Botswana is a destination that has always been on Photographers on Safari’s radar. I have just completed a 17-day recce in and have condensed that into an amazing action packed two-week safari. I have long been aware that Botswana has much to offer. I was truly taken aback by just how much. The unique opportunities that present themselves when shooting from a boat on the Chobe & Zambezi Rivers will absolutely astound you. Being able to photograph Elephants at sunset was what initially drew me to Botswana, but the birdlife here is equally impressive.
Huge numbers of Elephants visit Chobe River every afternoon/evening to quench their thirst from the Chobe River. They may well have travelled anything from 40 to 80 kilometres to find suitable food. They arrive at the riverside constantly from 4pm to sunset. Some drink and retreat from the water’s edge. Some smother themselves in water and then in sand. Some swim across the river, which is approximately half a kilometre wide. If you can catch these with the setting sun behind you, they appear an almost golden colour. Others graze the short grass on the water’s edge. They pull this up complete with roots. This leads to clouds of dust around their legs. For almost an hour these scenes have various backdrops as the sun sets. They start off various shades of yellow before becoming more and more red until finally becoming a soft purple. The colours are truly incredible. The Elephants are best exposed as silhouettes that will, in turn, enhance the beautiful pastel colours behind. The Elephants virtually ignore our boat and sometimes approach to within 10 feet of us. Wide-angle lenses to the ready for these occasions !!!!!!
Please note; The colours in my photographs of the Elephants at sunset are not enhanced in any way (other than shooting with minus compensation). The colours are real. Come and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed.
The Crocodiles are equally impressive. They tend to haul themselves out of the water and sit on banks about two feet above the water. The sides of our boat are less than two feet tall. You can rest your wide-angle lens on the side of the boat and photograph these killing machines from two to three metres away. Some will have their mouths wide open and will be directly facing you. You can focus on their tonsils with no trouble at all. You can also take close-up details of their legs or tail sections. And all this at their eye level –or even lower if you wish. Some of the Crocodiles are huge, and some no more than a foot long. There are almost as many Monitor Lizards as Crocodiles, so getting some great shots of those guys is also relatively easy.
Buffalos, Hippos & Antelopes
There are huge numbers of Buffalo here. One herd is more than 800 strong. You can photograph these in all sorts of poses. Egrets and Oxpeckers are always close by. The Buffalo will also cross the river at times. Hippos will never be far away. Usually in the water and sometimes grazing on the riverbanks. We witnessed a number of play-fights in the water, and they are very entertaining at times. There are several different types of Antelope here. The rare Puku is difficult to find elsewhere. The Sable Antelopes, Kudu and the Roan Antelopes are equally impressive. The best chance to find these is mid morning as the visit the river to drink. Impalas are plentiful. Waterbuck and Red Lechwe are always present. The Tsessebes are less frequently spotted.
I will list those that I photographed. There are others present that avoided me – Lions being the most obvious ones. The most notable animals that I saw were Leopard, Honey Badger (on two separate occasions) and a pack of 9 Wild Dogs. I also came across Otters, Wart Hogs, Baboons, Tree Squirrels, Giraffes, Slender Mongooses, Banded Mongooses, Zebra and Wildebeest. The animals spotted while on safaris in Chobe National Park are quite sparse. For this reason I have only included one safari in our itinerary. It could be possible (depending on numbers) to swap a riverboat session for a second safari if preferred.
Carmine & White Fronted Bee-eaters
The attraction of staying on a houseboat is that it is moored, for a three-week period only, very close to a major nesting site of Carmine Bee-eaters. There are approximately 8,000 of these that nest in one small area. They are extremely approachable and can be photographed from just a few feet away. When a Bird of Prey arrives, they will take to the air in one huge mass. An absolute wall of colour. These birds are most active during the 3 hours after sunrise and the 3 hours before sunset. These are the times that we will spend with this species. Some people will not want to spend 5 sessions with just one subject. You will always have the opportunity to choose a boat cruise instead and photograph the other birdlife from a specialist builtfive seater photography boat. Fish Eagles nest close to this area and they can often be seen catching fish. When we get to Kasane we will spend an hour or so at a small nesting site of White Fronted Bee-eaters. These arrive with a huge variety of different insects in their beaks. They sit obligingly on thorn bushes before flying into their nesting burrows to feed their young. Little Green Bee-eaters are also occasionally seen.
This is the first time I have come across these stunningly beautiful birds. I spent quite a lot of my recce photographing them. Getting good shots of the birds on the sand or taking off and landing is not too difficult. Actually getting a pin-sharp shot of them skimming is not as easy. Their bottom beak is an inch or so longer than their top beak. They fly a few inches above the water with their bottom beak actually in the water. When they make contact with a fish they snap shut and hopefully return to land with a fish. Their failure rate is quite high, as was mine, initially, when trying to capture this scenario. I finally got what I wanted. Persistence usually brings just rewards. There is a small colony at Kasane and a much larger one near to the Carmine Bee-eaters’ nesting site.
We regularly photographed three species of Kingfishers. Pied Kingfishers are everywhere. We usually start about 10 metres away and let the boat drift towards them. We sometimes end up filling the frame with a 300mm lens. They are often incredibly tolerant of our boat and almost refuse to fly. Of course they always do at some stage, and you should easily capture a Kingfisher in flight during your safari. The Giant Kingfishers and the Malachite Kingfishers are both really stunning subjects. Both of these species were found at Kasane on most days. The Giant Kingfisher is quite plain when perched, but really colourful when in flight. The Malachite is always colourful -whatever position you find it in. The Giant Kingfisher is also present near to the Carmine Bee-eater’s nesting site.
African Darters, Egrets, Cormorants, Herons
I have grouped these together as they are all present in large numbers along the riverbanks. They are all found either perched or standing like statues while waiting for an unsuspecting fish to pass by. Most of these are quite tolerant towards our boats and will offer quality static shots as well as the inevitable in flight photograph. The Darters have amazing colours first thing in the morning when that special first light hits them. We regularly saw two types of Cormorant –the White Chested Cormorant and the Reed Cormorant. We photographed Little Egret, Great Egret, Slaty Egret and Cattle Egret. Heron species included the Grey Heron, Squacco Heron, Green Backed Heron, Goliath Heron, Black Heron, Black Capped Night Heron and the Purple Heron.
Other Bird Species Photographed
Some of the most enjoyable birds were the Fish Eagles. These were photographed on the riverbanks, in trees, on tree stumps, flying and catching fish. You would also find then eating the heads of huge Catfish and I even shot a Marsh Harrier waiting for his turn once the Fish Eagle had finished. The heads were obviously the leftovers from a Crocodile’s breakfast. I also photographed Yellow Billed Kites catching smaller fish in the river. Other species included Ground Hornbills, Sandpipers, Long Toed Plovers, Blue Waxbills, Open Billed Storks, Jacanas, Spoonbills, Long Crowned Eagle, Black Winged Stilts, Kori Bustard, Tawny Eagle, White Crowned Plovers, Egyptian Geese, Barn Swallows, Coppery Tailed Coucal, Green Wood Hoopoe, Sacred Ibis, Blacksmith Lapwing, Laughing Dove, Saddle Billed Stork, Marabou Stork, Black Crake, Guinea Fowl, Thicknees, Spur Winged Goose, Spur Winged Lapwing, Yellow Billed Stork, African Wattled Plover and a Three-banded Plover. Many more species were seen but they did not provide me with good photographic opportunities.
Specialist Photography Boats
Our provider in Kasane has the only vessel currently in that area that has been specifically designed for photographers. It has an almost flat bottom, enabling it to navigate extremely shallow waters. It has half a ton of lead in the bow so that it is really stable and sits level. It is possible to photograph with a mounted camera in all but the windiest of conditions. It has fully revolving seats, each one equipped with an adjustable Wimberley-type head. There is just one row of swiveling seats down the middle of the boat, so you can rotate and face either side without anybody in front of you. The boat’s captain is extremely experienced in getting you into the best positions and making the best use of all lighting conditions. He will also follow any reasonable instruction from myself, so you know you will be regularly placed in positions that will give you the opportunity to take some stunning pictures. The houseboat will also have a similar vessel completed in time for our 2014 visit to Botswana.
And just to re-assure those of you who may be worried about getting sea-sick. The Chobe River and the Zambezi River are both very wide, calm and flat. No waves at all.
Botswana is renowned for being a hugely expensive place to visit. I have worked extremely hard to make this unique trip affordable. We will have two nights in Zambia and one in Zimbabwe close to Victoria Falls. These will be at good quality hotels that are reasonably priced. These will be on a B&B basis. The Houseboat is really the only option that allows us to visit the vast Carmine Bee-eater colony. This is a high quality vessel that we will (subject to numbers) have to ourselves. This will be full board on a hearty Brunch + Dinner basis. We get up early and will not return to the boat until after 10am. Lunch two hours after breakfast is far too much for most people. The evening dinner is a top quality affair and all alcoholic drinks are included. The hotel in Kasane is not of quite the same very high standard. It is, however, more than adequate with good food (Brunch + Dinner) and rooms with showers, toilets and air-conditioning. All rooms are on a twin share basis throughout this safari.
Cheetahs at Victoria Falls
I have found an amazing establishment in Zambia that is home to captive Cheetahs, Lions and Caracals. We will spend two mornings here. The Cheetahs are absolutely fabulous. There are three adult Cheetahs in a large enclosure about the size of a football pitch. We will go inside the enclosure with them and there is plenty of room to get brilliant photographs without getting the wires in the background. After our time with them each Cheetah will chase a lure on a wire for 200 yards or so. They are absolutely flat out at top speed with clouds of the dry red dusty soil behind them. You will have the opportunity to get some amazing shots that top professionals would be proud of. The Cheetahs can only manage one run each, and are fed immediately after their run. Photography is normally only done at 90 degrees to the Cheetahs from a special enclosure as they speed past you. I have also gained special permission to photograph from directly in front of them. Half the group can shoot from in front and half from the side. On the second day your shooting positions will be reversed. The Caracal enclosure is quite small. Half the group will go inside the enclosure one morning and the other half the next morning. You can also opt to walk with Lions one morning if you choose. This activity with the Lions is available at extra cost and is not included in the price of your safari. Victoria Falls is best photographed from the Zimbabwe side. You will have free time to do this after leaving Botswana, as one night will be spent in Zimbabwe before our return to UK.
The Itinerary 2018
Day 1; 6th October. Depart London. Fly to Nairobi. Flight not included. Overnight in flight
Day 2; 7th October. Arrive Nairobi. Fly from Nairobi to Livingstone Airport in Zambia. Arrive 13.35 (not included). Transfer to Hotel. Afternoon free to recover from journey or free time to visit Victoria Falls from Zambia side. Overnight Protea Hotel, Livingstone in Zambia. B & B.
Day 3; 8th October. Morning visit to Cheetah Game Farm. Depart Zambia Hotel at 10am for road transfer to Kalizo. Afternoon photography at Carmine Bee-eater colony. Overnight in luxury tents at Kalizo Lodge. Brunch + Dinner.
Day 4; 9th October.. Morning and afternoon photography at Carmine Bee-eater colony. Overnight in luxury tents at Kalizo Lodge. Brunch + Dinner.
Day 5; 10th October. Early morning with Carmine Bee-eaters. 10am road transfer to Kasane. Collection from Kasane by Zambezi Voyager. Afternoon photography on Zambezi River in specialist photo boats with Zambezi Voyager. Overnight Zambezi Voyager. Full Board.
Day 6; 11th October. Morning and afternoon photography on Zambezi River in specialist photo boats with Zambezi Voyager. Overnight Zambezi Voyager. Full Board.
Day 7; 12th October. Morning and afternoon photography on Zambezi River in specialist photo boats with Zambezi Voyager. Overnight Zambezi Voyager. Full Board.
Day 8; 13th October. Morning and afternoon photography on Zambezi River in specialist photo boats with Zambezi Voyager. Overnight Zambezi Voyager. Full Board.
Day 9; 14th October. Morning game/bird photography on Zambezi River with Zambezi Voyager. Breakfast and boat transfer to our Kasane Hotel. Afternoon game/bird photography on Chobe River from specialist photography boat. Evening Elephant sunset photography from specialist photography boat. Overnight Mowana Safari Lodge. Brunch + Dinner.
Day 10; 15th October. Morning game drive in Chobe National Park. Afternoon game/bird photography on Chobe River from specialist photo boat. Evening Elephant sunset photography from specialist photo boat. Overnight Mowana Safari Lodge. Brunch + Dinner.
Day 11; 16th October. Morning game/bird photography on Chobe River from specialist photo boat. Afternoon game/bird photography on Chobe River from specialist photo boat. Evening Elephant sunset photography from specialist photo boat. Overnight Mowana Safari Lodge. Brunch + Dinner.
Day 12; 17th October. Morning game/bird photography on Chobe River from specialist photo boat. Afternoon game/bird photography from specialist photo boat. Evening Elephant sunset photography on Chobe River from specialist photo boat. Overnight Mowana Safari Lodge. Brunch + Dinner.
Day 13; 18th October. Morning game/bird photography on Chobe River from specialist photo boat. Road transfer to Livingstone. Zambia hotel. Afternoon visit Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe side. Overnight Protea Hotel, Livingstone in Zambia. B & B..
Day 14; 19th October. Morning visit to Cheetah Game Farm. Breakfast. Transfer to Livingstone Airport. Depart 14.25. Fly to Nairobi and on to UK. Flights not included. Overnight in flight. B
Day 15; 20th October. Arrive UK
Trip Cost; £4795.00
Meals where indicated on the Itinerary above. Airport transfers to and from Victoria Falls. Transfers to and from all lodges and boats. All drinks while on Zambezi Voyager. Two visits to Cheetah Lodge.
Meals where NOT indicated on the Itinerary above. International flights. Entry to Vic Falls viewing areas. Tips and items of a personal nature. Visas. (Various visas are purchased as required on location. Total visa costs approximately $120)
Can be combined with Masai Mara Safari
Your trip to Botswana can be seamlessly combined with 6 or 10 nights in the Masai Mara. Contact Photographers on Safari for details.
Contact us to book….