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:

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

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and bird the immediate vicinity:

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

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Added bonus: Visit the spots like The French Connection, Miguel’s Place, Tshilli Cafe, Lodges 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 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.

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

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These two black birds were mingling with the unsuspecting colourful hosts that they parasitise!

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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.

Here’s some other stuff as we searched for the Boro – and there’s the lily to prove that we found it.

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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:

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Imagine if he got a wife how she’d make him smarten up that stoep, ne!

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.

From Maun we ventured North-east to Mgotlhong and south-west to Khumaga.

Makgadikgadi Pans, Khumaga Gate

The Tamalakhane River runs south-west out of Maun and when it turns east it’s called the Boteti. After a while it runs southward forming the western boundary of the huge Makgadikgadi-Nxai Pans National Park.

At Kumagha village there’s a gate into the park. When the river has water in it a ferryman carries you across, one vehicle at a time.

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We were guests at Tiaan’s Camp as Tiaan is looking for someone to help him start a new admin system and Janet’s just the person to do that. I got lucky as they decided she needed to visit him to check out the camp and discuss how Janet’s consultancy could run the project for him. Tiaan is a character. He was once a diplomat although you would never guess that in a game of Twenty Questions. Nor in game of One Hundred and Twenty Questions.

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Tiaan has run mobile safaris in Zambia, Botswana and Zululand among many other places. He has been involved in lodges on the Delta panhandle and has now settled in Khumaga in a camp he built himself with comfy chalets, lovely campsites, a crystal-clear swimming pool and a huge central building housing an open dining area, an open raised deck overlooking the Boteti where 22 elephants came to bathe the afternoon we arrived. And a cool bar run on the honour system. You know, gooi and skryf.

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He has a delightful accent, a mischievous laugh, speaks three languages fluently and has an amazing store of tales from brain surgery to government service to building in Botswana and Jakobsbaai on the Cape West Coast, to safaris, interesting guests, religion, Land Rovers (he’s afflicted with six of them), philosophy and fascinating animal stories. Maybe he does have a diplomatic side, but he keeps it well-camouflaged.

He took us on a game drive in one of his Land Rovers and we didn’t even break down, so he could show us his knowledge of and love for his patch, the very southern end of the great Okavango Delta, just before the waters from Angola sink into the Kalahari sand for the very last time at Lake Xau.

Makgadigadi Pans Kumagha Gate

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The next day Janet and I took the old Toyota into the park along the green Boteti river valley. We found plenty of interesting little things to photograph.

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In between all this there were the gin n tonics, whiskies and Tiaan’s home-made absinthe, generously dispensed.

 

Interesting birds included Double-banded Sandgrouse, Acacia Pied Barbet, Hoopoe, Crimson-breasted Boubou, a young Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Pin-tailed and Shaft-tailed Whydahs, Red-faced Mousebird, Bateleur, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Blue-cheeked, European and Little Bee-eaters, Meyers Parrot, Goliath Heron and a Grey-backed Camerotera who clacked at me fourteen times. Here are some Lee pics from his website:

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Before this leg of the trip we had been to Mogotlhong.

Xudum in Okavango

Another trip to the Delta!

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

 

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.

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.

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Visited Rann’s camp for lunch 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

Wisdom and Beauty

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Janet Humphrey got this magic pic of a young Giant Eagle Owl and a Paradise Flycatcher in her old garden on the banks of the Tamalakhane river in the suburbs of Maun in Botswana.

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BTW – Owl wisdom? Not so much

owl-brain

Owls are “eyes and ears on wings”. That brain cavity above is about the size of a large peanut. Two-thirds of the owl brain is devoted to sight and hearing. Of the one-third that is left, about 75% of it is devoted to hard-wired instinct and lower functions. That leaves a tiny little sliver for learning which is mostly taken up by remembering good hunting grounds and hunting strategies that work.

Owls are not social creatures like parrots or crows, so they don’t need a lot of cerebral cortex. Think of them as the sharks of the sky. Very good at what they do (hunt, see, hear and reproduce). Mediocre at everything else. (Thanks Mercedes R. Lackey on quora.com).

Geoffey Widdison, also a quoran, asks why we associate owls with intelligence and wisdom and decides “the most likely reason is that they have large depressions around their eyes (which, ironically, are apparently there to direct sound more than to help vision), and that makes them look ‘intelligent and deliberative’ to humans. In other words, not only are we judging by appearance, we’re judging another species on something that has no connection to the quality we attribute to it. (We’re ‘anthropomorphising’).

Which suggests that, while owls aren’t especially bright, neither are we”.

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Here he is a few months later in a neighbour’s garden:

Hwange Camp Invasion

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Somalisa interior

Sister-in-law Janet in Maun sent this:

As you know, Duncan is project manager for Beks Ndlovu’s company African Bush Camps. He is currently refurbishing the camp we stayed at in Jan 2010 (Somalisa in SE Hwange). This week Duncan wrote to Beks:

“FYI…Jurassic is causing a nuisance in camp. Broke into the new storeroom to get cabbages and potatoes. Then did the same to the new Acacia kitchen on Monday night. I believe quite a lot of damage and refused to be chased away”.

Beks wrote:
Our project manager who has spent many years in the bush building safari camps sent me a message tonight whilst I was on vacation in Australia.

Jurassic by the way is an elephant that has a seriously warped sense of humor at Somalisa. He eats guests’ soap and toothpaste and refuses to go by our general ground rules . . . He has a mind of his own!

I can’t help but reflect that today we have these encounters with wildlife and here is what I sent back to our projects manager:

“What fun and games… You are amongst very few people in this world that can tell that kind of story?
Do you think your grandchildren might have the same stories in years to come?
Please kindly ask Jurassic to understand we have a new camp to open in less than a week and since he is family he needs to understand FHB ( family holds back)!”
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See Somalisa camp here:
http://www.africanbushcamps.com/camps-safaris/zimbabwe/somalisa-camp/

I found Neil!

Every garden should have a resident gnome. Especially if a friend of yours edited the well-known magazine Garden Gnome. Or was that Garden n Home, Lesley?
My gnome lives in a hanging pot on the cottage wall and yesterday morning having breakfast I glanced up and spotted him. Next to him was a packet. One of those paper sacks fancy shops use to put gifts in. String handles and a tag you can write happy birthday on.

Ah, I thought, Annerien has left us a gift as a thank you for staying in the cottage.

Inside was a green box with Mr NWH Humphrey on it. And Oakleigh Funeral Home.

I found Neil!

I had lost his ashes, forgetting I had put them in such a clever place where the gnome could look after him.

Luckily Janet had said she’s not up to it yet, when I suggested she gooi his ashes where Bella is buried and where we – well, some of us – OK, me – had put Aitch’s ashes. So I didn’t have to confess at the time that I’d lost Neil. I just mumbled vaguely that I had put him “somewhere, I think in the garage”.

Now he can stay right there in the gnome hanging pot till Janet gets back from Maun and when she’s ready she can go down the special path Tobias cut to the site where, in the middle of me clearing my throat to say “OK, we’re going to put Mom’s ashes here” the kids stomped their feet, slapped their knees, jumped up & down, shouted ANTS! and ran off, leaving me to bury the box on my own.

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