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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Namibia

Monday 11 February to Sunday 24 February 2019
with Sean Braine as leader
February 2020
with Sean Braine as leader

Price: $5,450 (02/2019)

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Herero Chat, one several localized species we see on the tour. Photo: Steve Rooke

Namibia is a lovely place that combines stunning scenery with more than 300 species of southern African birds and excellent travelers’ services.

We’ll begin in the famous Sossusvlei, home to the iconic bright red dunes of the Namib Desert, best appreciated at dusk or dawn when the low sun throws those famous curving shadows. We’ll then cross the huge Namib-Naukluft, the fourth-largest game park in the world, to visit Walvis Bay and the quaint seaside town of Swakopmund, before heading inland to the towering domed rocks of the Erongo Mountains. From there we’ll move on to the classic African backdrop of Etosha National Park and finish the tour on the Waterberg Plateau. 

Along this fascinating route we’ll encounter a rich and varied avifauna with many species restricted to southern Africa and, in addition, a superb array of mammals, most of which are concentrated around the celebrated Etosha pan, where we’ll spend four days.

All this combines with an exemplary infrastructure, comfortable accommodations, delicious food and a friendly welcome everywhere we travel. 

Day 1: The tour begins at midday in Windhoek. After checking into our hotel, we should have time for local birding at nearby sites, which provide a fine introduction to the birds of Namibia. Acacia Pied Barbet, Swallow-tailed Bee-Eater, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Pririt Batis, Black-chested Prinia, Chestnut-vented Tit Babbler and Southern Masked Weaver are all possible before dinner. Night near Windhoek. 

Day 2: We’ll awake to the raucous calls of Red-billed Spurfowl in the surrounding scrub, and before breakfast we’ll visit a site for one of Namibia’s special birds, Rockrunner. This near endemic is, as its name suggests, found among rocky outcrops and is usually first detected by its strange, oriole-like song. Other birds we’ll hope for include Orange River Francolin, Common Scimitarbill, vivid Southern Red Bishops and smart Black-faced Waxbills. During our outdoor breakfast we may be further distracted by Short-toed Rock Thrush, Carp’s Tit, Familiar Chat and Bradfield’s Swift. We’ll then commence our journey south, and we should soon see massive Sociable Weaver nests clinging to roadside poles and trees; some may even have tiny Pygmy Falcons in attendance. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks will also be using the roadside poles as a convenient lookout perch, while other raptors could include Black-winged Kite or the mighty Martial Eagle. Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rufous-crowned Roller, Southern Anteater-Chat, Common Fiscal (of the local “white-browed” Namib form) and Chat Flycatcher should be some of the more obvious species. Flocks of small passerines could include White-browed Sparrow Weaver and lots of Lark-like Buntings, and roadside stops by old river courses might reveal a noisy group of Violet Wood-Hoopoes or Golden-tailed Woodpecker.

Our destination is a working guest farm at Namibgrens, perched on the edge of the Khomas Highland area, close to the famous Spreetshoogte Pass, a gateway to the vast Namib Desert and the perfect base from which to explore the area. Night at Namibgrens. 

Day 3: We’ll start by birding the grounds of the farm where Groundscraper Thrush, Layard’s Tit Babbler, Karoo Scrub-robin and Crimson-breasted Shrike are all pre-breakfast possibilities. We’ll then drive through the Spreetshoogte Pass, where from the top we can gaze across the immense Namib-Naukluft wilderness stretching away toward the coast. The Pass should give us a variety of birds, from smart Augur Buzzards to the stunning Bokmakierie, to Scarlet-chested and Dusky Sunbirds. It is also one of the traditional sites to see Herero Chat, a bird that is restricted to Namibia and neighboring Angola. This distinctive flycatcher uses the small acacia trees as a lookout but can at times be remarkably difficult to locate.

Moving on we’ll stop to look for other species we may only see in this area, such as the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. This dry country is very good for larks, so we should detect Stark’s, Sabota and Karoo Long-billed Larks. We’ll also hope for a sighting of the impressive Ludwig’s Bustard. We’ll stop at Solitaire, an isolated outpost with a small bakery famous for its apple pie. The trees surrounding the buildings can be a good place to see Rosy-Faced Lovebirds coming to drink at dripping taps as we defend our pie against Cape and Great Sparrows and Cape Starlings. Although we’re in a remote part of the country, Sossusvlei is one of Namibia’s big tourist attractions – it is here where you can see those huge brick-red sand dunes that adorn the guide book pages. If time permits we’ll visit the dunes first in the afternoon when the low light creates dark, curving shadows that contrast with the deep red sand, offering endless photo opportunities. There are also birds to look for, and this will be our first chance for Dune Lark, a sandy-colored bird and Namibia’s only endemic, which can be found running fast over the dunes in search of insects. Elsewhere we may find Common Ostrich, Rüppell’s Korhaan, Greater Kestrel and Mountain Wheatear. Night in Sesriem area. 

Day 4: There may be time to return to the dunes at dawn, searching for more new birds, including Secretarybird and Karoo Chat, as well as stately Gemsbok, the most common ungulate in this area. Retracing our steps via Solitaire, we’ll embark on a drive across the Namib-Naukluft, a huge national park the size of Switzerland that takes us through the oldest desert in the world. This is a drive to sit back while taking in the slowly unfolding landscape, which takes us through more dramatic passes and past dark inselbergs before leveling out as we near the coast. 

Birds are not numerous en route, but we’ll look for two in particular. The striking pale Namib form of Tractrac Chat lives out in this harsh land and can appear as an almost pure white bird sitting on low vegetation. It shares this environment with small flocks of Gray’s Lark, which scurry over the sand in search of seeds. We’ll also search some open gravel fields for Burchell’s Courser.

We should reach the coast and the seaside town of Walvis Bay in the afternoon, and after checking in to our hotel we’ll take our first look at the lagoon. One thing is certain – there will be lots of birds – tens of thousands of them in fact, but how close they are will depend on the tide. Immediately obvious are the pink Lesser Flamingos stretching to the horizon, with smaller numbers of Greater Flamingos among them and very large flocks of Cape Cormorants constantly streaming up and down the lagoon. Less numerous will be the noisy African Black Oystercatchers, while Great White Pelicans can often be found right up on the boulevard that borders the lagoon. Night at Walvis Bay. 

Day 5: The extensive salt pans at Walvis Bay are a great place for birds. Driving along the convenient roadways that separate the pans, it is hard to escape both species of flamingos, but they will be mingling with hordes of Cape Teal, Pied Avocets and a mix of wintering waders such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-bellied Plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint. Around the edges of the pans there will be White-fronted Plovers dashing back and forth, and we’ll look through these to pick out Chestnut-banded Plover, a dapper African wader typically found on salt pans. Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls are always present, along with large Swift and Caspian Terns and the local specialty, Damara Tern, a tiny tern often seen diving for fish in the salt pans and out on the main lagoon. Driving around to the seaward side, we may see Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers harrying the local terns, and there should also be Sooty and possibly Cory’s Shearwaters cruising past, albeit at some distance.

If we have not seen Dune Lark, we’ll have another chance near Walvis Bay, and there are also some great places to see Gray’s Lark as the strip of desert that runs inland behind the coast is much to their liking. We may also travel up the coast to Swakopmund to search for Bank Cormorant and explore places around Walvis Bay for Red-Faced Mousebird, Orange River White-eye and African Reed Warbler. Of course, being on the coast it would be a crime not to take dinner at least one night at a fine local seafood restaurant. Night in Walvis Bay. 

Day 6: We’ll leave the coast and head inland, hoping to make a detour to see an ancient and structurally unique plant, the Welwitschia, found only in the costal desert plains of Namibia and Angola. If we still haven’t seen Herero Chat, we’ll make another detour to visit Spitzkoppe, a gigantic inselberg where the species resides. Other birds in this area include Pale-winged Starlings and Rosy-faced Lovebird, while Verreaux’s Eagles can be seen overhead. 

Our day’s final destination is the Erongo Mountains. Our lodge is located amid superb habitat – a wonderful mix of scrub and mature trees woven in and around the smooth red rocks. There are some special birds here, and in particular we hope to see the rare Hartlaub’s Francolin, whose strident calls echo around the rocky habitat at dawn. We’ll also search for the smart White-tailed Shrike, a striking black-and-white bird that is restricted to Namibia and parts of Angola. As darkness falls the yelping calls of Freckled Nightjar start to fill the air, and we stand a good chance of seeing them as they flit around the lodge lights. Night in Erongo Mountains. 

Day 7: We’ll have a pre-breakfast walk around the lodge grounds. As well as actually seeing Hartlaub’s Francolins, there should be Red-billed Francolin, Green-winged Pytilia, White-browed Scrub Robin, and Black-faced Waxbill among others. 

Moving on we’ll spend one night a short distance outside of Etosha National Park. Our lodge is surrounded by good habitats, including large areas of open grassland, and most important its out-of-park location allows us to do a night drive. Although we can’t predict what we’ll see, the main attraction is likely to be the mammals, with both Aardvark and Aardwolf possible, along with Bat-eared Fox, the strange Spring Hare, White-tipped Mongoose and Small-spotted Genet. There should also be a few birds; Southern White-faced Scops and Barn Owls and perhaps a nightjar or two are possible. Night at Rustig Toko.

Days 8-11: Mighty Etosha National Park dominates northern Namibia and remains one of Africa’s great wildlife destinations. At its center lies the massive baked salt pan that gives the park its name, which translates to “The Great White Place.” Some 70 miles long, this shimmering expanse is dry most of the time, only receiving a thin cover of water after significant rain. However, it’s surrounded by a rich mosaic of savannah, mopane woodland and open grassland, all of which are alive with birds and animals. Dotted throughout is a series of waterholes that provide essential rehydration for wildlife and superb viewing opportunities for visitors. 

Etosha is huge, covering some 8,800 square miles, so to see all that it has to offer, we’ll divide our stay between the western and eastern sections. We’ll begin in the west, and today’s drive takes us across Damaraland to the western end of the park. We’ll arrive at our lodge in time for an afternoon game drive and our first chance to see some of the area’s mammals. Their numbers depend very much on the rains, but Giraffe should be immediately obvious, towering above the trees, and we have a very good chance of seeing our first African Elephants. There will be lots of antelope, ranging from the huge Kudu to the elegant black-fronted form of Impala, and with so much prey around Lion or Spotted Hyena can also be expected[MBC1] . Our lodge has a large, floodlit waterhole, and as dusk falls we can expect a variety of mammals and birds to appear. Sitting quietly within feet of the water we may be treated to a Black Rhinoceros or two coming to drink, and there could also be some nocturnal birds present such as Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl or a Rufous-eared Nightjar.

Our drives on the plains should provide us with a wonderful variety of encounters. On the areas of open grassland we’ll be looking for Kori Bustard, Helmeted Guineafowl, Temminck’s and Double-banded Coursers, Red-capped, Spike-heeled and Pink-billed Larks, Capped Wheatear, Desert Cisticola, Rufous-eared Warbler, and African Pipit. Overhead the open skies are the domain of the park’s many raptors, which include Lappet-faced and African White-backed Vultures, Tawny Eagle and Bateleur. 

These plains are also home to large herds of Springbok, Blue Wildebeest, Warthog and Burchell’s Zebra, all of which will join other species at one of the many waterholes. Watching over an active waterhole is exciting, and we could once again be lucky enough to see a Black Rhino, this time in daylight. Black-backed Jackals seem to be everywhere, and it is not unusual to find groups of Spotted Hyenas coming to the waterholes as well. Birds also need to drink. At some of the more open waterholes, and if the rains have been sparse, the morning air is filled with the distinctive calls of Namaqua Sandgrouse, flights of which are constantly coming and going. These birds are always very wary when drinking, as indeed they should be with the attendant Lanner Falcons always on the lookout for a meal. Occasionally the abundant Namaqua Sandgrouse are joined by the much rarer Burchell’s Sandgrouse, their reddish color and lack of tail streamers helping us separate them. Many Cape Turtle and Laughing Doves will join the throng, as will the common Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark and perhaps a few Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks. Waders are also attracted to the pools, and most will have resident Kittlitz’s Plovers in attendance. It’s also not unusual to see a Hamerkop stalking the water’s edge.

Etosha is crisscrossed by numerous tracks that get us close to many of its birds. Lilac-breasted Rollers often permit a close approach, and both Red-crested and Northern Black Korhaans can be found on the roadside, while the bushes hold African Grey and Southern Red-billed Hornbills, Long-billed Crombec, African Barred Warbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela and Southern White-crowned Shrike, among many others.

In the eastern part of Etosha there will be more waterholes to take in, and we’ll also stop at a lodge to search the grounds for the distinctive Bare-cheeked Babbler, another bird found only in Namibia and Angola. This lodge is also usually home to the Barn Owl and tiny African Scops Owl, both of which we hope to see at their daytime roosts.

From our eastern base we’ll happily encounter many of the birds and mammals that have entertained us over the past few days, but there will be new things to look for as well: Swainson’s Francolin, Red-necked Falcon, Shikra, Gabar Goshawk, Yellow-billed Hornbill, Meyer’s Parrot, Rufous-naped Lark, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver and Scaly-feathered Finch, to mention a few. Nights in Etosha National Park.

Day 12: We’ll take our reluctant leave of Etosha and begin the return journey to Windhoek, but before we reach there we have one final place to visit, the renowned Waterberg Plateau. This dramatic and very prominent feature rises some 700 feet out of the eastern plains. Our lodge is located at the end of a long valley and is surrounded on three sides by towering sandstone cliffs. There is a natural spring that supports a tropical environment around the lodge and creates a wonderfully relaxing place to end our tour. As night falls, we may find the diminutive Lesser Bushbaby bouncing around the trees, and a feeding station is regularly visited by a Cape Porcupine. Night at Waterberg Wilderness Lodge.

Day 13: The dense woodland on the approach to the lodge is where we may find parties of the striking Southern Pied Babbler or White-crested Helmet Shrike. The rocky cliffs are the perfect habitat for Bradfield’s Hornbill, and we’ll be listening for their distinctive whistling call, while there will be another chance to locate Hartlaub’s Spurfowl. This is probably our best location for Rüppell’s Parrot, as this attractive bird, a near endemic, can often be found feeding on the seedpods of tall acacia trees around the lodge. Other species we may come across today include African Hawk and Wahlberg’s Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Little Sparrowhawk, Lesser Honeyguide and White-bellied Sunbird. We’ll have all morning to explore this area, then after lunch we begin the drive back to Windhoek, arriving in the early evening. Night in Windhoek.

Day 14: After breakfast we’ll transfer to the airport, where the tour concludes.

Updated: 19 October 2018

Prices

  • 2019 Tour Price : $5,450
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $250
  • 2020 Tour Price Not Yet Available :
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Notes

This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

We can assist with booking extra nights at our hotel near Windhoek and airport transfers upon request.  

Maximum group size 6 participants with one leader. 

Single rooms may not be available at some lodges.