The end of the rainy season in Botswana signals a time of plenty, where pans are full of water and the grass is verdantly lush - but soon the claws of winter begin to suck the moisture from the earth, and will do so until the rainy season begins again.
This is the cycle of life in most wilderness areas of Southern Africa, but in the Okavango Delta this drying period is the forerunner of something unique and truly a miracle of nature.
As with other wild areas the Okavango Delta vegetation shrivels and begins to disintegrate as the dry season takes hold. The lush plains of the rainy season turn to dust and the water in the pans on the islands begins to dry up. The floodplains that were drying before the rain, and greened up with the rainy season, begin to dry up again. The ordeal starts all over again for the creatures that are trapped in the dwindling pools. Given temporary reprieve during the rainy season they fall victim to the mud and predators of the Second Drying.
The Season of Dust and Fire
The land turns to dust and the vegetation that grew high during the rains is susceptible to fire, leaving the sky during this time mostly greyed in dust and smoke. The animals mostly seek out areas of permanent water although the new grass that sprouts after fire attracts herbivores.
The dramas of drying pools, where birds and other predators feast on trapped fish and crustaceans, become a part of the daily cycle of life in parts of the Okavango. Territorial disputes among water dependent animals intensify as the water and food dwindle on the South-western floodplains.
But despite the hardships there is an expectation in the air, an understanding that one of nature' miracles is about to happen. For some however the miracle is too late and they fall victim to the ravages and struggles of the dry season.
A Time of Expectation
During this time of Second Drying there is a sense of expectation that is palpable in the creatures of the Okavango. Some move in from the drying hinterland whilst others leave the security of the permanent delta areas to establish their territories in lieu of the coming water.
It cannot be said with certainty when the flood will arrive, or what course it will take, and the creatures wait in anticipation.