Botswana Workshop Blog (Week One)

The daily report from my Botswana Workshop

Note: while I wrote this blog contemporaneously during the workshop, what you're seeing here is on "tape delay." I'm playing back one day at a time so that you get the same day-by-day experience those of us in Botswana had. Newest entry is at the bottom. In some cases I'm using student images or those of my assistant instead of my own so that you get their view of a day, too. Thank you to all the students who've agreed to let some of their images be used in this blog. One comment, though, as the question came up in emails for the South Africa workshop: yes, my images sometimes look different than the students' in terms of post processing. I'm just taking what they give me and not trying to touch it up or change it in any way. I suspect some of the differences you see is simply not optimizing for small size. When I process for the Web, I have an optimization action that tries to preserve small detail.

Newest entry is at the bottom! Page currently contains Day 1 through Day 7. Week two can be found here.

Day 1: Meet and Greet
Sept 4--I spent my "chill" day baking at Montsentsela Tree Lodge in Maun, Botswana, where the rest of the group will arrive today. Temperatures here are a bit outlandish for the end of winter, with yesterday's high hitting well over 90°F. Amazingly, it's hotter here than it was when I left home in the midst of a heat wave.

Flying from Joberg to Maun reminds you of just how empty Africa can be at times. Looking at images shot through the window of the plane on the camera's LCD looked like nothing more than a bunch of dust spots. Of course, a lot of what I could see was dust. A huge boost in contrast doesn't help much:

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Driving out of Maun to the lodge was filled with surprises. Maun now is up around 75,000 residents (temporary and permanent), has many more small lodgings, a few of them heading upscale. The old airport is still operative, but not for long, as the country is building a new airstrip immediately adjacent that will handle everything up through the biggest 747. In heat. Which means that the new runway they're working on is ginormous and dwarfs the old one. Maun won't be a sleepy little town much longer, if it hasn't already started the Big Change.

Meanwhile, water is still surging down the Okavango into Maun. There's spontaneous water all over the place, as areas that have never flooded are now filled with water. Adam Hedges, our local organizer and guide, says the water is finally starting to pull back a bit, but it has created lots of havoc for mobile safaris like ours. Today one of our drivers is out scouting to make sure that one of the camp sites we were planning to use later in the trip hasn't succumbed to the wet. [Post workshop comment: it had. At least the access road to it, so a new access had to be created.]

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan
Note all the trees in water here and the lack of a bridge in the road. This is water where it hasn't been in a long, long time.

Botswana is a unique country. About 37% of the land here is either National Park or Wildlife Refuge: owned by the government and controlled by lots of fees and regulations. Obviously, that means a lot of bureaucracy, but on the plus side you get large tracts of land where the animals are free to roam and be wild. That's one of the reasons why we're here. But the paperwork to get an overland expedition through these protected areas mounted apparently isn't simple. Adam tells me that he has 22 different permits for our trip. As he likes to describe it (and he's not the only one in Botswana to do so): "this is a third world country with a first world bureaucracy." This from the head of the safari tour operators association! The clipboard of permit paper and triplicate forms on Adam's dashboard as he meets me is almost a half-inch thick. Thankfully I didn't have to fill out any of it.

Surprisingly, the bureaucracy doesn't seem to apply much to tourists. No visas. Just get off the plane, fill out a short form, get in line, have your passport stamped. Mine was stamped by one of the cheeriest and friendliest customs agents I've ever encountered. It always amazes me that in most countries the first local you meet is a grumpy or surly customs agent. Shows you how tourist friendly the world is. But my Botswana agent proved you can be friendly and still do your job.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Off to greet the first arrivals. Mostly lecture and some test shooting on schedule for later today, along with the requisite drinks and welcome dinner. Things won't really get rolling until Day 3, but when they do, watch out, as we're going head first into some prime territory where we're not likely to see another safari group, but plenty of animals.

Day 2: Around Tree Lodge
Sept 5--Because Montsentsela is a game farm, today we practiced some game drive basics, such as how to position and support cameras in vehicles, how not to bonk the person in the seat in front of you with your 600mm lens when coming down from the roof, and other similar things. Not an earth shattering day, but I want everyone to be in full command of their equipment and not rocking the boat when we get to our first interesting sightings in Moremi.

Also on the agenda was some basic focus and exposure practice, to make sure everyone was ready to deal with the situations we'll be encountering. And finally, I worked with my new students on the unique way I teach composition.

Late in the afternoon, I finished my lectures and Tony, my assistant, made his on things to watch out for when shooting wildlife. A few people took some time to chase after the ubiquitous birds around the lodge.

Copyright 2010 Anthony Medici

In short, a day with a lot of review of the basics. A side result of this review and practice is that Tony and I watch to see if we see any bad shooting habits. We want to start correcting those before the Big Shot comes along.

While all this seems boring and mundane, it isn't. I've yet to conduct a session like this where we haven't found some misunderstanding of a setting or some small handling error that'll show up in images. Moreover, many of the guests on these trips have hectic day jobs. They don't shoot every day. It takes them a bit of time to get back into the swing of things, so I try to make sure that we have everyone up to speed before putting them into the great environment we're about to enter. The one thing I don't want to have happen is have a group full of workshop students who are still trying to figure out focus and exposure when we come up on some unique or seldom seen sighting on the first drive of the workshop. Sometimes I think I'm clairvoyant. (In case you didn't notice, that was more foreshadowing. Actually, it was a repeat of earlier foreshadowing. All of which becomes more obvious tomorrow.)

Day 3: Wild!
Sept 6--
Okay, so we practiced focus, exposure, and composition yesterday. All of you reading this blog are thinking "Thom's just adding a padding day to the workshop for nothing." Read on.

We moved out of the lodge about on time, but by the time we stopped in Maun for a few last minute supplies and hit the road to the park for real, we were running a bit late. No problem, there's not a lot between us and the park, so we'll just drive on through.

Indeed, there is very little North of Maun. The asphalt becomes packed dirt becomes washboard becomes sand.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Once through the Buffalo fence we expected to see a few impala and other common sightings, but our first stop was...wait for it...wild dog. Not just a fleeting glimpse, either, but a full pack resting under a tree not far from the main road into Moremi.

The funny thing is that my vehicle, the first in our group of four, drove right past the wild dogs. I was watching the left side of the road so didn't see them. Fran in the back meekly said she had just seen something like a small dog with big ears. After getting more of a description, Adam and I both thought "jackal" and kept driving. But the second vehicle didn't make that mistake: when they saw it they knew what it was. Within a few minutes, all four of our vehicles were positioned nicely shooting wild dogs taking a mid-day break.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

To put this in perspective, wild dog is the one animal that no guide in his right mind will promise that a client will see during a trip like this. Even a two-week trip. That's because there are very few wild dogs left in the wilds. They cover huge territories, and when they're on the move they move fast and continuously. Most photographers, if they see one, see only a tail heading off into the bush. And here we were sitting with an entire pack of them perfectly oblivious to us.

So now you know why I was so bent on practice before heading into the bush. I was actually quite pleased to see that none of the vehicles were rocking, no one was firing off wild bursts of random shots, and that no one was having issues with focus or exposure. In short, the practice paid off.

The day continued with other interesting sightings, but we'll get to more animal stuff later in the blog for the trip (I'm not going to out all the animal stories on day one of a two-week trip!).

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

So we'll skip to dinner. Where we had a significant birthday to celebrate. This, of course, requires that you bake a cake. So our birthday girl gets the cake and knife to cut it. And she tries really hard to cut it and it just keeps crumbling and crumbling and...well, that's because you always give the guest the gag cake first ;~). Basically, you put a rice frosting on a pile of elephant dung and watch with amusement as the unwitting victim tries to cut it. It can't be done. Moreover, you wouldn't want to eat it. So once the locals get their laughs at the expense of the paying customer, the real cake comes out and all is well. (I hope.)

After dinner, I'm laying on my cot reading something on my iPad when I hear Tony in the latrine at the back of the tent say "Man, you can't believe the view from the toilet." Okay, Tony, let's pony up the image so everyone can enjoy what you saw on your evening constitutional.

Day 4: First Full Safari Day
Sept 7--Today was our first full and true safari day of the Botswana workshop, so let me take you through the various parts of the day.

At 5:30 am our tent stewards (yes, everyone has their own tent steward, who also cleans your tent and does your laundry) brought everyone fresh washing water and greeting us with a human and very friendly wake up call. Upon arising, a continental breakfast awaited us around the camp fire. Once powered up with coffee, tea, and whatever else got people going, it was time to load the vehicles.

By 6:20 we had left camp.

At 6:21 we stopped to photograph lions.

Copyright 2010 Adolfo Rappaport

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Yes, it was going to be that kind of day.

Once we all got tired of the lions, the four vehicles went separate ways looking for more game. Judging by the radio communication, everyone had a very successful morning. Of course, part of any successful game drive morning is a mid-drive stop for tea, which we all did together at a hippo pond. (Yes, we're on the British schedule here. The extended British schedule, with five or six food and tea servings a day.)

Copyright 2010 Adolfo Rappaport

By 11am we were all back at camp and it was time for brunch/lunch. Our chef seems to manage to make a wide range of interesting salads and hot dishes, and they're all good. You wouldn't think that we were in the middle of nowhere living in tents by the food we're consuming. For those that know me, I'm told that Adam loaded six cases of Coke Light (what they call Diet Coke here) on the truck for just the first part of the trip. So no worries, I'm fully fueled.

We're in camp from 11am until 3pm, at which time it's more tea and pastries--how did those British ever conquer so much of the world if they were always stopping for tea?-- before getting back into the vehicles and resuming game drive mode. Again we sent all the vehicles different directions. (For those that are curious, Tony and I move between vehicles each day, so that all the paying clients have one of us in their vehicle about half the time. Because we're the migrant ones, Tony and I tend to get the worst seat in the vehicle, which is usually next to the driver. But it does have one benefit: we're shooting down low. That's balanced against all the drawbacks, including that it usually is blocked from shooting to about an area of about 45° and it has far less room for equipment and personal items than the rows behind us. Since we position the vehicles for the workshop students, Tony and I sometimes find ourselves without a shot. But most of the time we find positions where all of us can shoot successfully. With only three photographers per vehicle there's generally enough room for everyone to find an angle they like.)

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

The afternoon drive netted each group something a little different. My vehicle got lucky with a large herd of elephants (34 by my count). We were able to follow them from out of the Mophane woods over to a wallowing hole, down the grass and into the water, then back into the woods at the end. The matriarch and the dominant bull both tolerated us completely, which meant that we were able to position the vehicle multiple times as we tried to get the right angle for all the different shots the herd gave us. Meanwhile, on the radio I could hear that another two vehicles were doing the same thing with a group of hippos and eventually some buffalo. I'm not sure what the fourth vehicle did most of the afternoon, but they seemed happy with what they were doing and mostly stayed in radio contact only to let us know they were still out there.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan
I've got a lot of variations on this, as do the students who were in my vehicle. None are what I'd call perfect. Note that my low angle made it difficult for me to isolate the elephants from the horizon. Also, look closely at the trunk positions. I've got some where the baby is holding mom's tail, but the other trunk positions aren't so great, I've got some where the trunk positions are 100% in sync but the legs are too static (doesn't look like they're walking). Wildlife photography is tricky. And it gets trickier the more animals you have in a shot. One animal, not too tricky. Five animals moving, very tricky.

Towards sunset, we tried to get all the vehicles back together for a sundowner (another drink and snack). Herding vehicles of photographers who are satisfied with what they're currently shooting to a single rendezvous point is like herding cats. Several of us had a few diversions before we finally reached the agreed upon place, known as Old Camp 14. But it took us so long it was literally a sunalreadydowner. We arrived. We shot the remains of sunset. We drank. We drove back to camp in the dark.

Technically, in Moremi you're not supposed to go "off road" or drive after dark. It's actually difficult to avoid both those things. This year, the "roads" aren't always passable, so new "roads" have appeared. We generally don't try to go straight overland, but sometimes we don't have a lot of choice in the matter. And we often do go a bit off road to position vehicles on animals. Likewise, it's difficult to time game drives to actually arrive back to camp before dark. If you get stuck on a great sighting far from the camp, you obviously don't want to abandon that too early. The reason you do game drives at the edges of the day, after all, is because that's when the animals are most active.

So yes, we probably are slightly over the line of the law, but we try to stay within the spirit of the place and not contribute to degradation of the area. When you see pictures of the delta from the air you realize that it would take one heck of a lot of off-roading to even approach the path making that the big animals are creating through the terrain. Indeed, many of the "roads" started out as game tracks.

During the entire day we saw exactly one other vehicle besides ours, yet we covered a pretty large area. Degradation due to a few excursions off the double-track isn't a high impact thing here. (Yes, it can be if you do it in the wrong place, but we're very careful about where we're putting the vehicle. Also, unlike in the South African reserves, we never drive over vegetation.) But I'll show both what our vehicles and the animals are doing in more detail later in this blog.

Since we're back in camp after dark, it's usually a quick hot shower (yes, hot), then on to more British style drinking (pre-dinner drinks). Then it's dinner, a bit of campfire talk, then bed.

If you add it all up, we're up for 18 hours a day, consume "tea" seven times a day, and have three pretty full meals and three small snacks. What we have little of in a safari day is sleep.

Day 5: Mustafa
Sept 8--So here's the scene: the tent I'm sharing with Tony is about twenty meters from our guide Adam's tent. Last night no more than twenty meters beyond Adam's tent lay a huge, sated male lion. His belly--the lion's, not Adam's--was so distended from his latest meal he could hardly walk. His stomach almost reached the ground.

Within an hour of lights out last night, Tony started conjuring up the most impressive snoring storm I've heard from him in the years we've been working together. Tony would let out a great snore. The lion would let out a territorial challenge roar. Tony would snore. The lion would roar. This continued for at least twenty minutes as Tony faced off the lion in a clear territorial dispute. Surprisingly, the lion blinked first. Suddenly the next roar was from a little further away. Eventually, the lion just moved off, not sure what it was that was claiming his terrain so boldly. Of course, at that point, I still had one lion to contend with and he was still in my tent raising a ruckus.

So this morning, Adam bestowed upon Tony a new nickname: Mustafa. King of the Jungle. I think I have to commemorate that some way memorable, don't you? I'm thinking of getting a small metal plaque engraved with the nickname and having it mounted on Tony's tripod. That way everyone that encounters him knows not to be in the tent next to his...

Ribbing aside--and Tony's good natured about it, so no harsh emails folks--we still had some things to do today. I asked everyone at breakfast what they most wanted to see. Leopard. Amazingly, the wish was granted within seconds of leaving camp this morning, as about 100 meters beyond where the lion was last night was a leopard in a tree.

The leopard spooked when the first vehicle approached, coming down out of the tree and off into the brush. Probably because she knew she was in lion territory and was a little nervous about all the roaring going on the previous evening. But once she got out into a field and onto a termite mound, she calmed down enough for us to approach. Better still, she posed herself perfectly on the sunlit side of the mound and curled her tail up in a cute way that everyone was instantly attracted to photographing. (Curled tail is not a "cute" trait at all; curled means "agitated.")

Copyright 2010 Adolfo Rappaport

We stayed as long as we dared, but we had a plane to catch, so reluctantly--and very reluctantly for the three cat aficionados in the last vehicle--we drove on towards the airstrip. Only to find eight lions posing very nicely and even performing some nice pride interaction behavior. Once again out came the big lenses, and we worked the scene for as long as we dared.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Copyright 2010 Michael Evans

As I wrote earlier: we had a plane to catch, so the rest of the drive was a Ferrari safari to the airstrip, where our two chartered planes showed up shortly after arriving (we were right on time, the planes were on Africa Time). Our destination now was Camp Okavango, a little island oasis in the middle of the water-filled part of the delta. We kept the plane low, and the parade of animals as we passed overhead was impressive. But most impressive was a long line of elephants we saw wandering through one of the reed patches towards water.

From the air you get the full impact of the Okavango. Wet and greener to the North Northwest, dryer and browner to the Southeast. Threads of animals tracks everywhere. Small herds of animals here and there. Just an amazing assortment of wild going on below us. Including two herds of elephants moving up one of the water channels:

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

I was in the front of the plane with a wide lens, so had an odd angle trying to shoot back under the wing; I had to have the pilot pivot the plane slightly to get this shot. But Vince in the back of the plane with a longer lens had a good shot of them as we first crossed the channel:

Copyright 2010 Vince H

Earlier in the blog I mentioned that we try to be as friendly to the land as possible, but that the animals do a fair amount of roughing up of the land. From the air in the delta you see evidence of that everywhere:

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Yes, those are all animal tracks. In fact, many of what passes for roads in this part of Africa started as animal tracks. Ecosystems are strange things. It's incorrect to believe that an ecosystem has a perfect natural state. Ecosystems are living things in and of themselves. Seeds get dislodged, water channels move due to animal paths, everything is in a constant state of flux. You can't "preserve" places like this, you can only try not to change the impacts of or influence the natural changes going on. Ten years ago, this little strip of land looked different. Ten years from now, it will look still different. But that should be a "natural" different, not a human-caused one.

The flight was over far too soon. Because the airstrip at Camp Okavango has been below water most of the year so far, we couldn't land our Cessna Caravan there and instead landed at the nearest other grass strip that hadn't been flooded. Next, we boarded our third safari transportation mode of the day: delta boats. While the distance from the strip to the island where Camp O is located isn't large, the way is through ever-twisting tendrils of stream running between reeds swaying in the wind. Crocs on the banks. Talapi in the water. A gentle flow of the water pushing us southward.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

At times, the banks felt like they were closing in on us. Heaven knows what a paranoid claustrophic person on Lariam would think of the ever constricting waterways we used, but it was a very different experience from the Land Cruisers, and everyone had a big smile on their face when we reached Camp O.

But the day was not done. After the requisite afternoon high tea we were off in two person canoes to be poled through the nearby delta. Much macro mahem ensued as little frogs, dragonflies, water lillies, and more came into our viewfinders from only a few inches above the water and a few inches from the subject. To wit, here's my shot:

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan/

And here's how close Tony when he was trying to get the same shot:

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan/

At the end of a couple of hours wandering through the sedge, we gathered for a group picture, and came onto the camp's barely dry airstrip, where we had our sundowner (and all the photographers did more shooting than drinking).

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Another long Botswana day, and one with so many little twists and turns for the students that everyone had a big grin on their face by the end of the day.

For the record: four forms of transportation and everything from 600mm shots at distance to teeny macro work at canoe side. Now that's a day's worth of photography.

Day 6: At the Speed of Africa
Sept 9--After every long transport day, even one as enjoyable as yesterday, I try to make sure that we have a slow day that follows. Being constantly on the move--the most we spend at any place on this trip is three nights--means that if you don't have a simpler, slower day every now and then your gear ends up in a random state of chaos and your get more and more anxious along the way. Neither makes for great photos. So today we're getting up a little later, starting slower, and doing things at a more relaxed pace.

Once we had consumed breakfast our destination was Lopis (LOW-pez) island. This meant another boat ride through the reeds where we found a beautiful purple heron to photograph. We got almost the whole heron experience: standing there appearing to do nothing (but actually fishing), a bit of grooming, a successful fish grab, and eventually the heron moved off of the spot further into the reeds. We were hoping for a heron take-off, but the bird wasn't stressed with our presence and pretty much just ignored us as we tried to keep the boats positioned in the current. Like a lot of things in Africa, the heron is well camoulflaged for its environment:

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

You might be surprised to find that there is a current in a system that essentially doesn't outlet into anything. There is. It's gentle but constant. As the water piles down from Angola and ends up in the Okavango it gets pushed through the mostly flat sands of Botswana. On wet years like this one, the push is relentless and water reaches all the way into the Savute Channel and to places like Maun. In dry years--which Botswana had a 40+ year string of until last year, the water doesn't push very far down the delta and the Savute Channel is dry. Still, the water runs until it evaporates, so there is a current.

After dozens upon dozens of bends in the channel we reached our destination. On Lopis Island we went on our first walking safari. We saw plenty of animals, though with a big group like ours they tended to walk away from us pretty quickly. Still, seeing gazelles, wildebeest, baboons, bushbuck, and more from ground level changes one's perspective on safari. From the vehicles, especially looking down on things from the roof, one doesn't feel very vulnerable. Walking through the bush like the animals does. That was made even more obvious when as we came back to the boats we passed a pile of wood knocked down by elephants and we saw a mamba slither off into the pile. Mamba is one of the things we don't want to see on the trip if we can avoid it, but there it was, fortunately scared off by the large group of walkers. This is one of the reasons why we stay together in our walks, actually. There's a small degree of extra safety in numbers, and there's absolute danger if someone walks off on their own. (For the record, Adam had his gun with him.)

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

The afternoon was a walk on another adjacent island, and this one proved more fruitful (a smaller group went, as about half elected to hang around camp and catch up on chores or try their hand at bird photography (the grounds here are like an uncaged bird exhibit at the zoo: you're likely to see any and everything). A monitor lizard ran by the group giving every one their first good reptile shots. Moreover, they managed to find some elephant on their walk and got to see them from a closer and different view, too.

Copyright 2010 Adolfo Rappaport

I used some of the down time between walks to do more image reviews. There's already been some very good shots taken, but all of us are still struggling from time to time with getting unwanted things out of our pictures. The grass and bush here is dense and nearly ubiquitous. Unwanted stumps or termite mounds seem to pop up in the background more often than anyone would like. Groups of animals get a lot of overlap amongst them, which is difficult to deal with. The big thing everyone is learning very rapidly on this trip is that you need to be constantly on the lookout for things popping up in your photo that you really don't want. It's easy to get distracted by the fantastic leopard laying in front of you, but you can't get too myopic or Africa will throw things into your shot you don't want. You can only do something about it if you see it. So getting everyone to see all that clutter is one of my jobs during image review. (What do you do about it? Move the vehicle is one thing you can do. Even moving a few inches one way or the other sometimes gives you clear shots.)

Meanwhile, Tony and Vince decided to spend the day at the bar. Well, not quite at the bar, but just in front of the bar. That's because there was a lot of bird activity in front of the lodge, including a weaver's nest (look for the two mouths open just above the mom's head):

Copyright 2010 Anthony Medici

All in all, today was a day about slowing down to the pace of Africa. We weren't in a hurry for anything. We didn't wander far. Some didn't wander at all. We walked slowly and deliberately in the bush. The interesting thing is that when you do slow down and get to the pulse of Africa, good things start to happen. You see little things you didn't see before. You're even more aware of the sounds and smells. You see the tracks and the scat and other evidence of the animals' presence. Hitting the pace of Africa is when you start making better photographic decisions.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Day 7: Ele in the Channel
Sept 10--Our stay at Camp O was short. Too short. Everyone regretted having to say goodbye to our little oasis in the delta.

Today we were back on the move, using boats to get from Camp O to our mobile tent camp, which has been moved to Xakanaxa.

Boating through the reeds in the delta alternates between boring and exciting. Most of the time, it's pretty much the same thing over and over: narrow twisting water channel with reeds on both sides. You've got maybe a 100 meter view of water in front of you until the next turn and both sides of the passage are wall to wall reeds. The channel itself just twists and twists and twists. So to get from point A to point But you might travel ten times further than you would if it were a reasonably straight line. Because the lead boat had a roof and two people at a time were up there, every now and then the second boat I was in would see two heads going the other direction above the reeds on one side of the channel.

The infinite reed boredom gets broken by a few tasty little treats, though. Every now and again you stumble upon something like a crocodile in the reeds. This morning we encountered one dead croc floating belly up and ready to pop. Normally after a couple of days laying dead like this, we'd have seen vultures circling, but the vulture story here in Botswana is a sad one.

Pouchers don't like vultures. That's because a swarm of vultures flying above your illegal kills gives the anti-poaching police somewhere to look. So the remaining few poachers are now into poisoning the vultures. They'll put out a carcass with poison on it and kill off a ton of vultures without firing a shot. Unfortunately, the poachers are exceedingly short-sighted. Vultures are a necessary part of the ecosystem. For most carcasses in the wild, there is a parade of things that appear in sequence. But the vultures are one of the key participants, as they open up portions of the animal that others can't. Moreover, the vultures are part of the anti-bacterial control on carcasses. The more you learn about the way life in the African wilds works, the more you discover that every last creature is part of a much larger system, and if you remove one creature, other things start to break. Thus, the huge loss of vultures in the area adjacent to Moremi is a big deal. Ultimately, it's going to have an impact on every animal here.

After more than an hour of stumbling through reeds we got to one of the big lagoons that dot the delta. In the center of that first lagoon was our next bit of excitement: an island just overrun with nesting birds. Egrets, Marabou Storks, Cormorants, and a seemingly unending supply of other birds put on a show, as they took off, landed, and built nests. Heck, I even saw two Marabou mating (which isn't exactly a pleasant sight). We spent almost an hour with Bird Island, and we barely moved more than 100m along its shore.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Copyright 2010 Anthony Medici

But the big excitement of the day was still to come.

After lunch we entered back into more labyrinthian passages of reeds. Some of these passages narrow down to 10 feet or so, and most are rarely wider than 20 feet. So we're always in a some very tight quarters. As the first boat rounded one turn in the reeds they saw a dark hump in the water. The immediate reaction was "hippo." But it wasn't, it was a submerged bull elephant. That fact became known very quickly as my boat came round the bend and the elephant surfaced and went through his aggressive posturing. I'd have been aggressive, too. Here he was enjoying some sort of bath in the middle of nowhere when along comes some noisy things stirring up the water. For a photo group, though, this was one of those superb photo ops you wish for but never promise. We got ear flaps, trumpeting, water splashing, posturing, and much more before the elephant finally tired of trying to scare us off and found an old game trail into the reeds and disappeared. Not that it could have scared us off. We needed to wait for it to clear the channel in order for us to proceed to Xakanaga.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

It didn't matter what else happened the rest of the day, everyone will remember the ele in the water. So I'll just close with that and let you imagine all the wonderful things we saw afterwards.

Oh, no, I can't quite end that way. Here's the scene at lunch (taken with my iPhone):

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