Safari 2022 ~ Day Five

May 21st    Day Five

After falling asleep to the sound of lions roaring and hyenas whooping, wake up call was at 05:30am.

Breakfast was coffee, cornflakes, vanilla yoghurt, honey, and more coffee. Coffee was high on the list because it was hot, and the Okavango Delta was not.

Then it was time to hit the trail in search of the wildlife around our new camp site. I was hoping, not in an optimistic way, that today would not turn into another bird watching trip. But whatever sort of trip it was going to be, it was going to be a cold one. And when I say cold, I mean freezing. The forecast predicted 4C but there was a ground frost which might suggest it was colder than that.

This is where I think the safari company let us down. Step into an open sided vehicle, add a stiff breeze into the equation, and then set off at 15 – 20 mph into that freezing morning air and it was utterly Baltic. Other safari companies provided blankets or fur lined ponchos to their guests to protect them from the cold. Ours did not.

However, helping to take my mind off the cold, a short distance from the camp we encountered a herd of red lechwe. They looked stunning as the first rays of rising sun illuminated them in a warm golden glow.

Red Lechwe at dawn

Red lechwe live in and around the swamps and rivers of the Okavango. They, as their name would suggest, have a reddish brown coat. Their hind quarters are noticeably higher than the front quarters which is an adaptation to help them run through water. The lower half of their legs are coated in a water repellent substance which also aids them in running through the swamps. This is their preferred method of escape from predators. At the first sign of threat, they will rush into the water, often leaping high in the air with the help of their powerful back legs. They are beautiful animals.

Male Red Lechwe


But for me, most importantly, they were mammals, and we were parked up, watching, photographing, and filming mammals. Even the risk of camera shake from shivering in the freezer of Botswana could not diminish my joy. This is what I had come for. Red lechwe were a hundred times more exciting than spotting an Eastern long billed lark or a Chestnut vented tit-babbler.

Female Red Lechwe

But we had ground to cover and so, we bid farewell to the lechwe and moved on. In the distance I could see a localised patch of mist rising. It turned out to be coming from the surface of a large waterhole, which was home to a solitary hippo. He stared at us through the mist with a tall Lala Palm tree rising up behind him.

We continued to explore our new territory when suddenly, on the track ahead, hemmed in on either side by the tall grass, were three black backed jackals. We followed them around a tight right hand bend when Banda stopped the vehicle and made a bird call. The reaction was instant. The jackals stopped and spun around to look for the source of the bird call. They were bathed in gorgeous low level dawn light and looked absolutely wonderful. They quickly decided that there was nothing of interest, turned and continued along the track. This was turning out to be a good morning for mammal enthusiasts.

Black Backed Jackals

Further on we enjoyed sightings of giraffe, zebra, impala and tsessebe. There were admittedly one or two birds as well, including a stork catching and eating a catfish which was fascinating to see.

Oxpecker hitching a lift from a zebra

We almost missed a group of young male waterbucks. They were lurking in an area of tall grasses and if one or two of them hadn’t moved I doubt if we would have seen them at all. As it was, the top of their heads and their horns was all that was visible. There may have been seven or eight of them and every now and then we could see a pair of eyes peering nervously at us through the grass fronds. A male waterbuck on average will be around 1.4 metres high at the shoulder so it was amazing to see how well they could hide themselves.

Shy Waterbuck

Next on the morning’s parade of mammals was a herd of between twenty-five and thirty female impalas. They were gathered at the side of the track and were being marshalled by a vigilant dominant male. Some grazed quietly whilst others groomed themselves, but there were always a few keeping a wary eye open for predators. Around the edge of the herd an inky blue iridescent Burchell’s starling rushed about feeding on the insects disturbed by the feet of the impala.

Impala mother and son

A short distance along from the impala, a family of dwarf mongooses gathered on the sunny side of a termite mound trying to heat themselves up. There was a big part of me was minded to join them.

Dwarf Mongooses

At some point each day, it was lilac breasted roller time. They are the most colourful of birds, admired even by mammal lovers. Amongst the many different colours of their plumage, they sport a vivid blue underside to their wings. Perched on a branch, this blue is not visible, but when the bird takes off it is quite spectacular. So, we sit patiently, cameras all aimed at the bird on a branch, waiting for it to spot an insect and take off to catch it. The tension in the vehicle mounts as minutes tick by and we wait for the explosion of blue at the moment of take-off.

Lilac Breasted Roller refusing to take off

Then it happens, usually just when you have let your concentration lapse for a split second. A cacophony of camera shutters erupts in machine gun mode to capture the moment. Then everyone frantically studies the multiple images they have taken in search of the perfect photograph of the roller taking off. Invariably, the images are blurred, out of focus, contain half a bird, or wing tips are out of frame, or simply a beautiful image of an empty branch. Lilac breasted rollers are fast movers.

As the morning progressed, we saw warthogs, tsessebe, giraffe, more impala, lechwe and mongooses. So many mammals.

Neighbourhood watch

Then up ahead we saw something really impressive that was neither mammal nor bird. It was huge. A stunning baobab tree towered above all other forms of vegetation. We parked up, and after Banda had checked there was nothing lurking in the scrub that might eat us, we all jumped out to photograph this goliath of a tree.

Baobab Tree

The first problem was that to get an image of the whole tree required walking a considerable distance away from it. That allowed people to disappear behind various bushes for a pee, an essential task every day on our early game drives. A curious giraffe and several impalas watched with interest as the humans marked their territory.

Bladders empty and photographs of the baobab taken, we returned and congregated around its huge tree trunk. This was a tree that was far too big to hug. Non the less, I felt compelled to put my hands on the trunk. A wonderful surprise awaited. The trunk was warm. The wood was absorbing the meagre heat from the sun and retaining it. I was still chilled to the bone and here was a massive, gigantic heater.

“Its hot. The tree is hot” I shouted to the rest.

Baobab Hand Warmer

Within seconds, there was a chain of people pressed up against this wonderful tree warming their hands. As I looked up through the bare branches, I could see the moon shining high in the blue morning sky. I could have contentedly stayed there for the rest of the morning but eventually we said ‘Bye’ to the warm baobab and continued on our travels.

Inevitably, we found ourselves stopping to look at various birds. There were black and white magpie shrikes with their long tails, a tiny African barred owlet, saddle billed storks, and jacanas walking on water.

African Barred Owlet

We parked up in an open area where lots of red lechwe were grazing, and in the distance a large male waterbuck was walking towards us. At his feet, running along side him was a solitary white cattle egret snapping up any insects disturbed by the waterbuck.

Waterbuck with cattle egret in attendance

As the egret dined on insects, we departed the scene and headed back to camp for lunch – pasta shells with fried chicken.

After lunch there was time for a welcome shower. Despite the sun beating down in what was the hottest part of the day, I shivered under the dribble of water from the bush shower. At the time I put it down to the fact that I was still chilled from the morning drive. I now suspect that Covid 19 was starting to have an impact on my body without me knowing it.

Showered and changed, I sat down in a camping chair soaking up the heat, and spent an hour or so writing up my journal. Then it was coffee and cherry cake time, before setting off on the hunt for more creatures of the delta.

What a contrast from the icy morning drive. We all soaked up the heat of the afternoon as we drove along. There was a large number of giraffes in the area, and we stopped to watch a group of around eight. Some were quietly grazing on acacia bushes expertly picking out the tasty leaves from amongst the thousands of thorns.

A ‘Tower’ of giraffes

Two were engaged in a bit of a brawl in amongst the edge of some trees. It was not a full-blown battle, more of the giraffe equivalent of a ‘handbags at dawn’ exchange. They would take it in turns at swinging their long necks to batter one another. Most swings were half hearted but occasionally there would be some serious blows, and as the giraffes struggled for the best position to defend or attack, branches would come crashing down and leaves were sent flying.

Why they chose to fight amongst trees was a puzzle. We would have much preferred it if they had conducted their pugilistic confrontation out in the open for the benefit of our cameras and videos.

Looking around, one of our group spotted what seemed to be a small column of smoke rising from the skyline several miles away. It was indeed smoke, and the column continued to grow and billow into the sky. It was too far away to say what was burning, but it was likely a bush fire and the causes of that are many. A discarded cigarette, a campfire, lightning strike, sun shining through a discarded glass bottle are the most common. It has also been known for the sun’s rays to be magnified by shining through dew drops and starting a fire.

As we watched the column of smoke grow, Banda noticed that there were four or five giraffes all staring in the one direction, and they were not looking at the smoke. We abandoned the giraffe fight club and set off to investigate.

As we approached a large clump of bushes that seemed to be the focus of attention, a stunning male lion emerged from the shade out into the late afternoon sunshine. He was magnificent and the giraffes seemed completely mesmerised by him. In fairness, so were we.

Male lion emerges from the bushes

He looked as if he had just woken up after a long snooze in the shade of the bushes as he stood for a few moments leisurely taking in the scene around him. Then, at a gentle plod, he set off along a track sending the giraffes scattering.

Exit stage right

At one point he stopped for a bowel evacuation, and that is something you do not want to be down wind of. As the aroma of lion dung came wafting through the warm air, groans of disgust rang out from those of us in the vehicle.

We followed him at a respectable distance before taking a wide berth around him and parking up with a view of him walking towards us – a much more attractive view than the one we had from behind.

Possibly not feeling fully awake, he lay down on the track for a rest and showed no sign of moving. So, we left him in peace and moved off to view and area with lots of red lechwe and bird life.

Half an hour later, the lion was on the move again. He slowly but purposely walked across an area of short grass towards the now setting sun. He suddenly stopped and stared intently into the middle distance.

He was looking at a prospective meal, a female lechwe as main course, with her young calf as a tasty side dish. However, there was a significant area of open ground between him and the lechwe, and mum and calf had spotted him. We watched on as the lion stared at the lechwe and the lechwe stared back at the lion. There was no way he could sneak up on them across 500 metres with no cover, so he abandoned the idea and lay down.

He was bathed in golden light, and people were happily taking photographs of him when he yawned. The camera shutters, in machine gun mode, erupted once again as he opened his mouth to its fullest extent, displaying a terrifying array of deadly dental weaponry.

Lethal dental weaponry

This was followed by the much cuter sight of him licking his massive paws and washing his face.

Lion ablutions

The lion having washed his face, got to his feet and wandered off in the direction of our camp. On the right of our vehicle we had the male lion, and on the left with the sun setting, hippos, ibis and  spoon bills busied themselves in shallow water.


The light was fading quickly and so we headed back to camp leaving the king of the jungle in peace. Within the Moremi Game Reserve, everyone is required to be back in camp for sundown.

King of the Jungle

Dinner was leek and potato soup, followed by lentils, peppers, chilli and wonderful mince.

Malcolm still didn’t feel he had thawed out from the morning excursion. He didn’t know it, but he also had contracted Covid 19. Sharing a tent, it was inevitable that if one of us had the virus, then whoever had it first would pass it on to the other one. To compound his misery, he had damaged his ribs on the side of one of the safari vehicles. Whilst climbing onto the side of the Landcruiser to unplug a camera battery from the onboard charger, he lost his footing. Hanging on with one hand he swung around and slammed into a metal bar. So not only was he frozen, but he was also in a considerable amount of pain.

Neither of us were in for a good night’s sleep. Every movement in his camp bed caused Malcolm to moan and call out in pain. I suspect that, as we did our best to sleep, the scavengers and predators were circling around the camp in expectation of an easy meal from a dying creature.

Video footage of the events related above can be found at the link below.

Okavango Safari Day Five


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