Today as we broke camp we started with a quick hunt for the two-minute leopard hoping to add a few minutes to our tally. Even our best guide was amazed that we found him.
First, we looked where we had last seen him: in the tree with the kill. No leopard. Okay, he couldn't have wandered too far, so the four vehicles all set out in different directions from that tree. For the longest time we had no evidence of the leopard at all. No tracks, even. Then Adam and I both heard an impala alert and I had him drive to it. This was followed by two more impala going on alert, and we quickly did a triangulation and drove into the spot the impala were alerting to. The birds in the area were quite a bit more talkative than usual, too. As Adam put it: "somewhere within 50 meters there's a leopard." But for the longest time all we saw were trees and bushes.
Up top on the back of the vehicle Joe spotted him first, me almost instantly afterward: in the tree above us, almost completely hidden from sight. All either of us saw were a handful of spots because the foliage was so dense here (see photo, below). The leopard was trying to get some much-deserved rest, and had worked himself into a spot that was virtually invisible. Unfortunately, all we ever got was a few spots on what we could see of his side, and every now and then a foot or an ear.
The impala were still surrounding us and still sounding alerts. They couldn't figure out where the leopard was, that's how well hidden he was. They didn't dare try to run when they didn't know where the predator was, but they quite obviously wanted to get away. That little incident was probably the longest I've ever seen impala be on alert in one place, and it was all due to an invisible leopard. Eventually the smell of leopard overcame their fear of running without knowing where it was, and the impala quickly moved out of danger. But they were never in danger in the first place: this was one full leopard who just wanted to digest his meal in piece.
From the ten spots in a tree we quickly headed over to the boats that would take us to Camp Okavango, or Camp O as it is often called.
While the as-the-fish-eagle flies distance from Xakanaxa to Camp O is probably 35km, the on-water distance through the ever-weaving channels is far, far longer. Here's the overall tracking for the complete trip (thanks to Daryl for supplying the GPS track data):
Here's a zoom of the center area, where we were shooting nesting birds and then went over to a nearby shore to have lunch (bottom of track):
And finally, here's the last bit of track coming into Camp Okavango:
We left Xakanaka a bit after 10am and made it to Camp O about 3:30pm, really only stopping for a picnic lunch and a few minutes at the Mirabou rookery, which hadn't yet gotten very active (this workshop is a few weeks earlier than the last, so we were seeing the very start of the nesting).
Along the way we briefly stopped for elephants, crocodiles, and birds of all kinds, but most of the day was a nice cruise up the threads of the delta waters. Ironically, you're much less likely to get sick riding the boats. The current is low and the waters mostly dead calm, so the boat ride is smooth and doesn't rock at all. That's not at all like the Land Cruisers, which bounce and rock through the sandy double-tracks enough so that you feel like a bobble head at the end of the day.
Here are some of the day's images:
I mentioned the Mirabou rookery, and here's Mark's shot of one of our feathered friends bringing in a load of materials for the nest:
One thing that should be obvious, but I'll just point it out specifically: sometimes we can get very close to the animals. Too close:
But most of our day was an enjoyable boat ride:
Oh, and that lunch, here's Adam and I preparing it, followed by what the first student saw:
There's a bit more on a side table, including fruit and dessert. Plus your drink of choice if you didn't want champagne. Bon appetite.
If you're interested in a possible 2014 or 2015 Botswana Photo Workshop similar to the one described in this blog, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org that includes your full contact info (name, address, phone, email).