Etosha, the biggest National Park in Namibia, is superb. Even though we were here only two and a half years ago, that was the dry season, and we looked forward to seeing a completely different park in the wet. And we did - this time we saw more animals and many more types of animals.
We drove ourselves around the park, armed with binoculars, cameras, maps and identification guides. Spotting animals is like hunting without a gun. You search the landscape, spot something in the distance, identify it, move in closer if you can and shoot with your camera. You keep looking for the more elusive animals, peering into the thick undergrowth or scanning the tall grass. It is easy to chalk up many of the bigger animals - wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, springbok, impala, warthogs. Lions and elephants are harder to find. Cheetah and leopard, along with the very shy, small antelopes, very difficult if not impossible! And then there are the birds: small, flighty weaver birds, brightly coloured bee-eaters and rollers, powerful eagles and kites, the charmingly plump Helmeted Guinea Fowl, aesthetically challenged vultures and marabou storks, spindly-legged egrets and enormous Kori Bustards.
I can see the allure of wildlife photography - there is always a better shot to be taken, a more arresting pose, a close-up of a kill, beautiful late afternoon light, a perfect background or some fascinating aspect of the creature's behaviour. Just one more shot and it could be the best yet!
We saw a hyena cross in front of us with a huge lump of fresh meat in its jaws, probably taking it back to its cubs; two kinds of vulture and Marabou Storks in a flurry of tangled wings fighting over a dead zebra; a male lion sitting quietly with front paws crossed watching a Springbok bogged and stuck up to its shouders in the mud next to the water-filled pan. We got the fright of our lives when Russ saw a moving blur behind us and put his foot down, to have a huge rhino charge at full speed just behind the car (and not into it!). We saw so many giraffe that there were more long necks than trees poking up above the bushes along the roadsides. A tree full of twittering Chestnut Weaver Birds was full of the weaver nests in every stage of construction - usually all you see are the finished nests; here we saw a hundred birds actively weaving grass into their gourd-shaped nests.
In camp, we had black-backed jackals lurking quietly in the shadows near the tents, no doubt looking for scraps when we went to bed. Cape Ground Squirrels dug their holes right next to the tent and Sociable Weaver birds joined us en masse at breakfast for leftovers - and anything else left unattended for even a minute. A Yellow-billed Hornbill sat in the tree and watched the breakfast proceedings as well. We had no shortage of company.
But one type of company we were glad not to have in camp was the lions. At early light, we could hear loud roaring from just beyond the high perimeter fence!