Lagoon, April 2017

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Following the summer rains the vegetation in the Kwando area was still lush and green, meaning that general game was plentiful. The large herd of eland was still in the region and on sometimes we were lucky enough to witness these massive animals playing around and jumping. Rare sable and roan antelopes were also seen. Giraffe were plentiful and buffalo also in the area. Other general game included impala, zebra and tsessebe. A large family of thirteen ostrich including two males and young were located, as well as a group of six Ground Hornbill. A large number of vultures were seen feeding on a zebra foal carcass. A night drive sighting of two Spotted Eagle Owls was also a highlight.

The resident pack of 17 wild dogs were seen frequently during April, sometimes hunting. On one memorable day, the pack was located in the morning, lying down and sunbathing. We decided to go back and check on them in the afternoon and were able to witness them waking up and performing their greeting ritual before setting off hunting. This interesting behaviour includes sniffing, licking, wagging tails and twittering aloud. We followed them for a little while and then decided to look for other species. Not far from where we left the dogs we located a female leopard in a tree with a tiny cub, just a few days old. As we watched the leopard the dogs approached following an impala which they brought down and started tearing apart. A wild dog kill and a newborn leopard cub in one sighting does not happen every day! The same female leopard has been seen a few times hunting fairly close to camp.

The Wapoka pride of 6 adults and 8 cubs were located many times during April. At one point, we found the 8 larger cubs on their own whilst their mothers were away hunting. One afternoon during sundowner drinks heard we heard lions roaring, so quickly packed up and drove in the direction of the calls where we found a single female calling to locate the rest of her pride. We followed her for 5 minutes until she met her cub and then they started calling together. Eventually more and more cubs appeared until they joined up together with the rest of the pride feeding on large male kudu.

A single lioness with two cubs has been seen on a couple of occasions and has been very relaxed, playing with her offspring. One day she was seen hunting with the cubs following behind when she climbed up a tree to obtain an elevated view. The cubs followed her up and they stayed together on the tree for several minutes until one of the cubs, who was playing with the mother’s tail, lost his balance and fell down off the tree. The two resident male lions commonly seen in the area were looking well fed and one of them was seen mating with a lioness. On one occasion the two males were seen swimming across a channel when one of the lions decided to spend some time lying down in the water with just ears, eyes and nose showing, giving a rather amusing hippo impression.
The regularly seen coalition of two cheetah brothers were still in the Kwando area and we were successful tracking as they went on hunting missions.

The boat cruise from Lagoon continued to provide great hippo sightings as well as a large variety of birds such as Goliath Heron, Hadeda Ibis and African Jacana.

Breeding elephant herds were often seen near Zebra Pan and are always interesting to watch. A recent sighting included typical teenage behaviour from a young bull, mock-charging the vehicle and trying to destroy a termite mound in a display of power. A female elephant was seen trying to give birth, although sadly it appeared that the calf might be still born.

The change of seasons is definitely on the way and the night time temperatures are dropping. A special sighting at the end of the month was a lovely family of bat-eared foxes cuddling up to each other in the cool morning air.

Lagoon, March 2017

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We are happy to report that the two sub-adult cheetah brothers who left their mother earlier this year are going from strength to strength and appear to be very successful hunters. During March, we were able to follow them on hunts and witnessed them bringing down young zebras and impalas

The Wapoka Pride of 14 lions were spotted regularly – this large pride comprising of 6 adults and 8 bouncy sub-adults are always entertaining to watch and photograph. The two dominant males in the area known as ‘Big Gun’ and ‘Sebastian’ were also seen regularly eating, sleeping or sniffing after the females. Towards the end of the month the Northern Pride were also seen in the area, with one exceptional sighting as the lions clambered up onto a dead tree, posing in perfect light. A lone lioness was successfully tracked. She appeared to be in hunting mode, so we stayed with her and in the end, she was successful in killing a warthog after an exciting chase.

The general game in the Kwando area was excellent with herds of giraffe, eland, impala, tsessebe, kudu and, wildebeest all being seen regularly. It is always interesting to revisit the same groups and observe how the behaviour of the animals can change from day to day. One overcast morning a large mixed group of zebra and tssessebe was found skittishly racing up and down Baruti Road for no apparent reason. The following day they were in the same area, lying down very relaxed in the sun. Each sighting produces a unique experience and different photographic opportunity. A successful game walk also located the herd of around 80 eland on foot, as well as a wealth of bird species.

Large breeding herds of elephants were seen in the woodland areas, feeding on different plant materials. Hippos were seen in outlying pans as well as in the river area.

Troops of baboons were often seen foraging and interacting with each other. Watching mothers nursing babies, youngsters romping or adults engaging in grooming rituals is always interesting.

Leopard were seen a few times. A persistent morning tracking paid off when a female was found relaxed and in hunting mode. Our guests were able to spend good time with her which they really appreciated.

Wild dogs and hyena were not seen as often as usual in the area for much of March, however towards the end of the month they seemed to return to some of their usual favourite spots, so hopefully we will be seeing more of them again during April.

Some notable sightings of smaller mammals sighted during night drive included honey badger and African wild cat.

The boat cruise from Lagoon camp always gives good opportunities to get close up sightings of hippos and crocodiles, as well as water birds such as cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, ibis and other waders. The aptly-named Goliath Heron, standing up to 5 feet (1 metre 50) tall was a popular favourite.  Lechwes, kudus and waterbucks were often seen in the marshes during March. Beautiful white water lillies are out in full bloom and it is a treat to try and photograph African Jacanas amongst the flowers, stalking across the lily pads with their specially adapted long toes.

Lagoon, February 2017

Swilliams.Cat4ElandsjumpingCurrently there is a very majestic and impressive herd of over 100 eland moving around the woodland area with a similar sized group of zebra. Eland are the largest of the African antelope species, reaching 1.6 metres at the shoulder. It has been incredible to see these striking animals in such large numbers.

A persistent follow-up by a Kwando guide and tracker was rewarded when they followed lion tracks  and found the Southern pride of 7 adults and 10 cubs resting after a successful eland kill. A few days later we were able to follow this large pride for an hour whilst they were hunting, before they rested under some shady Kalahari Apple-leaf trees. Although looking hungry they were extremely relaxed and guests were able to get some wonderful pictures. Towards the end of the month two male lions were found on an eland kill and a single male eating a zebra.

Part of the excitement of safari is the unpredictability of sightings. Even after you have waved goodbye to the camp staff and are on your way to fly home it pays to keep your eyes peeled. Such was the case for some lucky guests in February who came across the Lagoon pack of 18 wild dogs on their way to the airstrip to meet their plane. The dogs had just killed a kudu and were feeding on the fresh carcass. The next morning the pack were found just a few metres from camp, close to Room 9. The guests were able to stay with them for a long while and witnessed them regurgitating food for their pups. The dogs then moved off to hunt again and our vehicle was able to follow them as they tried to catch an impala.

The two subadult brother cheetahs who recently left their mother appear to be fending very well by themselves and were seen feeding on an impala in a relaxed fashion. Later in the month they were spotted sitting up on a termite mound, we stayed with them for a while, allowing plenty of time to get great photographs. All of a sudden, a group of zebra appeared and the cheetahs sprang into action managing to take down a foal. A brave kill for these opportunistic young brothers and a wonderful surprise for our thrilled guests.

Lions were seen frequently during February. The Northern pride of 2 males and 2 females and 3 cubs were seen interacting with elephants at Maheke Pans. The elephants successfully chased the lions from the waterhole.

About 10 minutes from camp leopard tracks were picked up and followed to find a female in hunting mode though she didn’t make a kill. Eventually she gave up and settled on a termite mound where guests were able to get some great photographs.

Hippos are congregating in large numbers on the Kwando River and guests are enjoying seeing them on the boat cruise. Many crocodiles have been seen from the boat, as well as large herds of impala and red lechwe. Guests have enjoyed the chance to get great close up shots of aquatic birds including darters, cormorants, Goliath Heron, African Jacana. African Fish Eagles are often seen perching on dead branches along the river.

Our guides have been surprised at the high population of elephants who have remained in the Kwando riverine area this rainy season. Often they move off deeper into the woodlands at this time of year, but there are a plenty of elephants who have decided to stay in the wetlands this year.

Lagoon, January 2017

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January brought dramatic storms dousing the region with much needed relief from the previous year’s dry spell. The resulting verdant green growth contrasted with dark thunder clouds on the horizon and was highlighted by sunbeams to provide some of the most extraordinary light for photography.

Pairs of lions were seen mating on several occasions. Monogamy is out of the window here – females will mate with more than one suitor and, since there’s no specific breeding period, lions mate several times a year. A mating marathon can involve twenty to forty romps a day. At most of these sightings there were 2 male lions present along with one female. One of the lions seemed fairly bored as he waited for his turn. The resident male lions known as Old Gun and Sebastian have been found feeding on large game species including giraffe and eland. The pride of 15 lions (7 adults and 8 cubs) were tracked successfully on a number of occasions. The adults have to kill often to support their big family and seem to be successful, with zebra apparently being the menu of choice at the moment.

Wild dogs were spotted hunting several times however very few kills were witnessed. Their prey seemed to outwit them on numerous occasions. However the dogs were not completely unsuccessful and after some persistent tracking we were able to locate the pack feeding on an impala.

Leopard sightings were less frequent during January, but one morning was particularly prolific with two separate females found hunting and then later one up in a tree.

The cheetah in the region experienced some change as two young males have now separated from their mother. Male cheetahs are social, usually living in small coalitions and often with their brothers. Now that these two are old enough to fend for themselves they have left their mother and gone out into the world as a team. So far they seem to have hunting successfully and were seen frequently looking in great condition.

Unusually large herds of eland were seen on a regular basis as well as relaxed sightings of the usually shy roan antelope. Other general game sightings included zebra, tsessebe, giraffes, red lechwe and impala. Elephant numbers appear to be on the increase.

Guests were also thrilled to see some close-up sightings of bat-eared foxes, including a large group of 13

Birding is fantastic at the moment with many summer migrants in the area. Guests have been particularly pleased with sightings of endangered species such as Slaty Egret, Ground Hornbill and Wattled Crane.

Lagoon, December 2016

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When young carnivores play with their parents and siblings they pounce, tackle, bite and claw. This appears very cute and is an absolute treat to photograph, but in fact these are predators in training. Whilst playing these games, the cubs and pups are developing the skills that they will need one day to hunt and kill their own prey. For most these skills come naturally and quickly, but some need a little more training. In the natural world only the fit survives, and as with everything in life, practice makes perfect.

This was exactly the case for a young female leopard who we tracked on a lovely, cool cloudy day. The scenery was breathtaking with dark stormy clouds as the back drop to the beautiful bright greenery in the foreground. Having seen the young leopard earlier in the month with her mother the guides had become familiar with her and she was comfortable with the vehicle. We watched for about an hour as she over and over again stalked and missed opportunities to kill impala. It was evident that she still lacked the patience required to be successful. She was persistent however, gaining valuable experience for her future hunts.

Training seemed to be the order of the month as the carnivore puppies and cubs were all playing hard and some even participating in hunts. A cheetah female with two sub adults, one male and one female, seemed a little frustrated as they spent the morning chasing red letchwe around the Halfway Pan area. These two young cheetahs also lacked the patience they needed to make a successful kill. It is during these hunts that the mother will allow the younger ones to participate, develop skills, gain experience and then learn from their mistakes.

The wild dogs, a pack of 10 adults and 9 puppies; were seen a couple of times close to camp. They were very relaxed and spent their time playing with their young. They were then seen on the old Lebala road where they demonstrated their hunting strategy. At Halfway Pan they were busy chasing impalas but unfortunately they were unsuccessful and the impala managed to escape. They had better luck at John’s Pan where we found them just after they had killed and devoured an impala. Afterwards they became very social. They interacted with each other and played with the puppies before they lay down to rest in the shade of a large tree.

Lion sightings were also good this month, the pride of 7 adults and 10 cubs were seen numerous times, often lying in the shade and playing with each other. This pride has been very successful in raising their cubs and they were usually found full bellied and looking healthy. The other pride consisting of two females, two males and 10 cubs was also seen. These two females have many mouths to feed and were not always as successful as the larger pride. We also went out in search of the pride of two male, 2 females and 3 cubs that prefer the Kwena area. This pride looked happy and healthy as they played. We enjoyed a wonderful sighting next to the water with perfect late afternoon light to capture the moment on camera. Watching how this family interacted was an absolute treat.

Lagoon, November 2016

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The first day of the month and an extra special sighting – not leopard, lion, wild dog or even cheetah – but a bush pig! These animals are very rarely seen – simply scarce, and thus shy – and are like larger, hairier versions of a warthog.

A fabulous morning for predators on the 3rd of November: we started the day following leopard tracks, and came across the female with her young cub and a kill. After that, we found the pack of 19 wild dogs feeding on an elephant carcass. From there, we spent more time tracking, which led us to the pride of 16 lions (8 adults, 8 youngsters) resting up at Elephant Gorge!

The two prides of lions (the main one with 17 members and the smaller one of 7) were seen on most days during the month of November. There was some mating going on, so the prides can only get bigger! There was also a new, solitary lioness seen in the area – “stumpy tail” – so it will be interesting to see if she stays around.

Great sightings of all the general game this month – zebras, roan, sable, eland, and of course lots and lots of elephants, and still quite a few large herds of buffalo. As soon as the rain starts, the buffalos will disperse, till next year. The majority of the elephants as well will disappear for a short while, and then come back in force when they realise that there really isn’t that much to eat and drink in the mopane areas!

The pack of 19 dogs seem to be looking for ever larger prey to bring down – this time we found them focussing on a small herd of roan – though whether they were chasing them around just for fun, or if it was meant to be a serious hunt, was a little hard to decide. Needless to say, they had no  success whilst we were there!

Whilst the dogs seemed to be aiming big, the cats seemed to be aiming somewhat smaller. The large pride, with 15 members present at the time, caught a warthog. To say there was a little bit of squabbling over the meal, is a slight understatement. It the meantime, two males were attempting to uphold the “King of the jungle” title, and were found near Kwena Lagoon, each lion feeding on its own buffalo carcass!

The last week of November and leopards were abundant!- just outside the camp a leopard was found with two young cubs, whilst the female with the single cub was seen feeding on two days. WE also saw one shy male, and another male who had just killed a buffalo calf. Add to that a shy leopard near Kwena lagoon, and a relaxed male wandering along Fish Road, and you truly have a leap of leopards.

 

Lagoon, October 2016

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The wild dog family were seen regularly in early October – 9 adults and 10 pups. They had good luck catching impala, though at this stage, the pups are still too inexperienced to be able to participate usefully in the hunt, but just to try to keep up with the rest of the pack. Later in the month and the pack were seen all alive and well. Seeing bateleur eagles sitting on top of a tree watching the ground, we moved into the bush and discovered the pack of 19 feeding on a female kudu carcass.

A highly unusual sighting right at the end of last month as well – three cheetahs. We have only been seeing cheetahs every few months, probably because of the high lion activity in the area, they have been favouring the distant plains in the north west of the concession. The three cats that did decide to move into our more regular game drive area were exceptionally shy – understandable if they are not used to seeing vehicles. As soon as the vehicle was stopped, they took off at high speed! But, a few weeks later they came through the area again, and this time they were much more relaxed. We watched them attempting to hunt impalas, but they were unable to make a kill as the impalas saw them as they were stalking, and bounded off to a safer environment.

Not far from where they were being seen, a male lion and lioness with three cubs were seen feeding on a kudu. This small pride keeps separate from the large pride, which were seen a day or so later. The pride of 15 (7 adults and 8 youngsters) were found near water cut, feeding on a wildebeest, that they had killed during the night. The next day, the numbers had grown again – with another 4 adults joining the 15. No sign of leftovers this time, everyone was lying down and sleeping. We had good sightings of all of these lions throughout the month.

Good leopard sightings this month, with an adult found feeding on an impala carcass that was lodged in the branch of a tree, just to the west of the airstrip.

With the desperately increasing heat, the general game in the area is congregating as close to the water and the shade as possible. Elephant and buffalo numbers are at their peak, and all are waiting anxiously for the rain to fall – something that every human is also desperate for!

One lucky set of guests were watching the pride of lions and just as they have left them to return to camp, they heard the unmistakable squeal of a warthog. Sadly it was its last squeal. The guests returned to watch the feast. Feeding time over, the vehicle continued back to camp and found a bat eared fox on the way. Delighted with their luck, they could not believe it when an aardwolf appeared, posing like he was modeling for a mammal guide book. Astounded and chatting away, only laughter could accompany the unbelievable chances of them coming across an aardvark. Relaxed and nearly for over ten minutes.

Lagoon, September 2016

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September – winter was only 4 weeks ago, but the Botswana summer is quick to arrive. Knowing this, the summer migrants have started flying in from afar: the first ones in are the kites and bee-eaters, ready to start their breeding season again. Soon, the air will be filled with the calls and colours of all the visitors – for us, an easy way of telling the change of the seasons.

Great lion sightings this month, with the pride of 2 males, 2 lionesses and 3 cubs being sighted as well as the large pride of 17, which included 10 cubs. The pride of 7 were found feeding on a young elephant – estimated to be around four years old. The two males from the large pride were also found on a different elephant carcass. With so many elephants moving into the area, there are bound to be natural deaths from individuals – it’s not clear if the lions themselves have killed the elephants.

A few leopard sightings, a shy male, and a small female in the area around Half Way Pan. We also found a small cub hiding behind a tree. Later in the afternoon, her mother returned. We then saw this female and her cub several times through the rest of the month. Other predators include the regular visitors – the hyenas. They were regularly seen hanging around the dogs, waiting to try and get a free meal from the left overs, or to force them off a kill if they could. Their calls sounded through the camp at night – territorial, and calls of courtship.

The wild dog pack were seen regularly in the beginning of the month, as they were still at the den site. However, they soon left the site and spent the rest of the month moving around the area. As the month progressed, the pack was moving larger distances as the pups became more comfortable keeping up with the adults. The dogs remained fit and healthy, and hunted regularly. Four of the adults appeared to split away from the pack from time to time before rejoining, an indication that they may eventually split off on a more permanent basis.

Elephants are massing in large numbers, and every waterway or shady area seems to have a congregation waiting. Many are moving in from across the Caprivi strip, cutting across Namibia, seeking a safe haven in Botswana. Some will even have moved down from Angola. All are waiting eagerly for the first rains, as is the rest of Botswana.  Joining them are the large herds of buffalo, dotted over the marshes and floodplains throughout the concession.

Almost at the end of the month – a rare sighting of cheetah. This time, it was not the two brothers that made a foray through the area, but a shy female – with two young cubs in tow. We stayed with her for about 20 minutes, as they slowly moved along the edge of the bush line.

Lots of porcupine seen this month, as well as civet spotted regularly on the evening drives.
The most unusual sighting, probably for the year, was a lovely sighting of a big herd of buffalos, mingling with herds of elephants on the waters edge, not far from the edge. A nice enough sighting as it is, but whilst we were watching them, running through the middle of them all was a male sitatunga!
Another exciting and unusual sighting was of a martial eagle, that dove down and scooped up an ostrich chick, to the alarm of the parents!

Lagoon, August 2016

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Early on in the month, the dog pack moved their den a short distance. We found the new den fairly easily, and were rewarded with wonderful sightings of the 13 adults and 10 pups. One morning we came across the adults circling a large tree near Middle Road. Looking a little closer, we discovered that they had chased a large male leopard up the tree, and were waiting at the bottom to harass it further if it decided to come down. The leopard was taking no chances, and remained up there for the duration, enabling guests to get some excellent shots of the animal. Following that, an inspection of the den found all puppies safe and well, and in as playful mood as ever.

An extensive morning of tracking lions was successful when we found the three adult lions with three cubs, just beyond the airstrip. One of the males was mating with the lioness. The following day, we came across the female again, but this time she was on her own with her cubs. And the day after that, yet another combination! The female and cubs, this time with the two males again, and another lioness.

One morning guests opted for a walking safari. They had  a very productive time, and learnt about the medicinal uses of the plants in the area, how to find your direction if you are lost in the bush, and how to track animals of different types. Later that day, they put their newly acquired skills to good use, and helped the guide and tracker follow lion tracks till they came upon two male and one female lions resting close to a pan.

We also came across the lion pride with 7 adults (2 males, 5 females) and 8 cubs along the Water Cart area. The cubs rested while the females made several unsuccessful attempts to catch giraffe. They all returned to the pride and relaxed again, in order to regain their strength for another hunt.

August is starting to warm up, but the temperatures are still a little cool in the morning. Elephants are enjoying the availability of water in the channels and river areas, but are still browsing out in a broader area. As the temperature heats up, they will spend more and more time along the wooded river banks, traipsing in and out of the water.

This month we also saw the female leopard cub, several sightings of the hyenas in the area, and a few honey badger sightings.  There is lots of general game in the area – zebras, impala, tsessebe, wildebeest, sable, buffalos and of course, plenty of elephants to go around.

Lagoon, July 2016

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Driving from the airstrip one morning we found a dead impala tucked under a bush, next to the road. Whose was it? Returning a few hours later, we found a female leopard feeding on it. She didn’t get to feed on it for much longer however, as hyenas arrived and chased her off the meal.

On the first day of the month we were also lucky enough to see the first sighting of the tiny wild dog puppies at their den site. The 14 adults were playing around the den when  five little puppies came out of the den and joined in! By the end of the week, more puppies had emerged from the den – making a total of 10 in the litter. Whilst they are so small, one or two of the adults remain with the pups at all times, whilst the rest of the dogs go out and hunt. After a successful hunt, they return to the den, and regurgitate food for both the puppies and any adults that have remained behind.

Arriving at Half Way Pan on the morning of the same day, we spotted a large male lion looking fairly majestic, sitting under a tree. On approaching, we realized that the male had been assigned a task perhaps not normally associated with the “King of the Jungle” – babysitting. He had been left alone to supervise eight cubs! The mothers were either ‘out’ hunting, or perhaps taking a chance of a bit of peace and quiet…  A few days later and the same pride were seen again in the same area. The lionesses had blood on their faces when they appeared, and soon led their cubs away to a warthog they had killed earlier.

Another day, and another wild dog hunt. This time, guests didn’t even have to leave the comfort of their fireside chairs to witness it. Early one morning, 13 wild dogs came chasing a kudu at full sprint through the camp, only stopping when they got to the fireplace and saw a rather startled group of people sitting around having coffee and porridge for breakfast. A quick detour by the dogs, and another hunt began finally catching a male kudu close to the airstrip (and followed by a rather rushed group of guests having given up on breakfast and dashed out to the cars.)
You don’t always find exactly what you are looking for when tracking animals in the bush – a fair amount of time was spent tracking a leopard, only to come across two male cheetahs off in the distance. We were able to sit and watch the hungry-looking animals for some time, whilst they stalked their prey, eventually chasing and catching a female kudu. We left the leopard hunt for another day!

Later in the month, we were again following the dogs hunting – they had had several warthogs over the last few days, and even attempted to chase sable herds to harass the youngsters. They were moving from one termite mound to the next as we followed them, apparently searching for more warthogs, when all of a sudden they gave chase and disappeared through the bush. We could hear them barking – not something wild dogs actually do very often. On re-locating them, we found them all around the base of a tree looking up – at a very unhappy male leopard that had obviously just scrambled up there in the nick of time!

Tables were turned slightly, when the pack of dogs were found feeding on a kudu. Whilst we were watching a big male lion appeared, chased the dogs off, and began feeding. The dogs hung around for some time, trying to see if they could risk an attempt at getting the kill back, before giving up and moving off after an hour. They returned to the den site and regurgitated what they had managed to eat for the puppies.