Ultimate Chobe Safari: Busy at the Nesting Site

Ben Reports from the Ultimate Chobe Safari:

A clear morning with very little cloud cover meant that we could finally visit the rapids where the Yellow-billed Storks nest. Actually, there are more than the storks nesting there. It is also an area where many Reed Cormorants, White-breasted Cormorants, and Spoonbills build their nests.

              Spoonbill Front_095

We spent about two hours photographing the variety of birds as they went about their daily activities. Their comings and goings kept us engrossed for at least that amount of time.

First the Yellow-billed Storks.

                              Wim van den Heever-115

They build their nests in specific trees, and then fly to green trees to collect foliage which they bring back to their nests. We positioned the boat so that we could capture the images of the birds with small branches in their beaks on their return to their nesting trees.

Meanwhile we kept an eye on the Reed Cormorants as they came in to land on the river with a watery skid. Then a few minutes fishing before a takeoff to try again elsewhere. Takeoff and landing shots were a cinch! 

To make it all even better, the water next to the rapids is smooth, with a glassy surface. We could photograph the birds with perfect reflections, adding a special dimension to the already wonderful scenes.

We wanted to photograph elephants just one more time, and our final excursion took us upstream into the Chobe National Park. On the way we encountered a large pod of hippos, lying on the edge of an island in the river, some in the shallows and some on the sandbanks. A number of babies trotted around, bumping each other playfully, while the adults dozed in the sun.

We were photographing the Oxpeckers rummaging around the hippos and climbing around on their backs and heads, when suddenly a large hippo ran into view at full tilt, charging from our left to our right. As we were on the river, the large beast was at our eye level as it ran for more than 100 meters, giving us time for some straight action shots and a quick adjustment for panning shots. Whew!

It was time to head back to the Lodge and bid farewell to our guests, and welcome the second safari group.

The welcome, check-in, snack, and briefing were very quick so that we could get out on the river as quickly as possible, and within a short hour, everyone was on the boat, cameras ready.

As we headed upstream we almost immediately spotted two elephants swimming across the river, heads and trunks just visible above the water. As we caught up with them they were emerging from the river, and started to feed on the grass along the verge of the small island they had reached. 

We photographed the two elephants and were suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a Pied Kingfisher. It hovered almost next to the boat for a few seconds, then dived – but came up empty-beaked. Cameras trained on the bird as it hovered again, hardly changing position, and then dived again. This time the kingfisher emerged victorious – with a silvery fish in its beak.

                                    Pied Kfisher with fish_199

It hesitated for a split second as we took our final images of the incident before it flew off to enjoy its meal in a nearby tree.

A little while later we found a large buffalo bull, covered in mud, lying and watching the river. It’s horns were caked with mud – and the bits of grass and a few leaves in the packed mud made the bull look as though it was wearing a rather splendid hat. We took portrait shots of the comical fellow before moving on to Elephant Bay.

Our arrival at Elephant Bay coincided with a herd of elephants that came running down to the banks for a long drink and a splash.

On one side of the bay there is a stretch of powdery, whitish sand. One of the elephants, having had enough to drink, decided to enjoy a dust bath. And what a dusty affair that was. Clouds of fine sand swirled around, at times completely obliterating the elephant. The late afternoon sunlight made this a spectacular scene to enjoy and to photograph.

When the elephants completed their drinks, splashing around, and dust-clouding, they moved back inland, signalling an opportune time for us to return to the Lodge.

This group has not yet visited the rapids with the nesting sites, and if the weather holds, that is where we would like to start our morning …