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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meantime, further downstream, here’s what the dry river bed looked like 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.
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!
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.
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.
(this blog is about happenings, disasters, surprises and chaos since I caught marriage and kids. But every now and then I re-post a story from my blissful, trouble-free, beer-fuelled bachelor days blog. Here’s one):
Hey, let’s go on a safari!
Great friend Larry Wingert is out from the USA and we hop on a flight to Maun in Botswana. It’s 1985 and we’re bachelors on the loose with time and money!
From Maun we fly into the Delta (Tjou Island camp) in a Cessna 206. After many beers and wines a resident auntie starts looking enticing at around midnight but the moment passes.
The next morning a pair of Tropical Boubou, Laniarius major, fly into the open-air pub under a tree right above where we’re sitting and belt out a head-turning, startling loud duet. Stunning! That’s a lifer!
After a short mokoro ride it’s back to the plane and a quick, low-altitude flip back to Maun where we all squeeze into an old Land Rover, fill up at Riley’s Garage . .
. . and head off for Moremi, stopping just outside Maun to buy some meat hanging from a thorn tree. Goat? Supper. Our outfit is called – I think – Afro Ventures.
We’re a Motley Crew from all over. We get to know two lovely Aussie ladies, a lovely Kiwi lady, a Pom fella – 6 foot 7 inches of Ralph; AND the gorgeous Zimbabwean Angel Breasts (Engelbrecht her actual surname)! Unfortunately, she’s The Long Pom’s girlfriend (sigh). Weird how the only first name I can think of now is Ralph, the undeserving Pom.
Our long-haired laid-back hippy Saffer – no, he was probably a Zim, see his letter – safari guide Steve at the wheel is super-cool, a great guide. So off we go, heading north-east, eight people in a Series 2 Landie – “The Tightest-Squeeze-Four-By-Four-By-Far”.
Long Legs in a Landie to the rescue!
Anyone who has driven in a Landie will know there’s lots of room inside – except for your shoulders and your knees. Besides that – roomy. Land Rover’s theory is that three people can fit on the front seat, three on the middle seat and two on those postage stamp seats in back. Right! See that metal pipe that your knees keep bumping against? That’s what Land Rover used as their prototype airbag. It didn’t work so they only kept it for the next fifty years, then changed it. By using milder steel for the pipe?
Previously a critic of Landrover design, in a flash I’m a keen supporter! Unable to endure the cramped space on the middle seat, The Lengthy Pom gets out at the very first stop and sits on the spare wheel on the roofrack. I sit with my thigh firmly against Angel Breasts’ thigh (sigh).
More clever Landrover design features:
The Long Pom stays up there for the rest of the week – whenever we’re driving, he sits on the roofrack! When we stop he has to pick the insects out of his teeth, like a radiator. I’m in seventh heaven. Mine and Angel Breasts’ thighs were made for each other.
Birding: Problem Solved!
I’m mad keen on birding but I don’t know how these guys feel about it. What if they get pissed off? What if they only want to stop for large furry creatures? After all, five of the seven of us are fureigners. But the problem gets solved like this: The first time we get stuck in the deep sand, a little white-browed scrub robin comes to the rescue! He hops out onto the road in full view, cocks his tail and charms them. From then on I have six spotters who don’t let anything feathered flit past without demanding,“What’s that, Pete? What’s that? And that one?” I become the birding guide! Steve is happy – it’s not his forte, but he’s keen to learn.
Moremi – and True Love
At Khwai River camp a splendid, enchanted evening vision befalls me – my best nocturnal wild life sighting of the whole trip: I’m walking in the early evening to supper and bump into Angel Breasts outside her bungalow – she’s in her bra n panties in the moonlight. Bachelor dreams. Oops, she says and runs inside. Don’t worry, I’ve averted my eyes, I lie (*sigh*). That’s another lifer!
At Savuti camp the eles have wrecked the water tank.
At Nogatsaa camp a truck stops outside the ranger’s hut, a dead buffalo on the back. The ranger’s wife comes to the truck and is given a hindquarter. Meat rations. They also drop the skin there and advise us to carry a torch if we shower at night as lions are sure to come when they smell the skin.
Another Lifer! Later I head for the tiny little shower building – a single shower – to shower while it’s still light. Discretion being the better part of valour! A sudden cacophony makes me look out of the broken shower window: The lady-in-residence is chasing an ele away from her hut by banging her pots & pans together! We travel thousands of k’s to see elephant and she says Footsack Wena! Tsamaya! The ele duly footsacks away from that awful noise. While looking out, I spot what I think could be a honeyguide in a tree, so I have to rush back to our puptent wrapped in a towel with one eye on the ele to fetch my binocs. It is a Greater Honeyguide, the one with the lovely Latin name Indicator indicator, and that’s another lifer for me! Moral of the story: Always carry your binocs no matter where you go!
That night the elephants graze and browse quietly right next to our puptent, tummies rumbling, other noises emanating from front and rear. Peeping out of the tent door I look at their tree stump legs, can’t even see up high enough to see their heads. Gentle giants.
As we head on north and east through the sand, we approached the Chobe river; and the landscape looked like Hiroshima in WW2! Elephant damage of the trees was quite unbelievable. That did NOT look like good reserve management! Botswana doesn’t believe in culling, but it sure looks like they should!
The Chobe river, however, was unbelievable despite the devastation on its banks – especially after the dry country we’d been in. What a river! What wildlife sightings!
On to Zimbabwe, the mighty Zambesi river and Victoria Falls. We stayed at AZambezi Lodge. Here we bid a sad goodbye to our perfect safari companions. Me still deeply in love. Angel Breasts holding The Long Pom’s hand, totally unaware of my devotion (*sigh*).
At the end, our new friend and safari guide Steve gave me and Larry a letter. We read it on the flight out of Vic Falls.
Hopeful note: Larry had a camera on the trip, I didn’t, so I have asked him (hello Larry) to scratch around for his colour slides in his attic or his secret wall storage space in Akron Ohio. He will one day. As a dedicated procrastinator he is bent on never putting off till tomorrow what he can put off till the next day. Meantime, thanks to Rob & Jane Wilkinson of wilkinsonsworld.com, xeno-canto.org and others on the interwebs for these borrowed pics and sounds!
Edit: There’s more hope! Larry wrote 16 December 2017: P.S. I will renew my efforts to locate some photos of our Botswana trip. If you saw the interior of my house, you’d understand the challenge. . . . OK, but if you saw the exterior of his old house you’d fall in love with it:
Terrible note: Update November 2019: Larry has since had a bad fire in the basement of his lovely home. Much of his stuff is ruined by the fire, the smoke and then the firemen’s water! He may not repair his home! This is so sad! Dammit! Pictures suddenly aren’t important any more.
Saffer – Suffefrickin; South African
Zim – a Zimbabwean
lifer – first time you’ve seen that bird ever – or anyway in lingerie
Footsack Wena!Tsamaya! – Go away! Be off with you! Eff Oh!
pamberi ‘n chimurenga – forward the liberation struggle! in Shona
I thought the nervous client had spotted Janet also looking at the scorpion and the puff adder in her room.
But it wasn’t like that; Janet wasn’t there.
The lucky, nervous – and ‘happy at the same time’ – client had spotted a scorpion, a puff adder AND a spotted genet like this one: All at once!
She had NOT spotted a Janet like this one:
Janet’s life in Botswana is seldom dull . .
So Janet wasn’t spotted. Some things are not spotted. In fact they’re STRIPED.
Later – Not-Spotted Janet sent a pic of another – or the same – puff adder visiting inside a chalet.
Beautiful, innit? Now, I know what you’re thinking: You’d shit your cotton undertrousers if you spotted a puff adder in your chalet, but think of the poor snake! It would shit its custom-made snake-skin undertrousers, seeing a 60kg murderous mammal towering over it. Poor thing is half a kg of innocence. Hundreds of them get bludgeoned for every human they bite – and only a few of those humans that get bitten actually croak. Give snakes a break.
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:
Drive this superb 4X4. With 400 000km of all-Botswana roads experience on the clock, it didn’t even need much steering:
and bird the immediate vicinity:
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.
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.
Twenty three species within half an hour! It got quite “Shu’ Up! Another One?” Here are fourteen of them (Lee Ouzman pics mostly).
These two black birds were mingling with the unsuspecting colourful hosts that they parasitise! Like, your spouse’s lover has come to supper . .
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. How’s the height of that termitarium? Janet is not tall, but that’s still some structure!
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:
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?
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.
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.
Ten days in a verdant green Botswana in the ‘off-season’ – or ‘out-of-season’. What bliss. Here’s my lil sis Janet doing our pre-trip inspection of her trusty 1989 Toyota Hilux which clicked over to 400 000km on our way to the community trust area we visited on the Khwai river near where the Moremi and Chobe game reserves share a boundary.
We thought of “getting out and pushing it a mile” ala John Denver “back in 1958, we drove an old V8” but we thought, nah, let’s just sing about it!
It was this green:
In places it was muddy:
Knee-high grass and lots of water meant the animals were sparsely scattered all over. Even the Mababe Depression was wet. The first time I saw it was 1985 and it was bone-dry. That was also the last time I had been there overland. In-between I have visited Maun and the Delta often, and flown to Kasane, Savuti, Chobe river and Hwange.
Janet organised it all along with outback trader, photographer and established curmudgeon Lee Ouzman; also with keen wildlife enthusiasts and expert 4X4 drivers Bev and Ash Norton, all hard-drinking Maun locals. I had to smack back the gin to keep up. I’ll add a random few photos taken from Lee’s website (not taken on this trip). His website is worth a visit! Do go and check it out.
What a wonderful trip. Peaceful and fun with lovely laidback folk and cold beers and gin n tonics! We had all of my kind of good weather: showers, sunshine and massive thunderheads, and especially: no wind; lots of animals; plenty of good birding. My specials included Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen, African Marsh Harrier, Rufous-bellied Heron, Kori Bustard.
Night sounds included Pearl-spotted Owlet, White-faced Owl, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, African Scops Owl, hyenas, lions and elephants. We also saw three lions, lots of eles, hippo, croc, kudu, waterbuck, impala, zebra, buffalo, slender mongoose, dwarf mongoose, tree squirrels, baboons, a hover fly and one ear-fly.
We were here: (click to enlarge)
Back to the metropolis of Maun, and then on to Khumaga after a few days.
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.
BTW – Owl wisdom? Not so much
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”.
Here he is a few months later in a neighbour’s garden: