Saturday, March 19, 2016

Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks

White Stork.
With all the rain we've been having and our reluctance to get involved in driving on untarred roads where the chances of getting stuck are non-zero, we decided that Friday we'd drive on the tarred roads  and visit the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans. These salt pans are the remains of large lakes that used to exist here. In the southwestern portion of Makgadikgadi there is still a lake, but it is much smaller than when Livingstone first saw it. Nowadays, there is a the A3 that cuts through the park area on the way from Maun to Francistown. We came to the edge of this before. This time we went all the way.

African Hawk Eagle.
This was a stupendous trip for birds. Elizabeth had a 10 bird day! Two of then are shown here: the White Stork and the the African Hawk Eagle. As usual, it is much harder for me to photograph the birds that it is to see them with the binoculars. Sometimes, identifying them is hard, but on this day, E was on a roll. She got 10; I got 2. But there were other treasures around us: elephants!

As we drove west, the land opened up and the trees became smaller and more widely separated. As you can see, the sky did not fail to be dramatic. While it rained some on us as we drove out, the heavens opened on the way home and we had a serious downpour along several stretches of road.

With the trees all but gone, we began to see the sorts of vistas usually associated with African plains. This tree above was several hundred yards away, standing all alone in the field. It wasn't until we looked with binoculars or telephoto lens that we saw there there was a bird on the limb on the left. Vast expanses of nothing but vast expanses. All green from the rain, but surely brown in the dry season (winter). The land just seems to envelope you. Everywhere you look is the same but different. It is difficult to image trekking across this place with nothing more than a compass to guide you, having no idea if or when the other side is reached.

But I said something about elephants.

As we drove along we frequently saw elephant droppings in the road, but no elephants. Either because of our location, our luck, or the time of day, when they started out of the bush, they were spectacular and frequent.

We did not see any other large animals, nor did we see page groups of elephants. They came in ones and twos, off in the distance, near the road, in the road, and near us. Seeng and hearing elephants is always a thrill.

This is but a small sub-set of the nearly 150 photos I took of elephants. They ranged from suggestive of the presence of an animal to those such as the above.

Even as they disappear into the bush, the elephants are impressive.

Here is a mother and child coming out to cross the road. By now you can see that is raining pretty steadily. They don't seem to mind. Neither did I. I put the little raincoat on my camera and kept going. Elizabeth allowed me to open the car door and step out to shoot for bit, but as the elephants got closer, the requests for me to get in the car changed to demands.

When this lone giant got across the road from us and turned to face us, we got nervous and finally pulled away.

As we drove off in the rain (which soon warranted Biblical comparisons) we talked excitedly about the impression these majestic animals made on us. There are some things we don't need photos for.