Murmuration is an astonishing phenomenon where thousands of birds fly in synch together as of one mind. Redbilled queleas are a type of weavers and sometimes fly in such concentrated numbers it would appear they would knock one another out of the sky in the Okavango Delta.
On a morning game drive we heard the literal scream of an elephant, followed by more screams and trumpeting. A dust storm appeared over the nearby trees. Our driver gunned the jeep. We were afraid something had attacked a baby elephant. As we got nearer the screen of dust we saw a hyena slinking away from its aborted attempt and being followed by enraged adult elephants.
Later we ran across a lioness and her two nearly grown daughters. One had grabbed up a stick and carried it around much as a house cat would with a toy.
Our guide tracked an elusive leopard after hearing the warning call of a kudu. We couldn't believe as we flew through so much brush in the jeep that he finally located the youngster easily camouflaged by the undergrowth.
A pride of 9 lions near our second camp in the Delta took down a zebra during the night. We were able to observe them early in the morning as they gorged themselves on the fresh kill.
Botswana is in Southern Africa, immediately north of South Africa and flanked by Namibia to the West and Zimbabwe to the East. Its northern borders are shared by Zambia and Angola. The northwest section of Botswana is the Okavango Delta which consists of 4000 square miles. The Okavango River flows from Angola into the Delta. Mokoros are the wooden boats that are poled through lagoons and canals.
One of the most successful predators in the Delta is the African Wild Dog, also one of the most endangered carnivore. It's estimated that there may only be about 2000 left in the wild. To watch a pack chase and herd their frantic prey is a rare experience. Silently they begin to focus on one animal such as the red lechwe and together take the animal down and quickly dispatch and eat it.
Botswana's cheetah population, approximately 2000, is estimated to be about 20% of the world's remaining wild cheetahs. These graceful beautiful cats need large territories to roam and successfully hunt.
The Greater Kudu is a majestic animal. A bull can weigh between 400- 600 pounds and stand up to 63 inches tall at the shoulder. They are 6-8 feet long from head to rump.
Incredibly, Brazil has approximately 1800 bird species that can be seen within the country. One of the most peculiar is the Great Potoo which really looks like a piece of wood. It's a nocturnal bird but is often found by sharp-eyed guides in the daytime.
Hyacinth macaws have spectacular blue feathers. They are the largest of the macaw or parrot family, from 3'-3 1/3' in length from the top of the head to the tip of the tail. They look like something made up by Disney. It is an endangered species and there are estimated to be between only 2500-5000 in the wild today.
A maned wolf isn't really a wolf, but is the largest canid in South America. Some call it a fox on stilts because of its long legs and reddish coloring. The "mane" is the black hair on its neck and shoulders.
It is fascinating to watch capuchin monkeys use specific types of stones as tools for breaking open palm nuts. They are very deliberate in placing the nut on a flat rock & slam the large rock down to break it. When the alpha male decides to move in to that flat rock the subservient monkey scampers away and goes to a different location to start over.
The common marmoset is a monkey with a very long tail. It eats insects and fruit and lives in the scrub forest of northeastern Brazil. It has distinctive white tufts of hair on its ears. This is an adult and a young one feeding together.
One of the surprising facts I learned this month is that Brazil is about the size of our lower 48 states. Its 207 million people live primarily in the coastal lowland areas. The Pantanal is a huge wetlands in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. It is the largest fresh water wetlands in the world and is the home to hundreds of bird species and many exotic animals. The toco toucan is one of its most colorful inhabitants.
The tapir is a rare sight indeed as it swims in a river early morning. Their snout is somewhat like an elephant's trunk but it is the upper lip and nose of the animal.
Giant otters can be between 5'-6' in length. They are as playful as the smaller river otters seen in the U.S. Fish are their main diet.
Ocelots are creatures of the night and thus are seldom seen. They are close in size to the bobcat but are leaner and longer.
The queen of the Brazilian Pantanal is the jaguar. Similar to but more muscular and larger than a leopard, these beautiful cats hunt along the river banks for capybara and caiman to pounce on.
The medina (walled city) of Fez, Morocco has two sections: the old part is 9th century and the "new" one is 14th century . No better contrast is seen of truly old and truly new than the array of satellite dishes perched on 9th century dwellings.
All through the medinas in Moroccan cities are the various souks, or markets, where the inhabitants shop daily for fresh produce, meat, fish, tools, clothing and anything else needed by the family. In Fez there was one souk obviously selling camel meat.
The medinas across the country often have lovely entry portals. Menkes is particularly famous for the gates at its entry points.
There are three sections of the Atlas Mountains across Morocco. The High Atlas is crossed traveling from Marrakesh to Taroudant. At a distance you can see the old caravan trail hugging the mountain walls.
Moroccan oil has become a well recognized ingredient in hair and cosmetic products. It is made from the nut of the argan tree in a small section of Morocco. Typically, women process the oil which involves a number of steps to get to the kernel at the heart of the nut. Alternatively, goats actually climb the trees, eat the nuts, expel the kernels at a later time. That is extracted, cleaned and processed into oil. Efficient goats.
In 1309 Pope Clement V, a Frenchman, moved the papal court to Avignon where it stayed for 68 years. The Papal Palace was as much a fortress as a palace. Even after Pope Gregory XI moved the official papacy back to Rome there was a Western Schism which divided the Catholic world. From 1378-1417 a rival succession of popes, referred to as the antipopes, ruled from Avignon until an agreement was made to only have one pope, in Rome.
One of the best preserved Roman buildings in France is the coliseum in Arles. Built around the first century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site could accommodate 20,000 spectators. Miraculously, it is still in use today, for bull fights.
Viviers is a small walled town overlooking the Rhone and contains the smallest cathedral in France. From 430 AD forward for hundreds of years it played an important part in Catholic life. Many of the bishops who lived and worked there were elected into sainthood.
Lyon has over 100 murals painted on the walls of city buildings. Many artists have come together to create these astonishingly realistic slices of urban life.
The Doux Valley, near Tournon, has stunning views into a deep gorge cut out by the Doux River. A number of arched bridges dot the landscape.
Stonehenge is decidedly the most famous ancient stone circle in England but the unknown builders or their contemporaries were busy in other locations as well. In the Lake District, near Keswick is found the Castlerigg Stone Circle. There are 38 stones in a circle and within there's a rectangle of 10 standing stones. It's estimated that it was built 3000 BC, one of the oldest circles in Britain.
Dungeon Ghyll Force, also in the Lake District, is a forty-foot waterfall that one reaches by a series of stone steps that climb about 1500 feet. The surrounding scenery is rugged and beautiful.
The Cotswolds are known for the iconic thatched roofs that are associated with this charming part of England.
Unless you've recently arrived from the Siberian steppes you probably have some knowledge of "Downton Abbey" the immensely successful BBC/PBS television show. Highclere Castle is the name of the estate where the program was filmed.
The grounds of Highclere have huge specimen Lebanon cedar trees that dwarf the people standing near.
The Middle Rhine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The river's banks are lined with charming villages, terraced vineyards and enchanting castles. There are 21 castles along the river side and an additional 19 on mountain tops or in the adjacent valleys, all within an approximate 40-mile stretch of the Rhine. Rheinstein Castle is near the south end of the UNESCO area. The original castle dates back to the late 13th century but fell into ruin in the 17th century. It was restored and rebuilt in the mid-19th century.
Marksburg Castle is the only medieval castle on the Rhine that has never been destroyed. It dates back to the 13th century and overlooks the town of Braubach.
Katz Castle is less than a mile away from the famous Loreley statue, representing the mythical beautiful girl whose songs distracted sailors from the danger of the rocks below, causing them to wreck their ships.
Deep in the Rhine-Meuse-Scheidt Delta the Dutch landscape unfurls. Kinderdijk, Holland has 19 18th-century windmills, some of which can be visited.
Keukenhof Gardens, almost 80 acres, has more than 7 million tulips, daffodils & hyacinths bulbs. It is only open 8 weeks of the year but is the most glorious spring garden in the world.
Tucked away in the eastern Himalayas is perched the charming country of Bhutan. It's about the size of Switzerland and over 70% of its land is forested and inhabited by around 700,000 people. The majority of the Bhutanese practice Tibetan Buddhism and the red robes of monks are seen daily in towns and countryside. Prayer flags are also prevalent. These were on a hill top overlooking Thimpu, the capital of the country.
Yak herding is still seen in high rural areas though it is on the decline. An animal unique to the Himalayas is the takin, the national animal of Bhutan. They can weigh up to 700 pounds and are also called cattle chamois or gnu goat.
There are nearly 400 species of orchids found in this tiny mountainous country. The Bhutanese feel strongly about protecting their environment and carefully choosing how they modernize their country, trying to learn from the mistakes of other countries that rushed into the 21st century with dire consequences.
One of the most famous places in the country is Tiger's Nest, the Buddhist temple complex first built in 1692 on the cliff side of the Paro valley at 10,300 feet.
Bhaktapur, is the eastern gateway to the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. The town dates back to the ninth century. Its many temples were damaged by the earthquake of 2015 but as a whole, they fared better than their counterparts in Kathmandu. Vatsala Devi Temple was originally built in 1696. The bronze Taleju Bell next to it was used to sound curfew and each morning to indicate the goddess Taleju was being worshipped. The triple-roofed Bhairabnath Temple is dedicated to Bhairab, a fierce incarnation of Shiva. It survived the earthquake intact. The 1934 earthquake ruined the original Fasidega Temple, also dedicated to Shiva. A modern domed shrine was built atop the base but this was destroyed in the 2015 quake.
Pottery Square is where you may see traditional pottery making: men and women, young and old, each absorbed in creating practical implements for daily use.
Leaving Nepal and flying to Bhutan gives you the wonderful opportunity to see Mt. Everest and its 29,029 feet of glory if the weather cooperates.