The Okavango Delta, in the southern African country of Botswana, is a most astounding place. A desert in the dry season, and an extensive wetland the other months, it is home to thousands and thousands of birds, mammals, and myriad wildlife.
This is the first of a two-part series highlighting birds we saw at this Unesco World Heritage Site.
Due to seasonal flooding, the Okavango Delta swells and shrinks dramatically in the course of a year. In January and February, rainfall from Angola drains down the Okavango River and floods this flat plain for 4-6 months–an attractive opportunity for parched wildlife.
As part of the Kalahari Desert, the Delta’s water eventually recedes from the sandy terrain; and high temperatures cause the water to transpire and evaporate.
This annual cyclical pattern creates a permanent or temporary home for hundreds of thousands of African creatures. Wikipedia Okavango Delta overview here.
A 7,000-square-mile area, there are over 500 different bird species here. For comparison, in all of Canada (3.8 million square miles) there are 400 bird species. Bird list here.
Aquatic birds and raptors populate the waterways, swampy areas attract crakes and swamphen, while open waters attract waders. The variety of habitat, from reedy swamps to forests and grassland, is what makes this an attractive panoply for birds.
Some birds are rare or threatened, like the Wattled Crane and African Skimmer; others, like the African Fish Eagle, are commonly seen.
More than 200 species of mammals graze, drink, and live primarily nomadically, following the water or the growth it produces–buffalo, hippo, numerous antelope, zebra, wildebeest, to name a few.
Elephant herds number several hundred. And of course, predators (lion, hyena, cheetah and more) follow the herds.
The Okavango Delta is also home to the endangered Cape Wild Dog. We had the blissful pleasure of finding a pack of wild dogs at nearby Chobe River, read about it here.
Today I showed you some of the water birds in the Okavango Delta, including a few cameo appearances by non-birds. Next time we’ll take a look at more terrestrial-oriented birds. Stay tuned!
All photos by Athena Alexander