TRAVELLING FOR THE BIRD ENTHUSIAST
The arrival of summer sees the influx of a large variety of migrant birds from the northern hemisphere which use Botswana – and more specifically the Okavango Delta – as preferred areas for breeding and feeding.
The first migrants arrive during September. They will all have arrived by December, which increases Botswana's bird population by 20% compared to the winter months. The period from December to March is very active and the colours, especially with the birds in breeding plumage displaying, are spectacular.
The Okavango Delta is a birders’ paradise, which entertains both the experienced ornithologist and the eager amateur. One of the highlights of the birding calendar takes place during September–October, when the Carmine Bee-eaters arrive from Central Africa and are often seen in their hundreds on the Savuti Marsh. Interestingly, they make use of the large Kori Bustards, by riding on their backs as they move through the grass of the marsh and kick up fleeing insects, which are then caught by the bee-eaters.
Another highlight is the heronry at Gadikwe Lagoon, which provides nesting sites for hundreds of birds. (The Gadikwe Lagoon is situated between Camp Moremi and Camp Okavango and/or Xugana Island Lodge, and is a highlight for guests taking the boat transfer between the lodges.)
Owing to the heronry being shared by a variety of species it is active from July to March and is busiest from September to December, when breeding colonies of herons are joined in the shallows and among the low trees and swamp-fig thickets by Marabou, Yellow-billed and Saddle-billed Storks, Sacred Ibis and several species of egret. Flapping, noisy and colourful breeding displays can be enjoyed at close quarters (although we maintain a 50 metre exclusion zone).
TRAVELLING FOR THE ANIMAL & LANDSCAPES ENTHUSIAST
After the first rains, the landscape in Botswana transforms into a subtle green blanket. Grasses shoot and leaves appear on what seem to be dead plants and it is a wonderful time of the year to experience the magnificent springing of life in Botswana. The vegetation is lush and green and most of the plants are in bloom. February is peak flowering time for water lilies and the landscape is decorated with wild flowers. Savuti, in particular, and the area between the river and the wooded dunes in Chobe, break out in bright yellows, whites and purples among the green blanket that covers the ground. The sweet smell of fresh grass and Wild Sage at Savuti fills the air and adds to the powerful effect on the other senses.
When the summer rains begin towards the end of November the barren-looking earth of Savute comes alive. Its rich new grasses are a magnet for herds of Burchell’s Zebra and Wildebeest, which can be found on the Savute marsh where they foal before making for the lush grazing grounds of the Mababe Depression further south, on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Large herds of Buffalo gather from the Okavango and move through toward the mainland of Moremi, where there are now sufficient pools of water to sustain them.
As the rains cease towards the end of February and the pans evaporate as the dry season looms the herds gather once again. Closely followed by predators, they make their annual journey from Savute to the Linyanti to arrive around April. During the winter months the banks of the Chobe River and the Xakanaxa area of Moremi become the livelihood of the wildlife, as there is no surface water in the surrounding bush. Elephant and buffalo are also migratory, making seasonal movements of up to 200 km from the Chobe River, where they concentrate in the dry season, to the pans in the Mopane woodlands in the south near Savuti, where the grass is very nutritious.
November to March are great months, as the air clarity is unparalleled, trees begin to burst into life, the new grass is green and lush, skies are dramatic as big clusters of clouds precede the rains and animals are giving birth. It’s a wonderful time for the photographer, as there is plenty of action, colour and visibility.
April to October bring cooler morning air along with warmer water, which can lead to wonderful early-morning misty magic, especially over the Okavango. The Buffalo begin to gather into large herds and visit the rivers more often as the seasonal pans begin to dry up. Along the Chobe River, breeding herds of Elephant increase in density daily as they visit those rivers and pans containing permanent water. African Wild Dogs den in June and it is possible to witness exciting hunts in the Savuti and Moremi areas. Herbivores begin to concentrate at the permanent water sources, as do their predators. Soft early-morning and evening light combined with dust provides many dramatic photo opportunities. In July the bush is bare and the dust pervasive, but there is plenty of action and with patience and perseverance the rewards are great. At first small family groups of Zebra move closer to the Boteti River, but they are soon there in their thousands as winter turns into spring and the first rains fall. These are generally followed by exciting predator activity and spectacular raptor sightings in the Leroo La Tau area.
WINTER – April to September
The days are dry, sunny, clear and cool to seductively warm, while in the evening temperatures drop sharply. Daytime temperatures generally reach 25 °C, and may fall as low as 2 °C (and plummet below freezing in some areas) at night. Virtually no rain falls during the winter months.
SUMMER – October to March
The summer or rainy season begins in October and ends in March. In October the weeks preceding the coming of the rains tend to be the hottest, with temperatures soaring up to 40 °C or more. Cloud cover and the arrival of the first rains towards the end of November or in early December cool things down considerably, although usually only for a short period. During the rainy period, which lasts until the end of February or early March, the days are hot and generally sunny in the morning with afternoon thunderstorms – usually in short, torrential downpours during the late afternoon. Daytime temperatures can rise to 38 °C and night-time temperatures may drop to between 20 and 25 °C. Northern areas receive up to 700 mm of rain per annum while the Kalahari Desert area averages as low as 225 mm per annum. Rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly localised. Often a heavy downpour may occur in one area while 10 or 15 kilometres away there is no rain at all. Showers are often followed by strong sunshine, so a good deal of the rainfall does not penetrate the ground, as it is lost to evaporation and transpiration