Tuesday, December 29, 2009

African Emerald Cuckoo seen in Maun

Over the Christmas period, Richard Randall was fortunate to see an adult male African Emerald Cuckoo at Sexaxa near Maun. This beautiful cuckoo is a forest species and is seldom, if ever, seen in the Okavango. It 'normal' distribution in Botswana is along the Chobe River in the northern part of the country. Like most cuckoos, this species is shy and not easily seen; however its distinctive 'pretty Geor-gie' call is a give-away. The African Emerald Cuckoo parasitises the camaropteras.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Biannual African Waterbird Census

Photo: Thuto Moutloatse

The January waterbird counts are looming fast, and this is a reminder to all participants to get ready to undertake their counts at their favourite waterbody or stretch of river/waterway. New participants are always welcome; as with Common Bird Monitoring (see previous post) a small individual commitment twice a year adds up to a significant amount of data when information from a large number of counters is pooled. Some of the transects have been conducted twice annually for close on 20 years now, and represent a valuable dataset.

If you would like to find out more, with a view to participating, contact Stephanie Tyler at steph_tyler2001@hotmail.com

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Common Bird Monitoring gains momentum

The European Roller is one of the migratory species being monitored (Photo: P Hancock)
BirdLife Botswana’s Common Bird Monitoring (CBM) project aims to establish trends in the numbers of birds in Botswana, even those which are not globally or nationally threatened, to provide an indication of the status of biodiversity in the country. It is anticipated that the information gathered will be useful for the Convention on Biological Diversity as well as within the country where it will inform conservation priorities in terms of species and issues.

The monitoring is conducted during February and November every year, and the November session has just been completed. Transects were conducted mainly throughout the Chobe, Ngamiland and Ghanzi Districts with lower coverage of other areas, and our sincere thanks go to all who participated. The good returns from the northern part of the country are largely due to the CBM co-ordinators within the Department of Wildlife and National Parks: Mothusi Jenamiso, assisted by BirdLife Botswana member Pete Laver, in Kasane; Zee Mpofu in Maun; and Lucas Matthys and Gloria Ndobano in Ghanzi.

The project only really started in February of this year, and since then the number of participants has increased markedly. However, it is too early for any trends to be determined; these will only become apparent after several years. Consequently we urge participants to prepare themselves for the February 2010 monitoring period. New participants are always welcome, to increase the national coverage. The counts are fun, and only take a morning twice a year. If you are interested in contributing, contact one of the co-ordinators mentioned above, or Justin Soopu at the BirdLife Botswana office in Gaborone (3190541) or Pete Hancock at the BirdLife Botswana office in Maun (6865618/74654464). We especially need more transects done in Central and Kgalagadi Districts.

Special thanks to the following for assistance with the November counts: Danae Sheehan (RSPB), Rumbidzai Kaparadza, Mothusi Jenamiso, Baldwin Mashaba, Thatayaone Rabakane, Kabo Kgopa, Cruise Mollowakgatla, Cedric Somotanzi, Martin Kays, Johnny Mowanji, Kambango Sinimbo, Kevin Grant, Lorraine Boast, Birthe Gjern, TJ Lesifi, Eugenie and Mark Skelton, Zee Mpofu, Gloria Ndobano, Pete Laver, Mike Soroczynski, Nicky Bousfield, Harold Hester, and Oreemetse Dingake. (Photos: D Sheehan)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Capacity-building for communities: Mosu workshop

BirdLife Botswana and the Dept. of Wildlife and National Parks are conducting a series of capacity-building workshops for the communities of Mmeya, Mosu and Mmatshumo in the southern part of Sua Pan, to empower them to conserve the natural resources of the area (in particular, the second largest breeding site of the Lesser Flamingo in Africa) and to improve their livelihoods through tourism in the Makgadikgadi. The first workshop was held in Mmatshumo Village during October this year, and explored ways of bringing the three villages together to achieve a common vision for their area. This was followed last week by a second workshop in Mosu Village, where community members developed a Strategic Plan to guide their activities. The third workshop will be held in Mmeya Village early in the new year.The first workshop was held at the Gaing-O Trust offices in Mmatshumo
Back to school in Mosu! The second workshop was held at Mosu primary school
The community workshops are part of the UNDP-GEF funded project “Strategic Partnerships to Improve the Operational and Financial Sustainability of Protected Areas”. The project aims to promote stakeholder engagement in biodiversity conservation in the Makgadikgadi area, and is a sister project to the Makgadikgadi Integrated Management Plan currently underway.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

African Openbill breeding colonies

An aerial survey of the wetlands of the Caprivi region (lower section of the Okavango River in Namibia, and the Kwando-Linyanti-Chobe-Zambezi system in Namibia) in September this year revealed approximately 2,000 nesting African Openbills in Lake Liambezi and a nesting site of about 2,500 African Openbills on the Chobe/Zambezi floodplains.

In 2009, the Zambezi River reached its highest level since 1969, inundating most of eastern Caprivi. More than 55,000 people were displaced and 100 people lost their lives. For the first time in 30 years the Okavango Delta is connected to the Kwando-Linyanti and Chobe-Zambezi rivers via the Selinda Spillway. The Savuti River is flowing for the first time since 1983. In early October the water was 8 km east of the Chobe National Park cut-line (the water was ~20 km from reaching the Savuti Marsh).

Chris Brown, Executive Director, Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF)

This observation is of interest since Lake Liambezi is on the border with Botswana, and also because these are probably the largest breeding colonies for this species in Southern Africa (they exceed the largest site in the Okavango Delta, even though they may only be temporary nesting sites). Pete Hancock, BirdLife Botswana

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Okavango fish traps

by Grant Atkinson and Helena Faasen (Okavango Wilderness Safaris)

The recent high water levels in the Okavango Delta are now a thing of the past. One result of this year’s big flood is the exciting bird viewing that is taking place as thousands of fish become trapped by the receding waters.

These fish become a magnet for many species of waterbirds, and on a recent visit to Chitabe Camp we got to experience some of the action associated with these so-called ‘fish traps.” Instead of viewing birds just flying overhead, or standing somewhere, the fish traps bring many species together and the interaction that occurs between them is fascinating. Forced into close proximity with one another, the birds compete, co-operate, fight and steal from one another. The particular pool that we spent most time at near Chitabe was dominated for a while by a pair of Saddle-billed Storks. The pair were happy to share the pool with several smaller species of birds, but objected to a flock of Yellow-billed Storks, and some Pink-backed Pelicans, that joined in the action. For almost an hour the two Saddle-billed Storks chased all the other storks and pelicans away, but eventually they either grew tired of the effort, or else they had caught enough fish for themselves.

Birding action like we observed will be happening all over the Okavango over the next few months, and it will last until the annual floodwaters arrive and once again bring the sanctuary of deep water to the fish.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vulture massacre

A few of the 50 poisoned White-backed Vultures (Photo: G Reed)

The wildlife and conservation community in northern Botswana has been appalled by the recent poisoning by poachers of over 50 globally threatened vultures in the Xudum Concession – one of the most serious wildlife poisoning incidents on record. The White-backed and Hooded Vultures, together with Yellow-billed Kites, were found dead at two giraffe carcases that had been laced with poison. The debacle was discovered by Grant Reed from Letaka Safaris while out on a foot patrol in the area. “We were investigating a column of vultures spiralling in the sky, and were expecting to find a lion kill – instead we were confronted by the depressing and nauseating sight of large numbers of dead and dying vultures and other raptors. They had been feeding on the carcases of two giraffe, killed illegally by poachers operating in the area, and sprinkled with poison. It appears as though the poachers are deliberately aiming to eliminate every vulture in the area, since the birds are quickly alerting the concessionaires to the occurrence of their poaching activities” he surmised.

Hooded Vultures were also killed (Photo: G Reed)

The incident was reported to BirdLife Botswana and the DWNP Anti-poaching Unit, and although the poachers escaped, sufficient evidence was gathered to identify the culprits. An empty poison container was found, and the poison was identified as Carbofuran by Dr Peter Apps of the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust. Carbofuran is a highly toxic agricultural insecticide meant for use on non-food crops; it is not registered for use on animals, and it is unlikely that it has any legitimate use in northern Botswana.

“We are very concerned by the escalating indiscriminate use of poisons for killing vultures, as this has decimated their numbers throughout Africa, and is the single greatest threat facing all vulture and raptor species here in Botswana” said Pete Hancock, BirdLife Botswana’s Conservation Officer in Maun. “We are embarking on an awareness raising programme to address this issue, and will also be working for legislation to restrict the availability and use of poisons such as Temik which is highly toxic and a threat to our environment and human well-being” he said.

The perpetrators, when brought to book, will face serious consequences – vultures and the giraffes that were used to kill them are Protected Game Animals in Botswana and the penalty for killing one of them is P10,000.00 and 10 years imprisonment. However, it is a long road between the commission of a crime and final conviction – BirdLife Botswana and other stakeholders will be monitoring the case with interest.

The mortal remains of over 50 poisoned vultures go up in smoke (Photo: G Reed)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Community workshop at Nata Sanctuary

Nata Sanctuary was a hive of activity during the latter part of August as 35 community members from Trusts throughout the country gathered for a week’s training in bird identification and monitoring. The workshop was organized and conducted by staff from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and BirdLife Botswana, and was the first of its kind involving community members in Common Bird Monitoring and Important Bird Area (IBA) Monitoring. An introduction to the Management Oriented Monitoring System (MOMS), promoted by DWNP for use in community concession areas, also formed part of the training. Some participants were from new Trusts and were able to interact with, and benefit from, other long-standing Trusts from the northern part of the country which had full-time Community Escort Guides involved in natural resources monitoring.Basic skills in bird identification are needed before anyone can participate meaningfully in bird monitoring, so logically this formed the starting point for the course. The focus for this part was on common birds (needed for Common Bird Monitoring) and ‘trigger species’ for each IBA (needed for IBA monitoring). This led on to sessions on Common Bird Monitoring, presented by Pete Hancock, and IBA monitoring, facilitated by Virat Kootsositse – these included both theory and field practicals so that participants would feel comfortable about initiating these activities back in their areas. The MOMS session, conducted by Malebogo Sentsho, linked very closely with the IBA monitoring, and some of the community members who have already been implementing MOMS contributed meaningfully to the discussions on integrating MOMS and IBA monitoring.

The final day of the workshop was devoted to sharing experiences and lessons learnt in managing Trusts and their activities, for the benefit of the newer Trusts that BirdLife Botswana is engaging with. Boitumelo Sekhute-Batungamile introduced BirdLife Botswana’s PSPA project - centred on promoting community involvement in birding tourism in the Makgadikgadi area – and this provided the necessary background to show where the new community organizations fitted in. Resource persons from Government, primarily DWNP, assisted to facilitate and guide discussions to ensure that the framework provided by the CBNRM Policy was clear, so that all Trusts operate within the parameters set by the Policy.

The highlight of the workshop was the evident willingness of community members to engage in bird monitoring in their areas. Without exception, communities were enthusiastic to become active partners with DWNP and BirdLife Botswana in collecting data which could contribute to the management of their areas, and help meet the Botswana Government’s obligation to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The workshop was made possible firstly by the Nata Sanctuary Trust, which provided the venue, but also by funding from three donor agencies which are supporting BirdLife Botswana projects viz. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (Common Bird Monitoring), European Union (IBA/PA monitoring) and GEF-UNDP (the PSPA project) – they are all thanked for their contribution towards making the workshop a success.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Will Lake Xau fill?

The flow of the Okavango’s waters down the Boteti River this year have been nothing short of spectacular, with the front of the flood approaching Rakops (over 200km from Maun) at present.

While predicting the future is fraught with all sorts of risks, it seems likely that it is a question of when, not if, the water will once again reach Lake Xau, which is the terminus for the Boteti. This assumes of course that Debswana will remove the structures they built previously to channel water into the Mopipi Dam, but given their recent track record (where they removed the bund blocking the Nhabe Channel leading to Lake Ngami), this looks likely. During wetter decades, Lake Xau was a substantial waterbody, and supported spectacular birdlife; the front cover of Smither’s 1964 Checklist of Birds of the Bechuanaland Protectorate depicts a Gull-billed Tern flighting over Lake Xau, and this is the type of rarity that may well turn up at the Lake again when it floods.

Since the Lake has been dry for several decades now, the lakebed has grassed over, and it is currently not unlike Lake Ngami was before the recent floods. Lake Xau is also similar to Lake Ngami in being a nutrient sink with rich soils that, when flooded, will result in nutrient-rich, eutrophic waters in an otherwise dry area. Lake Xau will almost certainly attract and support a diverse suite of waterbirds – in large numbers – when it finally floods. However, it will not be a destination for ‘armchair’ birders – the location is quite remote, there are no facilities in the area, and access will be difficult. For serious birdwatchers, though, it will be worth watching this Blog for updates on the status of the area.
View of the dry bed of Lake Xau (in distance) from Kedia Hill

Monday, August 31, 2009

Coming soon - Avitourism handbook

BirdLife Botswana staff members, Keddy Mooketsa and Boitumelo Sekhute-Batungamile, are to be congratulated on the development of an avi-tourism handbook – a practical guide to starting a community-based birding tourism business. This handbook provides useful information on how to go about using birds in a sustainable, non-consumptive way (through tourism) to improve rural livelihoods, and thereby create a real value for birds that will ultimately lead to their conservation.

Often people living adjacent to Important Bird Areas (IBAs) do not realize the value of birds, but with birding tourism growing worldwide, avi-tourism is a viable way of generating income from birds, with adequate marketing. Once people see the benefit of birds, it is easy to involve them in the protection and monitoring of the resource. This approach has been successfully used by BirdLife partners in South Africa and Kenya, for example, to create meaningful employment, and to show the value of birds, and BirdLife Botswana is now following their example.

The avi-tourism handbook, which is due out soon, will complement the specialist bird guide training that has already been initiated by BirdLife Botswana staff.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Seeing is believing!

The rare yellow form of the Crimson-breasted Shrike (Photo: K Oake)

If you've only ever seen an illustration of the yellow form of the Crimson-breasted Shrike in your bird book and, like many others, even doubted its existence, you'll be happy to know that it is alive and well and living at Kgantsang along the Nhabe River in Ngamiland, northern Botswana. This individual was first seen on 19th July by Andy Moore, Chris McIntyre and Tony Caulfield while out mountain-biking along the river; fortunately they realised the rarity and importance of their sighting and contacted BirdLife Botswana member Ken Oake who photographed it and told other keen birders about it. They were also able to relocate it, confirming its existence! As can be seen from the photograph, the breast of the bird is a rich yellow-orange colour, making it strikingly beautiful. Its mate has the normal crimson breast.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Important date change

Please note that the 2009 BirdLife Botswana annual dinner will be held in Maun on Saturday 15th August this year, not on Saturday 5th September as previously advertised. The dinner will still be at Thamalakane River Lodge and will cost P150.00 per person. We would like those planning to attend, to let Pete Hancock (birdlifemaun@botsnet.bw) know by the end of July please, so that the necessary preparations can be made. After dinner, the guest speaker will be Richard Randall, well known as one of the top birders in Botswana, who will give an illustrated presentation on birding the Okavango.

BirdLife Botswana Board members will be present, so this is also an opportunity to meet them informally and have an enjoyable evening.

Too much of a good thing?

With the Okavango River at its highest flood level for decades at present, there have been great expectations for good birding as water reaches areas that have been dry for a long time. Throughout the Delta, water levels are high, and this has had the somewhat unexpected effect of forcing wading birds into peripheral areas. The result is that the central parts of the Delta are noticeably devoid of birds.

July is the month for the African Waterbird Counts, and long-standing transects that have been counted in the Okavango so far are turning up very few birds. The heronries at Xakanaxa, Gadikwe and Gcobega have been surprisingly quiet, and the same applies to other areas. Water at Lake Ngami is deeper and more extensive than at any other time in the recent past, and waterbirds are conspicuous by their absence.

However, along the fringes of inundated floodplains such as the Khwai and Gomoti, birding is much better. Unusually, sizeable flocks of Wattled Cranes are being seen along the Khwai River, an area previously considered marginal for this flodplain specialist. These are likely to be birds forced out of their normal areas by high water, or they may simply be taking advantage of the improved conditions at Khwai. The Gomoti floodplain is teeming with Slaty Egrets, Glossy and African Sacred ibis and a variety of ducks and geese.
Glossy Ibis probing the shallow floodplain margins (Photo: P Hancock)

Please keep the BirdLife Office in Maun informed of any build-up of waterbird numbers anywhere in the Okavango Delta system.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Interesting sightings from Tachila

Tachila Nature Reserve, near Francistown, is a new privately run wildlife sanctuary that aims to provide opportunities for environmental education for schoolchildren from throughout the country. It is also a worthwhile birding destination, and BirdLife Botswana Board member, Nicky Bousfield (who has been the driving force behind the establishment of the reserve)sent in the following highlights recently:
"The following are some of the interesting sightings from Tachila:
Short-toed Rock-Thrush (eastern race, with uniform slate-blue crown) Monticola brevipes pretoriae
Freckled Nightjar Caprimulgus tristigma (this bird is marginal in eastern Botswana)
Black Stork Ciconia nigra (uncommon in Botswana)
Boulder Chat Pinarornis plumosus (marginal in Botswana)
Bronze-winged Courser Rhinoptilus chalcopterus
Three-banded Courser Rhinoptilus cinctus (marginal in Botswana)
Yellow-billed Egret Egretta intermedia (uncommon in eastern Botswana)
Yellow-billed Egret (Photo: P Hancock)

African-Fish-Eagles are breeding at Tachila for the third year in a row. Other raptors seen from time to time include Bateleur, African Hawk-Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, White-backed and Lappet-faced vultures".

Latest Birds and People newsletter on website

The latest Birds and People newsletter (#22) is available off the BirdLife Botswana website www.birdlifebotswana.org.bw

There have been some unexpected difficulties mailing it out to subscribers, so if you are in a hurry to receive your copy, please download it from the website.

Ringed Pratincoles at Lake Ngami

One of the ringed pratincoles (Photo: K Oake)

An observant Maun birder, Ken Oake, recently spotted two Collared Pratincoles with rings (bands) at Lake Ngami, and managed to get a clear photo of one of them. Unfortunately the number on the ring is not legible, making this a somewhat tantalising observation as we cannot be certain of the origin of the bird. It is most likely that it was among the 61 Collared Pratincoles ringed at the Lake during an AFRING training course in December, 2005, and if this is the case, it would mean that the pratincoles are returning to this important site. Only 283 Collared Pratincoles have ever been ringed, so it is great to get a resighting of one of them, even if the information is incomplete.

Birders at Lake Ngami should also keep a look out for other bird species with rings - for example, a large number of Kittlitz's Plovers were ringed there during the AFRING course, and none of them have been re-sighted or recovered to date.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A date to diarise

The 2009 BirdLife Botswana annual dinner will be held in Maun this year, at Thamalakane River Lodge, on Saturday 5th September. The dinner costs P150.00 per person, and we would like those planning to attend, to let Pete Hancock (birdlifemaun@botsnet.bw) know by mid-August please. After dinner, the guest speaker will be Richard Randall, well known as one of the top birders in Botswana, who will give an illustrated presentation on birding the Okavango.

BirdLife Botswana Board members will be present, so this is also an opportunity to meet them informally and have an enjoyable evening.

Friday, July 3, 2009

New (overlooked) record for Botswana bird list?

During the Peterhouse School scientific expeditions to Botswana between 1966 and 1970, schoolchildren under the supervision of Peter Ginn (well-known as the editor of ‘A Complete Book of Southern African Birds’) collected bird specimens from the Makgadikgadi area. During one of these outings, a gull that was collected in the Nata area, in the company of Grey-headed Gulls, turned out to be an exciting find. Once the group had returned to Zimbabwe, the gull was tentatively identified by Mr Stuart Irwin from the Natural History Museum as Larus novaehollandiae. This was subsequently confirmed by Messrs CW Benson and PR Colston at the British Museum of Natural History.

When Larus novaehollandiae was later split, the nominate race in Australia retained the name L. novaehollandiae and the southern African birds became L. hartlaubii. This species is restricted as a breeding bird to the coldwater coasts of Namibia and the Western Cape, and sightings inland are quite unusual.

However the interesting thing about this observation is that Larus hartlaubii does not feature on the Botswana bird list. There is no mention of it in the Bird Atlas of Botswana – this ‘bible’ for birds in Botswana included historical data on our birds as well as observations spanning the decade 1980 to 1990. Could this species have been overlooked?

It would be interesting to know the whereabouts of the specimen collected by the Peterhouse expedition, to confirm its identity. Anyone who knows anything about this observation is invited to comment below.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kwando River reaches all-time high

As with other rivers in the region, the Kwando River has been rising steadily as the 2009 flood season progresses. It recently exceeded the previous highest level on record (from 1969), but with last week's unseasonal rains has risen even higher.

The Kwando River flows in a south-easterly direction forming the boundary between Botswana and the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, but is diverted in a north-easterly direction when it encounters a slightly elevated faultline - and here it changes its name to the Linyanti. However, a small channel breaches the faultline at the point where the Kwando first meets it, and - unusually - flows out of the parent river to die in the arid Kalahari some 50 kilometres to the south-east. This of course, is the famous Savuti Channel, which dried up during the mid-1980s, and this is the reason why we are so excited about the high water levels in the Kwando River - the Savuti is flowing quite steadily once again, and has almost reached the western boundary of the Chobe National Park. If, or when, the water reaches the Savuti Marsh, it will re-create a wildlife paradise second to none in the region. Birdwatchers are advised to keep track of the progress of the water in the Savuti Channel, since the arrival of the water at the Marsh will undoubtedly bring with it good birding, and possibly a few surprises too.

The top end of the Savuti Channel where it leaves the Linyanti Swamp (Photo: P Hancock)

Peterhouse Expedition to Makgadikgadi revisited

If you were born in Botswana in the past 20 years, you would find it difficult to believe that the lower Boteti River, from Khumaga down to Sokwane and beyond, was virtually perennial prior to 1990, with water year-round, substantial reedbeds and flourishing riparian woodland. All that remains today is an insignificant, dry channel terminating in a parched dustbowl in the south-western part of the Makgadikgadi Pans.

In order to appreciate how the area looked prior to its desiccation, you need to journey back in time. This is well worth doing, since the water flow in the Okavango system, which feeds into the Boteti, is returning to higher levels, and it is entirely conceivable that the river will once again reach this area, restoring it to a rich biodiverse wetland.

With this in mind, I managed to track down copies of the Peterhouse Natural History Society journals in the Peter Smith collection in the library at the Okavango Research Centre. For a month every year between 1966 and 1971, a group of schoolchildren from Peterhouse School in Zimbabwe visited the Makgadikgadi Pans to research and document the fauna of this – then little-known – area. These were no ordinary school jollies, although I have little doubt that the participants enjoyed themselves immensely – the children collected valuable scientific information including mammal and bird specimens, compiled checklists and found and documented many bird nests. Their reports make fascinating reading, and are a valuable contribution to our understanding of the avifauna here at the time of Botswana’s Independence.

Here are a few interesting highlights:

· Goliath Heron – a number seen along the river at Khumaga
· African Fish-Eagle – very common along river at Sokwane (also breeding here)
· Black Crake – very common along river
· Wattled Crane – seen along river
· African Mourning Dove – common in riverine woodland
· Coppery-tailed Coucal – common near river, in reedbeds
· Giant Kingfisher – quite common along river at Sokwane
· White-rumped (Hartlaub’s) Babbler – common all along river

Standing in the dry riverbed at Sokwane today, it is very difficult to visualize these birds here! We look forward to the return of the river, and to see to what extent they recolonise the area.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Freckled Nightjar reported from Central Kalahari

During the last week of May, Map Ives and Grant Woodrow of Okavango Wilderness Safaris heard a Freckled Nightjar calling in the northern part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), well outside its known range.

The Freckled Nightjar is a bird of rocky areas and is abundant in the eastern Hardveld of Botswana - there are also records from the Aha and Tsodilo Hills in north-western Ngamiland. However there is certainly no typical Freckled Nightjar habitat in the CKGR!

Other birders visiting the CKGR should please look out for, and report observations of the Freckled Nightjar from this area.

Perhaps the bottom line here is 'Birds do fly' !!

Okavango floodwaters reach Toteng

Today, the Okavango floodwaters reached Toteng, flowing strongly down the hitherto dry Kunyere Channel towards Lake Ngami.

It is anticipated that the water will reach the Lake within ten days, filling it rapidly since there is an extensive waterbody remaining from last year's floods. This is great news for birders, as the Lake is likely to expand to over 50 square kilometres in extent, and provide rich habitat for waterbirds. Best time to visit would be late September or October this year when smaller waterbodies in surrounding areas have dried, and migratory ducks and waders would be arriving in numbers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Little Piece of the Okavango Restored

There have been some interesting attempts to manage the Okavango Delta in the past, to ‘improve’ the provision of the ecosystem’s goods and services, but it is doubtful whether many of these were successful. The system is very dynamic and fluctuates hugely within natural bounds, moving to its own rhythm.

During the 1970s and 80s, the flood levels in the Okavango were higher than average, but by the end of this period they declined and the outflow down the Thamalakane and Boteti Rivers no longer reached Rakops and the Mopipi reservoir at the distal end. Since large quantities of water were needed at the Orapa diamond mine, the Nhabe Channel was blocked, thereby diverting water down the Boteti River towards the Mopipi reservoir from whence it was pumped to Orapa. Of course, this deprived people living along the Nhabe from their water supply, but by the mid-nineties this did not make any difference since the Okavango waters ended in Maun, some 25 kilometres short.

The position of the bund at the start of the Nhabe channel

Now with the return of higher floods imminent, Debswana has removed the bund at the mouth of the Nhabe Channel. This is in line with the Okavango Delta Management Plan, and is a highly commendable action aimed at restoring the Nhabe Channel. This watercourse flows westwards to Lake Ngami, some 80 kilometres distant. If it flows this year, it will recreate valuable waterfowl habitat, as well as improving the quality of life for people living along its length, illustrating once again that what is good for birds is generally good for people too. Despite the Nhabe being blocked, Lake Ngami has actually filled to varying extent over the past five years, being fed by the Kunyere Channel, and this is likely to continue, with any water reaching the Lake from the Nhabe being an added bonus.

Work in progress - the pipes have been removed and the bund is being levelled (Photo: P Hancock)

The Nhabe Channel is likely to support significant numbers of ducks and geese once flows are restored, particularly Red-billed and Hottentot teal, White-faced Duck, Comb Ducks and Southern Pochard. For some reason, channels that have been dormant for a number of years (whether due to natural or man-made changes) attract vast numbers of waterfowl when they flow again, possibly due to a build-up of nutrients in the form of dung from the herbivores that graze along the channels when they are dry. It is expected that African Fish-Eagles and other piscivores such as Reed Cormorant and African Darter will soon recolonise the area.

It is likely that the Nhabe Channel will once again support large numbers of waterfowl (Photos: W Tarboton)
Once the Nhabe Channel becomes more permanent, aquatic vegetation in the form of reeds, sedges and waterlilies will become re-established, and provide suitable habitat for African and Lesser jacanas, African Pygmy-Geese and Whiskered Terns. The riparian woodland that has degenerated over the past two decades will also recover and boost numbers of frugivores such as Meyer’s Parrot, Burchell’s and Meves’s starling, Black-collared Barbet and Grey Go-away-bird.

African Fish-Eagles will quickly colonise the Nhabe