An extraordinary birding experience in the Okavango Delta

The sweetness of Botswana’s air still lingers in my mind. My visit of Botswana’s Okavango Delta dated back to August 2016. This period is generally described as the dry season when the bush is low and game drive is most ideal. Perhaps its not the best time for birding yet I’m still able to enjoy a combination of both – enjoying birding on a mokoro ride and also admiring the magical scenery of the delta.
African Fish EagleSaddle-billed Stork_by Alvin Lee
In order to search for birds, one should understand how the habitats are distributed because animals live in close association with their preferred habitats and food sources. As described in “Birds of Botswana” the northern part of Botswana sits an array of habitat types and vegetations, from freshwater wetlands of the Okavango Delta, to the arid scrub savanna in the northeastern tip, and lying in-between Kalahari mixed woodland and scrub in the Chobe region.
With the seasonal flow of water that floods the delta during the “dry season”, and the decending water table accompanied by the summer rain during the “wet season”, the Okavango Delta forms one of the most complex and dynamic ecosystem in the world.
Botswana currently has 595 species on record according to the guidebook, 415 of which are residents that present year-round. Almost 140 species are migrants that visit and stay for breeding during the summer time, and a great boost of 20% in number! Having said that late Nov to March is best for birdwatching, a visit during dry season would not disappoint you because the flooded delta still offer some unique birding experience that you can’t experience elsewhere.
Hamerkop by Alvin Lee Duba_156
The first one is no doubt riding a mokoro and get a close encounter with the waders. As the professional guide slowly propels the mokoro along the crystal clear water channel, I was able to completely connect to the natural environment. I could spot a Nile crocodile submerging in water just 20 meters away, then I was distracted by a group of Reed commorant and Yellow-billed stork fleeing away before I could react. Great White Pelican are dotted around. The reeds was just so busy that I need a lot of effort to concentrate on counting.
Birding on 4X4 is equally exciting when the jeep stops on those lovely “bridges” built by trunks. They were built to assist movement on the floodplains especially during the “dry season” when water table rises up due to influx of Angola River. Birders could enjoy the benefit of staying on a higher ground to spot species that actively foraging in the floodplains. A casual scan could yield a fruitful 20 species, at least 6 types of egrets and herons – including the near-endemic Slaty Egret. The call of African Fish Eagle echoes in the air and Bateleur is guiding on top of a Teak.
15Aug_BWA Kwetsani_038 okavango delta_06
Tips for a birding trip:
  • 1. Make sure you stay in a lodge which has a guide who is an experienced birder. He/She could provide valuable advise on local species and sightings of the day/week as your target species list. Mention your interest to your agent so they could help arrange everything for you.
  • 2. Go in the right season – summer migrants boost the number of birds in Botswana (especially in the delta) up approx. 20%.
  • 3. Camouflaged dresses are prohibited in many Africa countries – an effort to combat poachers.

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