Fascination with Place

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Little Bee-eater.

We arrived at the lodge and lunch was waiting for us – never mind that we had enjoyed a hearty brunch shortly before leaving Banoka.  With afternoon tea and dinner yet to come this would be a five-meal day!  Oh, how we suffer.  During our short afternoon break I found myself again too excited for a siesta, so I wandered along the raised walkways watching for birds and mammals.  Little lizards scurried along in front of me, dropping down below the walkway when I’d get too close.  Bushbucks and Greater Kudus browsed beneath the forest canopy of the lodge, and Red Lechwe were conspicuous in the surrounding open wetlands.  Gray Go-away Birds (far left), Woodland Kingfishers, and Hartlaub’s Babblers (near left) called throughout the afternoon.  Okay, I loved Banoka, but I love this place too!

Our afternoon excursion was out on the water by mokoro, a slow journey through wetlands filled with wading birds and a few colorful frogs that we hadn’t seen before.  I enjoyed getting close to Squacco Herons and African Jacanas, which were abundant here.  Rains were finally heading to Xigera, but we stayed dry throughout our time on the water, admiring the dramatic clouds of the approaching storm.  We were traveling at the beginning of the rainy season in Botswana, but it only rained a few hours all week, and the impressive sky scenery was a great benefit of the season.

The next morning we headed out for a longer boat trip, but in this low water season we had to drive a while to reach the spot where the motorboats were docked.  It was hard to get there quickly, however, as the grasslands we drove through were loaded with wildlife.  We just couldn’t hurry past it all.  Warthogs with tiny babies were grazing from their knees. A big, healthy elephant was roaming and feeding.  Saddle-billed Storks (right) marching in line.  Reedbucks, Impalas, Wattled Cranes … eventually we made it onto the boats.  We saw crocodiles and hippos in the water, along with a great variety of water birds, including African Darters, Reed Cormorants, White-faced Whistling-Ducks, Rufous-bellied Herons, and Purple Herons.  African Fish-Eagles seemed to be everywhere, guardians of the aquatic realm.

I had told Goms, our guide, that I was hoping to see a Malachite Kingfisher, a flashy little bird that likes the vegetated edges of wetlands.  We had turned around and were motoring back at good speed when suddenly Goms slowed and swung the boat around.  Without saying a word he nudged the boat into a small channel coming in from the left.  He stopped the engine, raised his arm, and quietly said, “Malachite Kingfisher,” pointing at the little bird just 10 feet away (photo at top of page).  Even my non-birding colleagues were mesmerized by this little beauty, which we watched as it dove into water repeatedly, coming back with small fish a few times (left).

I knew we were due for the morning coffee break – every morning outing has a coffee break, I had learned – but I wasn’t prepared for this coffee break.  The guides stopped the boats in a shallow part of the Okavango Delta and set up the table with coffee, tea, and yummy snacks in about a foot of fresh water.  We all kicked off our shoes, rolled up our pants, and waded on in (left).  The day was warm and the water was comfortable, we were surrounded by watery wilderness, and I quickly realized that this would be my favorite coffee break ever.

Our boat trip came to an end, alas, but we still had the drive back to camp.  Since it was already lunchtime I figured we’d head straight back, but much to my joy we took our time and made great wildlife stops along the way.  Who minds a late lunch when you’ve had a great coffee break?  We found several new birds for the trip, with a cooperative Dickinson’s Kestrel (right) being my favorite.  One shallow pool was crowded with hundreds of storks and other water birds; the guides told us that this was a “fish trap,” where the drying delta had concentrated the fish from a previously huge area into a single small pool (lower right).  Back at the lodge the staff seemed perfectly happy to serve a tasty, hot lunch to us much later than the appointed hour.  They understand how to keep guests happy, that’s for sure!  After lunch we headed to the rooms for a break, only to be delighted with a big elephant feeding right between rooms 3 and 4 (below).

An afternoon game drive took us back into the grasslands.  A grass fire had burned through part of this region during the dry season, resulting in great visibility and a burst of nutritious new growth.  It seemed that all of the animals were happy.  We started with a big group of Elephants, a few Tsessebes (left) and a small family of Warthogs.  We saw a number of great birds, including African Hoopoe, Black-bellied Bustard (lower left), Coppery-tailed Coucal, and Hamerkop.  Our guides took us to a small rise to watch sunset, advising us to watch for Spotted Hyenas, as they had a den nearby.  We toasted the sunset in our now customary fashion and, just as it was getting dark, a small family of Hyenas came into view (below).  We watched them for a while before finally heading back to the lodge and yet another fabulous dinner.

We headed back out onto the water by mokoro on our last morning at Xigera, slipping into a lagoon where we watched the antics of a lively group of hippos.  We enjoyed more great views of water birds, found more frogs, photographed water lilies, and generally enjoyed the ambiance of the delta, when just in front of me I watched a fish leap into the next mokoro!  The poler was startled at first, but soon he had picked up the fish and was posing with it for photos like a triumphant fisherman!  It was then released back into the water to swim another day (photos above).

We would soon be flying to our next lodge, but first we had to enjoy another meal, of course.  And there would be one more wildlife treat.  There were a number of colorful scarab beetles around the camp (left), and several had gathered on the screened window of the lodge’s gift shop.  Before we knew it, a small group of Vervet Monkeys had gathered to pick the beetles off the screen and gobble them down.  They seemed as happy with their meal as we were with our decidedly more elaborate one.