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Bush Boyes on Expedition: Starry, Starry Night

We have been very busy with the research on the island, checking nest boxes and doing transects. The bush is unbelievably thick and overgrown with no roads to speak of and water everywhere. Ten years ago when I started work on Vundumtiki Island there was almost no water and we had a complex road network. The record floods over the last few years and the torrential rains this year and last have literally reclaimed Vundumtiki Island and its surrounds. Even the pile of old building materials and rubbish that we have collected over the last 5 years in an effort to completely rehabilitate has almost been covered by a termite mound and thick grass. This is becoming a wild forgotten island home to hundreds of lechwe and baboon, and used by the local kudu, giraffe, lion and leopard as a refuge.

 

Baby quail hiding in the grass. Mom was close by protecting the rest of her brood. (Neil Gelinas)

 

With no viable crossings onto the island we have had to mark out a route across the channel in front of the island. None of the old roads onto the island exist anymore and have either been consumed by floodwaters or closed off by elephants and dead trees.

Last night we decided to go to one of our favorite places in the Okavango, “Kubu Deck”. “Kubu” means hippo, and that is what you see close up from the deck at sundowner time. There is nothing quite like sipping a whisky with 15 hippos arranged in front of you diving, jumping, grunting and farting. It took us almost two hours to get to the deck, as there were no roads and we simply had to make our way along the lagoon we knew and past a grove of leadwoods that we recognized.

 

Big male hippo coming up to us to explain that he is the boss. (Neil Gelinas)

 

Arriving at the deck was as magical as always. Stepping up to see that view and the hippos strikes me silent every time. The sunset was a dream that could not be real and the stars that night seemed to multiply on the still surface of the lagoon. We all sat in wonder in the darkness, trying not to talk and feeling like kings of the world, flying among the stars of the Kalahari big sky.

We had to commence our retreat to Vundumtiki Island at 10 p.m. The drive back was extremely difficult with numerous long crossings and the constant threat of losing the track we had made. Without a clear track we would have to spend the rest of the evening picking our way between dead trees and deep water.

By midnight we had arrived home, properly tired, but filled with the youthful enthusiasm of adventure and the prospect of a new day in 6 hours!

Dr Steve Boyes
National Geographic Grantee
Director – Wild Bird Trust
Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology (University of Cape Town)