Okavango Expedition 2013: On the Edge of Wilderness

Eleven wattled cranes, hundreds of spur-winged geese, saddle-billed stork everywhere, cormorants, egrets, a multitude of fish eagles, and a whiskered tern fishing in front of a blood red sun… On the edge of the wilderness again and all on the research team are transfixed by the scene, this wonderful Okavango Delta.

In a way all of us have geared our lives to do this 9-year research project using wetland birds as indicators for significant change in this magnificent, soon-to-be World Heritage Site.

Wattled cranes flying
Wattled cranes flying

There is almost no water here up north this year along our transect route across the Okavango and we are not getting where we need to each day. Today we missed “Burning Tree” Island and found an absolute gem in amongst the over 10,000 other green, palmyislands. We learn something new from every island we visit and build on ten years of work on Vundumtiki Island in the NE of the delta.

We are on the edge of the wilderness, on the edge of the most important part of our research and one of the most beautiful places on earth. Tomorrow we hope to make it Madinari Island and then we will try for the islands off the northern peninsula of Chief’s Island…

From Paul Steyn’s expedition diary

The swamp is drawing us into it like a magnet.

Bird sighting have increased substantially and we can’t seem to stop calling out fish eagles. We saw our first elephants today, a sitatunga and many letchwe on the wetland plains. As I sit writing this there is an elephant about 50 meters away chewing on a papysus branch. The wilderness, nervous at first, is now opening up to us, and it feels amazing.

My first taste of Eden came in the form of an island yesterday. As the afternoon began to end, we pulled up on a small patch of land with a big sausage tree sticking up out the middle. Setting up camp has become fairly habitual, and once that was complete, I took a stroll to the far side of the island. Steve was sitting by the water making notes – blending into the surroundings as if he were a part of it. I snapped a few pics of him and carried on.

Steve immersed in nature.
Steve immersed in nature.

There was a high termite mound and I wanted to get my bearings so I scrambled up the side of it. Termite mounds are a dominant feature in the Okavango – pretty much every single island is made up of termites. This one was particularly high, and once on top, I could survey the entire area.

Other islands dotted around ours like an archipelago – each patch of land connected by hippo and elephant trails. Six wattled cranes flew across the sun. That’s more wattled cranes in one sighting than I’ve ever seen. The air around me was pulsing with the energy of wetland life and I breathed in the anesthetic. This was the most peaceful I have felt in a long time.

Shot from on top of the termite mound.
Shot from on top of the termite mound.

The entire team seems to be on a similar high from our immersion into the delta. Although polling is hard in the day, everyone is happy by the time sunset arrives, and keen to get going in the morning.

We have two incredibly tough days ahead, polling though low water and travelling long distances.

But everyone knows Chiefs Island is coming. And that’s the real wonderland. Stay tuned.

For more follow us in twitter @drsteveboyes and @paulsteyn1

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  1. Ratsivalaka
    September 12, 2013, 3:19 pm

    Pictures are so breathtaking and inspiring… ! Can’t wait for the next pictures !

  2. chris
    cape town
    September 12, 2013, 1:19 pm

    poling must be great

  3. Maree Collier
    South Africa
    September 12, 2013, 2:24 am

    Green with envy. Breathtaking. Love the birds. Look forward to more pics

  4. arana
    San Diego, CA
    September 11, 2013, 7:43 pm

    Thank you for doing this. We need to know what is in this world, we need to work hard to protect it from our mindless exploitation. We need this wilderness to persist. I am loving seeing what is there.
    Thank you all!