Posted by & filed under Mark Muller.

Mark Muller, Birdlife Botswana birding expert and photographer recently spent some time at Dinaka observing a Spotted Eagle Owl incubating her nest. Read below as Mark documents his account of the evening:

Recently Ker & Downey Botswana contacted me to advise that they had found a Spotted Eagle Owl at Dinaka that they believed was on a nest and asked if I would like to try and photograph the bird. As soon as I was able, I drove down to the 20,000 hectare private reserve that is situated on the Northern boundary of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, some 135 kilometers due South of Maun. I arrived late in the evening and we went straight out to the nest site arriving as full darkness drew in.

The pictures will, hopefully, give a snapshot into the life of an incubating Owl. What they cannot really do is tell you how much I enjoyed my time with her. The whole ambience of the night was truly wonderful, the Milky way and stars were laid out in the heavens above me, it got to me more that I can elaborate here.



On several occasions, Jackals called to each other with their wonderfully wild and lonely yelping calls. A lone Lion was roaring far away and was a gentle but powerful reminder that this really was wildest Africa.

 

The dark of night can often be an alien and intimidating time. It is a time with which, many of us have had very little exposure to. There is a whole new suite of life that go about making a living during the dark hours of the night and it is a time that I find endlessly fascinating. During the five hours that I spent with the nesting bird a little of the rich nightlife of Dinaka came to visit.

 

I had set up, right next to my camera, a very small and very dim light so I could, with the help of my binoculars, see what the bird was up to – this allowed me to observe some of what was going on.



On a couple of occasions, I had an inquisitive Barn Owl investigate me, almost hovering, a couple of feet above with the ghostly, totally silent flight that most Owls have – this Barn Owl landed in the tree above the incubating female and was immediately seen off by the Male Spotted Eagle Owl. Thereafter I heard the Barn Owl giving its eerie screeching call from several different spots not to far away.

 

The dim light attracted insects and small insectivorous Bats regularly swept in and out, feeding on them just inches from the camera lens.



The male Owl spent a lot of time sitting in the top of a small tree just behind the vehicle, I could just make him out, skylined against the dark starlit night sky – He called at regular intervals and, for a long time another Spotted Eagle Owl was answering him from far away. The two birds were, I am sure, letting each other know that they were on their own territories & would tolerate no trespassing. I had really hoped, as has been documented, to get a picture of the male bringing food to the incubating female.





However I think that he would bring food to his tree top perch & call gently, the female would reply with a lovely gentle hooting response and, shortly thereafter, would leave the nest & fly out over the car to join the Male – it was too dark for me to see what went on but, shortly after leaving the nest, she would fly back to the ground & as the pictures show walk back to the nest & with infinite care & gentleness settle herself over the eggs & continue her incubating duties.



Eventually at close to midnight I left her. I drifted away to sleep that night happy to know that I had managed to document a little of the mysterious life of a magnificent Owl and that the whole experience had been enhanced by the mystique of the night and an enormous sense of freedom – it was nature at it’s very very best and I was really in my own little bit of heaven.



Story and Images by Mark Muller

Posted by & filed under Kanana, Omphile Kaluluka (Specialist Guide), Robby, Safari Stories.

One of the most productive activities in the Okavango Delta eco-system is the breeding of the abundant birdlife that call this magnificent wilderness home. Yellow-billed storks are one of the many species of birds currently roosting at the Kanana heronry. The heronry is such an exciting and special place because you get to witness the birds daily routine of courting, feeding, interacting and one of the more interesting parts, nest building!



I was on an early morning motorboating activity with my guests when we decided to make our way to the heronry. On arrival, I turned off the boat a fair bit away from the Gomoti thickets so we could slowly drift towards the birds without disturbing them. We focused on a group of Yellow-billed storks who were nesting among the Pink-backed pelicans. I noticed a pair of storks were very busy building a nest; the pair will work as a team with the male flying off to collect building material while the female stays on site to do the actual nest building. We noticed the male was being extremely industrious on this particular morning, flying back and forth and always returning with a beak-ful of grass or twigs.



What’s also interesting about the Heronry is the competition for space to nest, when breeding is at its peak the trees are so full of birds one can barely see the tops of the Gomoti thickets. Conditions can become very tense as each bird prioritises their instinct to breed and disperse their gene pool.



For the Yellow-billed storks, nest building takes approximately seven to ten days where after the female will lay two to three eggs at a time. The incubation period will take thirty days and both the male and female will take turns to incubate the eggs. Once the eggs have hatched the fledglings should leave the nest in approximately two months, just in time for the start of the wet season in the Delta

The heronry is a true wonder where one is able to witness such beauty and teamwork from birds preparing to receive new life together.

Blog story and images by Robby (Professional Guide at Kanana)

Posted by & filed under Omphile Kaluluka (Specialist Guide).

I recently shared the ‘New Kids on the Block’ blog about the three lion cubs who I have been following for quite some time and I am pleased to say that they are all doing very well. We have a lot of hyenas and other predators in the Footstep's area so this lioness has done an outstanding job on raising these cubs which are about six months old now.



A few months ago we were spending time with this pride and the three cubs when I noticed that the third female member was fully pregnant. We have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new additions but I knew that the mother would keep them well hidden for at least the first six weeks of their life.

Much to our excitement, I was on an afternoon game drive with guests when we came across the pride with five cubs, the three six-month-old cubs and the tiny three-month-old smaller cubs.





When we first saw the cubs, the pride was feasting on a fresh zebra kill. The bigger cubs were feeding but the little cubs were keeping close to their mother, suckling and playing in the grass with one another.



This pride is the only resident pride on Footsteps, other Lions who are seen have been passing through the concession or they are dominant over the Shinde side of the concession. This is positive as currently there is no threat to the cubs and their survival from other dominant males and we hope it remains this way while they are growing up.

Blog story and Images by Omphile Kalaluka (Specialist Guide at Footsteps)

Posted by & filed under Kanana, Robby, Safari Stories.

It was time to head out for an afternoon of fishing and birding on the winding channels of the Xudum River at Kanana. We took a leisurely cruise admiring the fauna and flora of the surrounding landscape, flushing african darters and malachite kingfishers as we made our way through the papyrus lined channels.



It was when we reached the lagoon I slowed down to view the pod of hippo who provide us with great entertainment as we pass them everyday. I noticed that there was also a herd of elephant standing on the side of the river feeding. I strategically placed the boat hoping that there was chance the herd may cross the channel. Once they had finished eating the elephants started to walk into the water slowly and before we knew it they were crossing the channel right in front of us!





Everyone was in awe of these giants moving so gracefully across the channel. The herd took their time and made the most of wallowing in the cool water and feeding on the water lilies before walking out onto the other side, an area known as Paradise island



We moved on feeling very satisfied with what we had seen and the sighting made for an exciting start to an afternoon of fishing and fun.

Blog story and Images by Robby (Professional Guide at Kanana)

 

Posted by & filed under Bonolo (Shinde guide), Shinde.

It was my favourite time of the day at Shinde, high tea! Everyone gathered on the deck for our famous homemade lemonade and freshly baked cheese scones – We were all very relaxed and looking forward to what I hoped would be a fun afternoon game drive. I tilted my head up toward the canopy of trees and a red headed weaver caught my eye, they are very hard to miss with their strikingly vibrant red plumage around the head and neck area.




I noticed he was in the beginning stages of building a nest, as I watched him I couldn’t believe how industrious he was and in the short space of time he had created the main structure of the nest. The beginning of spring and the warmer weather marks the start of breeding season for many species of birds; the male red headed weaver will build his mate a nest, once he is finished she will come and inspect her future home and if it is not up to her standards the male will build a new one.



The red headed weaver, unlike many other weaver species, builds his nest out of sticks instead of grass sometimes making for a less aesthetically pleasing design however the skill lies in the building and creation of the structure.


My guests and I made our way to the vehicle and all I hoped was that the female approved of the nest!


Blog story and images by Bonolo (Professional guide at Shinde)

Posted by & filed under Okuti, Our People, Solly (Okuti Guide).

The Moremi Game Reserve is a massive expanse of land with so many different habitats to explore, making a day trip the perfect way to experience and maximise on a stay in this world-renowned wilderness area. For guests at Okuti, pre-day trip preparation means an early wake-up call, a scrumptious breakfast, remembering camera’s, binoculars, hats, sunscreen, followed by a short walk to the game vehicle. Behind the scenes, a gourmet picnic lunch is prepared accompanied by lots of refreshments to keep the energy levels surging through-out the day!



This week Solly, professional guide, and Maths, Assistant camp manager at Okuti, both did day trips up to and beyond the third bridge area of Moremi Game Reserve. On return, they both reported a very successful day, highlighting two special predator sightings – see below for their accounts:

Solly

The Moremi Game Reserve is world famous for many reasons, one of them being the abundance of predators that call the reserve home. Near Okuti, in the region of Xakanaxa, there is a lioness who is seen regularly, mostly by herself. Last year April she had a litter of cubs which were unfortunately killed by a coalition of three male lions who were enforcing their dominance in the area.



One of these males was seen in the vicinity of the lone female recently and we had high hopes of them mating. I was on a day trip with my guests near Dombo pools, on the western Side of Moremi, when we came across the pair mating! We really hope that something will materialise and this female will be able to raise more cubs in the next few months to come.



A lioness has a gestation period of three months so we hope that the summer season and the start of the rains brings new life to the Xakanaxa region of the Moremi game reserve.

Maths

We set out on our day trip and I decided, without telling my guests, that we were going to try and find Cheetah on this particular day! This meant driving to Third Bridge where the open grassland areas present the perfect habitat to spot Cheetah. We ambled slowly along taking in the surrounded, my guests were all very focused and keen to spot animals! In the distance, out the corner of my eye I saw what looked like the majestic cat but I had to drive closer to be sure.



As we approached, there he was standing still in the long grass looking ahead at a herd of impala. There were lots of ‘wows’ and excitement coming from the back of the game vehicle as this was my guests first time seeing Cheetah.



A cheetah is a carnivorous animal preying upon smaller antelope such as impala and reed Buck. At full chase, a cheetah can reach speeds of up to 110/120 km per an hour – also part of the reason why we find them in these wide-open grassland areas where they can gain speed easily!

Blog stories and Images by: Solly and Maths

Posted by & filed under Omphile Kaluluka (Specialist Guide).

Winter has brought with it an abundance of sightings in the bountiful Footsteps area! Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, it did. Opie, specialist guide based at Footsteps and all round guru of the area has updated us on recent predator activity and with the update came excellent news that there are new additions to our resident families, read Opie's account below:

Wild Dogs Denning with Nine Puppies

We have been following this pack of five Wild Dogs for some time now and have seen a few failed hunting attempts but mostly successful ones. During one sighting I noticed the alpha female was heavily pregnant in June and I kept my fingers crossed that they would decide to find a den within the Footsteps area. My prayers were answered recently when we were on a drive looking for lions but happened to stumble upon three members of the pack, they were mobile so we decided to follow them.

In the distance I noticed the rest of the pack and as we approached I saw the den and counted nine puppies! The puppies are about one and a half months old. We watched them for a long time interacting and playing with one another, everyone in the game drive vehicle was speechless, it was a truly fantastic sighting!






Click here for a link to a video of the puppies playing at the den site

Lion Cubs

Just when we thought it couldn't get better having Wild Dog puppies denning nearby, our resident lionesses have blessed the Footsteps area with these lion cubs! One day I noticed vultures circling around an island so I decided to go and investigate, on arrival I saw the pride including the three cubs, all with very full bellies! There are two male cubs and one female and they are getting stronger and bigger by the day and hopefully they make it to adulthood without being harassed by the wild dogs, hyenas or the leopards.







Blog story and pictures by Omphile Kaluluka (Specialist Guide)

Posted by & filed under Omphile Kaluluka (Specialist Guide).

Kanana, in the Western Okavango Delta, is the land of milk and honey, the land of paradise as it’s name means in Setswana. The water in front of camp transforms into a beautiful golden colour as the sun goes down, with mesmerising colourful horizon above the tall Okavango palm trees.



 

If it’s not lions having a rest on the floodplains pondering their next dinner location or possibly their next meal, It’s the beautiful malachite kingfisher resting on a papyrus stalk after a long day fishing in the clear Okavango Delta waters.



A trip to Kanana wouldn’t be complete without a boat cruise to the world famous Heronry. At this time of the year and until about November, one will see multitudes of diverse species of birds from marabou storks to pelicans fighting for a spot to build a nest amongst the Gomoti Fig Trees which grow in the water.



The bonhomie of the birds coupled with their different calls transforms the Heronry into a complete symphony choir. The view of the heronry wouldn’t be complete without the bull elephants who spend their days feeding on the grasses that grow alongside the channels, sometimes they will wow the audience by swimming across the channel in front of the boat.



Kanana is truly the land of paradise!

Blog story and images by Walter (Assistant Camp Manager at Kanana)

Posted by & filed under Kanana, Omphile Kaluluka (Specialist Guide), Safari Stories, Simon (Kanana guide).

A few weeks ago Moses Teko, Ker & Downey Botswana Guide Trainer, reported from Kanana that this resident female leopard was hiding in the trunk of a large sausage tree (Blog link here). Moses suspected that she had cubs as she had been seen in that location for every day consecutively for a week. Two weeks later Simon, Kanana guide, and his guests went to see if she was hiding in the tree – read below for the pleasant surprise they were greeted with upon arrival at the Sausage Tree:



It was a chilly winter morning when I headed out on a game drive with my guests; my plan of action was to first drive to the Sausage Tree where one of resident female leopards has been seen lately. We suspected that she may have cubs which has created great anticipation amongst our team of guides here at Kanana!



We drove towards the tree, and there the female was, lying in the grass next to the road. As we approached we saw them, one, two, three, FOUR cubs! I couldn’t believe it! Leopards usually have between two to four cubs in a litter, the former being the most common. The cubs are about three weeks old. The mother will keep them in the tree until she feels threatened, then she will move them to another hiding place!





It was the best surprise seeing these tiny creatures and the perfect start to our game drive!

Blog Story and pictures by Simon (Professional guide at Kanana)