WILFRED AND MARCIA'S NAMIBIAN SAFARIPosted on the 23rd March 2011
WILFRED & MARCIA’S NAMIBIAN SAFARI
Our trip to northern Namibia started on Thursday 10 Feb 2011, when we left Somerset West for our first overnight destination at Springbok. Our second overnight stay was at Hardap Dam, which is also a Namibian National Park, renowned for its birdlife. Unfortunately our stay was brief, and the weather too bad for an objective birding report. The accommodation however, leaves a lot to be desired.
Although long and tiring, the trip through Namibia was fascinating, due to an abnormally high rainfall cycle. Everywhere the veld is lush and green with vegetation, even in the south, which is covered in knee-high grass.
Waterberg Plateau Park (12 – 13 Feb 2011)
We finally arrived at Waterberg Plateau Park, and were amazed by its beautiful setting and abundant birdlife. On entering the gate we marked off our first lifer, the Red-billed Francolin. While checking in we ticked off both the Yellow-billed and Grey Hornbill. When we arrived at our Bush Chalet we were greeted by three Ruppell’s Parrots in the tree in front of our verandah and over the next 36 hours we encountered small groups of these Parrots on at least 10 different occasions, at different locations in the park. On our walks around the Park we came across dozens of Go-away birds, Hornbills and Purple Rollers. We were very excited when we came across our first White-crested Helmet Shrikes and Black-backed Puffbacks. The Ground-scraper Thrushes were very tame and in abundance throughout the park. We managed to get some really good photographs of these beautiful birds, including an adult feeding a chick. Sitting on our verandah was like being in an aviary. Throughout the day, the sound of the birds was overwhelming. Besides being visited by the Damara Dikdik (small buck), a Nagapie and a Spotted Gennet, various birds also frequented our lawn area, including francolins, parrots, thrushes, starlings, drongos and hornbills. Other birds seen during our one and a half day’s stay were: Pale-wing Starling, Burchell’s Starling, Green-winged Pytilia (Melba finch), Violet-backed Starling, Red-backed Shrike, Rosy-faced Lovebirds, Glossy Starling, Masked-Weavers, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Marico Sunbird, Pririt Batis, Blue Waxbill, Spotted Flycatcher, Green and Violet Wood-hoopoe, Paradise Flycatcher, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Carp’s Tit, Grey-backed Chamoropetera, Acacia Pied Barbet, Shikra and Lesser Grey Shrike. Along the 60km access road to the park we also came across the Monterio’s Hornbill, Purple Roller, European Bee-eater, Violet-eared Waxbill, Swainson’s Spurfowl and a Booted Eagle - all lifers for us. Of the approximate 90 birds seen, 23 are lifers, which made us very satisfied with our stay at Waterberg. Most of these birds were photographed.
Etosha National Park: Namutoni (14 – 15 Feb 2011)
We arrived at Etosha and immediately started ticking off birds as well as animals. Fisher’s Pan and Springfontein were great for waterbirds, due to the recent rains. Along the road we saw dozens of Blacksmith Lapwings and Kittlitz’s Plovers. Wading in the shallows were Ruff, Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Black-winged Stilts, Little Stint, Common Moorhen and even a Glossy Ibis. In the water were Red-billed Teal, Maccoa Duck, Little Grebe, African Shell Duck and Egyptian Geese. Further in the distance we could see a Grey Heron, Great- and Little Egrets, as well as some unidentifiable storks. One great find was a Black-winged Pratincole, almost hidden behind some grass. Common sights along the drives around Namutoni were Marabou Storks, Northern Black Korhaan, Kori Bustards and even Blue Crane. Some of the smaller birds included the Lilac-Breasted Roller, European Bee-Eater, Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater, Capped Wheatear, Spotted and Marico Flycatchers, Temminck’s Courser, Crowned Lapwing and Spotted Thick-knee and Double-banded Courser were seen in the shorter grass. Larks were also in abundance, including the Sabota, Red-capped and Dusky Larks. On one of our drives we were pleased to spot a flock of Southern White-crowned Shrikes as well as Sand Martin and Red-breasted Swallow – all lifers for us. We re-acquainted ourselves with the beautiful Scaly-feathered and Red-headed Finches. The Common Waxbill, Kalahari Scrub-Robin and Great Sparrow were also familiar sights. Wilfred spent quite a while trying to get a good photograph of the Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler. Birds of Prey included Black-Shouldered Kite, Peregrine Falcon and Lesser Spotted Eagle. There was also great excitement when we spotted a Lapped-faced Vulture sitting in the top of a tree along Dik-Dik Drive. More lifers for us were the Abdim’s Stork, Palm Swift and Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver. The last two were in abundance around the pool area next to the Fort. All in all we added 17 new birds to our list, while staying at Namutoni.
Etosha National Park: Halali (16 – 18 Feb 2011)
Unfortunately, due to the abundance of water and thick bush in the area (which changed from Acacia Thorn bush to Mopani trees), the spotting of game, as well as bird life, became a significant challenge. Our walk to the Moringa waterhole only produced the Violet-backed Starling and Long-billed Crombeck. Around the restaurant and offices however, we spotted a flock of White-crested Helmet Shrike as well as some Southern White-crowned Shrike and a Southern White-faced Scops Owl. A great sight was 5 Yellow-billed Kites perched in a dead tree on the side of the road just outside the camp. Also seen were Lesser- and Greater Kestrel, Little Sparrowhawk, Gabar Goshawk, Black-shouldered Kite, African Harrier Hawk, Lanner Falcon and Red-necked Falcon. On one of our drives we saw a pair of African Golden Oriole fly past – our first encounter with these striking birds. We also had some great sightings of Double-banded Coursers and a Brown-crowned Tchagra. More Larks were identified, including the Spiked-Heel Lark, Rufous-naped Lark and Grey-backed Sparrowlark. A Chat Flycatcher was added to our lifer list. In search of the Rock Runner we climbed the hill behind the waterhole on two separate occasions but didn’t even hear his call let alone see one - much to our disappointment! We did however see an enormous chameleon – probably in excess of 300mm long. Only 8 lifers netted at Halali.
Etosha National Park: Okaukuejo (19 – 20 Feb 2011)
We had a great chalet overlooking the waterhole at Okaukuejo and enjoyed sitting under a tree with a huge Sociable Weaver’s nest above our heads. Their chattering was incessant and grew frantic when a Gabar Goshawk came to visit, until chased away by a Forked-tailed Drongo. Other birds which also visited the tree included the beautiful Shaft-tailed Whydah, Common Scimitarbill, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Red-headed Finches and a Brubru. Throughout our stay, a number of African Wattled Lapwing was present foraging around the waterhole. On our drive to Charl Marais Dam, past the Ghost Tree Forest, we entered a more arid countryside, encountering some previously seen birds, such as (Southern) Ant-eating Chat, Double-banded Coursers, African (Grassveld) Pipit, Capped Wheatear and Secretary Bird. Larks were plentiful, including the Spiked-heeled Lark and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, and we were also fortunate to spot the elusive Pink-Billed Lark. On a few occasions we saw the fascinating scene of hundreds of Abdims’ Storks circling in the air before settling into the long grass. Back in the camp we also spotted Rufous-vented Tit-Babbler, Black-Throated Canary, Acacia Pied Barbet and a Southern Black Flycatcher, which we nearly mistook for a Drongo. That night we were very thrilled to see our first Rufous-cheeked Nightjars in action. There were four of them flying in and out of the lights at the waterhole. Only 7 lifers here but we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Okaukuejo.
Huab Lodge (21 – 22 Feb 2011)
Initially we planned to stay at Hobatere Lodge in Damaraland, but due to a fire incident, all bookings were cancelled and diverted to other lodges in the area. We were however fortunate to relocate to Huab Lodge (halfway between Khorixas and Kamanjab), also in Damaraland, and with more or less the same birding opportunities. On the drive to Huab Lodge we saw a number of birds of prey and hornbills. A Marshall Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Little Sparrowhawk, Ovambo Sparrowhawk and Gabar Goshawk were spotted as well as about 8 or 9 Yellow-billed Kites circling above the road in one area. At the turnoff to the ‘Rock Finger’ (Vingerklip) we scared a group of Chestnut Weavers and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, drinking from a huge pool of water in the road. At the Lodge itself we saw our first Bare-cheeked Babblers and White-tailed Shrikes and more of the Black-backed Puffback, Carp’s Tit, Violet Back Starling, Grey-backed Cameroptera, Blue Waxbill and Grey-headed Kingfisher. On our early morning walks with the owner (Jan van de Reep), we heard the beautiful song of the Rock Runner all around us but didn’t catch sight of a single one. Cooling off in the swimming pool on our last day we were surprised by a Levaillant’s (Striped) Cuckoo moving between the trees around the swimming pool. We were so flustered that we unfortunately couldn’t get a decent picture. We also did not manage to come across Hartlaub’s Francolin, which is endemic to this area. Apparently they are confined to the higher-lying rocky outcrops, which are somewhat difficult to reach in daily temperatures of above 35oC. While driving out of the reserve, Marcia nearly jumped from the moving car, as a huge cricket jumped out of her handbag, and into her blouse. After this commotion, we spotted some Wattled Starling, Damara and Bradfield’s Hornbill and Black-chested Snake-Eagle. In total we netted 7 lifers at Huab Lodge.
Kunene River Lodge (23 – 25 Feb 2011)
The drive to Kunene was long and on dirt roads that weren’t quite up to Namibia’s good standards. Arriving at the Lodge after about 6 km of the worst road one can ever imagine, we spotted our first (African) Yellow-bellied Greenbulls, Meve’s Starling, Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrush and Woodland Kingfisher. All the old favourites were there such as African Golden Oriole, Pied Kingfisher, Rosey-faced Lovebirds, African Paradise Flycatcher and African Mourning Dove. A small Black Crake became a fairly common sight around the camp. The weather wasn’t very good here, very overcast and dark under the trees in the camp, which made it difficult to take photographs. The Kunene River was in full flood, and with its unique palm-lined embankments, presented a fantastic site. On a boat trip up the River we came across the Little Bee-Eater, Madagascar Bee-Eater, Hamerkop, Swamp Boubou, Red Bishop, White-Browed Couchal, Diederick’s Cuckoo, Goliath Heron and Malachite Kingfisher. We also heard the Fish Eagle but never actually saw it. The following day we went on a drive with Peter Morgan, the owner and a keen birder, and managed to see the Grey Kestrel which is apparently very rare. Other birds spotted were the African Cuckoo, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Wire-tailed Swallow, Yellow-Billed Oxpecker, Dusky Lark, Ruppel’s Parrot, African Pied Wagtail, Three-banded Plover and Double-banded Sandgrouse. We also went in search of the Cinderella Waxbill but after a lot of whispering and scouting in the heat, the nearest nest site proved to be abandoned. Peter offered to take us on a 4km hike (up a dry waterfall), to another known Waxbill site, but we opted out. The best time to see these birds is during early summer when there is less water around. The Kunene is however a fantastic birding place, and we simply will have to go back there again. With a bit of help from our new birding friends, we netted 16 lifers here. On the road to AiAis we added the Stark’s Lark as a lifer.
Namibia: General Impressions
After 6 600km we are finally home after a fantastic birding and bushveld experience in Namibia. Of over 200 birds that have been identified, 79 were new species which we could add to our list, and most of them have been photographed. Although we missed a few important targets, we still managed to see 10 out of some 17 highly endemic birds in the north-west. This included most of the local Hornbills, Ruppell’s Parrot, Violet Wood-Hoopoe, Carp’s Tit, Bare-cheeked Babbler, White-tailed Shrike, Chestnut Weaver and Grey Kestrel.
The following are some general impressions:
Waterberg is an absolute must – particularly for seeing Ruppell’s Parrot.
Etosha was a bit of a disappointment, and Halali certainly did not live up to the hype, but this could be as a result of the extraordinary rainfall in the area during and prior to our arrival.
The Kunene is simply amazing, and certainly warrants a once-in-a-lifetime visit
On hindsight, the best time for a birding expedition to northern Namibia is probably during spring, or early summer, before the rainy season.
The next time, we will certainly consider flying into Windhoek, and then use a hired (4x4) vehicle. We hardly came upon any sedan vehicles in Etosha or the dirt roads of the north-western Kaokoveld.
Finally, Namibia is simply a must for any birding enthusiast. Apart from hosting a huge variety of birds from Southern Africa, including a number of well-known endemics, it is also a country with the most amazing, unspoiled natural landscapes. In fact, the whole country has the feel of one huge nature reserve. Most Class C and D public roads bring you into direct contact with nature and birding (with less traffic than in Kruger and Kgalagadi).