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Archive for November, 2012

Botswana Trip Report 2012 – part I

Day 1
This is the beginning of the rainy season in Botswana .( Nov 27th). The prices were half of the peak time rates. Our tour leader is Ty Smedes, a well known Des Moines, IA area nature photographer and author. It was organized by wild sources based in Colorado.

The 14 hr flight on Delta from Atlanta to Johannesburg was bumpy but uneventful. . The whole group ( Ty, Rich, Donna, Julie and myself) stayed the night in the city lodge at the airport which is very conveniently located.

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My room, City lodge at OR Tambo airport, South Africa.

Day 2
My finalized checked luggage weighed 47lbs which is just over 44 Ibs allowed by Botswana air. The backpack weighed 33 lbs. The other carry on had my laptop and the iPad. They were both way over 7kgs allowed. In fact, all 5 of us were over weight and had two carry on items instead of one allowed by Botswana air.
The nice lady at the counter never weighed our carry on. My kiboko bag barely fit into the overhead compartment.

Air Botswana plane we flew

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We arrived in Kasane , Botswana after an hour and a half flight. Our first two nights will be at Chobe game lodge at Chobe National Park. The lodge is old and rustic. It overlooks the Chobe River. I could tell that the rainy season had already started. The trees were budding with new leaves. The water puddles were everywhere. Newborn impalas were a common site.
In the afternoon we decided to take the boat ride along the Chobe river. Teekee, our guide was excellent in maneuvering the boat so we could get close to the shore line without spooking the birds. There were many kingfishers, cormorants, open bills, crocodiles and other animals.We were able to use tripods on this flat bottom boat without difficulty.

Day 3.

We have asked our guide at Chobe Lodge to purchase 50Kg of beans to fill our bean bags. What we didn’t realize was that beans were very expensive and it would have been much cheaper to purchase rice instead. The open top vehicles in Botswana are not well suited to use bean bags. Ty, the group leader got the guides to modify the vehicles by tying two poles to each side of the vehicle at shoulder height. The bean bags were place over the poles and then secured with bungee cords. This worked extremely well.

Modified safari vehicle.

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The morning drive started just before sunset soon after we had coffee and cookies. This particular morning the sunrise was gorgeous. We saw impalas, elephants, jackals and many birds. The african sea eagles were everywhere. For the first time I was able to try my Nikon V1 camera attached to 200-400VR lens using FT-1 adaptor. With the V1 sensor’s 2.7Crop factor 200-400 became 540-1080 lens while maintaining a constant aperture of 4.

This picture of the sea eagle was taken with V1 + 200-400+ 1.4TC giving effective focal length of 1512mm. I was pleased with the results. The VR function of the lens come handy at this focal length. The downside is Vr is always on. This can drain the battery. The only way to turn off the VR is to turn off the camera or switching off the VR knob on the lens. Another limitation is that it only allows single Af.

harshaj_121129_55In the afternoon we decided to explore the Chobe river by boat. The highlight was the elephant herd that came to drink water.

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Day 4.

I got up early in the morning to get sunrise shots along the Chobe River. Both the Pied and the Giant kingfishers were active but skittish.

Around 10Am we drove to Kasane airstrip to fly to Suvatu area of the Chobe National Park.

Our ride.

harshaj_121130_112Arriving at Savute  International Airport

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Savuti is a remote part of Chobe NP famous for Lions and Leopards. The movie Eternal Enemies was made in this area. In 2010 after 28yrs, the channel started flowing through Savuti creating a marsh rich in wildlife. The next three nights will be spent at Camp Savuti located on Stolen River.

Welcoming party at camp Savuti

harshaj_121130_173 My home for next three nights.

harshaj_121130_178Dinning area in the camp.

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The afternoon was spent exploring the park. The water from Savuti channel transform this dry area into a lush marsh full of life. Hundreds of yellow bill storks., egrets, ibis, plovers and many other wading birds were seen.

Savuti Marsh

harshaj_121130_21-2One thing that struck me was the number of elephant carcases seen in that area. I counted more than twenty. This is a result of over population and lack of food due to drought. One of the guides thought that anthrax may be responsible as well.

Malibu storks feeding on a carcass.

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Day 5
It rained all night and into the morning. What appeared to be a gloomy day turned out be one of the best days of the trip. We left the camp around 6am. At 6:07 I saw a Stepp eagle perched very closed to the road. Then we found a lion mating with two lionesses. We spent most of the morning watching the honeymooners. In the afternoon my vehicle spotted a leopard. We had at least 30 minutes with this magnificent animal before it disappeared into the woods.

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Towards the sunset, another vehicle spotted a pair of mating leopards. They have seen them mating at least 7 times. When we got there, the light was quickly vanishing. The leopards were resting under a tree but no mating was seen.

Day 6.

We head out to the area where the mating leopards were seen last evening. They were nowhere to be found. Our guide and driver KG found new leopard tracks. We followed them for nearly one kilometer through the shrub into a baobab forest.

Part of the Baobab forest.

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Then we caught a glimpse of a leopard coming down a huge Baobab tree. I was little late to react to the situation. In a hurry I just aim at the tree and took this picture. She was gone in a flash. Nest hour so we saw the pair mating and hear the growling male after the each act. However they were behind a heavy overgrowth and we never able to get a clear view of them.

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Day 6,7 and 8

We had our sixth leopard sighting. She is known to have two cubs only few months old. The mother was found resting on the ground. The cubs were nowhere to be seen.

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It was time to leave Savuti area and head to Okavango Delta. Our next destination is Mapula lodge situated on a private concession of 12 000 hectares in the northwest seasonal floodplains of the Okavango Delta – the concession borders with the world-famous Moremi National Park. The flight from Savuti to mapula took less than 30 minutes.

Areal view of the Delta.harshaj_121203_279The lodge is located overlooking a lagoon. I could see a dozen hippos swimming at any given time. The staff and guides were most accommodating and welcoming.The facilities were outstanding.

My tent and the tub

harshaj_121203_303harshaj_121203_304One thing I found was that the birds and animals tend to be skittish compared to other places we visited. The birds especially take off way before I could get closer to them to get a decent shot. Impalas that are very used to people in other camps disappear at the sound of the vehicle. The camp is bordering a village and there may be some poaching going on. This may explained the behavior of the animals. It is pitty that this is happening as the lodge is located at the most beautiful place and the staff is outstanding.

I woke up to this sunrise the next morning.

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Everyday we were at the Mapula lodge, we cross this ancient bridge made out of log. On either side of the bridge was a pond full of life. At any given time there were several piep kingfishers fishing. There were African Jacanas on liily pads, blooming lotus flowers, cormorants, egrets, pigmy teal and many other wildlife. Somedays we spent a fair amount of time watching the life below.

harshaj_121203_295Distant thunderstorm

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This area is  home to a famous pride of lions. The three lion brothers are known to take down elephants. We came across the brothers on more than one occasion.
The wild dog pack at Mapula was not seen. On our last day we got to see the rare but beautiful Sable antelope.

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Botswana 2012 Trip Preperation

Cheetah family, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

My Botswana safari is almost around the corner. This will be my third trip to Africa.
I have been debating what equipment to take on my trip. Unlike Tanzania and Kenya the vehicles used in Botswana have open tops. That means using bean bags ( that work very well in Tanzania) going to be difficult.. My trusty 600VR is too heavy to handhold. After doing lots of research I have decided to leave my 600 behind.
I take the Botswana air flight from Johannesburg to Maun, to get to Botswana. Their carry on wt limit is 7kg and check luggage limit is 20kg. This also factored into not taking the big lens.

Here is my finalized equipment list.
Lenses.

200-400VR will be my main safari lens. 70-200VR and 24-70/2.8 will be my other lenses.

Camera
D800 is the main camera and D3 will be backup. I am also excited to use Nikon V1 mirror-less camera and FT-1 adaptor on this trip. The adaptor allow me to use all my Nikon lenses on V1 . With the 2.7 crop factor my 400mm will become almost 1000mm.

Camera bag- Gura gear kiboku

Carbon Fiber Gitzo tripod, a monopod ,RRR BH4 head and two bean bags . The bean bags get filled with beans in Botswana .

Ultra book computer for editing and iPad
1tb hard drive, 160 GB hyperdrive and 150gb cf cards for storage

It is rainy season in Botswana so I will be carrying my light rain coat, covers for my bags and few garbage bags to cover the lenses.
Tape, utility knife, head lamp and paper clips
Pillow case to cover camera during the day- it is dusty over there.
Lens cleaner, paint brush to clean the lenses and a rocket blower to clean the sensor if needed.
List of all camera gear and the serial numbers in case of a loss.
Battery charges and extra batteries.
SB 900 flash with better Beamer .
Personal items and medications.


East Park, Mason City, Iowa

This morning I decided to check the eagle nesting sites near Mason City. The two sites that I have been photographing last year  showed no activity. On my way home I drove through East Park and found hundreds of Canada Geese in the river.

Landing

Then I saw a pair of Eagles right next to the road.  The female was in the shade but the male was having a nice sun bath.

D800+600VR on a bean bag


Elk

One  of my favorite  shots from yellowstone.

D800, 600VR +1.4TC