This is my third consecutive post from my trip with Lou Coetzer and Neal Cooper and the CNP team in early May. There are two common denominators in this post, the first is the Chobe river and the second is that every image was taken from CNP’s fantastic photographic boat. As you will see, virtually all of the shots are at or close to the water. Mammals or birds are either drinking, playing or bathing in the water and some hunting in the water.
The next shot is of my favourite antelope, the Sable. This is a lone young female. You can tell by the degree of curvature of the horns. She was very wary of what was around the water and what was in the water. These are rare, beautiful, and elegant antelope. A Sable is as agile and accurate with its set of horns as any first class cricketer.
It always intrigues me how many antelope, this Sable included, manage to keep their coats in such glossy condition. The Sable has a relatively small angular face with big brown eyes. From front on, you can see the positioning of their eyes gives them good stereoscopic and lateral vision.
The next shot is of one of two old “dagga boys”, old Buffalo bulls, who were wandering along the river’s edge and stopping every now and then to drink, unperturbed by photographic boats floating by.
One of the big advantages of photographing from the boat is that the animals are less afraid of you. That does not mean you have to be any less careful and respectful. The next image is of a couple of old Elephant bulls were walking along the edge of one of the islands in the middle of the river. I was using a 24mm lens to get the bulls in the frame, they were very close. The bull in the front could easily have touched me with his trunk with just one stride closer. The older bulls seem to be more confident and less concerned about us.
Deep shadow in the background helped profile this pair of Pied Kingfishers. The colouring and the dark background lent itself to a black and white adjustment.
There were a handful of Openbill Storks wandering in the shallows of the shoreline looking for snails and similar edibles. There were not many Openbills around in May but in the summer months you can see flocks of thousands flying overhead.
The Water Lilies are so colourful, I can’t help myself. On occasions the water surface was so smooth that it made a perfect background for these gorgeous flowers. The flowers attract insects, which in turn attract all kinds of birds from Lily-trotters to Weavers and Swallows.
We don’t see Red-billed Francolin in South Africa, so it is always interesting to see new species along the river.
Elephant Valley is a congregating point along the Chobe River upstream of the Chobe Game Lodge. This is a wonderful spot to see and photograph Elephant, Kudu, Impala, Baboons, a variety of birds and of course the always humorous warthog. The next shot is of a youngster who looked especially cute with his well groomed overgrown whiskers as he trotted brisky down to the water’s edge with his tail straight up in the air.
There are so many opportunities to take shots of scenes with different subjects and differing lighting. The next shot was taken late in the afternoon on the way back from Puku Flats where the light caught these few branches overhanging the river, against a darkish background.
This adult African Harrier Hawk strolled down to the water’s edge for a drink. These birds have striking colouring but unusually their eyes are black. I have only ever seen them hunting alone, never in pairs.
All the Elephant dung along the river bank attracts dung beetles which in turn attract birds like this Sacred Ibis. Small crocodiles are also attracted by the dung beetles.
This young crocodile turned back into the water after missing a dung beetle it was targeting on the bank.
The Puku Flats upstream from Kasane attracts all sorts of game. Late one afternoon, a breeding herd of Elephant came walking through the flooded grass plain creating an evocative scene.
Early one morning, a reasonable size herd of Impala came down to drink. It was a very peaceful scene.
That mischievous face! This young Baboon was munching on a water lily stem and obviously enjoying it.
Baboons are very wary of crocodiles and are easily spooked when drinking at the water’s edge.
We had an unusual sighting of a Shikra (similar to a Little Goshawk) but with brilliant red eyes. This little chap was bathing. Before flying down to bath, he too spent a long time watching the water looking for signs of crocodiles.
There are big ones and there are small ones too. This shot is of a female Stonechat – beautiful little seed-eater on a simple perch with a clean background.
A full blooming Water Lilly – beautiful. In this state, many insects are attracted to the open flowers.
A Green-backed Heron posing in front of a deep shadow backdrop. These small Herons don’t usually hang around for you to take the shot, so a little luck is needed.
Around half an hour after the sun sets the colours in the evening sky become very saturated. I love the shift in light and colour from the horizon into the evening sky.
This was the view from my hotel room each evening on returning from our afternoon shooting session. A quick shower and off to have drinks and dinner with everyone to share stories from the day. After dinner some hardened souls went to edit their day’s images but for most of us, all the fresh air and sun and the satisfaction of having nailed some decent images during the day was a perfect reason to put your head on the pillow. Sleep comes quickly usually with the sound of hippo talking to each other in the river.
For those of you who prefer a more leisurely game viewing experience there are always the houseboats, but if you are a keen photographer this is not the best option – CNP’s photographic boat is!!!.
I hope you have got a sense of why I keep returning to the Chobe River with my cameras. Lou Coetzer and his team make these trips comfortable, productive and memorable.
The river level will probably continue to drop from May onwards. Once it starts warming up in August-September then everything changes again. The game is different and the variety of birds expands as the migrants return.
The wonderful aspect of this river is that everything is so dynamic, you will never see the same thing in the same place, the next time you go out on the boat. I will keep going back!
The river of life is always flowing – go with the current!