Okavango Delta – the 2020 flood

Last year Maun received none of the floodwaters that usually arrive in winter. The summer rains in Angola 1000km to the north had been poor, and the flood just didn’t get right through the Okavango Delta to Maun; Well below average summer rainfall added to the drought. Rainy season is December to March in Angola and Botswana. So this winter, as word got out that the highlands in Angola had had good summer rain, and knowing that local rainfall had been above average, filling the pans and raising the underground water table, word got out that the flood was a big one and there was a lot of excitement in town.

Everybody who’s like me (!) followed the progress of the water flowing south with great interest. The levels are monitored as the mighty Okavango leaves Namibia and enters Botswana and spreads out into its beautiful delta in the Kalahari desert.

The highlands in central Angola is where the water is coming from – 1000km north as the crow flies. Rain that fell in January and February is reaching Maun in May. It travels the first 700km in about a month, then slows down as it spreads out in a fan in its dryland delta on the sands of the Kalahari.

– Maun is left (west) of the number 1 below the B of Botswana –

The focus of the townspeople of Maun was when the floodwaters would reach Old Bridge. My main focus was when it would reach little sis Janet’s home 13km further downstream. We started getting updates when the headwaters of the flood reached the Boro river, which flows into the Thamalakane.

– there’s Maun and its airstrip – the flood is about 21km from the Tamalakhane river confluence –

Monitoring the incoming flood was Hennie Rawlinson, a neighbour two doors down from Janet in Tsanakona ward. Janet’s lovely cottage on the river is the feature pic above. Hennie had the inspired idea to turn the event into a fundraiser for WoMen Against Rape and the Polokong center by allowing people to follow him daily as he tracked the headwaters. On average the flood moves about 2km per day, but that’s a huge variable, depending on the terrain, the foliage and the water table, the porousness of the sand its moving over, how much its channeled or spread out at that point, etc. Even in a river bed, where it moves quicker, it will reach a pool and have to fill that up before overflowing and moving on. So there can be long hours of ‘no progress’ – no forward progress, that is.

– watch the waters flowing steadily South Eastward in the Boro river towards the Tamalakhane river which flows South Westward towards Maun –

Hennie traveled into the Delta fringe to find the headwaters. Here’s one of his videos:

Then the water reached the confluence of the Boro and the Thamalakane! Great day! But wait! It headed NORTH East! It had to fill up a few pools and only then did it push South East towards Maun.

– 8 May and the headwaters reach the confluence of the Boro with the Tamalakhane – that was quicker, mostly in a riverbed now –

Much excitement as the water past under the high new bridge across the Thamalakane and approached Old Bridge, a historic landmark with a backpackers and pub just downstream of it on the left bank; and the site Hennie had chosen for his ‘Finish Marker.’ Other denizens of Maun also awaited the flood:

Finally the time came when the pool before Old Bridge started filling up and Hennie decided the flood would flow under it that night. He and a few others got permits to be up all night on the bridge as Maun was under corona virus stay-at-home orders like most places.

– the late night vigil with friends and crocodiles –

They waited all night, along with a crocodile or two. The water took a couple hours longer, and arrived in the wee hours of the next morning:

The fundraiser: The Rawlinsons tallied up all the donations and announced: The final amount we have raised is: P50 511 – We will be handing the money over to WoMen Against Rape and the Polokong center this week. The winner who guessed the time the water would arrive was James Stenner and that couldn’t have been luckier, as he had pledged the prize – a chopper flight over the Delta – to three deserving people of his choice who are involved in research on the delta but have never flown over it! What a mensch! He runs luxury mobile safaris – have a look at his website.

– a few days after arrival, the pools above and below Old Bridge are filling up –
– the pool below Old Bridge even better –

Meantime, further downstream, here’s what the dry river bed looked like outside Janet’s front gate:

– the road and the river outside Janet’s front gate –

We had started our own little competition: When will Janet’s size three clogs get wet? So she went out in them to show us how dry the riverbed was . .

and then when the water started seeping into the grass, showed us the first time her clogs could get wet in many months – a year!

From the air you could see more: the flood was approaching. That’s ‘Wilmot Island’ in the riverbed in the distance – dry – water arriving – water filling up. Over the course of just three days. Janet’s home is in the lower left corner just out of picture.

Wilmot Island – Thamalakane river

On the ground her view changed from the one above to:

One of her neighbours in Tsanakona ward made a collage of the view from his gate:

In dry times the river is a road and many streets cross straight across it. When the flood arrives you have to cross at the three big bridges:

And so Maun celebrates and heaves a huge sigh of relief. Residents flocked to the waters, welcoming it and scooping up some from the very front of the headwaters to take home. Pula!! The waters have arrived!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Of course the water doesnt stop till it has evaporated, sunk into the Kalahari sand or been pumped out and used by us humans. It carries on! Onward towards the Boteti and Nhabe rivers, with their endpoints in Lake Xau and Lake Ngami respectively. There it does stop. Those are lowpoints and there’s nowhere else to go.

I may post on that. The headwaters have already reached the split where the Boteti flows SE and the Nhabe SW.

~~~oo0oo~~~

More:

Okavango Research Institute

Read how the Okavango may just be the site where humankind originated! Latest mitochondrial research moves the probable origin site of the direct ancestors of people alive today. Fascinating work by an Aussie scientist.

The Under-rated Metropolis of Maun

With all due respect to Moremi, Chobe and Makgadikgadi, the birds you can see in and around Maun rival them all. In fact, pound-for-pound or especially dollar-per-bird, Maun wins hands-down. Especially  when you’re staying in your little sis’ house, eating her food and driving her car!

So here’s a good recipe for Best Botswana Birding: Don’t just land in Maun and buzz off elsewhere! Rather stay in this lovely home:

Janet's Maun Home.jpg

Drive this superb 4X4. With 400 000km of all-Botswana roads experience on the clock, it didn’t even need much steering:

Janet's 1989 Toyota Hilux 4Y.jpg

and bird the immediate vicinity:

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– Janet’s lovely home on the Tamalakhane in the Tsanakona suburb of Maun –

Here are some of the birds seen in and around Janet’s home and along the Tamalakhane where she walks her dogs. Forty one shown, but there were more.

Temp birds-001.jpg

Added bonus: Visit the spots like The French Connection, Miguel’s Place, Tshilli Cafe, Island Safari Lodge along the river – and Ann’s CinemaMultiPlex for breakfast. Wonderful food and they all serve alcohol! What more could you want?

But the best and best-value meals are found here: Janet’s cottage in the salubrious Tsanakona suburb and Bev’s cottage in the salubrious, upmarket and fashionable Disaneng suburb. Neither had vegetarian-only or no-alcohol policies. Um, actually quite the contrary!

On a drive out towards the Boro River Janet and I stopped at a flooded grassland and watched a bird party frolicking on three little acacia trees, dropping down to drink clear water in some tyre tracks. Here’s the spot: Most of the action was in that small acacia dead-centre, behind the foxglove (help me here) stem.

Maun Boro Trip (9).jpg

Twenty three species within half an hour! It got quite “Shu’ Up! Another One?” Here are fourteen of them (Lee Ouzman pics mostly).

Temp Bots Birds.jpg

These two black birds were mingling with the unsuspecting colourful hosts that they parasitise! Like, your spouse’s lover has come to supper . .

Temp Bots Birds-001.jpg
– Longtailed Paradise Whydah / Green-backed Pytilia – – – – – Purple Indigobird / Jameson’s Firefinch –

The Indigobird was a LIFER for me! Long time since I nailed a lifer.

– turquoise marks the spot –

Here’s some other stuff as we searched for the Boro – and there’s the lily to prove that we found it. How’s the height of that termitarium? Janet is not tall, but that’s still some structure!

Maun Trip Boro River.jpg
– little things – and a termitarium –

Yet another advantage to having a little sis who’s a nineteen-year Maun veteran is she can sweet-talk curmudgeons into showing you their patch. So we ended up one morning walking the Tamalakhane flood plains in Disaneng guided by an old bullet with a long lens after drinking free coffee here:

20180321_Lee's Home Disaneng Maun.jpg
– Ouzman hideaway – rich in biodiversity . . and some rooms –

Imagine if he got a wife how she’d make him smarten up that stoep, ne!? Despite the low-key decor, the coffee’s top-notch.

We saw three of these birds plus a bat hawk flying. These are his pics, but from his website. His lovebirds he shot in Namibia, but we saw a few in his garden that morning! Escapees? Or had they followed him home?

Janet Home Maun

Read about the history of Maun here where Lee Ouzman has more old photos like the one on top of Maun ca1985 when I first visited this Kalahari metropolis.

From Maun we ventured North-east to Mogotlho and back to Maun; then south-west to Khumaga and back to Maun. Both trips in that fine Toyota skorokoro 4X4.

~~~oo0oo~~~

While I was there I was covered by these good people, thanks to Janet! For a very small fee you can buy air rescue cover.

Xudum in Okavango

Another trip to the Delta!

Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in August 2001 when Janet & Duncan were helping Landela Safaris run their show. We landed on the nearby bush strip.

– . . . in the Xudum area, east of the Sandveldt Tongue –
Xudum airstrip (2)
– Xudum landing strip in high water – a 2020 picture –

After a few days in camp they had business in Maun and we accompanied them on the drive out of the Delta to Maun in the Land Cruiser. Rickety bridges, deep water crossings with water washing over the bonnet onto the windscreen.

Xudum drift

On the drive back to camp after the day in the big smoke of the metropolis of Maun we entered a Tamboti grove and saw two leopard cubs in the road. They split and ran off to left and right, then ran alongside of us on either side for a minute calling to each other before we moved off and let them be.

We enjoyed mekoro trips, game drives & walks and afternoon boat trips stretching into evenings watching the sunset from the boat while fishing for silver catfish or silvertooth barbel – I forget what they called them. Later, wading in thigh-deep water sorting out the pumps. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.

Xudum (5)

Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where Keith and Angie Rowles were our hosts. That’s where we first heard the now-common salute before starting a meal: “Born Up a Tree.”

Janet moved us from camp to camp as guests arrive, filling in where there were gaps in other camps. We transferred by boat, mekoro or 4X4 vehicle. One night we stayed in a tree house in Little Xudum camp.

Okavango Xudum Camp

Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s

~~~oo0oo~~~

Later Xudum was taken over by &Beyond. Super luxury: R15 000 per person per night! Very different to the lovely rustic tented camp it was when we were there. I hate the way ‘conservationists’ use miles of wooden decking and flooring!

In May 2019 it burnt down.

~~~oo0oo~~~