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SHAKAWE AND WESTERN OKAVANGO DELTA
Shakawe is a village located in the northwest corner of Botswana. It is located at the beginning of the Okavango Delta, close to Namibia and Angola. It also provides access to the Caprivi Strip. The village is served by a small airport. The population of Shakawe was 4,389 in 2001 census.
Shakawe is situated at the top of the Okavango Delta and produces exciting birding throughout the year. It is rich in contrasting habitat, and species diversity is dependant to a large extent on water level fluctuations. It is ideal for herons, egrets, kingfishers, bee-eaters, waders, plovers and warblers along the river, owls, eagles and small raptors in the thick riverine forests, and shrikes, sunbirds, babblers, cisticolas and robins within easy walking distance of the river banks. A mornings good birding can produce in excess of 100 species, with birding big day totals for this area normally over 200 species in 24hrs..
The Okavango River with clear flowing channels fringed with papyrus and phragmites reeds and occasional vertical banks; lagoons and backwaters covered with water-lily's; seasonal sandbanks; and open grass-covered floodplains, fringing riverine forest, dry acacia woodland, and cleared patches of subsistence farmland.
All the birding around Shakawe seems to revolve around the two camps namely Drotsky's and Nguma Island. Both accessible with sedan car about 350km's from Maun. Nguma Island and Drotsky's Cabins both offer guided boat trips to explore the river and floodplains as well as both offering excellent birding in and around the lodge grounds which are set in beautiful riverine forest. It is also safe to wander beyond the confines of the lodges to explore the dry thornveld birding. Locals based at the lodges will be able to help with information on how and where to find specials such as Pel's Fishing-Owl and Slaty Egret.
1. Main Waterways: To take full advantage of birding along the river it is highly recommended that you take a boat trip from one of the Lodges. The majority of the main river and channels are fringed with dense stands of Phragmites reeds and Papyrus. Virtually anywhere you find some dense Papyrus areas will have Greater Swamp-Warbler, and with limited use of tapes they will easily come out into the open for a short while. The other little brown Okavango specials are the Chirping Cisticola and Luapula Cisticola, which are easy to find flitting about in the areas with predominantly Phragmites reeds. Both are "black-backed", so use the song to distinguish them. Early mornings are the best time to see Coppery-tailed Coucal sunning themselves on top of the Papyrus, which is also when they are most vocal.
The reedbeds really come alive from August to October during the annual "barbell run". Dropping water levels force huge shoals of catfish out of the floodplain areas and into the main river, which disturbs loads of smaller fish and insects, causing a fish and bird feeding frenzy - a sight you must see to believe. Flocks of hundreds of Great Egret, Little Egret, Black Heron, Squacco Heron, as well as good numbers of Rufous-bellied Heron, African Fish-Eagle and other water birds line the river banks for hundreds of meters at a time.
The vertical banks along certain parts of the river are home to Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and Malachite Kingfisher, all of which breed here. From August till October hundreds of Southern Carmine Bee-eater congregate here to breed, a sight that any naturalist will have to say "wow" to. One of the best areas to see this is the vertical bank directly in front of Shakawe Lodge's campsite. White-fronted Bee-eater and Little Bee-eater, as well as Brown-throated Martin and Banded Martin breed here.
2. Lagoons and Backwaters: The lagoons and backwaters around Shakawe are ideal habitat for White-backed Duck, African Jacana, Lesser Jacana, Lesser Moorhen, and African Pygmy-Goose, which can also be found breeding in the trees around Shakawe Lodge during late summer.
3. Seasonal sandbanks: During the low water months the main river has big sandbars on the inside bends of the river. Any substantial sandbank will have breeding African Skimmer, Collared Pratincole, Ruff sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper. Where the sandbank meets the floodplain, muddy areas form between the sandbank and the reeds. This is the best early morning spot to look for African Rail wandering out of their hiding places in the reeds. Also look out for African Snipe and Greater Painted-snipe. It is also worthwhile in the early mornings to sit and wait for Burchell's Sandgrouse which come down in large flocks to drink. Other birds to on the sandbanks include Black-winged Stilt, Little Stint, Yellow-billed Stork and big flocks of White-faced Duck, and the occasional Fulvous Duck. The sandbanks always produce many rarities and unusual / out of range sightings such as Rock Pratincole, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling and Grey Plover.
One of Shakawe's most sought after birds must be the Pel's Fishing-Owl. Both Lodges can offer up-to-date information on how to find the resident owls. The easiest way is to take an evening guided boat trip to try find the owl hunting, which he normally does from low overhanging branches. The area known as Lloyds Lagoon almost always comes up trumps for this. To find the Pel's Fishing-Owl yourself, try wandering into the forest area behind the last chalet at Shakawe Lodge and check the forest patches with a particularly dense canopy, especially diospyros mespiliformis (jackal berry tree) and kigelia Africana (Sausage tree). They normally roost quite high up, well away from the water, and are unlikely to be flushed unless you walk directly under them.
Night Birds: The area around Shakawe Lodge's workshops and store-rooms has large numbers of roosting Egyptian Free tailed and Banana Bats, which inevitably attracts a hunting Bat Hawk just before dark.