We are here. We are here! WE ARE HERE!
In Maun, Botswana.
We were here three years ago. And now we’re back. It was a trip so nice, we’re taking it twice.
An Adventure Begins
We enjoyed our first foray into the wilds of Botswana, being treated by friends, Ali and Mark, to a boat excursion some 40 miles up the Boro River into the World Heritage Okavango Delta. We snuck in under the wire, as the flood waters are receding and sand bars are rising, which will put an end to boat travel for the season.
- Knowledgeable, sharp-eyed, well-prepared-with-water-and-food, first-rate company. Check.
- Expansive scenery full of secrets and surprises to keep a visitor alert and engaged. Check.
- Shockingly comfortable weather thanks to kind clouds that played with the sun so it wasn’t inclined to play too harshly with us. Check.
- Birds, reptiles, and mammals to fascinate and entertain. Check.
What a day!
Birds are Ali and Mark’s wildlife passion. It’s been three years since Mike and I have seen Botswana birds, and this was a nice refresher. I’m pleased to recognize many, though I may or may not remember their names. I especially like it when I see a bird and recall the scene of where and how we previously encountered it. If there’s a story to go with it, even better.
Two birds whose names I actually recalled, were the fish eagle and pygmy goose. The fish eagle reminds me very much of the bald eagles at home, and the pygmy goose is the smallest of Africa’s ducks and one of the smallest in the world. Apparently, it especially likes to eat seeds from the lily flowers, which may explain why there were so many here.
The bird highlight of the day, amongst roughly four million sightings, was the Carmine Bee-eater. Bee-eaters may be my favorite Botswana birds: They’re colorful, and they sometimes have cool tails. And I have a story about them from our last visit. The Carmine bee-eaters are scarlet with turquoise on the head and rump. Brilliant!
After lunch, Mark led us on a stroll through some trees, and across a dry, grassy plain to a Carmine nesting site.
Normally, these birds nest in banks, but the conditions here are just right for a colony on the ground. Dozens and dozens of adults flew in, beaks full of bugs, popped underground briefly, and then popped back out and flew away. Mark commented that many of the insects being brought in were huge, which suggests the hunters were feeding partners, not chicks. He thought it was too early for chicks.
On the way home, we came upon a flock of vultures perched in a tree. They didn’t look full, which means they were still waiting for dinner, which means the predators were probably still having their fill. We searched and searched, but, alas, could see no kill. It would be stupid to get out and walk around in search of an answer to the mystery, but, boy, that’s what I wanted to do. Oh, to be a hamster in a sturdy ball.
Reptile sightings included five smallish crocs and two monitors. The prehistoric look of crocs, and their potential to be dangerous, makes them fascinating, no matter the size. And the monitors, scrambling to disappear, are funny.
No pics of reptiles this day. Boooooo.
Dozens of elephants and lechwe (an antelope partial to wet terrain); several hippos, monkeys, and babboons; and a single giraffe showed up to welcome us back to Botswana. Or they just showed up to eat.
Many groups of lechwes milled and munched about the water’s edge. I said I wanted to see some graceful, athletic leaping, and, what do you know, a couple of groups indulged me!
The ellies were the mammal stars, allowing us to get quite close—I’m talking twenty-feet-away close—while they noshed on grasses and lily stalks and roots along the edge of the narrow river.
We got close-up views (and video footage) of the tearing, washing, chewing, digging, and more. The sounds were as fun and interesting as the sights: splashing, slapping, chewing, and occasionally the low rumbling that is their talk, a sound that has a vibrating feel to it, too, even for my human ears and body. Unfortunately, the videos picked up more wind and boat sounds than ellie sounds, but there are some.
When the elephants ripped a batch of grass or lilies from the bottom of the river, they slapped the ends on the water and against their trunks and swished the stalks back and forth. When the grass had been thoroughly swung, swished, and slapped, it was ready to eat. I’ve read that they’re cleaning the dirt off the plants. Maybe they don’t like the taste of dirt, but it also helps preserve their teeth, as dirt and rocks wear them down faster than plant material. It’s like us keeping our chainsaw blades out of the dirt.
An Adventure Concludes
As we wound our way home, the day’s clouds gathered together over Maun, exchanging electric gossip and giving us a nice light show. Daylight faded and rain pelted down as we neared home.
We milked every second of light out of the day and were richly rewarded. That set the bar pretty high for our wild-land adventures this time around, but this is Africa. I’m not worried.