Along the Chobe, photography from the river rather than the land side offers many benefits. Firstly, the perspective is much better. You get to look up at the Elephants walking along the river bank. This perspective produces more dramatic shots. As you can see, we are able to get really close to the Elephant without alarming them. They are not alarmed unless someone on the boat moved quickly or made a sudden loud noise. The wildlife seems to accept you more from the water side.
One morning, we watched five big Elephant bulls walking along the river bank. These bulls seemed to be a close coalition as later that afternoon we found them crossing the river together to get to the reed beds, which offered much better feeding. This is another advantage of being in a boat on the river, you get close to the Elephant swimming, cooling off and just playing in the water.
The Elephant of all sizes and ages seem to really enjoy playing in the water and they are good swimmers.
These three bulls were on route to some tasty water lilly and reed beds on one of the submerged islands in the middle of the river. They were determined to get to the salad bowl and seemed unfazed by the depth of the water. These bulls obviously knew this part of the river and the best crossing routes, as they did not go straight across the river.
You will find many herds of Elephant along the Chobe river mostly in the afternoon. There are herds of all different sizes and composition, breeding herds and small herds of bulls. In May, there were many calves, some like the one below were very small. By photographing from the water and using a long lens we can get a sense of just how big everything is around these little guys. Obviously at this age they stick close to Mum.
At this time of the year, as the flood waters are beginning to subside, there was an abundance of water lillies. Not only do the Elephant love this lilly salad but there were a plethora of blooming flowers which provided an interesting background. The waterways through the lilly beds were made by boats, Elephant and Hippos.
The flood waters spread over a wide area, especially where the ground was relatively flat. This photograph was taken of a breeding herd of Elephant making its way through the flooded grassland. The blue skies, yellow grass and sprinkles of colour from the water lillies made a beautiful setting for the Elephant to walk through.
As you can imagine, the lilly trotting birds such as Jacana’s, Gallinules and Crakes just love the abundance of water lillies at this time of the year. The lillies attract alot of insects which the lilly trotters feed on as do the Bee-eaters and Weavers.
The Elephants are not the only ones who love the abundant salad bowl. As the next shot shows, so to do the Hippo.
One morning, we came upon a pod of Hippos basking in shallow water in the river. This pod comprised mostly females, but there were a few calves too. These Hippo seemed to be blissfully sleeping in the shallow water after a busy night feeding on land. One or two pod members were always on guard just to make sure enthusiastic photographers did not get too close.
The basking Hippos provided a perfect feeding spot for all sorts of birds from Oxpeckers to Blacksmith Lapwings and Cattle Egrets. Around the Hippos were Black-winged Stilts, Egyptian Geese and Little Egrets all feeding. Numerous small fish seemed to be attracted by the Hippo dung.
As with most youngsters, once they have had a sleep they are up and rearing to play. This young Hippo was no exception, but he was surrounded by grumpy unco-operative adults trying to sleep.
With the water levels so high there were plenty of fish. The Reed Cormorants were having a grand time. This particular character caught a big mud-sucker, which it was not going to let go. He struggled for some time to kill and swallow it. It seemed too big, but he did.
There were reminders that even in paradise you still have to be wide awake. There are many Crocodiles in the Chobe River. This next shot was of an especially big character. Although there is no reference point to judge how big he really was, one measure is the shape of the face. This particular crocodile’s head was probably one-third the size of a wildebeest’s body.
Cattle Egrets fed well on all the insects attracted and disturbed by the pod of basking Hippo.
Blacksmith Lapwings were similarly attracted by all the insects around the Hippo. The Hippos did not seem to mind in the least, the birds walking all over them, even on their faces.
As you can see there are unique perspectives and close-ups of Elephant, Hippos and Crocodiles which can be achieved from a boat. The boat must be almost flat-bottomed for stability otherwise the ripples caused by passing boats and wind can make for some very frustrating photography. The boats used by CNP are custom designed to be able to get into shallow water for close-ups and provide a stable platform from which to photograph. The boat drivers have been well-trained to turn the boats so that all photographers get an opportunity to photograph the subject they are approaching. The many advantages of photographing from the water side of the riverbank can be negated if the photographic platform is unstable.
I hope you have enjoyed some more of my shots taken while in a CNP Safari on the Chobe river in early May. I had a successful photographic trip so have more shots to show you next week.
Until then have fun