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Day 1: Fri 3 December - Fly UK – Maun, Botswana
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly from London Heathrow to Maun, Botswana, via Johannesburg, arriving on the morning of Day 2.
Day 2: Sat 4 December - Transfer to Xakanaxa with birding en route
We meet our guide, departing Maun for the Xakanaxa region which will be our base for the next three nights. We will be introduced to every type of mopane habitat on this drive, from the towering cathedral woodlands, classic climax mopane woodland and in the drier and harsher habitats, extensive stretches of scrub. Roadside stops can be good for raptors, and we scan for African Hawk-Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Shikra, Little Sparrowhawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk and Tawny, Lesser Spotted and Steppe Eagle. Other common species often encountered along this route include Red-billed, Southern Yellow-billed, African Grey, Bradfield’s and Southern Ground Hornbill, Shaft-tailed, Pin-tailed and Eastern Paradise Whydah, Greater and Lesser Honeyguide. Migrant Cuckoo’s are also likely, with Diederick, Levaillant’s, Jacobin, African, Common and Great-spotted Cuckoo possible. Overnight Xakanaxa for three nights.
Days 3 & 4: Sun 5 & Mon 6 December - Xakanaxa and Moremi Game Reserve
On the eastern extremity of the Okavango Delta is the Moremi Game Reserve where habitats range from floodplains, marshes and lagoons some with vast stands of Miscanthus and Phragmites, woodland and open savannah. As a result Moremi boasts both quantity and diversity of wildlife and birdlife. We take a series of game drives here to find exceptional wildlife. This is reputedly one of the best game reserves in Africa for viewing endangered African Wild Dog, and Xakanaxa is also home to a resident herd of several hundred Buffalo, whose range overlaps with several prides of Lion, often resulting in a thrilling encounter when the two meet! Breeding herds of elephant move between their browsing areas in the mopane forests and fresh water of the Okavango, while Red Lechwe are one of the scarcer antelope species found here. Birdwatching at Xakanaxa can be good too, open water and swampy ground attracting African Rail, African and Black Crake, Purple Swamphen, Allen’s Gallinule, African Skimmer, Saddle-billed and Yellow-billed Stork, Intermediate Egret, Goliath Heron, African Fish Eagle as well as critically endangered Slaty Egret and Wattled Crane. Chirping and Luapula Cisticola, Coppery-tailed and Black Coucal, Red-chested Flufftail and other passerines may also be seen in the scrub.
Day 5: Tue 7 December - Manuchira Channel and transfer to Khwai
Departing Xakanaxa after an early breakfast, we drive through Moremi Game Reserve again but this time travelling north-east towards the Khwai Community. Loosely following the Manuchira Channel at the most eastern extremity of the Khwai River, habitats change from riverside and floodplains into the mopane veldt and woodlands which make Khwai one of the most scenic areas of the Okavango. The river has an unusually high density of Hippopotamus, and we pass the magnificent pools at Dombo where Crocodile can also be seen. The western mopane veldt is home to both breeding herds and older bull African Elephant, and it is the latter which can often observed drinking or bathing at close quarters at the water's edge. Leopard, Cheetah and prides of Lion are regular predators along this route and commoner game we are likely to see includes Southern Giraffe, Burchell’s Zebra and Tessebe. Roan and Sable Antelope are possible though less common here, while birds can include African Harrier Hawk, Red-headed Weaver, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Neddicky, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Chin-spot Batis and Rosy-Longclaw to name a few. Overnight Khwai for three nights.
Days 6 & 7: Wed 8 & Thur 9 December - Birds and Safari at Khwai
The Khwai River forms a natural boundary between the reserve and the community area, and based at the latter we are well position to explore the floodplains on game drives during both day and night. Exploring after dark with spotlights offers an opportunity to view some nocturnal animals rarely seen by day, and we will also have opportunities to explore the surrounding wilderness on foot and by Mokoro canoe too. One of Botswana's birding hotspots, the western reaches are prime habitat for uncommon Rosy-throated Longclaw, while the entire length of the river is hunting domain for Bat Hawk. Other raptors include Cuckoo Hawk (rare), Long-crested, Tawny, Steppe, Lesser-spotted and Martial Eagle, Bateleur and African Hawk-Eagle while the waterways support Africa Rail, African Crake, Greater Painted Snipe, Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Jacana and Lesser Moorhen. The Khwai region boasts excellent populations of African Elephant as well as Lion, Leopard, Serval and African Wildcat. Buffalo use this area seasonally, large herds moving in during the summer rains and Red Lechwe, Tsesebe, Blue Wildebeest, Kudu, Impala and Sable and Roan Antelope may also be present.
Day 8: Fri 10 December - Khwai to Chobe
A fascinating drive north towards Chobe, with time to investigate the Paleo-Lake Makgadikgadi which dried up some ten thousand years ago. Our exact route will be determined by conditions on the Magwikwe Sand-ridge which forms on the shoreline of this inland sea. Whichever route we take, we will be passing through some of the best Cheetah country of the tour so will be on the lookout for this mammal today! What remains of the old lake, referred to locally as the Mababe Depression, teems with game and visiting birds just after the rains. Nutritious grasses growing on the rich soil provide an excellent food source for an array of bird species including magnificently coloured Violet-eared and Black-cheeked Waxbill, Village Indigobird, Shaft-tailed and Paradise Whydah. Hunting Red-necked Falcon and Lanner Falcon are drawn to the area, and also present may be Secretary Bird (sometimes in large numbers), Black-shouldered Kite, Wahlberg’s Eagle and Steppe Buzzard. Overnight Chobe National Park for three nights.
Days 9 & 10: Sat 11 & Sun 12 December - Exploring Central Chobe
Unlike the vast majority of the country, Central Chobe is not a totally flat landscape as large outcrops of volcanic rock reach up out of the Kalahari sands and tower over the endless savannah. These hills provide habitat for a completely different array of small wildlife, birds and plants and what once was the Savuti Marsh has been the stage for many of the most dramatic wildlife documentaries filmed in Africa. Here, the combination of wide-open country, good ungulate populations and strong prides of Lion and Hyaena clans make for dramatic wildlife interaction and excellent viewing opportunities. Any gathered surface water provides a major attraction for birdlife, and in the dry season thousands of dove and sandgrouse visit to drink in the mornings. Also drawn in are Yellow-billed Kite, Tawny Eagle and African Hawk-Eagle, Dickenson’s Kestrel, Amur and Red-necked Falcon. Red-crested Korhaan can be common in the Kalahari Apple-leaf veldt, while the marsh areas are summer home for good numbers of Caspian Plover, Montagu’s Harrier, Chestnut and Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Rufous-naped Lark, Northern Black Korhaan, African Pipit and Desert Cisticola.
Day 11: Mon 13 December - Savuti to the Chobe River
Leaving camp early, we travel north through the stunted mopane scrub of the Goha clay basin and into the wonderful Zambezi Teak woodlands before coming to the Chobe River itself. The Chobe floodplain is tens of kilometers wide, while natural waterholes around Goha hold water well into the dry season and attract herds of Buffalo, Burchell’s Zebra, Greater Kudu and African Elephant. Leopard occur in the Teak woodlands in low numbers but they are highly secretive and rarely seen. Most of the bird species we seek are to be found in the Teak woods, or miombo as they are locally known, providing plentiful food for canopy favouring birds. Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Ashy, Paradise and Pallid Flycatcher, Olive-tree Warbler, Scarlet-chested and Amethyst Sunbird, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-headed Weaver and Violet-backed Starling are just some of the species we may encounter. We look out for Lizard Buzzard, White-faced Owl may be seen roosting in road-side vegetation and Flappet, Fawn-coloured and Dusky Lark are possible in open ground.
Day 12: Tue 14 December - Chobe National Park
On our final safari, we explore a valley where the impact of a successful African Elephant population within the National Park is readily noticeable by the paucity of large trees. New habitat has generated which typically lines the rivers of sub-tropical Africa and the dense tangled masses with Knobbly Combretum Combretum mosambicense and Wooly Caper Bush Capparis tomentosa. This is one of the best places to see Roan and Sable Antelope and massive herds of Buffalo can visit, and Lion are at their highest density in southern Africa. Puku Antelope occur nowhere else in southern Africa except here on the Chobe floodplains, and despite the diminishing woodlands and thickets it can still be a good place to see increasingly scarce Chobe Bushbuck. We continually search for birds, targets including Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Hobby, Great White Pelican, Corncrake, nomadic flocks of Collared and Black-winged Pratincole, Racket-tailed Roller, Malachite Kingfisher and Miombo Rock-Thrush.
Day 13: Wed 15 December - Chobe River cruise and transfer to Victoria Falls
Departing to Kasane on a three hour boat journey along the Chobe River is a wonderful way to end your experience of this wildlife rich area. A range of game and birdlife is likely to be seen and from Kasane we transfer to Victoria Falls where we stay for the next two nights.
Day 14: Thur 16 December - Birding around Victoria Falls
A full day with a local expert exploring the diverse range of habitats and birding potential around the town of Victoria Falls. With over 400 species of bird recorded here, possibilities include Rock Pratincole, Grey-headed Parrot, White-backed Night Heron, African Finfoot, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Collared Palm Thrush and many more. As one of the world's seven natural wonders, we also plan to visit the Victoria Falls themselves - a truly spectacular sight to be savoured!
Day 15: Fri 17 December - Return flights to the UK