Bounty in Trying Times | Seasonal Okavango Floodplains

Lions and Zebra. Okavango. Lee Kemp
There is no certainty as to how long the seasonal floodplains of the Okavango Delta will be flooded in a particular year - this is determined by the forces of nature - but what is certain is that the floodplains will be the scenes of great dramas over the seasons no matter how high the water levels reach. At the peak of the season's flood the plains will be a sea of water, aquatic grasses thrive, and the place seems to be at peace, despite the winter dry season.

A migration in drying times

On a day the water begins to dissipate - sinking into the sands of the Kalahari or evaporating into the air. The change is noticeable by the day as the hottest season of the year takes its toll.

Okavango journal: the water is dropping quickly, noticeable by the day, leaving the water grasses and lilies shrivelling in its dusty wake. The lechwe are getting restless as they contemplate a move north.

Bounty in the shrinking

Fish begin a migration to areas of permanent water, files of fast-moving black flashes swim in the channels in a frenzied dash against the flow.

As the floodplains dry and the water table sinks pools are all that are left. The pools vary in size from previous season mudholes to larger waterholes. Fish and crustaceans that have not managed to head north are trapped in the diminishing pools, and at the mercy of birds and other predators that flock in to take advantage of the bounty.Okavango journal: it is a time of plenty for the predatory birds of the Okavango - fish and crustaceans with no means of escape thrash around in the ever-diminishing space. Once the birds have finished with the pool and headed off to the next all that is left behind are the fish too large to pick up - they are left to their fate .....The pool dries into mud that hardens and cracks in the heat, leaving evidence of past times caked on the surface. The black mud is flecked with feathers and sundried droppings.

A brief respite - the rains

Okavango journal: the sounds of the feeding orgy have faded into distant echoes, only heard briefly in the feathers and tracks caked into the cracked mud. A bone indicates a predator's stopover to drink from the mud ....

The rains come and the pool may revive briefly but soon dries again - and waits for the flood waters.

Leigh Kemp

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