Thursday 6 May 2010

The Okavango Delta - the perfect place to Safari or holiday? = Yes for me! Part 3/3 - Sights and sounds ..

The blessing – the “pula” – the soaking rain beloved and so essential to life in Africa. Dark cruel grey thunderous clouds gathering on the horizon, the streaks of lightning seen in the distance, the smell of the earth as the storm draws nearer .. sometimes it disappears – a day cursed, sometimes blessings come, the “pula” starts .. usually large heavy drops – splat onto the dusty red earth, blobs of wet powdery earth splash up .. more and more the rain pelts down the ravaging storm is here.

‘Pula’ in Botswana is the name of their currency – but in “Setswana” literally means “rain” ... rain is so scarce in the Kalahari Desert, covering much of Botswana, that it also means “blessing”.

Cumulonimbus capillatus incus floating over Swifts Creek, Victoria in Australia.c/o Wikipedia: Taken by Fir0002,

This blessing splattering onto the mountains of Angola in December January time – the new tributaries gush down, until the Okavango is driven along a broad trough known as the panhandle; here within this well-defined trench the high velocity and great volume of water pushes on with greater intensity, ensuring the trickles of life-giving water spread like tentacles across this inland Delta.

Lilac Breasted Roller

Life can begin again ... the elephant can frolic, the hippos can expand their territory, the birds pour in to a sanctuary of paradise, the insects appear from nowhere, plants burst forth – so this crystal clear swamp becomes a Garden of Eden for so many.

Who would have thought that that great lumbering beast of a hippopotamus has two essentials for this watery world? But they do – firstly are nature’s natural dredgers creating paths from marginal swamps into the channels, causing the water to flow.

Painted Reed Frog

Secondly, they have that wonderful habit of defecating in the water, while at the same time spreading the dung with their tails. Thus hippos here can frolic all year around with no worries about drying water holes, snorting and snuffling, or gently submerging .. not even knowing that the act of defecating their pure grass dung with gay abandon, is of huge benefit to the aquatic food chain helping speed up the vital replenishment of nutrients.

Wallowing .. the elephants appear to be of the opinion that mud was made especially for them to clumsily and heavily roll around - I suspect the little warthogs would disagree, but would not be around when the elephants flopped down and blew bubbles from the water through their flexible trunks.

Splashing along through the reeds, which thrash backwards and forwards, the lechwe (see picture part 1) on their delicate legs, covered in a water repelling substance with feet adapted to running quite fast through knee deep water, the larger Tssessebe (as shown) thundering along the marshy edges or standing tall with their lyre-shaped horns in full vision. The Sitatunga forces its way through the dense papyrus channels on its specially evolved hooves – the only one of the larger mammals to utilise these beds as a habitat and food source.

The slithering snakes .. the ornate green water snake waiting patiently, or the boomslang (tree snake - pictured), or the brown camp snake which decided to tie itself into the reed fencing of the local facilities, when I was in a camp site – did my modesty come first, the cri de coeur, or a dash for freedom .. we were both undecided and went our separate ways .. un-phased – well slightly!

The rustle of trees, the dry mopane leaves that hang down ensuring the least amount of the burning sun reaches them, the trumpet calls of elephant as the herd lumbers towards the water, stopping to use the trees as scratching posts, or desperately shaking a tree with great determination to bring down the juicier leaves near the top – causing navigational problems for the intrepid traveller.

The gentle pad of the giraffe making their way across the savannah to the next acacia tree, their tongues prodding and poking through the thorns to reach the budding leaves, no desperation here – nature has allowed this high and mighty beast to be gentle .. beware its legs though – which have a ‘thwack’ kick: worse than a mule.

Lions have learnt to swim across the channels in pursuit of their prey, while they roar in the night air – a sound that can be heard five miles (8 km) away .. starting with a few deep, long roars that trail off into a series of shorter ones .. a call of the wild, a powerful and intimidating sound.

The laughing hyena .. the haunting laughter-like calls of the Spotted Hyena .. as it devours all in front of it. They have extremely strong jaws and a very powerful digestive system making them capable of eating and digesting their entire prey, including skin, teeth, horns and bones. (video below)

When we were travelling we had an experience and were told another .. we had had chilli bully beef for supper (yes .. but when you’re away for over two weeks and there are no shops – “you’se just get on with it”! – it was a ‘demonic’ mistake .. it was meant to be plain!). Seconds were refused by one and all and our fiery supper got left out over night .. but while we were preparing for the night a hyena trotted into the camp and was seen raiding the chilli pot?!

The other campers had left their fridge out in the day to go game viewing .. to come back into camp – no fridge! Disappointing to say the least – as all the beer was there! Some way off – the fridge was found – empty, the hyenas had taken it, opened it .. and enjoyed the beer & slept the afternoon away .... perhaps a headache?!

Early evenings by the water’s edge are idyllic ... the wind drops the fish begin to rise to the warm surface of the channels ... suddenly, the quick plop-plop sound of gulping, leaping fish breaks the still air, the insects are abundant and this is the time the skimmers begin to fly.

Lily Trotters tiptoe amongst the tulips – no .. across the lily pads; a tiny chick tottering on its long toes reaching up to peck at the blossom of the day-flowering lily towering above it. The hustle and bustle of the flapping wings of the bee-eaters, the swirl of air as an iguana scrapes up the sandy bank invading their nests, while from nowhere a fish eagle darts down to take its prey by surprise and one carmine bee-eater has been lost forever. The video clip below is beautiful and well worth watching, as my description of the iguana, the carmine bee-eaters and the fish eagle really cannot do it justice.

Fish eagles have that amazing plaintive cry, being one of the most evocative sounds of Africa. Particularly vociferous at dawn these most attractive eagles, often singing in duet, produce a sound never to be forgotten. (See excellent video clip below ..)

Bateleur eagles, probably the origin of the “Zimbabwe bird”, soar high in the sky ready to dive on unsuspecting birds or small mammals, generally silent in their approach, they can on occasions produce a variety of barks and screams.

The squawks, chatter, rustles, scuffling, whistles, trickling or lapping water, the gentle buzz of all the ‘silent’ noises of the bush can be haunted by the unusual call of the Pel’s Fishing Owl, whose unearthly wails were once unforgettably described as similar to ‘a man who has lost his soul falling down a bottomless pit’.

This earthly paradise with its kaleidoscope of jewel-bright greens, blues, amethysts, lilacs, turquoises, russets, carmines, yellows and greens, this lush haven of wildlife, a world of true nature still – where else would hear these sounds, or see these colours .. all the colours of the rainbow, of the earth, of life itself .. giving us, the lucky few, who have travelled there an experience of this amazing world: enjoy my tour ...

Lizard strikes first, but African Fish Eagle kills Carmine Bee-eater (50 secs)

Hyena (just over 3 mins – the laugh occurs within the first 40 secs)

Dear Mr Postman .. it was truly magical .. I consider myself really blessed to have been there with friends and my mother. My mother is getting better very slowly, but obviously has taken the strain .. and is sleeping more – however the staff have ‘chats’ with her when she’s awake if I’m not around.. she still can’t hear, but I’m sure that will return.

Fish Eagle Green Bee-Eater White Throated Monitor Lizard

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Susan Blake said...

Wow Hilary! You should be writing for National Geographic - the photos are wonderful and I really enjoyed reading all about this - simply awesome!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi SuZen .. it is amazing & so wonderful to see someone commenting so immediately - gives me huge pleasure! Thankyou!!

You're incredibly kind .. the photos are all from Wiki .. wish they were mine! It's a magical place ..

Glad you enjoyed .. and hugs back - we need them .. it's still cold here! Hilary

Paul C said...

One of my favourite shows is Nature at PBS. You're its blog counterpart. The Lily Trotter is the first I heard of such a bird with this unique skill. It must be entrancing to see one gliding over them.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul .. I had to look up PBS .. Public Broadcasting Service .. and Nature.

That is an amazing comment - THANK YOU.

The little Lily Trotter is amazing .. I'd have loved to post the photo in the book I was looking at .. - it's a clever little bird and it certainly is entrancing - there's lots of them!

The watery wilderness is superb .. good to see you here .. thank you again for that brilliant comment .. Hilary

Wilma Ham said...

What a world, what an amazing world and thank you Hilary for making us aware time and time again what an amazing world we live in.
The colors, the differences, I cannot get over looking at the pictures. I love it all and now I am off to the videos.
Hugs to you both and I am so pleased your Ma is in good hands of good staff. xox Wilma

Davina said...

Hilary, you were blessed indeed. And now, I feel the same way to share your story here. A beautiful job on this post. Writing about the very wild inhabitants of Africa -- you made it sound anything but wild. I really enjoyed your use of adjectives in this one.

Unknown said...

Hi Hilary,

Amazing posts. The last continent I have not visited is Africa. I want to go there some time. Maybe after I make a lot of money (LOL). I liked your pictures, too. Do they have any water sports I can enjoy?

Thank you for your sharing.
Shaw Funami
Fill the Missing Link

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. it is an unbelievable place to visit .. and just so different to our normal world – even after 20 years .. the remembrances are clear. Each country, each place, each tiny part of the earth is beautiful - if we see it & stop to look .. but together the whole is ‘us’ - it’s meant to be whole and together.

Thanks and I do hope you loved the videos – the lizard clambering up the sandbanks, the incredible colours of the carmine bee-eaters and the fish eagle swooping in .. it is such an expression of life .. failure, success in numbers and death – but life for others .. and so the earth goes on giving us this wonderful world. The laughing hyena .. is ‘horrid’ and you can hear the demonic laugh ...

Thanks for your words re my Ma .. yes life is easier, especially as she’s getting better very slowly - hope all’s well your end of the world .. & hugs xox Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. many thanks – sights and sounds .. we need to ‘hear’ and ‘see’ them .. and English is such a wonderful language to be able to work with .. so many different nuances. I have been blessed to have visited and to have seen many wonderful sights, while being able to be at peace and hear the rumbles and rustles of the lonely planet going about its daily life.

So pleased you enjoyed the story and the telling in three shortish posts on this unique place. Good to see you – have a good weekend .. still cold here! Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Shaw .. good to see you .. thank you & glad you’ve enjoyed the posts. Africa does seem to get missed out – on the other hand I have yet to get to Asia and Australia-NZ .. & would love to go one day (soon I hope!). Having photos can explain things a little more .. and help everyone visualise the landscape, animals and the birds etc ..

Go south young man into South Africa and you’ll find your water sports there .. swimming with the crocodiles, cavorting with hippos, exposing yourself to lions that can swim, trying to hide from water snakes is not such a good idea!! So no – the Okavango is ‘pristine’ .. well relatively and wild and definitely not safe for water sports!!

Glad to see you here and that you enjoyed the information – all the best Hilary

Anonymous said...

A agree with SuZan, you should be working for Nat Geo. And that poor hyena. What a miserable night he must have had.

Stephen Tremp

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Stephen - thanks you're a star .. very grateful for that endorsement. I know - I often think of the hyena .. the chilli and the beer were at different times and in different places - but I bet they get lots of freebies .. along with a few funny heads from the public's tastes!

Good to see you ... hope you have a great weekend .. Hilary

Chase March said...

Thanks for sharing this. I don't know if I'll ever make it to these points on the globe but it's nice to know I can visit them here on your blog. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Chase .. try!! Good ideas will come from the experience of Africa .. good music over there too ..

Go forth and see the world my friend! Expand beyond my blog!

Have a great weekend and thanks for being here - Hilary

Vered said...

I've never been on a safari...

Glad your mom is doing better!

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Oh Hilary, You are a great writer. I love and live through your posts. My favorite of the characters in your photo story is the Striped Reed Frog. He and I would get along fine.

Great information...and journey.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vered .. your kids would love it! Expensive though for the family to fly across - so you might be safe .. but what an experience for one and all?!

Thanks - she is a little better ..

Good to see you - have a fun weekend - Mother's Day - hope they pamper you! Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa .. thank you .. and if you can 'feel' my experiences - then I'm really chuffed.

So the Little Striped Reed Frog is your favourite .. stripey, smart, jumpy amphibian .. with a puffed up chest?! Probably a good match - I'm sure he'd be loyal..

Lovely seeing you here .. have a fun weekend .. with or without little stripey .. Hilary

J.D. Meier said...

I really like the spectrum of wildlife you show here ... I'm a fan of the animal kingdom ;)

Patricia said...

Oh so happy to hear that your mum is doing better. I loved this safari through your countryside - and I have not looked at all the links yet there are so many to explore.
Thank you Thank you for putting this series together ( well I am not fond of snakes) but other than that...
rain, rain...blessings

Chris Edgar said...

Wow, Hilary, what a pictorial tour de force! The most amusing moment I had in looking at it was thinking that there was a blue moon in the background of the frog picture, but in fact that was the frog's own throat! Probably showing it off to lady frogs, isn't he!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD .. thanks .. there’s certainly many different and unique animals, birds, plants and insects in the Delta – a myriad of wonderful sights to see – animals teach us so many different ways of doing things .. flexibility, adapting etc .. Good to see you – Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. Thank you .. Mum is funny .. she said yesterday .. she’s in silence & still can’t hear – I hope it comes back. She’s sleeping much more – but when she wakes .. bright eyed .. I had the Ceremonial Service for the end of the War on yesterday for us to watch (Prince Charles in attendance)- a moving experience – she saw a little, but because she can’t hear .. doesn’t always realise what’s happening: except I only ever have the tv on for things that she will like to watch.

Delighted to hear that you enjoyed the ‘tour’ around the Delta with its views, sights and sounds .. Africa is amazing. I too don’t like snakes much .. but they have amazing attributes .. & as you so rightly say – blessings = rain. It’s cool and damp today here in England!

Have a good Sunday .. look after yourself and thanks for being here .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Chris .. good to see you & thank you .. I just couldn’t stop the pictures .. the little frog, was small – I’d hoped it be larger, but glad you could see his throat .. surprisingly I did a post on Blue Moons at the end of last year ..

There are so many animals .. but I wanted to put some different ones in ..

Just so glad you enjoyed it and .. really good to see you here .. enjoy Sunday .. all the best Hilary

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

Hilary, THAT was just awesomely fun to read! My new favorite post!! I loved the hyena story, and could picture them drinking the beer and then stumbling off somewhere (hating themselves in the morning!). And the bird --- that first picture of the lilac one was GORGEOUS.
I could almost hear the lion's roar, and was right there --- watching each animal soak in the majesty of the delta.
I love the way you write, and this post deserves special attention for how captivating and colorful it was.
My very best to you, and wishes for a beautiful week!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Megan .. that's amazingly kind - it's a part of the world I love & that's come through loud and clear!

The stories are fun and daunting sometimes .. isn't the lilac breasted roller fantastic .. so beautiful. I hope you got to see the video of the carmine bee eaters? - they are brilliant!

You are so right - the majesty of the Delta .. and the lions' roars would reverberate all over .. we could hear them in the distance when we were camping.

I really appreciate your comments .. I just had to include so much .. there is so much - there's a tiny balance of life here in the post.

Thank you - you too have a great week ahead ..

Parag said...

The Okavango delta is the largest freshwater wetland in Africa. The beauty of this place is such that it is an year round destination for safaris. Many species of antelope and large herds of Buffalo and Elephants are found in the delta.
Okavango Delta Camp

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Parag - thanks for coming over from your Okavango Delta site .. good to see you. As you so rightly say it is the largest freshwater wetland and inland delta in the world.

So beautiful .. and yes there are many other species, I was just highlighting a few different creatures .. some different animals for everyone to see some of the diversity.

Many thanks for your comment - Hilary