With a little more than 6 months to go before our first of three scheduled Botswana Wilderness Safaris for SADC Residents kick off, I thought I’d share a bit more detail on the itinerary and regions that I will be guiding the small groups of just 4 guests through.
The journey begins with a short flight from Maun into the north east of the delta and the Chitabe Concession.
Chitabe Camp – Chitabe Concession
Chitabe is situated south-east of Chief’s Island in a concession known as NG31 – an exclusive wilderness area of 28 000 hectares (69 000 acres). This concession borders the Moremi Game Reserve in the north and the east while the Santantadibe River and the Gomoti Channel are its western and eastern boundaries respectively.
Even though it is very flat and made up of homogeneous Kalahari sand, Chitabe Concession has large variations in habitat patterns over relatively small distances. Seasonal or permanent presence of water is the major driver of habitat types here: Small changes in elevation of just 1-2 metres represent large differences in the frequency and duration of flooding, which creates gradients from permanent rivers and lagoons and permanent swamps with reeds and papyrus, to seasonally flooded grasslands, occasionally flooded grasslands, riverine woodlands and dry woodlands.
Each of these ecosystems has a distinct species composition of mammals and birds. The eastern half of the concession is characterised by grassy floodplains which separate the Gomoti Channel from acacia and stunted mopane woodland. The western half has as its boundary the Santantadibe River with more permanent water and the associated papyrus and wooded island habitat mosaics, further bolstering the diversity of bird species.
The high numbers of impala in the area means that leopard are often seen. Also encountered are Cape buffalo, elephant, lion and frequent sightings of wild dog – the subject of the Botswana Wild Dog Research Project that takes place in the area. Abundant general game species include southern giraffe, warthog, Burchell’s zebra, tsessebe, steenbok and blue wildebeest. Bat-eared fox is always a good find.
The Chitabe Concession’s total bird population is estimated at 345 species, comprising both resident and migratory birds, and varying throughout the year, depending on water levels and season. Raptors are abundant here and include African hawk eagle and hooded vulture, which often nests on the island or seen following packs of African wild dog in search of any scraps after a kill. Of particular note on Chitabe are breeding and visiting wattled crane and slaty egret – complementing the rest of the Delta as a major global breeding area for these species.
The Okavango Delta and Chitabe are recognised as being of conservation importance for the large number of congregatory waterbirds such as rufous-bellied heron and African pygmy-goose that are found here. Floodplain specialists frequently seen include long-toed lapwing and collared pratincole with a high summer density of black coucal in rank grassland areas, particularly around Chitabe Camp and Chitabe Lediba itself. Other important resident species include copper-tailed coucal, chirping and Luapula cisticola, secretarybird, southern ground-hornbill, swamp boubou, Hartlaub’s babbler, and Dickinson’s kestrel. The Chitabe Concession is also important for various Palearctic migratory species during the austral summer such as red-backed shrike, barn swallow, spotted flycatcher and Eurasian golden oriole.
After spending 3 nights exploring this region we board a flight to the Borth-West and the Jao Concesion.
Pelo Camp – Jao Concession
The Jao Concession is 60 000 hectares (150 000 acres) in extent and lies in the north-western area of the Okavango Delta, situated below the Okavango Panhandle. The Moremi Game Reserve forms the eastern boundary of the Concession. Situated in the very heart of the wetlands of the Okavango Delta, the Jao Concession embodies all the magic and mystique of Botswana with vegetation that varies from permanent swamps to dry land. In the east, the Jao Flats boast water channels that cut their way through the papyrus and reed beds, providing the perfect environment for wildlife.
Beautiful lush palm islands dot the water. Further west, the area gets progressively dryer and Hunda Island, which is the tip of a large ‘sand tongue,’ is the largest area of dry land in the Jao Concession during the inundation (July-Sept). Hunda Island has sandveld vegetation supporting many species of nutritious acacia and grewia shrubs which in turn provide excellent browsing. Around the Jao Flats, spectacular herds of red lechwe are followed by their predators – lion and leopard.
Hippo and Nile crocodile are regularly sighted. Other game includes blue wildebeest, impala, tsessebe, southern giraffe, elephant, hippo and crocodile, spotted-necked otter and even the occasional sitatunga. The drier west harbours similar species, with greater concentrations of Burchell’s zebra and blue wildebeest.
Birding is exceptional in the Jao Concession: Vulnerable wattled crane, slaty egret, rosy-throated longclaw, Pel’s fishing-owl, and lesser jacana are found on the eastern side, with the western drier areas hosting crimson-breasted shrike, Dickinson’s kestrel and Meyer’s parrot. Other exciting species in Jao include swamp nightjar and brown firefinch.
Our time at pelo camp will concentrate on water activities including Mekoro trips, boat cruises and walking as we seek to capture the smaller more intimate aspects of the Okavango Delta eco-system. From here we head North-East to Little Vubura Camp in the Vumbura Concession.
Little Vumbura Camp – Kwedi Concession
Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura Camp are situated in the extreme north of the Okavango Delta in what is known locally as the Kwedi Concession, which comprises 90 000 hectares (220 000 acres). Here, the vegetation ranges from open floodplains to dense mopane bushveld – offering spectacular game viewing and birding opportunities all year round.
The permanent swamp and island habitats abound with beautiful tree-islands of every size, surrounded in turn by permanent waterways created both by the summer rains and the annual winter floodwaters of the Okavango Delta. Common trees found around these two camps are the jackalberry, African mangosteen and the ubiquitous sausage tree, which provide shade food and shelter to a fantastic range of wildlife. Breeding herds and lone males of elephant often move through camp – particularly when the jackalberry trees are in fruit.
Game drives in this region are incredibly productive, arriving guests often seeing a range of wildlife on their first game on the trip from airstrip to camp. The annually flooded grasslands of the Okavango Delta surrounding Little Vumbura and Vumbura Plains are locally referred to as ‘melapo’ and offer seasonal viewing of elephant, giraffe, impala, sable antelope (one of the best areas in the Okavango Delta for this species), greater kudu, Burchell’s zebra, common waterbuck and reedbuck, tsessebe, blue wildebeest and red lechwe. Sightings of hippo and crocodile are common in the waterways.
Predators include the African wild dog, several resident prides of lion, leopard, cheetah and African wildcat. The resident wild dog Golden Pack often roam the area and are seen frequently on impala, common reedbuck and kudu kills. Large herds of Cape buffalo also move through the Concession.
The birding in the Kwedi is as varied as it is exceptional all year round. In the summer many migrant species are present. Pel’s fishing-owl is regularly seen, with other specials including wattled cranes.
After spending four nights exploring what has to be one of the most productive regions in the Delta, we return south to Maun where we end our incredible 10 day safari through the Okavango delta.
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