Planes, trains, and automobiles…

Just kidding! There’s no trains or automobiles in this blog post. There’s barely even an airplane (well, two airplanes).

As our plucky little group packed our belongings to leave our first campsite in the Okavango Delta (Botswana) en route to Zimbabwe, the usual questions arose. (Usual, at least, for Americans familiar with our airport security). Are there restrictions on liquids? Will we have to take off our shoes? What about electronics? Andre, our tour leader, told us not to worry because there was no security. Airstrip1

As it turned out, there wasn’t even an airport. There was one “building” with fire extinguishers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and one sign. (That’s my friend Bobbie reading it.) Airstrip2

There was just an airstrip, a lonely little windsock indicating wind direction, and us waiting for our two airplanes that began as teeny dots in the sky and grew to be, well, somewhat bigger dots once they were on the ground. Would you like to fly in one of these?

TwoPlanes

Because there’s no airport staff either, that’s our guides Josh and Mike (and Andre, not seen in this picture) loading our luggage. On the right, you can see some of the gals walking to the other plane. LoadingLuggage

Before this, the smallest plane I’ve been on was a 20 (maybe 25) seater over the Gulf of Mexico between Cozumel and Cancun. The size of this plane? Here’s an inside shot. (The backs of those two heads closest to me? That’s Wendy [aka Windy] on the left and Andre on the right.) Guess which row I’m taking this photo from? Yep, the back row! InsidePlane

 

 

 

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Time for…The Birds!

Well, just one bird tonight, but I think you’ll agree that this little gal (or guy) is spectacular enough to have a blog posting all to itself.

I give you the lilac-breasted roller, one of the more common birds you’ll encounter in southern Africa. (The roller family of birds are so-named because of the acrobatic rolls they perform while flying.) lilac_bird

Isn’t she gorgeous? They’re easy to spot because of their bright plumage and because they like to perch up high in trees like this. I have many photos of these birds from most every location we visited, but this is one of my favorites (even though – if you zoom in – you’ll see the bird is not in perfect focus). There’s a couple of reasons: 1) the soft gray cloudy sky gives it a solid background for contrast and 2) because of the different textures of the two tree branches in front combined with the way they’re blurred because they are not my focal point. I do violate the rule of thirds for photography by having the bird in the center of the photo, but the branches and their textures are in the left third, drawing your eyes that way, so maybe we’ll just think of those photography rules as being more like guidelines anyway.

A leopard doesn’t change its spots…

…and we certainly wouldn’t want them to, would we? Because they are beautiful! This gal certainly is.leopard_drinking1 We encountered her on our last afternoon in the Okavango Delta, drinking from the river. She paused only briefly to check us out (look at that pink tongue!),leopard_tongue2

before sitting down to contemplate her dinner options, or where that handsome male leopard might be, or maybe even the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything [which we all know is 42].

We (our safari jeeps and a couple others) proceeded to follow her for almost a half hour as she leisurely strolled through the bush, apparently with no particular destination in mind or even any concern about us. You can see her pass between jeeps here, stopping only momentarily to look at us and continue on her way. I imagine this happens to this gorgeous gal a lot. (The guides who work the Okavango Delta are very good and know the animals, their habits, and their habitats. They might not be able to find every animal you wish to see, some are too rare or too shy, but they know where the big cats are hanging out!)

She decided she’d had enough of us shortly after this, walking a bit further away (I love this one picture – on the left – because I captured her in the act of lifting her foot and you can see her foot pad). She sat behind a tree for a few minutes and then disappeared into the bush.

It was a wonderful way to say goodbye to the Delta.

 

Is there anything cuter than a baby elephant?

Silly question. Of course not.

So here’s a picture of a baby elephant w/mama, nursing.

nursing_baby_elephant

This was one of the local herds. They were there in the mornings, enjoying the watering hole across the road from our camp. (This, by the way, is an example of the differences between dry season safaris and wet season safaris. As the dry season progresses, and the number of watering holes diminish, all the animals congregate closer together. So – in November – on that cusp between dry and wet, the animals came to us. In the wet season, they have more options, so disperse more widely. I’m told there’s a LOT more driving on those safaris.)

The herd seemed somewhat habituated to humans, but that certainly doesn’t mean they trusted all of us, especially when there were babies present. You’ll see in this photo series, a baby who’s separated a bit from the others, but as soon as the herd noticed we were watching, the adults rushed in to keep the little ones closer.

We maintained our distance, of course, as instructed, but still there was at least one elephant who would stand sentry. Given the matriarchal nature of elephant herds, we imagine this is an auntie who’s keeping an eye on us. auntie_watching

There were at least three babies with this herd, but it wasn’t always possible to get good pictures of all of them, so I thought I’d end with this cute little one following mama, finally having had enough of us spectators. mama_and_baby

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Botswana

I’ve already written about the hyena who visited us on our first night camping at the Okavango Delta, but there were a great many more animals who came wandering past. Most of them skirted the edges of the camp, but we were told that some would walk through in the dark when no people were out and about.

And every morning we would wake up to scenes like this behind our tent (in our backyard, as it were):

backyard

This was just one morning, a mixed herd of zebra and wildebeest.

To the other side, across the dirt road leading to the camp, the elephants would come to drink and eat, or bathe themselves. Some mornings there would be a lone bull or two, other mornings there would be whole families…with little ones!  (I’ll save those photos for next time.) For now, here’s this guy (or gal) stuffing himself full of the green stuff.

elephant

 

 

Why we changed Wendy’s name to Windy

It was day three. We were on our afternoon game drive, minus one person: Wendy. She was tired, so decided to stay behind in camp and take a nap in her tent. But camp director, Laura, had joined us in her place. wendy

The forecast for the afternoon was clear skies, or so we thought. The wind whipped itself into a frenzy as rain pelted us in the safari vehicles. (They do have a top, but are open-sided, which doesn’t offer much protection when the rain is aiming at you sideways.) We grabbed the rain ponchos from beneath the seats and, depending on one’s priorities, covered ourselves or our camera equipment. I wrapped up my Nikon DSLR real good. So there we were, hunkered down, waiting for the downpour to let up when a call came over Laura’s radio asking her to come back to camp. There was a mention of “a problem” and “wind” and a question of who was in tent 6 (or tent 5 – I forget which was which). Bobbie and I were in tent 7.

One of the jeeps took Laura, along with Pat and Mike (the occupants of the questioned tent number), back while the rest of us puzzled over the cryptic communication. But we were assured that everything was okay.

Yeah….the same wind and rain storm that hit us, hit the camp. We returned to the incredible story of the wind gust (or whatever it was) that carried away tents 5 and 6 – one of them with Wendy in it. She had been laying on her cot, sleeping, only to awaken as she was being rolled up with the tent and all its contents – kinda like a burrito. Pat & Mike’s tent just blew away – they never did find all of their stuff. (Here they are before their tent decided to visit Oz.) pat_mike

Thanks to the wonderful camp staff, Wendy was quickly rescued, or should we say “unwrapped.” Crazily, she was found underneath her cot but the cot was still upright; no one’s quite sure how that happened. She was shaken, but uninjured, so continued on with us on safari…minus her toothbrush. tent_debris

Things That Go Bump In The Night…

Well, maybe not bump but roar or grunt or snuffle as they skitter and skulk.

Quick, all you amateur trackers, what animal made this print? (Yes, there’s a quiz at the end of this blog.)

hyena_print

Yeah…it’s not the best photo. I couldn’t identify what left this track either. So it’s a good thing we had expert guides at our mobile tented camp in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

But first we’ll rewind to the night before (our first night on safari). Exhausted, stuffed with the excellent food prepared by the camp chef, we collapsed on our cots inside our tents (I think I hadn’t bothered to undress)…but unable to fall asleep quickly because of the heat (November is late spring in the southern hemisphere). Well, I was unable to fall asleep. My friend, Bobbie, began softly snoring after a bit, almost unheard against the roars and grunts of the lions off in the distance. There were other animal sounds too, being that we were the middle of the African bush with all manner of wildlife surrounding us. But the lions were the loudest.

So it was rather startling, around 1 am, to hear something walk stealthily across our “porch” (the green fabric in front of the tent with chairs and water bucket) – something with four legs. tent_wbobbie

Then it left. I thought. The faintest of noises made me turn my head to the screened window at the head of my cot just as a four-legged shadow darted back around to the front of the tent again. A lion? It was maybe lion-size (a small lion), but I couldn’t tell, so I lay frozen wondering what it was doing, daring myself to turn my head toward the front screen. (Safari-goers are, of course, instructed to never leave their tents after dark for safety reasons.)

And then…”lap, lap, lap, lap, lap” (Ever have a large dog? You know that lapping sound they make as they’re slurping up water from their bowl? Yeah – that noise.) The animal, whatever it was, was drinking water from our bucket! It then slipped away into the night. waterbucket

So we had an interesting tale at breakfast the next morning and the guides came to see the tracks left around our tent.

So the answer to today’s quiz? Hyena! (Did you get the answer right?)

Of course, the real question of the day is: is Bobbie washing her face (in the middle photo) before or after we asked the camp staff if they could replace the water in the bucket?