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.