Predators galore!

Feedback from Machaba Camp, Okavango Delta – Part I

Machaba Camp lies on the bank of the scenic Khwai River on the north-eastern edge of the Okavango Delta. In May 2015, Brendon Cremer and I had the joy of hosting back to back ODP Safaris at this magnificent wildlife photography destination. Here’s the low-down on what we saw and photographed:

Lechwe herd standing in grass plains in a dusty sunset
A breathtaking sunrise over the Khwai River early in the morning

Golden lechwes (PM drive – 23 May)

Our safari started on the afternoon of a sunny Saturday, the 23rd of May, and less than a kilometre from camp we came across close to a hundred elephants feeding and splashing along the Khwai River. Breeding herds are not present all year round, so spending time with a herd of this size was a real treat. We were especially grateful for this phenomenal sighting when only old bulls made their way to the water for the rest of the first safari.

The G&T’s came out on the remarkable Lechwe Plains – an expansive open area on the boundary of Moremi Game Reserve that attracts hundreds of red lechwe antelope every day. Photographing them at sunset was a pleasure, especially after a vehicle drove past behind them, kicking up dust and turning the horizon into a golden haze. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the safari…

Two wild dogs finish off the remains of an impala near
One of the two Cheetahs standing in dirt road

A predator Grand Slam! (24 May)

Few people have seen the ‘Grand Slam’ of predators – lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog and spotted hyena – in one day. We wouldn’t have either, if not for the skills of our excellent guides. It was a memorable day for them as well, since nobody from Machaba Camp had seen cheetah in the area since the camp reopened early in 2013.

When Brendon and his guide, Leopard (yes, his name is Leopard and yes, it causes a bit of confusion over the radio…) found a fresh set of cheetah tracks, they tracked the animal down close to camp and realised that it was not alone. We spent nearly an hour admiring two cheetah brothers that had decided to explore the Khwai Concession for the first time (that we know of) in over two years. After the pack of seven wild dogs on the remains of an impala kill, three lionesses and the spotted hyena we’d already spotted that morning, this unexpected sighting brought our Grand Slam tally up to 4 out of 5.

Our sundowner spot, Leopard Lagoon (named after the animal, not the guide), lived up to its name and completed our predator Grand Slam with a very relaxed female leopard named Matsebe.

A fork-tailed drongo takes off from branch
Silhouette of Elephant at sunset

 Back lit ellies and lions (25 May)

We decided to spend some time with the wild dogs on the morning of the 25th, but en route to their den we came across a couple of elephant bulls dust bathing. Surrounded by wild sage, their silhouettes stood out against the golden backlight in stunning contrast, and they weren’t the only creatures we managed to capture in backlight that day. Four young lion males were kind enough to pose for a few classic ODP Safaris backlight photos near Khwai River Lodge, allowing us to photograph their profiles with perfect rim light and even a few grass inflorescences lit up on the side.

Other highlights included a few striking portraits of the wild dogs resting at their den, a fork-tailed drongo in flight, and a tawny eagle posing handsomely above us, right next to the vehicle.

Silhouette of backlit lion photographed at night
Side view of Wild dog lying in grass
Leopard walking with guinea fowl kill

Guineafowl for breakfast (26 May)

Half the group opted to explore the concessions scenic waterways on Mokoros – traditional dug-out canoes propelled by polers – but before they got to their drop-of point, we were stopped by a chorus of alarming tree squirrels, red-billed francolins and helmeted guineafowls. Initially, we thought they were shouting at a nearby eagle, but after a few minutes we spotted Matsebe, the same relaxed leopardess who had rounded out our predator grand slam, making her way into a thicket with a mouth full of guineafowl. Fortunately, we were able to follow her and watch her devour the bird right in front of us.

We ended the day with a lovely group photo against a magnificent orange sunset next to Matsweri Pan.

Photographers enjoy a relaxing morning on a mokoro trip

All good things come to an end (AM drive – 27 May)

After having seen so much in our first seven drives, we decided to take this last drive slow. We lined up at the edge of the water with our longest lenses to capture the waterbirds of Matsweri Pan. African jacanas, pied kingfishers, squacco herons and African fish eagles all made an appearance and kept the shutters clicking until it was time to head back to camp to pack.

Fortunately for Brendon and I, the second group was about to arrive, which meant we could do it all over again…

Look out for part II of the Machaba Camp feedback for the highlights of the next safari.

Villiers Steyn

A photo of a group of people taken at sunset by a lake