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.

Explorers 12. Baines

(John) Thomas Baines (1820–1875) – was an English artist and explorer of British colonial southern Africa and Australia. He was most famous for his beautiful paintings – especially of ‘Baines Baobabs’ in present day Botswana and the mighty Mosi oa Tunya Falls in present day Zimbabwe.

Apprenticed to a coach painter at an early age, he left England aged 22 for South Africa aboard the ‘Olivia,’ captained by a family friend. He worked for a while in Cape Town as a scenic and portrait artist, then as an official war artist for the British Army during the so-called Eighth Frontier War against the Xhosas.

In 1858 Baines accompanied that maniac David Livingstone on a disastrous trip along the Zambezi River, from which he was dismissed by the irrational Livingstone after a disagreement with Livingstone’s brother.

From 1861 to 1862 Baines and ivory trader James Chapman undertook an epic expedition to South West Africa. Starting in ‘Walvisch Bay,’ they crossed the Namib Desert, then the Kalahari to Lake Ngami, over the Boteti and Tamalakhane rivers, and then on eastwards to the Zambezi river, on which they were paddled downstream by local boatman to where they could view the falls. If you tried to retrace his steps with even the best 4X4 today (don’t take a Landrover) without using any roads, you would have an epic journey and it would be an amazing achievement. Best you ask a local guide to help you, too. As always – and as still – Baines & co were guided by local people who did not feature in their epic tales of ‘we did it:’

– pommy tourists being ferried downstream towards the falls by Makololo boatmen –
– the falls from the west –
– the falls from the east –

This was the first expedition during which extensive use was made of both photography and painting, and in addition both men kept journals in which, amongst other things, they commented on their own and each other’s practice. This makes their accounts, Chapman’s Travels in the Interior of South Africa (1868) and Baines’ Explorations in South-West Africa. Being an account of a journey in the years 1861 and 1862 from Walvisch bay, on the western coast, to lake Ngami and the Victoria falls (1864), especially interesting. They provide a rare account of different perspectives on the same trip.

On the way they camped under the now famous ‘Baines Baobabs’ on Nxai Pan in Botswana:

– beaut pic from thelawofadventures.com –

Baines gives a delightful description of the tribulations of the artist at his easel in Africa: ‘Another hindrance is the annoyance caused to the painter by the incessant persecutions of the tsetse (fly). At the moment perhaps when one requires the utmost steadiness and delicacy of hand, a dozen of these little pests take advantage of his stillness, and simultaneously plunge their predatory lancets into the neck, wrists and the tenderest parts of the body.’ Awoooo!

– elephants at the falls –

In 1869 Baines led one of the first gold prospecting expeditions to Mashonaland between the Gweru and Hunyani rivers. He was given permission by King Lobengula, leader of the Matabele nation in what became Rhodesia, then Zimbabwe. He later traveled in Natal and witnessed the coronation of Cetshwayo.

– crossing a drift in Natal –
– lots of chasing – black rhino –
– lots of killing – white rhino
– lots of killing –

Thomas Baines never achieved financial security. He died in poverty in Durban in 1875 of dysentery, at the age of 55 while writing up his latest expeditions. He is buried in West Street Cemetery. A generous eulogy was read in London at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society by its President, Sir Henry Rawlinson.

– Zambezi river at Tete village –
– lion family –

~~oo0oo~~

Thank you Jane Carruthers; Jane Carruthers again; His art 1. 2. 3. ; britannica.com brief biography; wikipedia;

~~oo0oo~~

Baines wrote another book in 1871: Shifts and Expedients of Camp Life, Travel & Exploration, by Baines and Lord. My kind of book! I’ll blog about Galton’s book separately, as I’m pleased to see Baines acknowledged it. I couldn’t resist buying that one – Galton’s first edition was in 1855

Wisdom and Beauty

Maun Owl.jpg

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”.

——-ooo000ooo——-

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