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Here you can find a few posts translated to english, especially those about Africa:

A BIRD FEEDER... IN BOTSWANA

Well, I´m finally here in Madrid after having spent an amazing week in Northern Botswana and Zimbabwe... no words: it´s just been so amazing!! We met a wonderful group, our guide was incredible and we saw a huge amount of animals: so many birds (and of course many other animals as well)!

The first "adventure" of our safari was just after arriving at Botswana´s tourist capital, Maun. The hotel where we spent the first night is actually very close to the river that flows by Maun: the Thamalakane river, a channel of the Okavango: talk about a great scenery! That guarantees a large amount of birdlife, and since there were several bird feeders, the spectacle could not be greater: here´s a few shots of the many I took:



What a better way to start the trip: an african openbill (Anastomus lamelligerus) looking for some invertebrates in the river at dawn... Thanks to the backlighting you can see the "hole" in his beak when closed, hence the name!
Very close to the river, when it´s just begining to clear up in the morning, birds start to come to the feeders. This odd silhouette is all you can see of one of the most emblematic and beautiful birds in Africa...
... the hornbill. This one in particular is the southern yellow-billed hornbill (Tockus leucomelas), a pretty large bird: they can reach 60cm, way more than our european magpie!
It also has a long, striking bill with a casque, that makes him easy to identify
In fact, it is that striking bill that makes him known as "the flying banana"!
The best thing about this part of Africa is that, since animals are not chased by humans, they have become waay confident (just the opposite as here in Spain), as you can see in this swamp boubou (Lanarius bicolor), confidently jumping around by the swimming pool...
... allowing me to get very close and taking some nices shots of this little birdie with a peculiar background
Weavers are also common here. They are related to sparrows, but these have this amazing ability to build nests and roosting sites in the branches of the trees by weaving grasses, animal hairs... This one in particular is the brown-throated weaver (Ploceus xanthopterus), a jewel of this part of the Okavango Delta
It´s such a thrill to see animals so gorgeus at close quarters!
Here you can see how, when still not hit by direct sunlight, the weaver appears to shine in comparison to the bulbul and the dove
Dove like this one, the laughing dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) which is perhaps the most common bird around
It has a nice, flute-like call: if you listen carefully to an african wildlife documentary, you´ll hear this dove calling in its six-syllabus song: koo-koo-ku-ru-kutu-koo!
Here you can see her in her favourite branch with the rising sun in the back: a beautiful image!
Branch that is shared with the red-eyed dove (Streptopelia semitorquata). The red-eyed dove has a translation for her song, an UH-UH-UHUHUHUH!: she seems to be saying "I am the-red-eyed-dove"!
I didn´t expect to see a coucal feeding in a feeder, but these coppery-tailed coucals (Centropus cupreicaudus) had no problem in doing so!
This large birds (almost half a metre in lenght) aren´t easy to spot because they spend most of the day hidden, except at dawn and dusk: lucky me to get the timing right!
But possibly the stars of the feeder were these, the Hartlaub´s babblers (Turdoides hartlaubii), some highly-sociable birds that move through the forest babbling and looking for food
Needless to say I had never seen this bird species before, so when I took this shots I didn´t even know what they were!
Food isn´t the only way to attract birds: here you can see three babblers having a drink after their bread-breakfast
In this photo you can appreciate how the laughing dove (like all doves and pigeons), can drink by sucking water. All other birds have to get the water in their beak and then quickly pull their hed back!
And since not all in the feeder were birds, here´s a nice fruit-eating Smith´s bush squirrel (Paraxerus cepapi)


And all this was just in the first day´s sunrise in Maun!










XAKANAXA: MOREMI´S JEWEL

Even though I would have loved it, we couldn´t stay in Maun´s hotel enjoying its bird feeders, but it was for a good reason: we were starting our real safari! The first reserve we visited is part of the Okavango Delta: the famous Moremi Game Reserve. Moremi isn´t a very big reserve (some 5.000 square km, more or less like La Rioja, here in Spain), but it is just unbelievable. It has an amazing variety of ecosystems (with places as special as Chief´s Island, this huge island in the Okavango, in honor to Chief Moremi of the BaTawana tribe) and of course, lots of animals: 500 bird species just to start, only a few less than in the whole of Europe. And, needless to say, one of the last strongholds of the african wild dog (which we had the huge luck to see), besides lions, leopards, cheetahs...

One of the most beautiful areas of Moremi is called Xakanaxa (pronounced Kakanaka), and it is a dry sabanna with scattered trees and mopane forests, as well as some lagoons that allow to observe a big amount of animals: summing up, a perfect place!

Here you can see a few snapshots of the birdlife we saw in the two days we spent in Xakanaxa:


A solitary tree in Xakanaxa´s plains at dawn, allowing you to see the drought of this time of year
A drought that contrasts with the flooded pans that manage to keep their water throughout the year. It is such a diversity of environments that enables to spot so many animals
However, we didn´t even need to enter the reserve to see the first birds. In the entry gate, while we were doing the check-in. I spotted a flock of birdies...
 ... the arrow-marked babblers (Turdoides jardineii), cousins of those we saw at Maun
They were very confident, and thanks to that I could get very very close without them even bothering. Quite a luck that the dry-leaf background matched the red orange of the babbler´s eye: thank you babbler for choosing that branch!
It´s also great to lay on the ground to get some eye-level images
They are highly sociable birds, moving around in flocks in search of food. That gives them extra protection, and they seem to be one of the most intelligent birds around!
But the Bird Intelligence Nobel Prize definitely goes to the  fork-tailed drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis). In the dry areas where they coexist with meerkats, the drongo has a remarkable strategy to get his food: stealing it from the meerkats. To do that, he waits for the meerkats to capture some insect, scorpion... then he mimics the call of a raptor. The meerkats, terrified, flee to safety, and the drongo gets his prize. But within time, the meerkats learn about the trick. Amazingly, the drongo now switches strategy: he now mimics the meerkat call for raptor! That way, he gets the food again
Birds: 1 - Mammals: 0
Similar to the drongo is this starling, the Burchell starling (Lamprotornis australis), named after William John Bürchell, like the Burchell zebra or the Burchell coucal
It is very frequent in this eastern extremity of Moremi, and every few minutes you can enjoy its iridescent ploumage... but mind you, him waiting for you to take a pic at close quarters is a whole of a matter!
The red-billed hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus) is also quite common: sometimes too much, because as you see them so frequently, you postpone taking a photo of it... just to realise the safari has ended and you didn´t take any!
 This one I didn´t forget to take pictures of (you can bet that)... It´s a Magpie shrike (Urolestes melanoleucus), known in Spanish as the "pied shrike". I had seen many photos of this gorgeus birds, but I really dind´t expect to see one: I was soo happy!
 These shrikes live in groups of several individuals that fly around flapping their long tail feathers: what a flying beauty
The same dry landscapes inhabited by the Burchell starlings are also to home to this birds: Namaqua doves (Oena capensis). They are tiny, almost as a sparrow, but beautiful. I was thrilled to be able to take a photo of such a lovely animal
Also as gregarious are the Guinea fowl flocks, this one being the helmeted (Numida meleagris),one of the most famous and emblematic birds of Africa
Less common is the Swainson´s francolin (Pternistis swainsonii), one of the many species of francolins that can be seen here. 
Being relatives to our quails, the crested francolins (Dendroperdix sephaena) look quite similar to them. These two were foraging for food one early morning
Although similar to them, this one doesn´t have anything to do with the francolins. In fact, it´s more closely related to pigeons and doves
It´s a sandgrouse, in particular the Burchell sandgrouse! (Pterocles burchelii), just like the Burchell starling. It doesn´t take the chicks more than a few days to keep up with their parents
And that morning, just by the sandgrouse, we found this Dickinson kestrel (Falco dickinsoni), a small raptor that had quite the love for his perch: next day, same hour, we drive past the same tree, there he is!
The raptor family is certainly well represented in this area of Botswana: here you can see the yellow-billed kite (Milvus aegyptius), a close relative to our black kite. He was eating the leftovers of an impala carcasss, a wild dog kill made that very same morning (we saw the dogs resting afterwards, but witnessing the hunt... talk about an exciting spectacle!!). This is how the body was at about 3ish...
... and this about 5ish that same afternoon: nothing goes to waste here!
In the foreground you can see the hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus), kown locally as The Barbage Man, and behind him the white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus)
This amazing scavangers are sadly threatened, though here in Xakanaxa they definitely have a safe home! They are very caring parents, and only produce one egg per season: if they are lucky, the little chick will grow up to adulthood just like this one
And I finish with this image of the vultures and the marabou stork resting after their impala dinner against a pink sunset near Third Bridge: an unforgettable moment!

And this was just part of what we saw in two days at Xakanaxa! In the next post I will upload some more shots about this remarkable part of Moremi







MORE ABOUT XAKANAXA

As you could see in the previous post, we saw a vast amount of birds in the drier parts of Xakanaxa (Moremi) in the couple of days we spent there, but in fact we saw way more birdies... Here I leave a few images, but in this case of the wetter areas of the park:


A beautiful landscape of Moremi´s lagoons: a tree at dusk that seems to have many leaves... those turning out to be birds!
It in this swampy areas where most wildlife converges, as seen in this photo of a quiet morning in a hippo pool (hippos included!)
For the animals, this last water strongholds are a life insurance, enabling them to withstand the tough dry season
This beautiful bird is perhaps the most frequent alongside the marshes: it´s the blacksmith plover(Vanellus armatus), named due to its call, a metallic bang resembling that of a blacksmith forging
  It is increasing its range, but that can turn out to be dangerous for other water birds: the blacksmith plover is very agressive and it won´t hesitate in attacking other plovers and jacanas
In fact, we saw them many times beating up other lapwings, sandpipers... and even a couple of kites
Though possibly the most beautiful of all the water birds in Moremi´s marshes is this jewel. the african jacana (Actophilornis africana)
The african jacana has quite a peculiar breeding behavior: they are poligamous, but instead of creating harems of females, those are of males. Therefore, a female will mate with several males and it will be them who take care of the offspring
The one thing I didn´t know is that jacanas are also known as "Jesus birds" because of their ability of walking over the water! In this shot you can see the huge feet that allow her to move through the water lilys
Here you can see the squacco-heron (Ardeola ralloides) in a great performance of stealh: gosh, it took me so long to find it!
A common egret (Egretta garzetta) ein full flight: the same species as here in Spain, though much more confident and tame in Botswanas!
There´s also cormorants in Botswana, this one being the reed cormorant (Microcarbo africanus). However, the perch this one chose you can hardly find in Spain: a two-meter high termite mound!
What really was a luck was to encounter this couple of wattled cranes (Grus carunculata), an endangered species and not easy to spot
Also a lucky shot was to encounter the pigmy geese (Nettapus auritus) swimming by a hippo. In fact, this migratory birds are more closely related to ducks.
But the ones that made us have the best time were the white-faced whistling ducks (Dendrocygna viduata), since there about 10 in a marsh where we stopped for a quick break
They were so confident I lay down on the ground and approached little by little thus being able to take a lot of pics: but, seeing the crocs in the pool, better not to get too close!
A jacana under cover between the ducks...

Talk about a lot of animals!
These ducks were the last animals we saw in Xakanaxa, as we had to leave sooner or later... but we were heading for an even better place: the Khwai River...








  
KHWAI RIVER, BETTER THAN BETTER


After two great days, we left Xakanaxa (with great sorrow, by the way) to reach Moremi´s northern limit, just outside the reserve. There the Khwai River flows bringing life to the Khwai Conservacy, which isn´t exactly a Game Reserve (not that it lacks animals, mind you...) and therefore offroad and night driving are allowed, enabling tourists to see more animals. Let us hope that nobody uses that to disturb the wildlife, for Khwai is a fantastic place for watching animals such as wild dogs, lions, leopards... Here´s a few shots of the winged inhabitants of this amazing place:

The road to Khwai, after a morning of transit from Xakanaxa. When you tell someone you´ve to Africa on safari, they usually think in big, open plains, Serengueti-style: nothing further from the truth here!
The Khwai River, bringing life to this paradise. For the animals it´s a luxury being able to swin and cool off in the heat of the dry season. Truth is, given how hot we were at middays, we almost felt kind of envy, hahaha

Just after arriving we went through an area of the forest where there were a few african hoopoes (U. epops. africana), sometimes said to be a subspecies of the european one. It has a darker color throughout the body, and maybe a slightly longer bill... but it´s as charming as the european one!!

Next to them flew a few of its relatives, the grey hornbills (Tockus nasatus). Like all Tockus, grey hornbill females encase themselves in a tree hole to nest, and block almost entirely the opening with mud, gras... then, the male gathers food to bring it to her and the chicks, until they are so big the female has to break the wall to leave!
Maybe that´s why we only found males like this one that enables you to see his odd bill, with the characteristical casque and the tooth-shaped sawings to eat the little bugs he captures
 Way more common and easy to see are the southern yellow-bileed hornbills (Tockus leucomelas). This one chose a nice wooded perch at our camp while we had our breackfast... needless to say the hornbill had priority to the breackfast!
While taking pictures at these confident hornbills I discovered that they share with bee-eaters, rollers, etc. the "present behavior", meaning that the male offers food to the female in the breeding season. In one ocassion, the female took the food, held it for a few seconds and then dropped it... I went to see what it was and it turned out that that the male had picked a brocoli from our last night´s dinner!!
Also called "hoopoe" is the green woodhoopoe (Phoeniculus purpureus). They are highly intelligent and agressive birds: the flocks they form attack each other over territories
Besides, there´s only one "Alfa" couple in every flock, which is the only to breed and everyone else helps in raising the chicks. They nest in very small tree holes: they can fit through holes just 40mm wide! And if despite that a predator manages to sneak in, they spray a stinking smell that sees him off definitely
Leaping up!
Talk about a big hornbill: the southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) can be up to almost a meter and a half long and weigh more than 6 kilos. This massive relative of the hoopoe is globally threatened, but luckily, here in the Khwai River they have a safe home
Flying by the river. Really, watching an animal this big in flight, is impressive. For some villagers in Africa, it´s a terrible crime to kill a ground hornbill: no surprise considering how beautiful they are!
Next to a hippo pool we enjoyed one of the most charming scenes with Botswana´s birdlife
An openbill (Anastomus lamelligerus), just like the one we saw in Maun´s hotel, fishing for crabs... and super close!
 The first ones he fished were quite small, but then little by little he found them larger, until he got this industrial-sized one
Despite having only 6 mm between the two sides of the bill, that is enough for him to master the art of opening shells. In the top part, he has about 30 pads that enable him to hold it firmly in order to separate the prey from the shell.
Next to the crab-opening openbill we saw a couple of black crakes (Amauronis flavirostra), some very agressive birdies that can even kill each other in territorial fights
And fiinally, what I think is a brown snake eagle (Circaetus cinereus), peacefully resting in by the river during the midday heat. It´s the largest of all snake eagles!

That´s all for now, these are a few of the many birds we met in Khwai, a whole of a spectacle for anyone who loves nature and a very special place... In the next post, more shots of this amazing land: I am so very wishing to go back!








CAMPING IN KHWAI


You don´t always need to drive for hours to find animals when you are in such an amazing place as the camping we got to spend our 3 nights in the margins of the Khwai River, near Moremi, Botswana. Since the camping was in the middle of the reserve, at night you could hear the hippos, lions, hyenas and the galagos jumping around the trees. Even the elephants walked by the camp... Basically: I loved it! Obvioulsy we needed to leave camp to find the big carnviores, but the times we spent in and around it (at breakfast and lunch) provided great birdwatching:

No surprise there´s birds in a place like this! In the background of the photo flows the Khwai
The landscape from camp: ah, it makes want to go back so badly, hahahah
And we dindn´t need to stray far from the camping... First afternoon, in a river pond quite close to camp, we found this flying beauty, a bird I had always dreamt of seeing
The pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)!!
This african cousin of our kingfisher is pretty large, and is the one who hovers the longest before diving. They also can form nesting colonies of up to 20 pairs, and usually there are helpers who aid the breeding pairs: sometimes these helpers aren´t even family to the pair they assist!
Here you can see a kingfisher flying by the flooded shore of the river at dusk, quite a beautiful scene
Besides, they´re very intelligent birds, as we could check with this female and her fishing strategy: first, she stood guard in one of her territorie´s tree, waiting... but not for fish, but for cars
When she saw a safari car closing in, she moved to this log and watched it as it crossed the river
And then all she had to do was wait: as cars exit, the river, they drag a small wave that usually carries some little fish: and didn´t the kingfisher know it! She just dropped to the ground, grab her meal and climb back to the log to finish it... talk about animal adaptation
The good thing about camp is that it was between the river area (home of the kingfishers) and the dry woodland. In the latter, we found this gorgeus bird: the banded sangrouse (Pterocles bicintus), similar to the one we spotted in Moremi some days before. Like all other Botswana birds, she wasn´t scared of our presence... try seeing a sandgrouse at such close quarters in Spain without using a hide!
Other birdies we found in the camp surroundings were these, the Senegal firefinches (Lagonosticta senegalensis). Wonder where the name comes from? Such a beautiful ploumage!
Another red spot in the bush, the "tomato bird", as we knew it. Actually it´s called crimson-breasted shrike (Laniarius atrococcineus), cousin of the swamp boubou we saw in Maun´s hotel. The tomato bird is common but shy: I barely managed to take a picture of him!
Yellow is also present among the tree tops: this black headed oriole (Oriolus larvatus) was in the canopy of the very campsite trees. She didn´t stop for a second: despite being far away, her color doesn´t go unnoticed!
But definitely the highlight of the camp´s birdlife was the red-billed francolin (Pternistis adspersus) colony, they´re pretty common in this area of Botswana and usually tame and trusting... but this flock was in a class of its own: the most confindent wild birds I´ve ever seen!
First, they came to check if there was any food available, allowing me get really close. Since they didn´t scare away, I lay down on the ground to get them eye-level... and there they remained
I took so many photos... in  this one of the wings you can see the wonderful patterns and colors of their feathers, I could spend hours zooming in to see the complex designs in each and every feather!
Still, the best came when they decided to move a few meters to have a sandbath in a beautiful light... Thet could have perfectly moved further away to flee the guy with the camera chasing them, but they were so confident they stayed: I couldn´t believe my eyes!
... I kept getting closer and closer...
... and closer...
...and closer! Until I got portraits like this one. Yes, this is a completely wild animal! In fact, you can see the surrounding trees and even a camping tent reflected in the francolin´s eye
Then I thought: What if I go grab the wide angle lens and get them together with the landscape? Will they hold enough for me to do it?"
I went to get the 17-30mm. and when I came back... they still were there! Shots like this one, showing the birdie with its environment (spectacular in this case) are my favourite
This one is taken with the minimum zoom. I guess the francolin would be at less than half a metre from the lens and me! It´s such a thrill to see there´s still places where animals are not harmed by humans and therefore allow things like this. Especially regarding how long does it take for us to spot anything here in Spain
 In another flock we found this cute tiny francolin chicken
Eating some delicious seeds
I still don´t know why, but some adults in the flock suddendly started to chase and hit the little chicken: I´m sure these birds societies are way more complex than we so far know, and there´s so much to learn about them!
And finally, a "bonus" I didn´t expect to see: at night, while we returned to camp, we sometimes saw the Verraux eagle owl (Bubo lacteus), the largest of all african owl: really massive
This one was so close! He allowed us to be just beneath his tree, some 10 metres away from him. He was so close we had to put a filter in the spotlight so that we didn´t disturb him... what a better way to finish the day!


So many birds, aren´t they? Imagine how many more would you see if you lived in Botswana! We would have loved to stay, but we had to set off to another amazing place: Savuti Marsh



SAVUTI MARSH´S BATELEUR... AND ALL ITS NEIGHBOURS


It may seem like a four hour journey through a huge mopane forest in Botswana´s dry season would mean not seeing any birds: nothing farther from the truth! On the last morning of our stay at Khwai we set on the journey that would take us to Savuti Marsh, and on our way we saw so many birds. 
Try searching for Savuti photos before January 2010 and then after that date. You might think it´s another place, but it´s not. The Savuti area obtains its water from the Savuti Channel, a channel with a very irregular flow. In 1982 the water stopped reaching Savuti and the whole place became kind of a desert: only a few water pans remained where all animals came to drink. However, in 2010, water came back and turned the place into marsh inhabited by soo many animals. Here´s a few photos of the transit to Savuti and the first afternoon we spent there (we only had one night to spend, but it was worth it!)

Khwai and Savuti are not more than 100 km away in a straight line, but to get from one point to the other takes an awful lot of hours. You have to go through Mababe depression, where there´s kilometers and kilometers of savannah...
... but that doesn´t mean there´s no animals around. And, as you can see in the tree´s shade, big animals
Big mammals aside (if the birds are incredible, these are in another category), one of the greatest surprises of the road journey was to find this: hedgehog bones, mice skulls... all perfectly conserved in the pellets of an owl in the Chobe NP gate
Seeing the pellets was great, but what I couldn´t imagine was that, right above them, in the gate´s roof, was the owl itself!
I think it´s a barn owl (Tyto alba affinis), but the african grass owl (Tyto capensis) is also very similar... at any rate, it´s goregeus! Funny thing is, she stayed there without even waking up while I took pictures and more pictures of it
 Another inhabitant of Mababe savannahs is the red crested bustard (Lophotis ruficrista), which in breeding ploumage can exhibit an impressing red crest
But the red crested bustard is tiny compared to the ginormous Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori): ¡a massive bird that can reach 1,2 m tall and weigh 20 kg! It´s even larger than the one we have in spain, the great bustard
And just a few minutes after the barn owl, we spotted a family of 3 Verraux eagle-owls (Bubo lacteus)! It definitely was the Owl Day
Here you can see the other two owls... Verraux eagle owls have a very light sleep, and will wake up at the softest noise: still, despite being less than 20 metres from us, our presence didn´t even bother them!
Truth is, they´re pretty odd animals, with their pinkish eyelids and the fluffed feathers... Don´t know why, but in spanish we call them "búho lechoso", or "milky owl". This picture is from one in Savuti
What a landscape contrast when we arrived at the Marsh: this is the flooded channel, quite a spectacle! 
Suddendly, after a turn in the track, we found a huge bird meeting: it really was paradise for me! In the right side of the photo you can see some of the many birds there were
 The most abundant were the white-faced whistling ducks (Dendrocygna viduata), splashing and bathing happily
But there were many more: the knob-billed ducks (Sarkidornis melanotos) were quite impressive, with their strange bill shape. Rather discrete were the red billed teals (Anas erythrorhyncha), like the one in the left
Sacred ibises (Threskiornis aethiopicus) had also attended the party, together with herons, jacanas, spoonbills... checking the photos,I´ve found that there were up to 14 bird species!
The spur-winged geese were also stunning (Plectropterus gambensis). Male geese use this spur to violently attack rival males during breeding time. Thanks to the lateral lighting of the photo, you can appreciate the glossy shining  of its gleaming wings
But the most impressive of all Savuti´s birds was, without a doubt, encountering this winged beauty
A Bateleur eagle (Terathopius ecaudatus)! Bateleur eagles are the most amazing raptors in Botswana: in Spanish we call it "águila volatinera", or "tightrope-walker eagle", due to its flying agility. Still, when you see one flying around, it´s surprising to see how short the tail is. This cousin of the snake-eagles focuses on hunting small animals, and when you find a carcass it´s easy to tell whether or not the Bateleur has been around eating: the first thing they eat are the eyes and tongue! When feeding, they secrete a salty liquid through the narines, a mechanism to evacuate salt and help water reabsorption
And of course, it´s got some amazing colours! It resembles a plastic toy, with that red and yellow bill, the flashing orage legs, etc
The landscape that surrounded the eagle: you can see her perched in the right top of the tree
As evening falls, all the animals of the marsh get ready for the night, like this yellow-billed hornbill (Tockus leucomelas) doing his feathers in the last laght of day
And with this beautiful image finished our first afternoon in Savuti...

But, luckily, we still had next day´s dawn to explore Savuti, and a sunrise in Africa offers a lot of wildlife opportunities!

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