Day 10: Kill, kill, kill

Sept 13--It was a late start (7:30) today because we're in "move mode" again. Today we break the camp and drive to Kwai, where the camp magically reappears by the time we get there. I've got to hand it to our tour operator, he's got this mobile tent camping thing down to a science. It's absolutely amazing just how seamless the whole thing works. Of course, we've got this mammoth truck that carries everything:

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Before we started the main drive, we had time for a mini game drive in the area we've been exploring. Last night we had hyena in camp and we heard lion calls not too distant. So we looked for lion tracks outside camp. And found them pretty quickly. We followed the tracks for almost 5km before we lost them at a wet area, went around the mud and picked them up on the other side. Indeed, we followed the tracks of two male lions about as far as we could, which was Northgate, the top entrance to Moremi. Unfortunately, at that point we needed to head towards Kwai, so we had to abandon the chase. 

I should point out that lions can cover enormous distances at night. Male lions will often do full territory checks in a night if they've had a recent meal or suspect another cat is encroaching on their territory. It seems that our males were doing exactly that, heading out to the fringes of the wet delta before tracking across their territory and back. 

Fortunately, not long after we left the lion tracks we found our first kill. 

You were expecting a lion kill, weren't you? Sorry, but this was snake kill. Snake kill? Say what?

As we were on the main road between Moremi and Kwai both the driver and I spotted something scurry off the right side of the road as we passed. But something was wrong. We both thought perhaps we had run over a snake, as it looked like a snake with a flattened head. To our surprise, the "flattened head" turned out to be a perfectly healthy snake holding a lizard sideways in its mouth.

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At first we thought we were looking at a Mole Snake, which is non venomous. Thus, we got out of the vehicle and got to 70-200mm minimum focus distance and started shooting. But it soon became clear this wasn't a Mole, but something else. Oops. Fortunately, with a kill in its mouth we weren't in any danger, and the guide knows all the venomous snakes that are supposed to be in the area and this wasn't one of those. But we had to look it up just to make sure. Phew! Non-venomous.

We stayed long enough to see the process of our snake friend repositioning the kill and getting it down the hatch, after which both the snake and our vehicle slinked back off into the bush.

Lest you think a day traveling from place to place in Botswana is just an easy drive in the park, consider this:

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There's a lot of water where there should be roads, and the bridges aren't exactly what you might be used to:

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It's no fun (or a lot of fun, depending on your perspective) for the drivers, either:

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Just prior to lunch, we came across kill number two. You're still thinking lion, right? Wrong again. This one was even more unlikely to be seen than the first.

The kill in question? The egg of a ground-nesting bird. The killer? A monitor lizard. Over the years I've seen a lot of monitor lizards sniffing around the landscape, but I'd never previously seen one successful in finding an egg. In fact, I've been so unsuccessful at seeing that I once thought about stealing a hard boiled egg from breakfast and putting it in the field with a monitor (no, I'd never do that, but one can daydream).

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Note the bird just behind the monitor. It was trying to defend its nest. Unsuccessfully—the monitor lizard is bigger, meaner, and will take a bird if it has to. 

Today's kill wasn't exactly a photographic event, as the monitor was a little too far from us and surrounded by low grass, but there was that unmistakeable moment when he raised his head upwards, cleared the grass with an open mouth, and swallowed the egg. So now that I've seen it, I have to figure out how to photograph it ;~).

And for our finale to the day, we found a leopard in a tree with a baboon kill in the bush below it. So we got the full leopard experience: up the tree, sleeping in the tree, walking in the tree, down the tree, eating the kill, laying in front of the kill, and wandering out to find water. We even had a group of elephants tentatively pass by the leopard and its kill. I wrote about the safari experience in other places yesterday, so I need to have full disclosure here: at one point we had nine vehicles on the sighting, four of them ours. This is in an area of Botswana that is rather dense with safari lodges. Nine vehicles. If we had been in the Serengeti with this good a sighting, there would have been thirty. 

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This evening we worked on some star shots and star trail shots during and after dinner. I showed Tony's at the beginning of this. Here's my setup shot before we did the star trail action. The shadows being cast across the lower left are all our tripods and Tony and I doing some double-checking before joining dinner (the mess tent lighting is casting the shadows).

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(Just a reminder: with star trails, the circle centers around the northern point (North Star) or the southern point (where the Southern Cross points), depending upon which hemisphere you're in. Basically, all we had to work with at this camp were trees and stumps, and most of us decided to use that central tree as the rotation point for the trails. This wasn't so much about getting a great shot--though many of the images came out nicely--as it was about training and practicing at how to set up a night shot. One of these days I'm sure I'll have more to say about that ;~).

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