Fascination with Place

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I instantly loved the setting at Duma Tau.  The main lodge and each of the 10 rooms looks out over a broad, slow-moving section of the Linyanti River.  After our orientation to the lodge (and a yummy meal, of course), we had a short break, and I immediately headed toward the north end of camp where we had been told about a viewing blind.  I was distracted by Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, which were on many of the treetops, but eventually arrived at the blind, where I was entertained by Little Bee-eaters.  I’d only been at the blind a few minutes when I saw an Elephant on the opposite shore, which waded into the water and slowly swam across the river, trunk raised like a snorkel.  Yes, I thought, I am going to enjoy this place!

Above left: Riverside viewing blind at Duma Tau; above right: Blue-cheeked Bee-eater; below: Elephant swims across Linyanti River.

We headed out on an afternoon game drive, with delightful guides Emanuel and Name (pronounced in two syllables: na-may).  We quickly spied Impalas, Warthogs, and Greater Kudus.  A Hamercop hunted the edges of a large rain pool, and a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl (far right) was discovered roosting in one of the larger trees.  We reached the edge of the wetlands to find large numbers of wading birds, including Hadada Ibis (lower right), Black Heron, Little Egret, and more than a hundred Cattle Egrets.  Red Lechwes (near right), antelopes that love wetland areas, were conspicuous here, just as they had been in the Okavango Delta.


We had just started to drive back into the dry forest when a call came across the radio from the other vehicle.  “Hold on,” said Emanuel, “Now we have somewhere to go.”  Off we went on a wild, fishtailing ride across the sandy roads.  “Must be something pretty exciting,” I said, to which Emanuel simply replied, “Some of you might be more excited about this than the others.”  We caught up with the other vehicle, parked in a small clearing and looking at … nothing. 

Our friends told us that they watched a large African Rock Python disappear under a bush.  It was hidden.  As it turns out, Aaron, from the Classic Escapes staff, has worked with reptiles and other wild animals professionally for most of his life.  He got the okay from the guides and a bit of backup from Graham, our guide, and to our amazement he found, grabbed, and then held this big snake for all of us to see.  We estimated the Python to be 8 to 9 feet in length!  I wasn’t sure if our Botswanan driver-guides were more amazed or amused, but all of us in the group were certainly impressed.  Many photos were taken but the snake was released back into the wild.

The next morning we were back into the bush with the first light.  Our guides quickly noticed fresh Lion tracks and started to follow them.  In just a few minutes we found them, a group of four Lions that had finished a huge meal not long before.  Their bellies were full and they were completely relaxed, dozing off, stretching, scratching, looking for all the world like oversized house cats (photos at left).  They didn’t seem to mind us at all.  We watched for quite a while before heading out for more discoveries.


And of course there was plenty of other wildlife to enjoy.  Southern Giraffes meandered through the open forest, browsing on the treetops and chewing their cuds.  A Leopard Tortoise ambled across the sandy road in front of us (below), bringing us to a screeching halt to disembark for photos. 

The afternoon continued to offer some great rewards – Dwarf Mongoose, Crested Francolin, Cardinal Woodpecker, and a gigantic, bleached-out elephant skull out in the bush.  The sun poured spectacularly through holes in the clouds (below).  I figured it was just about time to stop for our sundowner when another call came across the radio, and we were off again.  The daylight was fading, but there, deep in the shrubbery at the base of a big tree, was a leopard, stretched out on a low, heavy branch.  Even though there wasn’t much daylight left, we all maneuvered for an angle to get a photo.   Then the big cat got up, stretched, and walked with a relaxed gait out into the open.  A nice change-up from the usual sunset watching, we figured!  We had our celebratory beverages back at the lodge, followed by another spectacular dinner.

We finally decided to leave the Dogs to their slumber, and headed back to the water’s edge for the morning’s coffee break.  We watched Hippos, Open-billed Storks, Long-toed Lapwings, and other African wildlife while savoring tasty baked treats from the lodge.  We made our way slowly back, pausing to photograph birds, including African Darter, Hoopoe, Southern Carmine Bee-eater (left), and Slaty Egret.  After one more wonderful meal we reluctantly packed up.  The plane would be coming before too long, and we were going to leave Botswana.  But the trip wasn’t over, we still had two nights in Zambia at the Toka Leya camp, near Victoria Falls.

Two Fork-tailed Drongos (below) repeatedly dive-bombed a Lesser Spotted Eagle, which steadfastly refused to leave its lofty perch.  We spent a lot of time near the wetlands, where we watched Yellow-billed Oxpeckers picking bugs off the backs of Hippos (lower left).  I delighted at another water bird extravaganza, finally getting some satisfying photos of Squacco Herons (top of page).  The last birds we found before returning to the lodge were both quite showy: Magpie Shrike and Red-crested Korhaan, the latter a medium-sized bustard with a gigantic voice.

We took a break after lunch, and while some rested and others enjoyed a dip in the pool, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the river, watching some from the viewing blind and some from my riverside front porch.  I figured out a few more of the birds that frequent the camp, photographing the Swamp Boubou (near right) and the Burchell’s Glossy-starling (far right).  I noticed some graceful birds flying around all the way across the broad river, and thought at first they must be terns.  A bit of time with the book led me to suspect that they were actually pratincoles, but I needed a better look.  Fortunately, our plan for the afternoon was to head out onto the river by boat!


Our group and big storm clouds both gathered at mid-afternoon, and my colleagues and I were soon out on the water.  After watching a few lively Hippos, our guides moved the boat over towards the island where I had seen the suspected pratincoles.  At first I saw nothing, then suddenly I noticed a hundred or more birds, standing on the sandbank so quietly that I had overlooked them.  To my delight we got quite close to this group of Collared Pratincoles, and suddenly something spooked them and they all burst into flight, swirling around us before settling back down onto the same bank.


We started heading upriver, but the clouds were looking more ominous, lightening was flashing on the horizon, and the wind was picking up.  We all agreed that it was time to head back to the lodge. 

Above: Collared Pratincoles. Below: Storm on the horizon.

This didn’t mean our wildlife viewing was finished for the day, however.  The storms passed through quickly and after dinner we set out on a night game drive.  There’s something magical and a bit spooky about being out in the African bush after dark.  We didn’t see any big cats, though they may well have seen us!  We did see several Hippos out of the water grazing by the river’s edge, along with a couple of Scrub Hares (above left), the only member of the rabbit family that occurs in this region, and perhaps half a dozen Springhares (below left), odd nocturnal rodents that superficially resemble rabbits.  We were just about finished our ride when I spotted eye shine in a tree ride over our vehicle.  It took a bit of searching with our flashlight beams, but eventually we found the source, the little wild cat called a Lesser Spotted Genet.

The next morning would be our last in Botswana, but we weren’t going to just lounge around and wait for our plane!  Off again on a game drive at first light, and the guides had a goal.  We hadn’t seen any African Wild Dogs, the rare creature also known as Painted Wolf.  Not even in the same genus (Canis) as domestic dogs, wolves, and coyotes, African Wild Dogs have been persecuted and extirpated from much of their former range.  Botswana’s large areas of protected natural habitat provide one of the best strongholds for this endangered predator.  Our driver guides took us all in different directions as they watched for tracks.  We had found 3 big, impressive elephants (one shown at right), but no Wild Dog tracks, when a call came over the radio and we were off.  Another guide and found some tracks, and before long we too were on the trail of what seemed to be a sizable pack.


It took a while to find them, and at first we had just a few tantalizing distant glimpses; the pack was on the move.  Emanuel played a hunch, and drove to a point where he knew we’d intercept them if they kept heading the same direction.  It worked!  Soon there were Wild Dogs trotting right towards us (right), some passing on either side of us.  Great views!  We looped around again, and this time the pack settled down to rest.  They didn’t care about us at all, and we enjoyed a long, leisurely view of these rare and beautiful creatures.  They had spread out in an area with a fair bit of brush, so we couldn’t be sure we got an accurate count, but we know there were at least 23 animals in the pack, including many nearly-grown young pups.