Botswana Nov 2017: Okavango Delta
Our last leg of the 12-day African safari was spent deep in the heart of the Okavango Delta, at the beautiful Xigera Camp. The location accessible only via plane, is a short puddle-jump from Savuti. From the air we marveled at the vast, colorful wetlands, featuring large swathes of greens, beige and blues reflecting a tapestry of different habitats. Surrounded by papyrus swamps and wooded islands, Xigera provides wonderful opportunity to explore elusive areas of Africa. Indeed, one of our first sightings was Sitatunga, a very shy and uncommon antelope.
Xigera is the most reliable place on the continent to see the much sought-after Pel’s Fishing Owl. I was delighted to find a pair of these large, majestic, ginger-colored birds roosting above our tents.
Lush vegetation teemed with birds – Crested Barbet, Kurrichane Thrush, White-browed Robin-Chat, Diederik Cuckoo, Swamp Boubou and Hartlaub’s Babblers moved through trees, while a Western Banded Snake-Eagle circled overhead. Around the camp, cheeky Vervet Monkeys fearlessly snatched any piece of food left unattended. Banded Mongoose scurried through an obstacle course of fallen tree trunks, pausing only to dig up grubs along the way.
Though Xigera is known as a water camp, our visit was timed for the dryer season, allowing for safari treks along sandy tracks. We saw a variety of birds during these drives, including White-browed Scrub-Robin, Brown Firefinch, Chirping Cisticola, Martial Eagle, Striped Kingfisher, Pin-tailed Whydah, and Black Coucal. We witnessed Yellow-billed Oxpeckers pecking into the wound on a Zebra’s back.
One evening we were treated to a show of traditional culture in a boma, with dancing, singing and mouth-watering local cuisine. After guests retired for the night, the nighttime sounds of the bush took over, and the noise became nearly deafening as lions fought with each other just outside our tent!
By late November, water levels in the delta reach their low point. However, we still managed to get in a motorized boat ride along the Joa channel, where wetlands teemed with waterbirds. There was so much to see – White-faced Whistling-Ducks loafing on higher ground, stately Wattled Cranes flying in to feed, a pair of Saddle-billed Storks picking in the grass, Purple Heron standing motionless, nervous Squacco Herons and African Jacanas taking flight as we neared, and a feeding flock of Great and Little Egrets, Sacred Ibis, and Marabou Stork. Pied Kingfishers perched on snags, while White-winged Terns tracked up and down the channel, picking off scattering small fish. A bull Elephant fed in the shallows, towering over birds around it.
A different kind of boat ride – inside a mokoro (dugout canoe) – provided a serene experience in tranquil delta waters.
From this quiet vantage we spotted miniature Angolan Painted Reed Frogs, each with different patterns, and the minuscule green Long Reed Frog on rushes protruding around water lilies. We enjoyed a brief glimpse of a surfacing Smooth-necked Otter. A feeding flock of Little Egrets attracted a few Black and Slaty Herons, the latter a delta specialty! A nice surprise was seeing a Rufous-bellied Heron flushed by a running Red Lechwe.
Over our two-day stay we enjoyed extraordinary encounters with Leopards. One female lounged on a termite mound eyeing distant lechwe. We followed when she got up and walked towards a half-dozen Impala in a thicket. We held our breath, with prey and predator just meters apart. The Impalas went on high alert, sensing something, but not sure exactly what it was. Eventually the antelope moved on and the Leopard walked away to try elsewhere. Our second encounter was with a male, more ambitious in his pursuit as he moved from one patch of tall grass to another. The giant cat never managed to get closer to the wary lechwe he was stalking, as they kept their distance.
We had enjoyed a superb safari in southern-central Africa, with wonderful camp staff, drivers, and guides, delicious food, and outstanding camps. Wildlife was captivating with over 250 birds, 37 mammals and a dozen reptiles. I can’t wait to return to this incredible region of the continent!
all photos © adrian binns / WildsideNatureTours.com
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