Killer Crocodiles!

The crocodiles are plentiful along the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers.  These are all Nile Crocodiles, and they truly are dangerous to humans.  This image was captured by Tom from our safari cruise boat, and you can easily see his massive jaws and teeth.  If any one of us were to fall in the river, we'd be croc meat in a flash!

This one looked like it was coming for us, boat and all!  These crocodiles are massive!  They average 16 feet from tip to tail, and can weigh 500 lbs!  A puny person has virtually no chance of surviving - certainly no chance of surviving intact!

The Nile Crocodile's conical teeth are designed to penetrate the flesh of it's prey, and it is almost impossible to loosen it's grip.  It will grab on to larger prey (including lions, buffalo, and even small hippos!) and spin them underwater until the prey drowns.

Their scaly skin is impenetrable without lethal weapons, and I can't imagine how one could shoot a croc that has a human in it's jaws without shooting the human, too!

I like this photo because the croc appears to be smiling slyly.  It also illustrates the camouflage of these reptiles, which makes them even more dangerous!  

The rivers we traveled were teeming with crocodiles.  One guide told us that there was a crocodile every 50 feet along the river, if not more.  You don't see that many because they don't want to be seen.  Nile crocodiles hunt by ambush, and they lie motionless and invisible until their hapless prey wanders within range.  Personally, I saw enough crocodiles to last me a while; I don't need to imagine hundreds more  lying in wait for me!


The Best Birds of Africa!

Cori Bustard
Kori Bustard
According to my son, Pete, we saw FIFTY NEW BIRDS on our trip - and each one of those fifty species deserves an in-depth post all to itself. Since it will take a while to identify and research all the birds I want to post about, however, the least I can do is provide a few photos of the best birds we saw in Botswana and Zambia!  In depth information about the species pictured here will be coming soon, I promise!

We can thank Pete for finding the oh-so-exotic Kori Bustard shown above, and we can thank Tom for capturing such a magnificent photo of it!  The Kori Bustard is the largest bird in Africa that has the capacity to fly, but they spent most of their time on the ground.  They are HUGE birds.  The males can be 41/2 to 5 feet tall with a wingspan up to 9 feet across! This species can be found in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, west-central South Africa and South-western Zambia. 

Sacred Ibis
Sacred Ibis
This is one of the birds I desperately wanted to see on our trip - and my wish was more than granted.  The Sacred Ibis is a very special species to me because of the symbolism related to Sacred Ibises that has existed since very ancient times.  Some of my very close friends and relatives will know exactly why the Scared Ibis, which symbolizes the Egyptian god Thoth, is so very important to me.  For those that don't, I'll explain more in a future post.  Since we all took very good images of this special bird, there will be plenty of illustrations in the Sacred Ibis blog post!

Little bee-eater
Little Bee-Eater
This stunning small fellow is the Little Bee-eater, the smallest member of the bee-eater Family.  All of the bee-eaters we saw were gloriously colorful, and although this tiny bird had fewer colors than most, he was still far too gorgeous to miss.  This outstanding photograph was taken by my husband, Tom.  In my opinion, it is a photo worthy of inclusion in a National Geographic Magazine!  The details are amazing!   We saw multiple species of bee-eaters in Botswana and Zambia, and when I finally get around to writing it, the Bee-eater blog post will be a post of many colors!

Southern Ground Hornbill
Our Muchenje Lodge guide in Botswana, KB, was more than willing to stop for every bird we saw during our safari drives and cruises.  Every time we went out with KB, all of our birding stops would make us late for meals and other activities.  Eventually we would tell KB to ignore our gasps and cries of wonder whenever a bird was spotted, because we were becoming troublemakers for the lodge and the other guests.  Pete would always have one caveat, however;  KB must ALWAYS stop if ever he spotted a Southern Ground Hornbill.  I thought it was a joke,since we had seen plenty of Hornbills already.  But when Pete came home from an afternoon game drive with photos of this amazing creature, it was obvious that one must ALWAYS stop for a Southern Ground Hornbill!  Congratulations to Pete for capturing dozens of perfect images of these unique and almost unbelievable birds. That is a post you won't want to miss!

African Open-bill Stork
African Open-bill Stork
I had never heard of this bird until we saw them in Botswana, but I fell in love with them in a heartbeat.  As KB explained, they are called Open-bills because their beaks won't close all the way!  Having mouths that are always open in no way interferes with the delight one feels when watching them fishing and flying, however.  They may not appear as regal and dignified as the Egrets and Herons species with whom they share the riverbanks, but they were far more entertaining to watch.  After all, you see herons everywhere, and even if you love them dearly, as I do, their silent stalking is hardly an exciting event.  A fabulous new bird like the African Open-bill, on the other hand, will keep you amused and interested for hours. Just wait and see if you agree when I post about them in the very near future!

That's it for today.  Tomorrow I go to an infectious disease doctor to be checked for Malaria and other nasty diseases that might be causing the sudden onset of arthritis-like pain and stiffness that I've been dealing with.  I'm not concerned.  Most of those illnesses clear up with no intervention required anyway. Wish me luck!


The Nature of Elephants

Is there anything cuter than a baby elephant?  We were surprised and thrilled to see so many herds of African Elephants in Botswana and Zambia during the month of May.  May is not generally considered a peak month for tourism in these countries, but we saw every animal you could wish for - and virtually every species we saw had babies in tow!

African elephants are the world's largest land animals, and the baby's are born weighing about 250  pounds.  A baby elephant is born into an extended family of adult female elephants, all of whom help to raise and protect the vulnerable youngsters. Male elephants are part of the herd until they are about fourteen years old.  At that time the teen-aged male elephant is kicked out of the family group and will either live on it's own or hook up with other young males.  Evidently, humans are not the only species who can expect trouble whenever young adult males are around!

For the first months of their lives, baby elephants will walk underneath their mothers whenever the family group travels.  We were astounded to see this tiny one crossing the road in Chobe National Park in Botswana.  It turned out that the elephants are headed for the river to drink and bathe.

Elephants love the water.  They drink it in massive quantities (adults consume thirty to fifty gallons per day!), and they love to cool off in the water and take mud baths as well.  Elephants cover themselves with mud to protect their skin from insects and from the often brutal African sun.  

I still have a lot to learn about elephants, but I can't believe anyone could possibly resist falling in love with elephant babies and elephant moms!  


The Nature of Africa

This is an African Grey Hornbill; one of the dozens of new bird and animal species I saw in Botswana and Zambia last month.  The trip was life-changing and awe-inspiring.  I know i'm home from Africa because I am siting at my computer writing a blog post, but in my heart and soul I am in Zambia still. It is not simply because the country is beautiful or because the birds and animals are so thrilling to see - although both are true.  It's not just that everyone we met was kind, courteous, and unbelievably happy, despite the desperate poverty and the scourge of AIDS everywhere we were. It's not even that I miss the truly joyful and fulfilled young man that my son Peter has become since he moved to Africa.  Not one of those things make it hard for me to settle down to life back in Massachusetts - but all of those experiences combined have kept me in Zambia inside my mind!

This is the first in a series of posts featuring the nature of Southern Africa.  It was no problem identifying the African Elephants shown above, but without having Pete around, most of the birds and some of the mammals and insects will be very difficult to ID.  On the up side, we'll all learn something new with each blog post!

Every moment of our trip was so exciting and such a shock to the senses that it almost seemed unreal. I was certainly hoping to see Giraffes, for instance, but totally unprepared for whole families of Giraffes and simply irresistible Giraffe babies everywhere!  Our excellent guide at Muchenje Lodge in Botswana, KB, knows everything there is to know about every bird, animal, and insect we saw; and every one has a fascinating story to tell.  Too bad KB isn't here to help me write up these blog posts for you!

This magnificent and massive beast is a Greater Kudu.  The Greater Kudu is a game animal elsewhere in Africa, but in Chobe national Park, where Muchenje Lodge is located, the animals are protected from hunters and are thriving.  The Kudu was one of many ungulates we got to see up close and personally!

The African Fish Eagle is the national bird of Zambia, and was one of the birds I was very much hoping to see.  They look very much like the American Bald Eagle, don't they?  Well, we saw a great many African Fish Eagles, and they are much more like the American Eagle than you could imagine.  Tom even managed to capture images of the spectacular mating dance of the Fish Eagles, where the pair clasp on to each other and drop from the sky in a terrifying spin that must be seen to be believed.  It just happens that I have seen the same deadly-looking drop right here in Framingham, Massachusetts a few years back.  In that case, it was an American Bald Eagle practicing his moves in preparation for mating season.  I never would have believed I'd see such a fabulous sight again in my lifetime - especially half a world away!

I hope all my Nature of Framingham readers enjoyed these images from the Nature of Africa.  The trip changed my life in many ways, and I hope to share the wonder of it all with each of you, too!