Although the Okavango River flows swiftly in the panhandle region where we're sampling, we cruised upstream easily in a motorboat past long stretches of papyrus and hippo grass. Sedge papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), the tall fan-topped reeds all along the riverbank, can reach up to four meters (13 feet) tall and while they seem to be floating in water, they are actually rooted in peat (muddy, partially decomposed vegetation).
At the last sample site of the day, our boat driver broke a papyrus stalk, peeled the outer skin off and offered it to me to chew. The stalk strings tasted kind of sweet and even a little juicy. Someone in the group added that it tasted like banana.
We caught our first glimpse of hippos yesterday from the boat. Hippos (Hippopotamus amphibious) can be seen in the river and on shore. You can't predict where or when you'll see one, but when the boat driver swerves mid-course, you can be sure he's trying to avoid a hippo encounter. Around the Delta, hippos trample the down the papyrus, hippo grass (Vossia cuspidata) and phragmite reeds, (Phragmites australis) helping to keep river channels open and flowing. Plants are the foundation of most ecosystems, but each species plays its own special role in every ecosystem; even hippo scat is important as part of the nutrient cycle in the
|Bee Eaters on reeds over |
water by Drotsky's camp in
early morning light.
Delta's nutrient-poor system.
Overhead, the bird diversity is amazing. Darters (Anhinga melanogaster), or Anhinga, fly low and close to the water in front of our boat while herons and white egrets scatter into nearby palm trees. In the early morning, colorful swallowtailed bee-eaters (Merops hirundineus) roost close together on phragmites reeds to retain body heat.
— Reported by Lani Asato
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