In our four-park safari through the Okavango Delta, the second place we stayed was the Khwai Concessions. At the end of the day, I think this was my favorite. I liked the terrain, the landscape, it had the greenest, wettest and most vibrant feel to it. Perhaps suffering through the heat made me feel unduly appreciative of this nature. But also, we had my favorite sightings here. The most stunning was our encounter with a leopard, which you can read more about in my Tuesday Tale, "The Leopardess: Encounters in Botswana." But here are a few extra pics of her:
In my previous Botswana post, "Back on Safari in Moremi Woo-Hoo!" I mentioned how excited I was to see African wild dogs, also known as painted dogs. I had been pleased as punch with these sightings in Moremi, but my pleasure just about hit overload the morning we found a whole pack of wild dogs with ten puppies in Khwai, romping and chasing and wrestling and running hog-wild (yes, even though they're dogs, haha).
And then it did just go off the charts when the dogs led us to the leopardess! That was one glorious safari morning.
In light of all this mega excitement, we nearly ditched the activity that had been planned for late morning. It was an extreme change of pace, but I'm glad we did not miss it. We boarded some little dugout canoes, a traditional type of transport in the Okavango region called a mokoro or makoro -- two tourists and a guide per canoe -- and very lazily navigated through a water channel densely populated with water lilies.
Our guide stopped several times to point out the smaller members of the local animal kingdom and minute details about the flora and landscape, which I would never ever have seen without his guidance, and I'm thankful for it. No, this little frog isn't quite as enchanting as a leopard, but it's pretty cool -- tiny thing clinging to a tube of grass. See Erik's hand for scale (he took the pic).
And this alone was worth the mokoro trip for me: a pair of African jacana eggs. They are super tiny eggs, absolutely exquisite. They look like they're hand-painted as a piece of art, or to me they look like some kind of dense, polished rock, like they make bowls and plates out of at the rock shop in my town. How on earth the guides ever found these eggs is beyond me, but it certainly makes me respect the knowledge of the local people who pay such close attention to their surroundings.
And what comes out of these tiny eggs? A tiny jacana bird! Again, Erik's hand provides some scale for this little creature hiding in the marsh grasses. Do you notice those giant feet coming out from underneath the bird, looking almost like giant spider legs, grasping the dead reed? Those crazy things belong to that itty bitty bird! So these birds have some funny nicknames such as "Jesus bird" and "lily trotter" because of their amazing ability to walk on the flimsiest rafts of marsh weeds and lily pads (which can look like they're walking on water), and it's due to those feet that function, rather like snowshoes do on snow, to spread their weight. The second photo below is an adult jacana, I took that pic in the marshes in Moremi.
On the way back to camp, we found the dog pack again, cached out in the shade of a small grove of trees, the little ones dozing fitfully in a giant puppy pile. But there's always one who just can't sleep!
Then we got up the next morning and found them again! We tried to keep track of them running through the bushes, careening around on the maze of dirt paths our guide knew so well, as we thought they were chasing down an impala. But it proved impossible. I confess I'm disappointed in 90% of the photos I snapped of the African wild dogs in Khwai, but I'm 100% thrilled with having watched them with my own fleshy eyeballs.
Another cool thing I watched was this little drama between a saddle billed stork and a fish eagle. The eagle kept wanting to land and the stork was simply not having it. If the eagle simply wanted to hang out on the ground, I suppose he could have gone elsewhere, to a section that was not patrolled by a stork, so maybe in fact he was somehow taunting the stork who kept snapping back at him.
Here's a more composed saddle billed stork calmly wading through the water. I must say I don't tire of these birds either.
Here's our Red Siren friend, the groundbill, again, and though he's walking in a different colored landscape than in Moremi, he has not grown any more cautious with his flashy wattle.
A duck fond of red, wading in the marshy waters.
Our original itinerary was to spend three nights in each of four parks. But there were troubles with the staff truck (which had to carry all of our tents and food and wonderful staff), so we stayed over a fourth night in Khwai. I didn't feel sad about this because I had been very much enjoying this game reserve, but then when we got to spend the extra afternoon with the lion family, whose story I gave you in "Family Tale in the Okavango Delta," I thanked whatever gnome tinkered with the truck and kept us here, allowing us this precious gift. I'd never before simply hung out with one particular group of animals for several hours, watching their day unfold in the freedom of their wilderness. It was so special, particularly when that group of animals included lion cubs!!!! I had really been hoping to see some young lions. Please read about the events of their afternoon HERE, and please enjoy some more time with the darling cubs below.
Mom and cub simultaneous tongue action! For a gal who loves it when she captures an animal with its tongue out, this was the jackpot!
Now check out how huge mom's tongue is as she licks her affectionate cub's face -- practically as big as its whole face. And then look how cute the cub's little tongue is giving its mum a sweet lick on her nose.
We saw plenty of adult male lions, too. And I can never see too many of these magnificent animals with their brilliant manes and regal demeanors. This guy, though, looks to me like he's feeling melancholy or wistful. I wanna go hug him and ask him what's up. Here he's looking more like his old lion self ... he has recovered his thoughts to whatever lions normally think of in the early morning. Look at the ear of the next fellow, though, how notched it is -- he's clearly had a few good tussles in his life.
For lots more lions, read about our time in Chobe National Park, which was particularly rich with elephant and lion encounters.
But back to baby animals ..... baboon youngsters are some of the most manic and entertaining creatures to watch when they rumble with each other. These little guys were getting on their kung fu moves!
Very young baboons have it pretty easy, leisurely riding along on mom's back or clinging to her underside as she walks. Do you notice what challenge this baby's mom has overcome? Makes you wonder if she was born that way or suffered an injury later in life.
I love this scene of a male kudu and his spectacular horns strolling through the marsh, indifferent to the baboons all around him. It's a scene peaceful and calm, yet dynamic at the same time, similar to one I posted from Moremi with the waterbuck and baboons. The only thing that would have made it better is if one of those baboons had jumped on the kudu's back.
My two favorite African antelope species: A male kudu, mid-munch; and a shaggy female waterbuck.
Is a safari post complete without a picture of a giraffe? I'm not sure, but just to be safe, here's a super little baby, not even as tall as the branches of an acacia tree.
Evening descends in the Khwai Concessions, and it actually seems to cool off a tad. Maybe because of being surrounded by the water. That special golden light of evening highlights a spray of water from a hippo, the texture of the underside of an elephant's amazing trunk, a bird's wings, my brown hair, and all the sweet moments of the day parading through my memory as we prepare to head back to camp and enjoy an evening glass (or three) of wine, the nightly appetizer of popcorn (hurray!), and dinner by gas lantern before lying down in my tent in the Botswana bush, ready to hear the sounds of night and imagine the nocturnal world around me.