Island Holidays

There is a very special river at the south western end of the Great Rift Valley that flows steadily eastwards through a vast floodplain of quiet backwaters and oxbow lakes and lily covered lagoons to converge with the mighty Zambezi as it surges through a series of turbulent rapids to the spray fringed lip and roar of the magnificent Victoria Falls – so aptly described as the ‘smoke that thunders’ by the local tribe.

This unique river is the tranquil and beguiling Chobe that represents one of the last remaining and relatively unspoilt wilderness destinations left in Africa.

Here vast herds of elephant and buffalo still follow the ancient game trails in the surrounding woodland and migrate in season across the sprawling flood-plains as they have done for generations.

Few sights in Africa can surpass the scenic spectacle of hundreds and sometimes more than a thousand large mammals converging in thirst inspired haste along the dusty river bank to drink and sport about in the shallows at dusk as the sunset steadily unfolds in a vibrant array of colourful splendour so unique to Africa.

Elephants, African – Bathing

Carmine Bee-eater
Rock Pratincole
African Skimmer in flight
Chirping Cisticola

Lilac-breasted Roller
African Finfoot
Glossy Starling
Swamp Boubou

Yet, it is not only the elephant, giraffe, buffalo, hippopotamus and occasional lion of mega-fauna fame that command  ones on-going attention within the captivating ambiance and allure of the serpentine and seemingly benign Chobe. It is the sheer number and wide variety of birdlife of so many species in vibrant colour combinations that frequent this part of Botswana and Namibia that make it so special for visiting birders in search of new listings and exhilarating photographic experiences. Here one has a choice of bird and mammal viewing by boat offering close-up observation and photographic opportunity within the many papyrus lined waterways of the floodplain and along the heavily wooded banks flanking the Chobe National Park. Add to this game viewing in an open 4X4 safari vehicle to complete the picture and you are looking at an impressive list of potential mammal and bird sighting opportunities for those in search of the many sought after  ‘specials’  unique to this remote corner of Namibia and Botswana. Viewed in birding perspective the Impalila Island rapids at the eastern extremity of the Caprivi Strip are home to Rock Pratincole during the dry season. While upstream the exposed sandbanks support the equally sought after African Skimmer as the birds converge to breed. Watching these graceful tern-like birds creasing the burnished surface of a quiet lagoon in feeding flight during the last light of day is one of the most memorable birding experiences one can retain of this beguiling and evocative river. Overhanging branches and reed fringed backwaters offer the best chance of sighting the shy and elusive African Finfoot, along with the occasional White-backed Night Heron, asleep in the shadowy  depths of a day roost, while Coppery-tailed Coucals bubble away in seeming  contentment from deep within the surrounding reed beds.

Manoeuvring the boat silently and skilfully along the winding channels in the quieter sections of the river and papyrus islands offers the best chance of sighting the shy and secretive Swamp Boubou as bonded pair’s duet with one another in croaks and bell-like tones.

Chirping Cisticolas and Greater Swamp Warblers frequent the same habitat and provide a highly vocal backdrop of engaging notes from deep within the fringing vegetation.

Floodplain sightings from the boat along the meandering river are many and varied and include hippopotamus and Nile crocodile of impressive proportions.

Nile Crocidile
Red Lechwe

Here the open marshland supports the highly localised Puku antelope and small groups of the swamp loving Red Lechwe. One may also be lucky enough to spot the occasional water monitor sleuthing along in search of a prospective meal opportunity.

Long-toed Plover
African Pygmy Goose
Giant Kingfisher
African Elephant Herd
Chobe Sunset
African Wattled Plover
African Jacana
Woodland Kingfisher
Chobe Sunset

Wading birds are well represented along the grassy shoreline with Great White Heron, Marabou Stork, Spur-winged and Egyptian Goose, White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Duck, African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Slaty Egret, Black Heron, Squacco Heron, Rufous-bellied Heron, African Openbill, African Wattled and Long-toed Lapwing are invariably regular sightings any time of day. Lily covered lagoons and the heavily weeded shallows within the quiet backwaters are good for African and the diminutive Lesser Jacana, Allen’s Gallinule, Comb Duck, Red-billed Teal and the shy and difficult to spot Pygmy Geese hiding from view between upturned lily pads are the unquestionable highlight within the quieter section of the river. Along the well wooded south section lead-wood and water-berry trees crowd the riverbank and support African Fish Eagle, Malachite and Giant Kingfisher, White-crowned Lapwing,  Crowned Hornbill, Schalow’s Turaco, Carmine and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Woodland Kingfisher, Little and White-fronted Bee-eater, Wattled and Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Lilac-breasted and Broad-billed Roller and African Pied Wagtail along with Common Sandpiper in the summer months.

Highlight of any visit is a two night stay aboard one of the superbly equipped and serviced houseboats that are authorised to operate and anchor in the quieter upper reaches of the Chobe.

Watching elephant coming down to drink and cavort about in the shallows of Elephant Bay with an ice-cold sundowner of choice in hand is a captivating experience few can ever forget of these highly endearing and entertaining pachyderms.

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