For the first two weeks of July, with travel supposedly opening up after two years of Covid-19 lockdowns, we lashed out on a tented camping safari to Botswana, including a side trip into Zambia to visit the stunning Victoria Falls. Little did we know that the airports were completely unready for the sudden influx of tourists that had been hamstrung for two years. After an 11-hour Virgin flight, initially short of one pilot and five cabin crew, we made it to Jo’burg in South Africa but an hour late; Virgin had been waiting for a replacement pilot. That left us with just one hour to make our flight connection to Maun, Botswana, and with Jo’burg airport being a zoo … Anyway, we made it by the skin of our teeth. 75 minutes later, we arrived in Maun, Botswana, but our luggage did not. Neither did the luggage of three other travelling companions. Come to that, a further three travelling companions got stuck in Jo’burg and didn’t make it either. Our three missing tourists and assorted luggage did catch up with us late the following day at our first touring stop of the holiday on a houseboat.
I had low expectations for finding much in the way of odonata, given the inability to go wandering around the African bush mixing with similarly wandering lions, leopards, wild dogs and hippos, but hope springs eternal. Our first stop on the houseboat beside the Okavango Delta might prove helpful and we’d have a hotel stay in Livingstone, Zambia, which might give me a chance, too. I had no idea what to expect of Livingstone but perhaps walking about might be possible? That idea was scotched when, driving into Livingstone, a group of elephants wandered across the road in front of our truck – urban elephants instead of urban foxes. 😀
This was quite early in Botswana’s winter so I had little idea of what to expect. Daytime temperatures drifted up to the mid-20s Centigrade – winters like this I can cope with – but overnight temperatures fell to single figures. It’s also their dry season [oh to have a dry season] which may have had an impact.
As it turned out, I managed to find odonata in four locations, by far the best being a modest but well stocked pond beside our chalet at the Victoria Falls Waterfront hotel, on the Zambezi River shortly before it plunges over Victoria Falls.
In the following lists, the 12 species (only 11 with photographic evidence) shown in bold type are new to us. Quite a decent haul considering the restrictions.
If I can remember how to do it after a 2-year lay-off, here’s my usual map.
Cubango River @ Shakawe, 3rd – 5th July [#1]
Having had a night at the hotel in Maun [4#], we hit the road and had a long drive northwest to the edge of the Okavango Delta where we were to spend a few days on a houseboat, with river trips largely for birds. Happily, we were moored for a night where some damselflies graced us with their presence in the riverside vegetation.
- Pseudagrion deningi (Dark Sprite)
- Pseudagrion massaicum (Massai Sprite)
- Pseudagrion sublacteum (Cherry-eye Sprite)
Waterfront Hotel @ Livingstone, 6th & 7th July [#2]
Livingstone could’ve gone either way. I wondered if wandering about looking for water might’ve been a possibility but then we saw elephants crossing roads in town. We really lucked out, though; we were given a chalet that had a fresh water pool that was dammed behind it. I tripped up one section of the dam and spoiled my knee but a minor injury was a small price to pay for a lovely collection of odonata including many new species.
I think perhaps the most stunning, certainly where its vivid blue eyes were concerned, was the Black-splashed Elf (Tetrathemis polleni). Our example was a somewhat scarce example NOT splashed with black on the wings, them being hyaline instead. I also at last got to see the delightful Red-veined Dropwing (Trithemis arteriosa).
- Ceriagrion glabrum (Common Citril/Orange)
- Phaon iridipennis (Glistening Demoiselle)
- Pseudagrion hamoni (Swarthy/Hamon’s Sprite)
- Pseudagrion sudanicum (Blue-sided Sprite)
- Brachythemis lacustris (Red Groundling)
- Crocothemis erythraea (Broad Scarlet)
- Orthetrum chrysostigma (Epaulet Skimmer)
- Orthetrum stemmale (Bold/Tough Skimmer)
- Palpopleura lucia (Black-winged Widow)
- Palpopleura portia (Shadow-bridge Widow)
- Tetrathemis polleni (Black-splashed Elf)
- Trithemis aconita (Halfshade/Monk’s Hood Dropwing)
- Trithemis arteriosa (Red-veined Dropwing
HATAB Campsite MGR8 @ Moremi Game Reserve, 13th & 14th July [#3]
Our final campsite in the Botswana game reserves was sandwiched between a hippo pool [arghh!] and a small pool. Here we could wander a short way, keeping an eye on the hippos, and we found a couple of old friends. One is ubiquitous in Africa and southern Europe but the other, the Black Percher (Diplacodes lefebvrii), we have seen less frequently so that was a treat.
- Crocothemis erythraea (Broad Scarlet)
- Diplacodes lefebvrii (Black Percher)
Thamalakane River @ Maun, 15th July [#4]
This is where we spent our first night after arriving in Botswana but the gate to access the nearby river was locked. Happily, when we returned for a second stay after our safari, the gate was open and we found a couple of well known suspects, though nothing new.
- Ischnura senegalensis (Tropical Bluetail)
- Sympetrum fonscolombii (Red-veined Darter)