggressive than normal. This elephant charged our land cruiser, and our guide had to drive fast in reverse to escape. Besides being aggressive, an elephant in musth has urine dripping from his penis (which we saw) and a secretion running down from behind the eye.

elephant in musth
elephant in musth (click to enlarge)

The other land cruiser followed us through the water to get to the elephant in musth.

As we headed back to camp at dusk, a leopard crossed the road in front of us. It stopped beside the road as we stopped. It was six feet away, looking at me. I tried to take a picture, but the camera did nothing when I pressed the shutter button. It was too dark for the camera settings. My camera was set for daytime (100-400 mm lens, aperture value of f/6.3, auto ISO), and it was dark.

By the time I changed the camera settings, the leopard was walking down the road.

leopard at dusk
leopard at dusk

A couple joined us for dinner. Friends of our guide, they’re filming lions. They were sleeping in their truck near the zebra kill, and they heard the kill in the middle of the night. They’ve made films for the BBC and National Geographic, including underwater shots of crocodiles in the Okavango Delta. Very impressive.

After dinner, I talked about the leopard sighting with our guide, and he said that where we saw the leopard is only a quarter mile from camp, as the crow flies. We drove on the road, which winds around. Closer to home, last month a mountain lion wandered through a nearby school and the park where I play tennis.

Moremi, Day Two – Leopard and Impala

Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve, which adjoins the Okavango Delta, can be swampy. These water birds are hunting for food.

great egret, yellow-billed stork, and African spoonbill
great egret, yellow-billed stork, and African spoonbill

This side-striped jackal paused briefly before trotting off.

side-striped jackal
side-striped jackal

We stopped to look at the mother blacksmith lapwing and her two babies. At first the babies were walking along the shore. Then the mother started squacking and the babies froze. The mother continued squacking while walking away from her babies. Based on the time codes from photos, the babies didn’t move for the four minutes — remarkable. We marveled at the discipline shown by the lapwing babies and noted that our children could learn something.

blacksmith lapwing
blacksmith lapwing family

This crimson-breasted shrike is out in the open.

crimson-breasted shrike
crimson-breasted shrike

As we approached Third Bridge, our guide stopped. Third Bridge is the wooden bridge on the other side of the water. The approach to the bridge is flooded, and the bridge is narrow, so he has to make sure he doesn’t swerve as he approaches the bridge, like the warden did yesterday. Otherwise, we’d wind up in the water under the bridge! Third Bridge is made of mopane logs, which are strong but not straight. The bridge surface isn’t uniform, so you have to drive carefully. The warning sign to slow down on top of the bridge, but hitting your brakes in the water could be tricky. We made it across the bridge.

Third Bridge
Third Bridge

We got more excitement just before lunch — a leopard in the brush.

leopard in the brush
leopard in the brush

The leopard is a young female, two or three years old, when she is first striking out on her own. She has to kill to eat, and she isn’t strong enough to drag an impala ( a medium-sized antelope) up a tree to protect her kill from stronger predators.

leopard returning to the kill
leopard standing over impala (click to enlarge)

She is standing over a male impala, which has a tan body and black, curved horns. Dominant male impala gather harems of females and wait for the females to enter estrus, reaching a peak during a full moon a month after our visit. Most male impalas are bachelors, hanging out alone, waiting for a female to wander by and stick around. For prey like impalas, there’s strength in numbers against predators, and this lone bachelor didn’t make it.

larger image
leopard crouching over its kill (click to enlarge)

Back at the camp, this goliath heron is the largest heron in Africa.

goliath heron
goliath heron

On our afternoon game drive we saw this woodland kingfisher.

woodland kingfisher
woodland kingfisher

Day 2 at Serengeti camp – the great migration, at last

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.

giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves
giraffe tongue grabbing acacia 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?

closeup of giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves
closeup of giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves

A half hour later we stopped to see this jackal.  We were far away — these photos were taken at 400 mm.

common jackal
common jackal

A couple minutes later we learned why our guide stopped and waited.

jackal eating a bird
jackal eating a bird

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.

closeup of jackal eating a bird
closeup of jackal eating a bird

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.

superb starling
superb starling

At noon we finally found herds of zebras and wildebeests. Not the million animals that we had read about, but many herds of animals.

zebras
zebras
zebra and wattled starlings
zebra and wattled starlings

We saw a leopard and its kill, shown in my post.

leopard in tree
leopard in tree

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.

baby baboon playing
baby baboon playing
baboons grooming
baboons grooming

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.

hippo approaching
hippo approaching
hippos humping
hippos humping
hippo yawning
hippo yawning

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″.

hippos jaws
hippos jaws

We saw lions mating.  See my post.

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.

brown spots in the distance
brown spots in the distance

Soon there was some movement.

lion moving the kill
lion moving the kill
lion with wildebeest hoof and head
lion with wildebeest hoof and head

And a closeup of the lion.

closeup of lion with wildebeest hoof and head
closeup of lion with wildebeest hoof and head

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.

storks roosting
storks roosting

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.

A leopard and its kill

On our safari in February we drove far to the north for the day into Serengeti National Park, to see the great migration.  At 1:00 we saw dozens of vultures and storks congregating at this tree. These African storks eat meat, a far cry from our childhood image of a white stork delivering newborn babies.

dozens of vultures and storks
dozens of vultures and storks

A few minutes later, our guide stopped at the lone tree in the photo below. There’s a leopard nearby, and there might be a kill in the tree. No vehicles were parked here, a common indicator of animals. We all pulled out our binoculars and scanned the tree. This photo was taken at 120 mm focal length on a 40D, about 3 times magnification over the human eye. How our guide knew to stop at this tree is a mystery to me.

acacia tree with leopard kill
acacia tree with leopard kill

We finally saw some thin, brown legs hanging from a limb on the right side, half-way up the tree. The next photo, a tighter shot using a telephoto zoom lens at 380 mm, shows the kill more clearly. From the color of the legs, it looks like an antelope such as a gazelle or impala, probably an impala from the medium brown color.

leopard kill
leopard kill

Then we drove a half mile to a tree with a dozen or more land cruisers parked underneath. The leopard was in this second tree, away from its kill. After waiting for vehicles to leave, we finally had a clear view of the leopard.  This photo shows the leopard from head to tail, shot at 160 mm focal length.

leopard in tree
leopard in tree

Here’s a tighter shot of the leopard, at 380 mm.

tighter shot of leopard
tighter shot of leopard

Our guide explained that the leopard is clever, hiding the kill in one tree and hanging out in another tree. During the day, vehicles like ours will call attention to the leopard. Putting the kill in a tree ensures than hyenas won’t get to the kill. Using a tree with leaf cover hides the kill from dozens of vultures a few minutes away.

You have to be clever to survive in Africa. And our guide is just as clever to see all this as he drives, to show us, and to teach us so we can understand. Asante, Mzee.