Our Northern Highlights safari began in the Xakanaxa region of Moremi Game Reserve. We set out on our first game-drive with the intention of enjoying the wonderful landscapes and checking out what was rumoured to be a new den of the wild dogs. On our way up to the den site we were lucky enough to find the resident cheetah female who successfully raised 4 cubs last year and is now on her own again. Shortly after she walked off into the bush we found the dogs and rumours of them denning were confirmed when the alpha female came out of the den to join the other dogs with her massively swollen teats swaying in time to her trotting pace.
Before we had time to have a cup of tea and recover from the wonderful sightings we were told about a leopard that had been treed by some lions. We arrived to find the female leopard near Fourth Bridge in a sausage tree snarling in the direction of a mating pair of lions. When she felt secure the lions had moved of a sufficient distance she bolted past us and disappeared into the matsibi bush. We then managed to catch up with the mating lions and were treated to a wonderful sighting of her perched on a termite mound, surveying the surrounding landscape for potential prey. And that was just the first game drive! We had some magical moments with the wild dogs over the next few days but the highlight for me and no doubt everyone else was when we stopped for tea and while standing around the vehicle the dogs came bursting out the nearby treeline in playful pursuit of a herd of kudu (only playful because of the bursting bellies that were stuffed with impala). After the kudu disappeared they toyed with a herd of giraffe before heading back to the den and regurgitating for the alpha female and the look-out dog.
It was great to see good numbers of lion in Khwai again after years of seeing prides of 2’s and 3’s. The Khwai pride’s cubs are now small sub-adults and the Mohican male and his sidekick still rule supreme. We spent a good deal of time with the pride on our own and witnessed some wonderful and touching scenes of allo-grooming. Our game walk was everything I had hoped for with some great little wonders of nature, excellent tracks and fantastic foot encounters with a couple of elephant bulls. One of the bulls became curious and we ended up in a rather comical scenario where we were trying to get around the bull to continue our walk and the bull became intent on following us. It almost felt like we were taking our pet elephant for a morning walk. After a few hundred meters he became more interested in Camel Thorn pods and he gave up tailing us.
As always the mokoro excursion was tranquil and relaxing with a few encounters with breeding herds of elephant drinking on the banks of the Sable Alley River. Wonderful views of little bee-eaters that were so close that it was impossible to photograph! On our departure from Khwai we stopped for a tea break and noticed a large cloud of dust to the south east of our position. As the cloud of dust moved closer we could make out that it was in fact a huge herd of buffalo that were drifting in our direction. After great views of the herd it was off to Savuti!
Savuti once again exceeded expectations. I dropped the group in camp and went to the near-by Savuti Safari Lodge to pick up Michelle, one of the Letaka agents doing an educational with us. My arrival back into camp was blocked by a female leopard who was chilling in the road while all the guests were photographing her from the camp. As soon as a gap opened up I slipped into camp and within the blink of an eye everyone was loaded up and we were out looking for her. She had evaded the masses but after some patient waiting and hard searching we found her and lost her, found her and lost her… All in all we spent over an hour alone and in great light with the Kudu Hills female. We gave her lots of space and after a while she was oblivious to our presence and on a few occasions passed the vehicle close enough to stroke.
We found her the next morning down near Bushman Paintings Hill and were fortunate enough to witness her hunting guinea fowl. We swung by the airstrip to drop off Michelle and found that the wild dogs had just killed right next to the airstrip.
The water levels in the Savuti Channel are low and it is anticipated the flood will arrive in the next few weeks. The birding on the marsh was as rewarding as ever. The Savuti has had water for years now but every visit the beauty of the flooded marsh just blows me away. It was with regret that we left Savuti and headed for Kasane to do a boat trips and say our good-byes. A fantastic safari with wonderful people- what more can a guide ask for!
Birders Corner – The memorable birds of the trip included some wonderful fly-byes of Red-necked Falcon and some of the closest views I have had to date of Dickenson’s Kestrel. a Goliath Heron has taken up residence on the Khwai River. On the Savuti Marsh I saw the largest flock of African Jacana I have ever seen- between 70 and 90 birds! We watched an African Hawk Eagle stoop in and try and take a Jacana in Khwai but the Jacana took evasive action by diving deep under the water. There was lots of aerial combat going on with many of the raptors now chasing last year’s young out of the territory to begin the new breeding season. White-headed Vultures, Fish Eagle and Tawny Eagle were all observed doing this. We also watched a sub-adult Fish Eagle harassing a Martial Eagle with great tenacity.
Please check out the gallery to see some images of the trip