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Okavango – drawing global birders

Okavango – drawing global birders

Okavango – drawing global birders
PETE HANCOCK

BY PETE HANCOCK

The Okavango Delta is one of southern Africa’s top birding destinations – and with good reason. The area boasts more than 450 bird species, many of which are threatened or rare elsewhere, in beautiful, near-pristine surroundings.

This is the place to find one of Botswana’s near-endemics, the vulnerable slaty egret, a floodplain specialist which has its global range centred on the Okavango. The presence of the elegant egret alone would justify a visit by any half-serious birder; however there are another 22 threatened bird species here as well. Foremost among these is the wattled crane, a bird which favours the seasonally inundated floodplains. The Okavango is its global stronghold, supporting the largest single population of approximately 1,300 individuals. Large flocks in excess of 100 birds are still commonplace.

The Delta is also home to a number of sought-after Okavango specials. The ‘panhandle’ where the river enters Botswana before spreading fan-like into the Delta is the best place to see most of these – birds like the iconic Pel’s fishing owl, African skimmer, coppery-tailed coucal, white-backed night-heron, swamp boubou and western banded snake-eagle. The panhandle is also the best place in Botswana to see Narina trogon and African wood-owl.

The other ‘must-visit’ place in the Okavango is the mixed heronry at Gadikwe Lagoon in Moremi Game Reserve; although numbers of breeding birds have dwindled significantly, it is still one of the largest breeding sites for marabou and yellow-billed storks in southern Africa. A variety of other waterbirds including darters, cormorants, herons and egrets also nest here, with activity peaking during September.

Surprisingly perhaps, the birding is also excellent along the Thamalakane and Boteti rivers, although they are not in the heart of the Delta and are unprotected. These and other rivers which flow out of the system are more nutrient-rich than the crystal-clear Delta waters, and provide food for large numbers of ducks. In addition, when the distal ends of these rivers dry out by late summer, before the annual incoming floods, fish trapped in pools attract thousands of piscivorous birds, including pelicans, storks, herons, egrets, hamerkops, kingfishers and many others.

Good birding infrastructure exists around the Delta, ranging from camping to up-market accommodation. There is a good road network and many lodges are serviced by air. Mobile operators with safari vehicles are available to take birders to less accessible locations, and the knowledge of local bird guides is generally excellent.

Read more articles from this issue:
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Okavango Destination Profile
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