Posted on the 19th February 2011

Etosha NP and the Erongo Mountains

This was to be a trip of 14 days – 3 nights in each of the camps in Etosha and 3 nights at Erongo Mountain Lodge in the Erongo Mountains plus a night each way in Windhoek. Malcolm Gemmell from Button Birding was my guide again – no ladies on this occasion, it was to be a “boys only trip” with full days of birding.

Malcolm and I met up at Cape Town Airport after he flew in from Durban and after lunch we flew out for Windhoek at 1545. A nice flight up with good views under a cloudless sky and we arrived on time. After collecting our hire care we had a short journey into Windhoek to our B & B.

Day 1 – Windhoek to Lake Otjikoto/Namutoni/Fichers’s Pan

If you bird with Malcolm get used to getting up in the dark. It is 0415 and Malcolm has the coffee on, freshly made from his own coffee in a Plunger Pot. We load up and leave at 0515. It is raining hard and would do for several hours as we headed North. There were big gatherings of Black Kite interspersed with Yellow-billed Kite plus Abdim’s Storks (a lifer for me). We stopped by a small koppie about 400km North of Windhoek for our picnic breakfast (kindly packed by the B & B). Despite the rain we are sheltering under the car tail-gate with binoculars trained on Common, White-rumped and Little Swifts, Acacia Pied Barbets, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Desert Barred Warbler (a lifer for me and Malcolm) and Brown-crowned Tchagra. Lake Otjikoto is well worth a visit when travelling to Namutoni. It is just after Tsumeb and on the same road. A walk around the lake through the Acacia trees and grasslands is well worth the effort. There is a small entrance fee.

How about seeing Striped Cuckoo, Shaft-tailed and Long-tailed Paradise Whydahs, European Roller, Violet-backed Starling, Zitting Cisticola, Blue Waxbill, Spotted and Paradise Flycatchers, Willow Warbler and Puffback to name but a few.

Greater Painted Snipe

We arrived at Namutoni just after lunch and with cloudy weather and only warm temperatures we decided to head for Fischer’s Pan along the Eastern road after checking out the waterhole. Lesser Jacana was the top sighting here. Fischer’s Pan is on sweet grassveld growing on lime. Here we saw the biggest group of giraffe I have ever seen, 29 animals together. If you want to bird well then bird at a slow pace. Some really good birds on this stretch like Marico Sunbird, Grey-backed Cisticola, Black-chested Prinia, Temminck’s Courser, Painted Snipe, Macoa Duck and Black-necked Grebe. The marshlands were awash with waders and ducks but particularly Painted Snipe. A good first day with 84 species and 2 lifers.

Day 2 – Namutoni to Andoni Plains

Fortunately daylight isn’t until 0630 so a 0515 wake-up isn’t so bad after all especially after Malcolm’s coffee. Pearl-spotted Owlet calls. Andoni is some 40km north of Namutoni and the road takes us past the marshlands again. Birds have changed since yesterday and we see Southern Pochard, Greater Flamingo, Whiskered Tern, Lesser Moorhen, White-faced Duck and Eurasian Sedge Warbler. Waders still abound with Greenshank, Marsh, Common and Wood Sandpipers. There is 1 Ruff.


Andoni Plains consist of Sandveld and Grassveld interspersed with Acacia. We spend the day in this area as birding is good and the cloudy weather and cooler temperatures keep the birds active. We get Kurrichane Buttonquail, Scaly-feathered Finch, Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbills, Pied Babbler and Eastern Clapper Lark. There are plenty of raptors in the shape of Bateleur, Martial, Steppe and Brown Snake Eagles plus Montagu’s Harrier and Gabar Goshawk. Three Vultures – Hooded, Lappett and White-backed. We return via the marshlands which are only a few kilometres from the camp. Birds have changed again and Chestnut-banded and Kittlitz Plovers are there plus Great White Pelican, Fulvous Duck, Blue Crane, Grey-headed Gull and a juvenile Saddle-billed Stork.

Another good day with 53 new species and 6 lifers for me and 2 for Malcolm.

Day 3 – Fischer’s Pan, Aroe and Loop roads

Some of the roads are almost impassable here but with a high ground clearance vehicle we negotiate the worst of it. The wet calcrete sticks to the car like glue and we were glad it was a hire vehicle. Barn Owl calls at the camp as we leave. The marshlands produce yet again with Shelduck, 3-banded Plover, Avocet and Glossy Ibis. We head for Twee Palms where “Birdfinder” says there are Red-necked Falcon. We are not disappointed as a pair sit in a Palm Tree. There is a lot of grass and water making for a great birding habitat. Red-capped and Rufous-naped Larks, Grey-backed Finchlark, Spoonbill, Harlequin Quail and Secretarybird. Thickets produce Cape Penduline Tit and Black-throated Canary. Bearing in mind we trawled this road yesterday we still made 17 new species with 4 lifers for me and 3 for Malcolm. Tomorrow we change camps and head for Halali.

Day 4 – Namutoni to Halali

Red-necked Falcon

As we leave the car park at dawn Black-crowned Night Heron calls at the waterhole and African Cuckoo sits in a tree close-by. The main road to Halali is not too bad but Eland Drive is closed due to flooding. We move at a steady 25kph, a good speed for birding Malcolm advises as road noise is at a minimum and he can hear the calls. We strike lucky early with Great Sparrow, Black-breasted Snake Eagle, Eurasian Hobby Falcon, Shikra and White Helmetshrike. Traffic is very light but we help a young puff adder cross the dirt road without it getting run over by shielding it with our car. We make good time into Halali so venture further West to see what is around. The Mopane, Combretum and Terminalia Bushveld is very disappointing. Just not the birds here that we expected but did get Carp’s Tit, Groundscraper Thrush and Striped Kingfisher. We abandoned that area and went across to Rietfontein. Lesser Kestrel and Capped Wheatear, Double-banded Courser and Ovambo Sparrowhawk. The waterhole had a large reed bed in the centre which housed African Jacana, Yellow-crowned Bishop and Wattled Plover.

Not a bad day considering the time wasted in the Mopane areas. 23 new species but 5 lifers for me and 1 for Malcolm.

Day 5 – Halali area and loop roads

Tawny Eagle

Halali Camp is home to several owls including White-faced Owl and Barn Owl. Barn Owl roosts near the restaurant (got great photos) and the White-faced Owl was outside our chalet. We climbed the koppie at the camp early but nothing exciting, not the bird we were looking for anyway. We scoured the roadsides and trees all day, even trying the Mopane areas again. Spike heeled Lark, White-crowned Shrike and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting our best birds. A poor day - only 5 new species after a lot of hard work. Still I did get 1 lifer and Malcolm 1 too. Halali Camp was much better than Namutoni, at least the staff seemed committed to being helpful. Signage on the roads was 100% better too.

Day 6 – Halali towards Okaukuejo and several loop roads

We set off early again as soon as the gates opened. We need a better day than yesterday. We were not let down with early very close sighting of Red-necked Falcon and the Lanner Falcon. These birds are fast, no wonder their prey doesn’t see or hear them coming. Yellow-bellied Eremomela and a chance encounter with a Comb Duck kept us on our toes and then a close encounter with a Tawny Eagle (eating a locust) and who fell out of the tree when the branch broke. This was the first day that we came across Common Fiscal (locally known as Latakoo). Unlike our Common Fiscal this has a very broad white eyebrow, apparently to help with glare from the sun/calcrete.

White-browed Sparrow-weaver

We find a Spotted Dikkop with chicks, Double-banded Sandgrouse and Greater Kestrel. Reitfontein Waterhole offers up a pair of White Stork.

A better day than yesterday with 12 new species.

Day 7 – Halali to Okaukuejo Camp via some loop roads

This trip is luxury compared to Malcolms usual trips. We only get up at 0515 everyday, almost a lie-in!!!!! Where does he get the energy?????

The day starts well with Monotonous Lark – what an awful boring song this bird has. Its name is absolutely right. We pick up a Chestnut Weaver, the first one and report it as a special only to be told they are common there. How come we have only seen one then????

There were some lovely male Wattled Starlings on the way plus African Golden Oriole, Black-crowned Tchagra and Bare-cheeked Babbler. We stopped to check out some scrubby land, grassland with alien bushes which reportedly holds Rufous-eared Warbler. We call once and low and behold up pops 1 bird singing its head off. Forests divulge Bearded Woodpecker and Flycatcher Chat is seen on the open plains. Pygmy Falcon perches near a Sociable Weaver colony. There are many birds around but new species become difficult to find and we end the day with 10. Still Malcolm and I both get 2 lifers each

Day 8 – Okaukuejo to Okandeka and Ozonjuitji m’Bari

We are now looking for specific species and so birding becomes much harder. Peregrine Falcon, Wahlberg’s Eagle and Cardinal Woodpecker are the best we can muster. We do see a pair of Rufous-cheeked Nightjars at the waterhole after dark.

4 new species is hard to swallow but we knew life would be difficult. The main route to Okandeka was under maintenance and therefore the airfield for Coursers was off limits. We read all the information on Pink-billed Lark location/habitat and not one to be seen. They must be here somewhere.

Day 9 – Okaukuejo to Okandeka/Spokieswoud/m’Bari

We are first out the gate and heading up to Okandeka again to get this Pink-billed Lark. Zip, zilch, nothing. There are plenty of Spike-heeled and Eastern Clapper Larks. This is our last chance on this road. We leave the Duneveld and head for Sprokieswoud. I see a pair of very pale birds to the left. We stop and watch. Probably Spike-heeled Larks again. But no, they are Pink-billed Larks and in a habitat that the books do not talk of. I get some photos and then we see 2 more. Wonderful. The Ghost Tree Forest is worth a visit to see the sort of mini-Baobab Trees. We get Booted Eagle, Burchell’s Starling and Little Sparrowhawk.

Still no sign of Chestnut-backed Finchlark but plenty of Grey-backed. We check out the type of habitat from the books and go up and down a stretch of road only about 2km from the Okaukuejo Gate. Stony ground with low grass and small bushes. After several runs we eventually pick them up. At last and a fitting end to the day.

Only 5 new species but 2 lifers for me and 1 for Malcolm.

Day 10 – Okaukeujo to Erongo Mountains

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before setting off and were excited at what we thought were Northern Grey-headed Sparrows at the camp. Unfortunately we were shot down on this one despite the birds not having the white wing-bars.

The 250km trip to Erongo was very productive. Both Damara and Monteiro’s Hornbills plus Jacobin and Black Cuckoos. Erongo Mountain Lodge is just 10km from Omaruru tucked into the mountains. A world apart from the flat Etosha Pan. The road in from the lower car park is steep and rocky and the first bird was Mountain Wheatear.

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk

The Lodge restaurant has beautiful views across the valley to the mountains and some wonderful birds feed right outside the glass-free window. Rosy-faced Lovebird, Pririt Batis, White-tailed Shrike, Cape Bunting, Black-chested Prinia, Violet-backed Starling, Red-eyed Bulbul, Green-winged Pytillia, Short-toed Rock Thrush. How’s that for a list of potential lifers!!!

Johnny, our Lodge guide for the 3 nights, took us to see an active Cape Penduline Tit nest. This is something to behold, a work of art. We would go back very early next morning to see the nest in action. We rounded off the day with Rockrunner, Rock Kestrel and Verreaux’s Eagle. 13 new species and 6, yes 6, lifers for me and 1 for Malcolm.

Day 11 – Erongo Mountains

We awoke to the “Bow-Bow” cries of Freckled Nightjars and left at first light for the Cape Penduline Tit nest and within a short time of getting there both birds were active and going in and out of the real entrance and not the false one that is on view. Amazing how these little birds build a nest like this which has moving parts.

We walked about 3km towards Omaruru around lunchtime to find Ruppell’s Parrot but no such luck. The valley offered up White-browed Scrub Robin and Great Spotted Cuckoo though. We did flush Hartlaub’s Spurfowl but no photo. Still 7 more species and 4 lifers for me and 1 for Malcolm.

Day 12 – Kristal’s Keldery/Erongo

The small vineyard just outside Omaruru is also host to Ruppell’s Parrot and at 0800 when it was free from tourists we found 1 in a tree.

Most of the afternoon was spent tracking down Hartlaub’s Spurfowl by climbing the side of several huge rock outcrops. We were awarded by a close encounter of male and female no more than 4 metres away calling as a duet. Does the male call when he has no female as they call together??? Perhaps he only begins to call when they pair up. Who knows??? Finally, Speckled Pigeon and House Sparrow visit the restaurant. 2 new species.

Day 13 Windhoek

Allen's Gallinule!!!!!

We left after breakfast for the 3 hour journey to Windhoek. On our list of sites were Daan Viljoen Game Park, Gamman’s Water Care Plant and Avis Dam. We went for the wrong entrance to the Game Park and finished up at an uncrossable river. Nearby was Gorengab Water Care Plant, not on our list, so we asked for permission to look around. Not bad there with Cape Wagtail, Cape Vulture, Red-Bishop, Great Reed Warbler at the HIT of the trip, Allen’s Gallinule in triplicate – Mum, Dad and infant. Fortunately a photo and the bird was declared genuine and posted onto SA Rare Bird Sightings Website. These birds were some 600km from the Caprivi which is their nearest habitat. Gamman’s Water Care Plant, where we were going to, offered up Horus Swift, Common Waxbill and White-backed Mousebird.

Daan Viljoen Game Park is home to Orange River Francolin which we found shortly after arriving and taking the one-way detour. Scarlet Chested Sunbird, Darter, Little Bittern, White-throated Swallow and White-breasted Cormorant were also there. Avis Dam offered only a Juvenile Pin-tailed Whydah, Feral Pigeon and Little Egret.

17 new species though and 1 lifer for me.

So our 14 days come to an end with 252 species, 33 lifers for me and 13 for Malcolm, who was ecstatic as he doesn’t pick up many lifers these days unless he birds out of his area of KZN.

This was certainly the right time to go and the rains in the North made a huge difference. Erongo will offer you 10 lifers in one small area.

Text & Pics by Mike Graham



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