Tour Overview: Namibia, combined with the Okavango Panhandle, is a rewarding birding destination combining a desert and delta experience. On this trip we managed to see most of Namibia's endemics and near-endemics and enjoyed some exciting big game viewing in the world-renowned Etosha National Park. Our tour began in the scenically beautiful Erongo Mountains, where we had Roadrunner, Hartlaub's Francolin and Monteiro's Hornbill; then on to Walvis Bay, with its elegant flamingoes and myriad shorebirds. We visited the rocky Spitzkoppe massive and searched for Herero Chat, before a storm overtook us near the Brandberg and we were shocked to find the normally dry Ugab River in flood. From Etosha we travelled north to the bird-rich Caprivi region and along the verdant Okavango Panhandle in Botswana. Here we found the elusive Pel's Fishing Owl along the quiet backwaters of the Okavango River. En route to Windhoek we stopped off at Grootfontein for Black-faced Babbler and overnighted at the spectacular Waterberg Plateau Park, which enabled a final look at some of Namibia's colourful birds and smaller mammals.
Highlights: Seeing at least 18 different Black Rhino in Etosha, the thousands of shorebirds in Walvis Bay of a variety of species in advanced stages of attaining their breeding plumages and seeing many parts of the arid desert in a green flush of vegetation after the late rains.
Number of bird species recorded: 342
Number of mammal species recorded: 38
Birding the Rooibank for Dune Lark
Bird Highlights: White-tailed Shrike, Monteiro's Hornbill, Rockrunner, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Ruppell's Parrot, Hartlaub's Francolin, Dune Lark, Blue Crane, Secretary Bird, Pel's Fishing Owl, African Pygmy Goose, Slaty Egret, Swamp Boubou, Kori Bustard, African Scops Owl amongst others.
Mammal highlights: Lion, Black Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Klipspringer, Dassie Rat, Black-faced Impala, Southern Oryx, Black-backed Jackal, Spotted Hyena, Cheetah, Honey Badger, Banded Mongoose, Sitatunga, Damara Dik-Dik and more.
Detailed Trip Report
Day 1: Wednesday 02 April
Clients were met at OR Tambo Airport before taking the morning flight to Windhoek. Once in Namibia birding started on the short walk across the tarmac to the Airport building when various swifts and hirundins were seen including the regional endemic South African Cliff-Swallow and Bradfield's Swift.
After collecting our minibus the group proceeded to a lodge in the Erongos near Usakos. The first short roadside birding stop near Karibib produced some nice introductory sightings of dry-country species including Crimson-breasted Shrike, Pririt Batis, White-backed Mousebird, Scaly-feathered Finch, Marico Flycatcher, Black-chested Prinia and the herero subspecies of Sabota Lark. Booted Eagle and Honey Buzzard were seen soaring over the town of Usakos. Hohenstein is situated on the south-western edge of the Erongo Mountains and the lodge offers the perfect panoramic view of this striking range. Once we were settled into to our accommodation a short walk along a nearby dry riverbed in the late afternoon produced some interesting birds including Shaft-tailed Whydah, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Common Scimitarbill, Rueppell's Parrot, Rosy-faced Lovebird and Rockrunner and three mammals in the form of Southern Ground Squirrel, Springbok and Red Hartebeest.
Day 2: Thursday 03 April
An early morning walk to the granite outcrops north of the lodge produced some notable species: Rockrunner, Hartlaub's Francolin, Red-billed Spurfowl, Monteiro's Hornbill, Dusky Sunbird, Barred-Wren-Warbler, Yellow-bellied Eremomela and the localised Dassie Rat (seen by some).
After breakfast the group opted to sit on the main veranda watching birds coming into drink at the lodge's fishpond. The assortment included Namaqua Dove, Yellow Canary, Green-winged Pytilia, Violet-eared and Black-cheeked Waxbill, Great Sparrow and hundreds of Larklike Bunting. Another late afternoon walk to the local airfield gave us good views of Giraffe, Springbok and Klipspringer with Desert Cisticola, Kalahari Scrub-Robin and Monotonous Lark making it onto the bird list. A Southern White-faced Owl called as we enjoyed dinner and some time was taken to absorb the spectacular night sky before retiring for the day.
Day 3: Friday 04 April
After an early breakfast we set off for the desert and the coast. On the way out towards Usakos the gravel road crosses the Khan riverbed. A stop and walk here gave us sightings of amongst others Southern Pied Babbler, Violet Woodhoopoe and Damara Red-billed Hornbill. Further down the road there were good views of Monteiro's Hornbill and Mountain Wheatear. Landscapes and vegetation types gradually changed until we reached the flat, white, gravel plains of the Namib about 60km from the coast. Here we took a short walk to look for the desert (white) form of Tractrac Chat and the localised Gray's Lark. Once found, both species gave us excellent views.
Lunch was taken in Swakopmund in view of basking Cape Fur Seals before spending some time at the salt works and guano platforms north of town. Several tern species including the diminutive Damara Tern were seen here as were both Greater and Lesser Flamingo and a large variety of shorebirds. Then it was onto Walvis Bay and our hotel for the next two nights.
Curlew Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone
The late afternoon was spent driving along the extensive 'ponds' of the Walvis Bay salt works. Throngs of migrant waders, many of which were sporting breeding plumage were seen including Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Red Knot, Common Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff, Red-necked Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey, Common Ringed and White-fronted Plover, Pied Avocet and Black-winged Stilt. The day was rounded off with great seafood at a local restaurant.
Day 4: Saturday 05 April
A pre-breakfast excursion to the Rooibank dunes south of Walvis Bay gave us the much sought-after Dune Lark while the vegetation along the Kuiseb riverbed provided views of Bokmakierie, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and a misplaced Paradise Flycatcher.
A pre-breakfast excursion of the Rooibank dunes
After breakfast we strolled along the suburban streets of Walvis Bay to look for Orange River White-eye which was eventually seen in the back garden of a nearby B&B. The remainder of the day was spent walking and driving along the lagoon esplanade where thousands of Lesser and Greater Flamingoes entertained us and many other onlookers. Large numbers of waders, terns, gulls and Great White Pelicans were also present. The prolific salt works also warranted another visit and didn't disappoint. Another seafood dinner was enjoyed at Walvis Bay's famous Raft Restaurant.
Day 5: Sunday 06 April
An extensive low-pressure system moved in overnight bringing with it high winds and drizzle. However we headed inland in good spirits. En-route to the Spitzkoppe Nature Reserve there were sightings of Karoo Long-billed lark, White-throated Canary, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark and hundreds of breeding Stark's Lark. Within the Spitzkoppe reserve itself we braved the wind in search of the specialty birds but the inclement weather put paid to our chances of seeing Herero Chat. Common Quail, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Violet-backed Starling, Lanner Falcon, Bateleur, Verreaux's Eagle and Augur Buzzard were however recorded.
A picnic lunch was had at a campsite surrounded by large granite boulders. This sheltered site was shared with some very tame Pale-winged Starlings and Southern Ground Squirrel while Chestnut Weavers made several appearances around their nests. After lunch it was decided to leave the reserve and make our way north to the next mountain location, the Brandberg. Just before exiting the reserve we were treated to a pair of White-tailed Shrike feeding chicks as well as Rock Hyrax and Klipspringer.
The long gravel road through austere surroundings gave us several exciting sightings such as Namaqua Chameleon, Honey Badger and a Rueppell's Korhaan pair with young chicks. Closer to the Brandberg Mountain Benguela Long-billed Lark and Northern Black Korhaan gave us excellent views. On arrival at our lodge we were shocked to find that the normally dry Ugab River and its tributaries had burst their banks, flooding the entire camp. This made getting to the reception area and our accommodation a very exciting and challenging experience, having to cross one of the tributaries in a two-wheel drive minibus. However with much gusto we succeeded in doing so and eventually had 'sundowners' on our flooded verandas in torrential rain. During dinner later on we were told that the area hadn't had any rain for the past three years. No wonder the staff looked a little shell-shocked.
Day 6: Monday 07 April
An early walk through the muddy camp surrounds didn't deliver any exciting birding but did offer us some clear views of the Brandberg mountain. After breakfast we ran the gauntlet through the mud and the soggy riverbed and got back onto drier roads in one piece. The drive north to Khorixas provided some good roadside birding and a stop at a small craft market gave the visitors from the UK the opportunity to see representatives of some of Namibia's ethnic groups in traditional dress - Damara, Herero and Ovahimba ladies who provided some amusement and several trinkets were purchased. A lunch stop in the town of Outjo was a pleasant experience before heading on to the Etosha National Park via the Andersson Gate. On entering a very wet Etosha we were immediately treated to good mammal sightings. The highly localised Black-faced Impala was the first mammal seen followed by herds of Springbok, Burchell's Zebra, Blue Wildebeest and Southern Oryx.
Once we'd checked into our plush accommodation in the Okaukuejo Camp a quick late afternoon drive north of the camp offered great views of some typical 'Etosha limestone associated terrestrial birds' such as Double-banded Courser, Capped Wheatear, Northern Black Korhaan and Ant-eating Chat plus many more Springbok, Zebra, Oryx and Black-backed Jackal. Due to the ample surface water the normally 'busy' camp waterhole was quiet except for a solitary Spotted Hyena.
Day 7: Tuesday 08 April
A pre-breakfast drive onto the plains north of Okaukuejo Camp yielded several lark species including Eastern Clapper, Pink-billed and Spike-heeled. Several large terrestrial birds in the form of Common Ostrich, Secretary Bird and Kori Bustard were also recorded.
With it being a relatively cool day we ventured out again after breakfast to the more wooded areas south-east of the camp and were rewarded with sightings of Elephant, Red Hartebeest and Lion. Then it was back to camp for lunch and a much deserved siesta although some of the group preferred being entertained by the busy Sociable Weavers at the waterhole lookout. The late afternoon sunlight gave us wonderful photographic opportunities with an assortment of birds and large concentrations of ungulates during the final excursion of the day.
Day 8: Wednesday 09 April
The decision to have a very early breakfast and immediate departure eastward to the central camp of Halali paid off as we were treated to great close-up views of a male Lion just a few minutes into the drive. A steady supply of new birds for the trip such as Chat-Flycatcher, Buffy Pipit, Blue Crane and Lappet-faced Vulture and our first Black Rhino sighting made the drive to Halali an eventful one.
After checking in at Halali Camp we were soon treated to one of the camp residents, a roosting African Scops Owl. Over the course of our two-day stay in Halali the camp grounds provided us with several sightings of other small raptors including Little Sparrowhawk and Shikra plus many other fine woodland birds such as Violet Woodhoopoe, Groundscraper Thrush, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Damara Red-billed Hornbill and Purple Roller. Whilst enjoying sundowners at the Goas waterhole east of the camp an unexpected species in the form of Baillon's Crake was flushed from the grassy shoreline. An after dinner saunter to the floodlit waterhole produced no less than six Black Rhino that provided much amusement to the spectators.
Shikra and African Scops Owl
Day 9 Thursday - 10 April
An attempt to explore the Mopane woodlands south of Halali was thwarted by flooded roads so a drive to the edge of the Etosha Pan was done instead. Several pairs of breeding Chestnut-banded Plovers were seen on the dryer parts of the pan while other aquatic species including Cape Teal, Three-banded Plover, Wood and Marsh Sandpiper and Cape Shoveler were seen at the edge of the pan. Noteworthy birds seen during the morning excursion were White-backed Vulture, Black-breasted Snake-Eagle and Dusky Lark. An afternoon drive to the west of the camp produced three more Black Rhino sightings comprising two cows with calves and a sub-adult bull and during the customary evening camp waterhole watch at least three more individuals were seen.
Day 10 Friday - 11 April
A long day lay ahead of us so we set off early towards Etosha's most easterly camp namely Namutoni. En route there were two more black rhino sightings that were, by this stage overshadowed by a Cheetah and her two large cubs. Closer to Namutoni there were good numbers of Giraffe, Black-faced Impala and most of Etosha's other large mammals. A quick drive down to Fisher's Pan offered us a rare daytime sighting of Honey Badger and many good water birds such as Saddle-billed Stork, Black-necked Grebe, Southern Pochard and South African Shelduck. After a walk in the Namutoni camp grounds where we were entertained by the resident Banded Mongoose we exited the park via the Von Lindequist Gate. Then the long drive to Rundu via Grootfontein commenced in continuous rain. The final leg of the journey to our destination for the night was completed by boat as the bridge leading to the riverside lodge was washed away and the surrounding routes under water. After a tricky mooring, we were warmly welcomed and shown to our thatched, A-frame chalets. A great home-cooked meal rounded off the day.
Day 11: Saturday 12 April
The rain continued throughout the night but abated for a few hours after sunrise giving us the opportunity to do some intense birding. The walk along the river and in the adjacent woodland provided a host of species with Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Hartlaub's Babbler, Swamp Boubou, Allen's Gallinule, Giant and Woodland Kingfisher, Red-billed Oxpecker (on the lodge horses), Coppery and Scarlet-chested Sunbird, African Golden, Spectacled and Brown-throated Weaver and White-crested Helmet-Shrike to name but a few. After breakfast we reluctantly set off again eastward along the Caprivi Strip to Divundu then south to the Mohembo border post. Torrential rain unfortunately curtailed any attempts to venture into the teak woodlands along the route. Once through the border and into Botswana a rather wet picnic stop on the banks of the Okavango River provided good sightings of Pygmy Geese and African Jacana. Then it was on to Shakawe and our lodge. The remainder of the day was spent dashing into the lodge gardens every time there was a slight break in the weather. The luxury accommodation and beautiful setting of the lodge made up for the gloomy weather.
Pel's Fishing Owl alongside the Okavango River.
© Callan Cohen.
Day 12: Sunday 13 April
Another wet morning kept us indoors until well after breakfast when we were ferried to another lodge by road. En route the group were taken to a Pel's Fishing Owl roost. The owls showed well which lifted the mood of the group as did the lodge itself with it beautifully appointed safari tents situated a few metres from the Okavango River's main channel. After settling in and enjoying a great lunch we set off on a walk through the riparian woodland behind the lodge. Bennett's Woodpecker, Grey-headed Kingfisher, African Golden Oriole and a roosting Fiery-necked Nightjar were just a few of the species seen.
A late afternoon boat cruise into one on the papyrus-fringed side channels produced Luapula and Chirping Cisticola, many Little, Blue-cheeked and White-fronted Bee-eaters, Goliath Heron, Little Bittern, African Fish Eagle, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Lesser Jacana, Coppery-tailed Coucal, close-up views of Allen's Gallinule and a large bull Hippo. After dinner the calls of a Wood Owl were followed with great results; a male offering excellent spotlight views.
Day 13: Monday 14 April
After early coffee we walked along one of the trails behind the lodge. Sitatunga, which normally hide deep within the papyrus beds, were forced out onto dry land due to the abnormally high water levels, giving us several short but good views of this shy antelope. Apart from the Sitatunga, goods views of Western-banded Snake-Eagle and Brown Firefinch were also enjoyed.
Following another hearty breakfast we were on the water once again. This time we explored the main channel upstream of the lodge. A variety of good waterbirds were seen with White-backed Night-Heron, Osprey, Whiskered Tern, African Crake, Little Rush Warbler, Malachite Kingfisher, Greater Swamp Warbler being some of the more noteworthy. A Spotted-necked Otter was also seen making its way across the channel not far from the boat and several large Nile Crocodile and Water Monitors were also observed. A dramatic sunset over the Okavango River provided a grand finale to a great day.
Boat transfer to our tented camp along the Okavango River.
Day 14: Tuesday 15 April
A pre-breakfast walk along another walking trail produced more Sitatunga, Bushbuck and further appealing birds such as Meyer's Parrot, Bearded Woodpecker, Narina Trogon, African Green Pigeon and Retz's Helmetshrike. After breakfast we retraced our route back into Namibia. Once through the border a few magical hours were spent in the Mahangu National Park. Significant birds seen along the floodplains included Woolly-necked and Openbill Storks, Black Heron, Slaty Egret (10 other heron species), Black-winged Pratincole and Mosque Swallow. However it was the mammals who stole the show in Mahangu with Impala, Red Lechwe, Cape Buffalo, Roan and Sable Antelope, Greater Kudu, Giraffe, Common Reedbuck, Warthog, Zebra and Elephant all seen in less than two hours.
After the excitement of the Mahangu Park we proceded to our lodgings for the night, another lodge on the shores of the Okavango River. After checking in and freshening up there was time for a drink on one of the tented decks from where a Rufous-bellied Heron and a family of Spotted-necked Otter were seen. A late afternoon walk around the inundated floodplains near the lodge produced an exciting variety of birds including African Snipe, Lesser Moorhen, Ashy Flycatcher, White-browed Coucal, Long-toed Lapwing, Grey-rumped Swallow and thousands of Collared Pratincole in flight. The day was rounded off with delightful alfresco dinner under a full moon.
Day 15: Wednesday 16 April
Well before dawn the noisy Okavango alarm clock, White-browed Robin-Chat, got us out of bed. Then while enjoying breakfast there was an interesting sighting of a Black Cuckoo chick being feed by its host parents, a pair of Swamp Boubous. Reluctantly we bid the Okavango region goodbye and started the long journey back into central Namibia and the Waterberg Plateau Park. The first two hundred kilometres were punctuated with short stops to add a few more woodland birds to the list. Among these were Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Klaas's Cuckoo, Red-headed Weaver, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, African Yellow White-Eye and Black-Cuckooshrike. We stopped for lunch near Grootfontein, where a family of Black-faced Babbler entertained us for a while.
Then it was back on the road to the Waterberg via a rather challenging back road. Many large mammals were seen along this road and another river crossing added further excitement to the journey. The park was reached in time to enjoy a walk along some of the service roads where Warthog and several Damara Dik-Dik were seen at close quarters.
Day 16: Thursday 17 April
The final morning on tour we were pressed for time. After an early breakfast we boarded the vehicle and headed straight for Windhoek airport. Several quality birds and mammals were seen en route along the roadside including Tawny Eagle, Burnt-necked Eremomela and a large herd of Eland. The airport was reached in time for the mid-morning return back to Johannesburg.
A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Joe Grosel.
For a full list of species from this trip, please contact us.
Many of the birding sites on this trip are described in detail in the Southern African Birdfinder which is widely available in South African bookshops and on the internet. (e.g., www.netbooks.co.za or www.wildsounds.co.uk). However you're always welcome to contact us if you're interested in a guided trip in this area.