Tag Archives: chobe national park

Crossing Bio-geographical Zones!

Laila has written about our crossing the Zambezi into Chobe and the profusion of wildlife and raptors we encountered on the way. The Zambezi is a broad, ill-defined ecological division zone separating the moimbo/mopane woodlands that begin in southern Tanzania and stretch almost uninterrupted across the vast countries of Zambia, Mozambique, southern Angola and into Zimbabwe. In East Africa, the open dry plains and impoverished soils that support mostly acacia are the Hollywood image of Africa. Kenya and Northern Tanzania are spoilt with their habitat. In these areas, there are specialized open grassland ungulates feeding on various levels and quality of grasses and shrubs. Many seasonally migrate in search of pasture. These animals are easily seen and photographed. They include zebra, wildebeest, cheetah, bat-eared foxes, Biesa/Fringe Eared oryx, topi, Thomson’s Gazelle. Less obviously there are a number of raptors that favour these open plains and acacia riparian lines, such as the Greater Kestrel, Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Gyps Vultures, Black Shouldered Kite and the migratory harriers.

On the fringes of the open plains as they merge with the broad-leafed woodlands are other raptors such as Brown Snake Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Bateleur Eagle, African Hawk Eagle and Ovampo Sparrowhawk. I guess the mammalian equivalent would be Impala, Kudu, Buffalo, Sable and Roan Antelope.

Many had said that the miombo woodland is monotonous and I am ashamed to say that I found this to be partly true. It restricts ones view and in south Luangwa, in Zambia for example, it was tough work searching of wildlife in the thick growth. But the density of wildlife is high for you do not have to go far before you see something. The same applied to the raptors. Within this belt and its wetlands are specialist ungulates such as Puku. To name a raptor counterpart that typifies the miombo and or its wetlands would be hard, but the Banded Snake Eagle is a good contender.

We had entered this massive belt of almost orchard-like forest and had seen both the mammalian and raptorial fauna change. Just south of the western Zambezi River basin on the Caprivi strip the land suddenly dries and the woodlands fade into open plains and deserts. One can see again for vast distances. The wildlife of the plains north of this belt and south of it are similar. North Chobe River front looks and feels like Tsavo/Samburu, Nxai Pan like Amboseli, Makgadikgadi like Mara/Amboseli. Etosha like Amboseli. To further deceive one into thinking one had happened upon the northern East African environs we encountered Gemsbok (Oryx), Springbok (a large Thomson’s Gazelle-like migratory ungulate), Steenbok and cheetah. The raptors too of course change. Martial Eagles, Tawny Eagles, Bateleur Eagles we saw in fair numbers. What excited me the most was a similar raptor to the northern east African plains, but a distinct species with similar habits … the Pale Chanting Goshawk.

These two areas, divided over a millennia or more look and feel very similar, yet different, too, and it is a an illustration in taking caution before one assumes things are all the same across this continent.

Raptors, A Cute Mongoose, and An Angry Cobra

Our second day in Chobe we planned to drive towards the other end of the park, to the Savute area. It is a tough drive there, so we returned to town to refill on fuel and spent another night on the riverfront before starting to make our way to Savute the following morning. Our first interesting sighting of the morning was a pair of Tawny Eagles mating and nest-building. Not much further and we saw another honey badger.

tawny carrying nesting stuff Chobe
Tawny Eagle carrying nesting material

We hadn’t yet left the riverfront when we stopped to photograph an Ovampo Sparrowhawk. As we watched it jump from branch to branch, I noticed a Martial Eagle about 400m high off the ground, stalling in midair before going into an impressive stoop. The Guinea Fowls noticed its approach and started alarming and running for cover. The Martial missed and went to sit on a nearby tree. No sooner had we approached the tree that she flew straight from her perch to some bushes just out of view. The Guinea Fowls started yelling again but this time it was no use. The Martial had got its talons on a young Guinea and flew to a tree to pluck and eat its prize. We watched for quite some time before we remembered that we had a tough drive ahead of us and we set off. Just as we were leaving the riverfront, we saw more than 40 vultures coming down fast to the ground. Unfortunately, what they were flying to wasn’t anywhere near the road so we could only guess at what died, and what might have killed it …

martial with kill at chobe
Martial Eagle carrying its kill: a young Guinea Fowl

We arrived in Savuti, the south-western part of Chobe NP, and were immediately struck by its potential for predators – large open areas with sporadic water holes. Zebras and Wildebeest, different races than those we were used to in East Africa, congregated at these water holes. I delighted in seeing a new species of very cute Mongoose. From the illustrations in the mammal guide, we think it could be a Selous Mongoose or a Yellow Mongoose (any carnivore specialists out there?). We also saw a different race of Topi, this one called the Tsessebe. Brown Snake Eagles and Black-shouldered Kites were our common raptors and we got very excited at seeing another Red-necked Falcon. We didn’t see any of the large ground predators, but there were plenty of signs that they were around. Large Bull elephants stood at regular intervals under tall trees, or bathed in mud puddles. Pleased with a great four days in Chobe, we returned to Kasane town where we fueled-up, ready for our next destination.

selous mongoose chobe
Mongoose (species ?)

zebras at waterhole chobe
Zebras around a waterhole

angry cobra at savuti
Angry Cobra in Savuti

Eagles and Vultures Fill the Sky at Chobe National Park

We spent a night on the Zambezi near Livingstone in southern Zambia. Countries to the north and west of Zambia had received more rain than usual for this time of year and a lot of the rain was carried by tributaries into the Zambezi. The owners of the lodge where we set up camp claimed they had never seen the water so high. The name of the lodge was Taita Falcon Lodge, so no guesses why we chose it. The rare Taita Falcon was once frequently seen there and Peregrine Falcons and Verreaux’s Eagles have nested there in the past. We sat overlooking the Zambezi running through its large gorge in the hope of seeing some of these raptors. Sadly, we just got a distance glimpse of a Peregrine and a Harrier Hawk flew beneath us down in the gorge. But what a view!

flooded zambezi
A slightly lopsided view of the Zambezi

We intended to cross the Zambezi by Ferry to get into Botswana. The amount of water in the Zambezi made this impossible and we had to make a 200km detour through Namibia. We had to cross several borders, each having its different hassle until we finally crossed from Namibia to Botswana at Ngoma. From there, we were excited to see that we could drive through Chobe National Park to get to Kasane where we planned to spend the night. It was the end of the day, so we couldn’t dawdle. On the 56km stretch through the park, we saw our first Sable Antelopes. It was quite a large herd grazing in the bush about 200m from the car. We also saw quite a few eagles and as we crossed the park boundary, an elephant. Outside the park, in Kasane town, we were amazed to see street lights and big main roads covered in elephant dung. We even saw a tree that had been knocked down by elephants in the middle of the parking lot of a shopping centre!

A 5 a.m. start the next day got us to the park at 5:30 a.m. and about 1km into the park we saw three hyenas, a mother and two youngsters. It was still dark and we slowed the car down to a stop and watched them. The mother was huge and she walked right up to my window and stared in at me. I edged a little away from the window and looked back at her.

Another kilometre or two and we got to the riverside. The Chobe River had more water in it than in living memory for most people in the area. Whole campsites were under water. It didn’t make our game drive along the riverfront any less interesting though! As it got a little lighter, we were lucky enough to see two Honey Badgers crossing the road. And as the day grew warmer, Bateleur Eagles and Vultures filled the sky and Martial Eagles could be seen perching on dead trees. We saw our first Lechwe, an endangered antelope that is adapted to wetlands. A couple of female lions hid their kill in some bushes. Huge herds of buffalo and elephants foraged by the river’s edge and played in the water. A Shikra descended upon an unsuspecting small bird and flew away with its catch. A Peregrine Falcon sat in a tree eating its kill. I also sighted my first African Hobby, distant though it was. All in our first day in Chobe NP!

eles in water at chobe n.p.
Elephants playing in the water

sunset over chobe river
Sunset over Chobe River