Best Photographs: 2013 Okavango Expedition

Posted by Steve Boyes of National Geographic Expeditions in Explorers Journal on October 8, 2013

Okavango Expedition Team 2013.

Okavango Expedition Team 2013.

Every year the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and Wild Bird Trust undertake the Okavango Wetland Bird Survey. This is a nine-year project that aims to use 71 wetland bird species as indicators of significant change in the flood regime and functioning of the Okavango Delta. The survey involves “poling” ourselves over 250 miles across this enigmatic alluvial fan in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. In 2013, the expedition was dedicated to the declaration of the Okavango Delta as a UNESCO World Heritage Site next year. Our teachers are the baYei River Bushman that have lived in the delta for over 250 years after migrating down from the Zambezi Valley with their “mokoros” or dug-out canoes. We have learnt how to pole mokoros safely past dangerous game, how to feed ourselves from the delta, and, most importantly, how to navigate the patchwork mosaic of channels, floodplains, lagoons, papyrus, reedbeds and thousands upon thousands of islands.

Please go to intotheokavango.org for a unique into our world on expedition. This collaboration between Jer Thorp and Steve Boyes, both 2013 Emerging Explorers at the National Geographic Society, is an effort to represent rich data from a research expedition into one of the remotest locations on earth LIVE online for the world to see… We had a transponder updating our location live everyday and, at the end of the day, we would upload all bird sightings, comments, photos, and sounds from the day. We even had data from temperature loggers and heart rate monitors uploaded live each day.

Please have a look at the presentation on the Okavango Delta at the 2013 Explorer Symposium in Washington DC at the National Geographic Society: http://youtu.be/vAiP1iOv23M

PLEASE READ LINKS TO BLOGS UPLOADED EVERYDAY ON 2013 EXPEDITION…

 

Okavango Expedition 2013: On the Edge of The Delta

 

Expedition team mounting the solar panels for the first time. These panels and the batteries were a huge burden, but with them we managed without a generator. Solar silence for the whole expedition. Wildlife came closer at night and we all had a better experience. (Paul Steyn)

Expedition team mounting the solar panels for the first time. These panels and the batteries were a huge burden, but with them we managed without a generator. Solar silence for the whole expedition. Wildlife came closer at night and we all had a better experience. (Paul Steyn)

Dr Steve Boyes and John Hilton on the first day pushing through the narrow reed and papyrus beds on our way to Jedibe. Steve got sunstroke that day... (Paul Steyn)

Dr Steve Boyes and John Hilton on the first day pushing through the narrow reed and papyrus beds on our way to Jedibe. Steve got sunstroke that day… (Paul Steyn)

Okavango Expedition 2013: Lost

 

Small crocodiles to begin with... The big ones were to come later (Paul Steyn)

Small crocodiles to begin with… The big ones were to come later (Paul Steyn)

John loading wetland bird sightings into the App we developed for the expedition. (Paul Steyn)

John loading wetland bird sightings into the App we developed for the expedition. (Paul Steyn)

This what endless papyrus beds look like from space. We had to fight our way through these hot, difficult pathways that have been broken down by elephants and hippo. (Office for Creative Research / Wild Bird Trust)

This what endless papyrus beds look like from space. We had to fight our way through these hot, difficult pathways that have been broken down by elephants and hippo. (Office for Creative Research / Wild Bird Trust)

Spending over 6 hours at above 100F temperatures in the thick, narrow papyrus and reed beds was very difficult. We were lucky to be able to find traditional mokoro routes... (Paul Steyn)

Spending over 6 hours at above 100F temperatures in the thick, narrow papyrus and reed beds was very difficult. Steve and Gobonamang Kgeto were lucky to be able to find traditional mokoro routes… (Paul Steyn)

Hydration is very important on these expeditions and the waters of the Okavango Delta do not ever need to be treated. (Paul Steyn)

Hydration is very important on these expeditions and the waters of the Okavango Delta do not ever need to be treated. (Paul Steyn)

Breeding herds of elephant were always nearby as they were all migrating out of the Okavango Delta along the waterways we were using. (Paul Steyn)

Breeding herds of elephant were always nearby as they were all migrating out of the Okavango Delta along the waterways we were using. (Paul Steyn)

Discussion about the route to be taken by the expedition to Jedibe. We just could not afford to lose another day from our schedule... (Paul Steyn)

Discussion about the route to be taken by the expedition to Jedibe. We just could not afford to lose another day from our schedule… (Paul Steyn)

On Day 2 we stop at Jedibe to buy a few essential supplies like coffee and sugar... (Paul Steyn)

On Day 2 we stop at Jedibe, the only village in the delta, to buy a few essential supplies like coffee and sugar… (Paul Steyn)

Kirsten Wimberger

Children that gathered at the Jedibe boat station to see what was going on… We can only hope that the young boy with the mokoro one day teached his children how to cross the Okavango Delta on a mokoro… (Kirsten Wimberger)

Okavango Expedition 2013: Beyond the People’s Delta

 

Gobonamang smoking the fish we caught in the fishing area near Jedibe. (Paul Steyn)

Gobonamang smoking the fish we caught in the fishing area near Jedibe. (Paul Steyn)

Steve with Gobonamang  finding their way through the low waters of the "People's Delta". Everyone felt the pain of the first day... (Paul Steyn)

Steve with Gobonamang finding their way through the low waters of the “People’s Delta”. Everyone felt the pain of the first few day… (Paul Steyn)

Poling a fully-laden mokoro is a serious undertaking that pushes your body top the limit. The advantage for the research is the vantage point from which to see birds... (Paul Steyn)

Poling a fully-laden mokoro is a serious undertaking that pushes your body top the limit. The advantage for the research is the vantage point from which to see birds… (Paul Steyn)

Okavango Expedition 2013: On the Edge of Wilderness

 

A view into paradise... Only that in the northern Okavango Delta you do not see that many animals. People and wildlife just do not mix. (Paul Steyn)

A view into paradise… Only that in the northern Okavango Delta you do not see that many animals. People and wildlife just do not mix. (Paul Steyn)

Pieter Hugo and the team pulling a mokoro over shallow water. This was to become a daily occurrence... (Paul Steyn)

Pieter Hugo and the team pulling a mokoro over shallow water. This was to become a daily occurrence… (Paul Steyn)

This what it looks like when we are lost, cannot find the water, and are not seeing any birds on intotheokavango.org (Office for Creative Research/Wild Bird Trust)

This what it looks like when we are lost, cannot find the water, and are not seeing any birds on intotheokavango.org (Office for Creative Research/Wild Bird Trust)

Okavango Expedition 2013: Into the Wild Okavango

 

By Day 4 we knew that everyone on the expedition was going to need to learn how to pole. There was just no enough water... (Paul Steyn)

By Day 4 we knew that everyone on the expedition was going to need to learn how to pole. There was just no enough water… (Paul Steyn)

 

As soon as we turned NE from the main channel to go for Madinari Island we lost the floodwaters and had to start one week of pulling the mokoros across dry floodplains in search of water... (Paul Steyn)

As soon as we turned NE from the main channel to go for Madinari Island we lost the floodwaters and had to start one week of pulling the mokoros across dry floodplains in search of water… (Paul Steyn)

Okavango Expedition 2013: Knee Deep in Swamp For Three Days…

 

A sunset in paradise... This is why we push so hard to get to where all the birdlife is... (Steve Boyes)

A sunset in paradise… This is why we push so hard to get to where all the birdlife is… (Steve Boyes)

The 2013 expedition team were absolutely finished in the evenings after very strenuous days pulling and poling mokoros without the floodwaters. (Paul Steyn)

The 2013 expedition team were absolutely finished in the evenings after very strenuous days pulling and poling mokoros without the floodwaters. (Paul Steyn)

The crystal clear waters of the Okavango Delta. We were very happy to find this shallow, sandy channel just to the north of Chief's Island after 7 days of hardship in no-man's land... (Paul Steyn)

The crystal clear waters of the Okavango Delta. We were very happy to find this shallow, sandy channel just to the north of Chief’s Island after 7 days of hardship in no-man’s land… (Paul Steyn)

Steve Boyes

Dragonflies abound in the Okavango Delta and are a constant presence during summer. (Steve Boyes)

Okavango Expedition 2013: Still Stuck and in Search of Water

 

Steve and the polers trying to encourage a small pod of hippos to move upstream past our mokoros so that we can get past. They never moved and we had to portage... (Paul Steyn)

Steve and the polers trying to encourage a small pod of hippos to move upstream past our mokoros so that we can get past. They never moved and we had to portage… (Paul Steyn)

Okavango Expedition 2013: The Hippo Whisperers

 

Steadfast... This male hippo was not going to allow his pod to move an inch. In the end we found "hippo whispering", literally talking and whispering to hippos to be the most effective. There was no water around, so we had animal interactions all day everyday. (Paul Steyn)

Steadfast… This male hippo was not going to allow his pod to move an inch. In the end we found “hippo whispering”, literally talking and whispering to hippos to be the most effective. There was no water around, so we had animal interactions all day everyday. (Paul Steyn)

Another portage on a research expedition plagued by no water. Hippos seldom move from the piece of water they consider to be their security. (Paul Steyn)

Another portage on a research expedition plagued by no water. Hippos seldom move from the piece of water they consider to be their security. (Paul Steyn)

Okavango Expedition 2013: The Greatest Moment of All

 

Steve Boyes

African skimmers are very sensitive to changes in flood regime, as they depend on exposed mudbanks at the end of the flood when small fish are concentrated in the main channels. This year we saw more than ever before and found several previously unknown nest sites (Steve Boyes)

Gobonamang and Steve pulling a mokoro past some hippos... (Paul Steyn)

Gobonamang and Steve pulling a mokoro past some hippos… (Paul Steyn)

Hundreds of vultures on a floodplain. This is a place where the abundance of life is very apparent. (Vikki Boyes)

Hundreds of vultures on a floodplain. This is a place where the abundance of life is very apparent. (Vikki Boyes)

Okavango Expedition 2013: The Greatest Day Ever

 

Zach, Pieter and Giles Trevethick filming wetland birds in the Mombo area. Paradise on earth... (Paul Steyn)

Zach, Pieter and Giles Trevethick filming wetland birds in the Mombo area. Paradise on earth… (Paul Steyn)

Steve Boyes

Spur-winged geese taking off from the edge of the channel as we pass them in the Mombo area. Our wetland bird sighting frequency went up 700% in this amazing wilderness in the centre of the Okavango Delta. (Steve Boyes)

Two old male buffalo or "Dagga Boys", the largest I have ever seen, relaxing on the side of the narrow channel. They ran off like thunder soon after this photograph. (Paul Steyn)

Two old male buffalo or “Dagga Boys”, the largest I have ever seen, relaxing on the side of the narrow channel. They ran off like thunder soon after this photograph. (Paul Steyn)

This what it looks like on intotheokavango.org when we know where we are, have found the water, and are seeing hundreds of birds... (Office for Creative Research / Wild Bird Trust)

This what it looks like on intotheokavango.org when we know where we are, have found the water, and are seeing hundreds of birds… (Office for Creative Research / Wild Bird Trust)

Egyptian geese, zebra, lechwe, impala... Later on there were lions, hyena, giraffe, hippo, elephant, kudu and much else. A sight to behold! (Steve Boyes)

Egyptian geese, zebra, lechwe, impala… Later on there were lions, hyena, giraffe, hippo, elephant, kudu and much else. A sight to behold! (Steve Boyes)

Steve Boyes

Pair of African fish eagles during the breeding season in the Okavango Delta. These regal raptors are the enigmatic custodians of these waterways having lived off them for millennia… We thought it was going to rain with the out-of-season cloud build-up, but what we got was an unwelcome cold snap. (Steve Boyes)

Yellow-billed storks and pelicans abound at a fish trap in the Mombo area. These are the feasts that every fish-eating bird looks for... (Steve Boyes)

Yellow-billed storks and pelicans abound at a fish trap in the Mombo area. These are the feasts that every fish-eating bird looks for… (Steve Boyes)

Steve sitting away from camp to take in the wilderness of the central Okavango Delta. The next few days were he most important part of the research project and we were to see thousands more birds than previous years... (Paul Steyn)

Steve sitting away from camp to take in the wilderness of the central Okavango Delta. The next few days were he most important part of the research project and we were to see thousands more birds than previous years… (Paul Steyn)

Male leopard hidden in a tree line on the northern peninsula of Chief's Island... (Steve Boyes)

Male leopard hidden in a tree line on the northern peninsula of Chief’s Island… (Steve Boyes)

Lone fish eagle on the ground in the haze caused by winds blowing over massive peat ash fields that fertilize the northern peninsula of Chief's Island in the centre of the Okavango Delta. (Steve Boyes)

Lone fish eagle on the ground in the haze caused by winds blowing over massive peat ash fields that fertilize the northern peninsula of Chief’s Island in the centre of the Okavango Delta. (Steve Boyes)

A golden sunset in one of the most pristine wilderness areas on earth... (Steve Boyes)

A golden sunset in one of the most pristine wilderness areas on earth… (Steve Boyes)

Steve counting a flock of black-crowned night-herons that took off from a heronry on a palm island. We had never before recorded night-heron heronries that size and we found a few that day. (Paul Steyn)

Steve counting a flock of black-crowned night-herons that took off from a heronry on a palm island. We had never before recorded night-heron heronries that size and we found a few that day. (Paul Steyn)

Kirsten Wimberger

Another large crocodile basking on the side of the channel in the Mombo area. This nile crocodile slipped into the water right in front of us, passing below us as we moved carefully past some hippos. (Steve Boyes)

Research team counting hundreds of blacksmith lapwings in the largest flocks we have ever recorded. (Paul Steyn)

Research team counting hundreds of blacksmith lapwings in the largest flocks we have ever recorded. (Paul Steyn)

Frustrated hippo launching out of the water in an effort to show us just how dangerous he is... We managed to portage past what ended up being a pod of 35 hippos. (Paul Steyn)

Frustrated hippo launching out of the water in an effort to show us just how dangerous he is… We managed to portage past what ended up being a pod of 35 hippos. (Paul Steyn)

Kirsten Wimberger

African jacana eggs in a remote floodplain of he Okavango Delta (Botswana). These decorated eggs are taken care of by the male jacanas. (Kirsten Wimberger)

Hippo encounters were a daily occurrence, over and over again. The one day we spent 6 hours going in circles looking for a way past 9 hippos in our path. In the end we had to sneak past them. (Paul Steyn)

Hippo encounters were a daily occurrence, over and over again. The one day we spent 6 hours going in circles looking for a way past 9 hippos in our path. In the end we had to sneak past them. (Paul Steyn)

Impenetrable wall of hippos in a narrow channel... (Paul Steyn)

Impenetrable wall of hippos in a narrow channel… (Paul Steyn)

Steve poling past a large pod of hippos near Mombo Camp in the heart of the Okavango Delta. Just look at this place! (Paul Steyn)

Steve poling past a large pod of hippos near Mombo Camp in the heart of the Okavango Delta. Just look at this place! (Paul Steyn)

Steve Boyes

The skies light up at sunrise on a cold Okavango spring morning when a distant front is rolling over high in the sky. The power of this place and the effect on us is hard to describe. (Steve Boyes)

Male lion resting just before sunset when he started roaring to advertise the dead giraffe he was protecting... (Steve Boyes)

Male lion resting just before sunset when he started roaring to advertise the dead giraffe he was protecting… (Steve Boyes)

Steve Boyes

Breeding herd of elephants are on the move on a floodplain in northern Chief’s Island, picking a direct line between islands and creating some of the paths we use on our mokoros. (Steve Boyes)

Eight white-faced ducks and a lechwe as the survey continues... (Paul Steyn)

Eight white-faced ducks and a lechwe as the survey continues… (Paul Steyn)

Giles Trevethick

Medium-sized crocodile resting on a small palm island near the main channel we called “Croc Alley”… (Giles Trevethick)

In a narrow channel past Mombo Camp that we called "Croc Alley" we were rushed at bumped by massive crocodiles for a whole afternoon. Here one of the expedition team uses a paddle to fend off a croc. They were slipping into the water in front, gliding below us, and churning the water when we got closer... (Paul Steyn)

In a narrow channel past Mombo Camp that we called “Croc Alley” we were rushed at bumped by massive crocodiles for a whole afternoon. Here one of the expedition team uses a paddle to fend off a croc. They were slipping into the water in front, gliding below us, and churning the water when we got closer… (Paul Steyn)

Steve Boyes

Young crocodile cruising the periphery of the flood while looking for small fish and frogs to hunt in the shallow water of the floodplains where they find refuge… (Steve Boyes)

Okavango Expedition 2013: We are lost in the Okavango Delta

 

Steve trying to find a way back to the Boro Channel that will take us to Maun on the floodwaters... (Paul Steyn)

Steve trying to find a way back to the Boro Channel that will take us to Maun on the floodwaters… (Paul Steyn)

All we had were narrow channels with very little surrounding water for us to use when going around obstacles like hippos... (Vikki Boyes)

All we had were narrow channels with very little surrounding water for us to use when going around obstacles like hippos… (Vikki Boyes)

Okavango Expedition 2013: Leaving “Mother Okavango”…

 

Here is the view from space of the joyous moment we emerged from the dry floodplains adjacent to the Boro Channel that had delayed us for two days. Note the lack of bird sightings before we rejoin the main channel where all the water is. It ahs not rained in 5 months... (Office for Creative Reserach / Wild Bird Trust)

Here is the view from space of the joyous moment we emerged from the dry floodplains adjacent to the Boro Channel that had delayed us for two days. Note the lack of bird sightings before we rejoin the main channel where all the water is. It ahs not rained in 5 months… (Office for Creative Reserach / Wild Bird Trust)

Steve interacting with a bull elephant on the other side of the channel. All we wanted to do was move past peacefully. We had interactions like this several times a day. We were all on the same water. (Paul Steyn)

Steve interacting with a bull elephant on the other side of the channel. All we wanted to do was move past peacefully. We had interactions like this several times a day. We were all on the same water. (Paul Steyn)

On one of our last nights Tom played his traditional mouth organ for us all. This is the music of the Okavango Delta and it speaks to your soul. (Paul Steyn)

On one of our last nights Tom played his traditional mouth organ for us all. This is the music of the Okavango Delta and it speaks to your soul. (Paul Steyn)

Arriving at Simbira Baobab, one of the oldest trees in the Okavango Delta, a cathedral of the wilderness and a highlight of our annual research expedition. (Paul Steyn)

Arriving at Simbira Baobab, one of the oldest trees in the Okavango Delta, a cathedral of the wilderness and a highlight of our annual research expedition. (Paul Steyn)

Lost again and not finding our way to flowing water. The floodplains we used last year are dry already and we will have to pull the mokoros again... (Paul Steyn)

Lost again and not finding our way to flowing water. The floodplains we used last year are dry already and we will have to pull the mokoros again… (Paul Steyn)

Hundreds of elephant were seen migrating through the Mombo area of the Okavango Delta... (Vikki Boyes)

Hundreds of elephant were seen migrating through the Mombo area of the Okavango Delta… (Vikki Boyes)

African skimmers were everywhere in the central Okavango Delta taking advantage of the low waters and abundance of exposed sandbanks for their nests… (Paul Steyn)

Eventually we find the Boro Channel and the floodwaters... (Vikki Boyes)

Eventually we find the Boro Channel and the floodwaters… (Vikki Boyes)

The big chase for Maun... We did over 51km on the last day. 9 hours stand-ip poling the mokoros down a slow-moving channel. Gruelling to say the least! We eventually made it just before dark. (Vikki Boyes)

The big chase for Maun… We did over 51km on the last day. 9 hours stand-ip poling the mokoros down a slow-moving channel. Gruelling to say the least! We eventually made it just before dark. (Vikki Boyes)

Absolute elation as we reach the end of a 9 hour, 51 km day that tested everyone involved. We recorded cattle and goats within the reserve for the first time. (Paul Steyn)

Absolute elation as we reach the end of a 9 hour, 51 km day that tested everyone involved. We recorded cattle and goats within the reserve for the first time. (Paul Steyn)

Pieter overjoyed to have finished his 3rd crossing of the Okavango Delta, and, of course, looking forward to that first beer... (Paul Steyn)

Pieter overjoyed to have finished his 3rd crossing of the Okavango Delta, and, of course, looking forward to that first beer… (Paul Steyn)

2013 Expedition team after 17 days crossing the Okavango Delta using an impossible route at an impossible time of year. (Vikki Boyes)

2013 Expedition team after 17 days crossing the Okavango Delta using an impossible route at an impossible time of year. (Vikki Boyes)

Okavango Expedition 2013: Mission Completed!

Addi Longley-Taylor

Please visit our new website: www.wildbirdtrust.com

From : Nationalgeographic.com